The re-release of Gene’s back catalogue takes me back to an era when anything seemed possible.
It was 1994 going into 95, Britpop was in fourth gear and the music press were hailing it as the greatest thing since toilet paper. That ignored the reality, that British music had been on a high for several years, and the scene that was perceived (wrongly) to be headed by Oasis and Blur and marked by their carefully-manufactured rivalry, was only one part of an immensely creative period.
Among the many bands semi-independent of any scene were Gene, led by Martin Rossiter, and aided by Steve Mason, Kevin Miles and Matt James. With their heart-pulling lyrics and a debut single containing two songs, For The Dead and Child’s Body, it was no surprise that the perceived bleakness, lyrical brilliance and a love of the underdog would soon have the hacks comparing them to The Smiths.
But this was a little misguided. Sure, they were in awe of the Mancunians but this is something that could be levelled at almost every indie band that arose post-1986. The reality was they were just as much influenced by The Jam, The Faces, and The Stone Roses.
Following a clutch of graceful singles, Olympian was unleashed in 1995, a stunning collection that befitted such an ambitious title. On Sick, Sober and Sorry, Gene revealed the differences between them and their peers; writing of the troubled and the destitute, Rossiter implored, “Please don’t stop me from drinking/ It’s my only joy/ Please don’t stop me from smoking/ This is my reward.”
On Left-Handed, Gene carefully explore the subject of sexuality with Rossiter bemoaning “”On the Isle of Man I’ll serve my time”, a reference to the arcane laws of what is a largely independent island of the UK. Not surprisingly Olympian featured highly in the end of year charts.
It was followed, in 1997, by Drawn To The Deep End, an album that featured strings and lavish production. This didn’t diminish its quality, and while many would, almost inevitably, teasingly suggest it was not the equal of their debut, listening again several years later, it’s clear it hasn’t lost its timeless quality with songs such as Where Are They Now? and lead single We Could Be Kings.
In just two years, Gene had lost momentum and their third album, Revelations, was a muted affair, with critics and buyers alike, but it did contain the brilliant, Mod-esque single, As Good As It Gets, a brutal attack on the political direction the country was taking and the largely self-explanatory The British Disease. After leaving Polydor, Gene released Libertine in 2001 on their own label, but it was a bit of a letdown. A return to their roots, with epic non-single songs, it contained some of the elements the band had become renowned for. But, this was not a band in a good space, and apart from the monumental Is It Over? it lacked the dark melodies and the organic feel of the previous efforts.
All albums – reissued by Edsel Recordings – come with a second glorious disk of B-sides and rarities in enormous qualities – Drawn To The Deep End, for instance, contains 35 tracks all up. On top of all this there is also the mop-up compilation, To See The Lights, which itself receives the heavyweight reissue treatment.
So step forward once again messrs Rossiter, James, Mason and Miles, take a bow for your sterling efforts over almost a decade. You were an essential component of a much-loved decade, and you played your part in making Porky’s student years memorable ones. These magnificent reissues may initially strike a chord with past fans but they deserve a second wind, and for a new audience to discover their timeless, heart-filled qualities.