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** Background **
Lightning Seeds (if usage on the official site is to be believed, "The" is not part of the band's name) have been a fixture on the British pop scene now for more than two decades. Their star may have waned a little since the glory days of Britpop in the 1990s, but they still keep on plugging away in the hope of producing something that will once again enthuse the public in the way of their high water mark, 1994's Jollification. Or, indeed, this less successful record, their previous album from two years earlier. Sense. I don't think it's quite as good, but it's still worthwhile, and singer Ian Broudie's gorgeous, pure voice is always a highlight.
The band were certainly not celebrities at this stage. The album was recorded in a front room (belonging to Broudie's brother) and equipment such as mixing decks had to be brought in. The record-buyers of Britain didn't seem to be terribly impressed, either: Sense failed even to break into the top 50 and had the band not later gone on to bigger and better things this disc might now be written about only in one of those columns specialising in digging out "the best bands you've never heard of".
** The good bits **
"The Life of Riley" is without doubt one of the highlights of Sense. Despite being played to death a decade ago, when it was the background music to Match of the Day's "Goal of the Month" competition, it still bears up wonderfully well. Named in honour of Broudie's newborn son, you can hear the joyous celebration in its sparkling cadences. Because of its regular TV use, it comes as rather a shock to realise that it barely made it into the top 30 in the singles charts - though it did reach the dizzy heights of number two on the US Modern Rock listing.
Not many people seem to pick out "Where Flowers Fade" as a highlight, but I think it's wonderful, even though the outro is too long. I'm an unashamed fan of these "railway-beat" songs, and this time the lyrics match up to it. "I'm half poverty, half oysters" - who else would have dreamed up a line like that one? The jazzy backing track fits it perfectly as well; this is perhaps among the least stereotypically "Lightning Seeds" songs here, but on this showing perhaps the band should have tried their hand at it a little more often.
"A Small Slice of Heaven" is just that: a glorious, brilliantly-written song that can hold its head up with anything from Jollification. You could pick out almost any part of this song's lyrics and have near-perfection, but the very first words sum it up: "The voice of reason / is rhyming with treason today." The guitar work is perfect, Broudie's vocals are more beautiful than ever, and the song as a whole more than lives up to its title; this should be in anyone's Lightning Seeds collection.
As should the final two numbers on the disc. "Marooned" is not my personal favourite track, but it is plenty of people's and I can see why. Broudie is given better backing in this song than in just about any other - for a front-room production this is absolutely astounding - and though the song doesn't ever quite explode as it repeatedly threatens to, it is nevertheless satisfying. "Thinking Up, Looking Down", though... wow. This is the sort of thing that fits so well with Broudie's crystalline vocals, and I really do defy anybody not to be moved by it. The lyrics are simple but heartfelt and sincere, and the last line of all will leave you in contemplative mood.
** The bad bits **
One of the songs that I really don't think works is "A Cool Place". It's a rather moddish, Kinks-alike song... but Broudie's voice is simply too fragile for it. With a singer in charge who could have given it a bit of a rougher edge, this could have been a great rock number, but as it is it sounds a little too much like an end-of-term punk concert given at a well-groomed boarding school. "Happy" is the other song I don't have much time for: sadly it sounds for all the world as though it were being sung by a one-hit-wonder from an unremembered 1980s edition of Top of the Pops.
** The in-between bits **
The title song (yes, "Sense") fits into this category, in that it's a perfectly decent, well-crafted pop song - as you'd expect from this band - but unfortunately it doesn't really hook me in, and the words "generic bright pop" are rather stamped all over it. An awful lot of people love this song; I don't. Much the same goes for "Blowing Bubbles", which has a wonderful instrumental intro but which again goes downhill a bit and becomes a tad generic once Broudie opens his mouth.
"Tingle Tangle" is in this section not because it's obviously mediocre, but because I really can't decide whether I love it or not. The title is awful, no doubt about that, but some of the song itself ("only time can melt the ice cream clown") is among the best work Lightning Seeds have ever done. It's just a shame that the song stays stuck in its rut - admittedly a very spangly and shiny rut - throughout, without quite having the nerve to break the mould.
Buying and verdict
Given the Lightning Seeds' enduring popularity, at least among a section of the pop-buying public, it's not terribly surprising that the Sense album remains fairly easy to find: for example, at the time of writing Amazon offered the CD for a reasonable £5.99 including p&p. Despite its being rather short at only ten tracks. there's enough here to justify that sort of expenditure. By no means the perfect soundtrack to a summer's day, but then the band were to capture that title a couple of years later. This wasn't a bad dry run. Recommended.
** Track listing **
2. The Life Of Riley
3. Blowing Bubbles
4. A Cool Place
5. Where Flowers Fade
6. A Small Slice Of Heaven
7. Tingle Tangle
10. Thinking Up, Looking Down
This album spawned a couple of the well known songs that are still enjoyed today. Ian Broudie collaborated with Terry Hall on this album to produce some real classic songs namely 'Sense' and 'Life of Riley'(football fans will know this from Match of the Day). Apart from these obvious successes there are many songs on this album which also deserve honroable mentions. These include 'Blowing Bubbles' and 'Small slice of heaven'. These are synonymous with early Lightning Seeds music in that Ian Broudie was still formulating his ideal of what sort of music the Lightning Seeds would produce. This album is basically the on with the rough edges that needed ironing out. By the time Jollification came out it appears as though those edges had been eradicated. Don't get me wrong though. I'm not taking anything away from this album. It is a very good album with some good songs, but, apart from the first couple, there's nothing that stands out above the rest. They're all very similar, but haven't really got the energy that the later albums have. The album is a bit too reserved and it feels as though they're holding something back. Apart from that, this is a nice view of early Lightning Seeds and should probably be in any fan's collection.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Life Of Riley
3 Blowing Bubbles
4 Cool Place
5 Where Flowers Fade
6 Small Slice Of Heaven
7 Tingle Tangle
10 Thinking Up Looking Down