Kelly Jones- Rhythm/Lead Guitar, Singer, Songwriter
Richard Jones- Bass, Backing Vocals
Stuart Cable- Drums
The Stereophonics first album, ‘Word Gets Around’ in 1996, was somewhat of a let down in terms of sales, but critically the Stereophonics had gotten off to a good start. By the time this album had been out for a month, they had outsold Blur and had massive UK singles including ‘Pick A Part That’s New’ and ‘Just Looking’. Despite the argument that this album lacks the urgency of it’s older brother, the songs have a certain quality about them that makes them more instantly appealing than the previous tunes.
The album gets off to a fine and energetic start after fifteen seconds or so of feedback and guitar noodling when ROLL UP AND SHINE picks up pace with a ridiculously simple but effective Led Zeppelin style riff. Kelly’s voice is truly one of the more recognisable in UK rocks recent years, with a pleasant throatiness to it that adds emotion to even the simplest lyric, ‘Why don’t we take a look inside’. The songs chorus however doesn’t quite match the verse and the song seems to lose momentum. Were it not for the effective guitar work, a sublime bridge and some neat effects beats, this would seem an unlikely opener to the album.
What follows is probably one of their biggest hits, THE BARTENDER AND THE THIEF is an all out rocker that peaked at number three, but despite this, I stand by my opinion that it is very overrated, because, despite all it’s energy and vigorous guitar bashing, it just doesn’t hang together that well. The ‘parts’ are interesting, the peaks in the verses are excellent, but the bridge and chorus (especially the almost whistled backing in the chorus) remain unconvincing, exposed when we switch straight back to the verse. Kelly is clearly loving it though, and his vocal performance almost saves the song. A good bouncer, but not the best representation of the band.
I’ve always thought that despite the occasionally phenomenal riff, the Phonics strengths have lied in soulful and acoustic based ballads, which is why HURRY UP AND WAIT one of my favourite songs off the album. A beautiful executed song, Kelly’s voice is like butter on these kinds of songs and he sings the lyrics, ‘Hurry up and wait, the world’s worth waiting for’ so convincingly. An electric guitar broods underneath the song, adding a bit of grandeur to what is otherwise a very sweet song.
PICK A PART THAT’S NEW is one of the better known songs from this album, and with good reason: It’s a great showcase of the band’s rock talents, a simple riff, some sweet guitar tones and a catchy chorus (though I guarantee you’ll take a while to learn the verses, as they seemed to be designed for Kelly to sing to the audience, then for them to join in at the chorus). The bridge contains some interesting rhythmic moments and as a whole, the song is a great mid tempo rocker with a fairly uplifting tone.
JUST LOOKING is a standout track as it mixes the melancholy, clean sides of the bands music and Kelly’s voice, with the heavier, screaming choruses that frequent their rockers. Singing over a simple, flowing clean Strat chord progression, the lyrics are all about not having what you want. The chorus is excellent with a sudden burst of electric guitar which rises with Kelly’s voice to a shout, ‘I’m just looking…I’m not buying’, which is a sad lyric if you think about it. There is a short and broody middle eight which shifts so sweetly back into the chorus you can’t help but smile. A true Phonics classic.
You’ll forgive me if it seems like I’m skipping quickly past the rest, but those five songs are the singles and most celebrated songs on the album, which is why I chose to open with them. Although it sounds dismissive, the rest of the album is very much more of the same; heavy rockers to head bang to, and slow rollers to sway to. The best of the bunch are ‘HALF THE LIES YOU TELL AINT TRUE’, it’s urgent tone pulling together and pounding verse and more thoughtful bridge, an out and out rocker all round. Later rockers include the annoyingly ‘pleasant’ chords of T-SHIRT TAN (which lacks the focus of other songs)
On the slower side, the band excel with the creamy rhythms and riffs of IS YESTERDAY, TOMORROW, TODAY? And the weaving acoustic Sunday Morning tones of SHE TAKES HER CLOTHES OFF, which features a gorgeous melody and a generally relaxing mood. I WOULDN’T BELIEVE YOUR RADIO is more in the way of the quirky, bouncy and easy flowing driving music to tap your hand on the window, a tight and focused acoustic affair.
PLASTIC CALIFORNIA switches convincingly between the two moods, with a lazy thick sounding guitar drifting in and out of a driving drumbeat before becoming more focused as the chorus builds which flows very nicely with the rest of the song (a problem which I am occasionally annoyed by with Phonics album tracks, which have a cut and paste feel to them). As the song winds down Kelly repeats the phrase, ‘You feel it’. One of the standout tracks.
Another standout track is the albums morose closer; I STOPPED TO FILL MY CAR UP, most notably because it features just Kelly and a piano for a great deal of the song, a combination which is almost disappointing in that the vocals don’t work as well as they should. An odd keyboard piece permeates the lyrics later on which throbs awkwardly underneath some nasty sounding drums. A really disappointing song that you really feel could have been handled so much better, a poor close to the album.
All in all, this album is a good follow up to a promising debut and shows admirable song-writing development on the part of Kelly Jones, and a much more focused and interesting musical combination, particularly in terms of guitar effects. Although patchy, this rates high on the Stereophonics canon as an early showcase of talents which will later be used to much greater effect on heavy rockers ‘VEGAS TWO TIMES’ and the sinister, ‘MR WRITER’ and of course, the bouncy, smily ‘HAVE A NICE DAY’. A Greatest Hits seems imminent and will definitely be worthy of purchase.
Overall Rating- 3.5 / 5