SECOND HAND SHOEGAZING
Well this is a relatively late discovery for me, long after shoegazing had taken it's DMs off and shuffled into retirement, still staring at it's feet. I lived in Stockholm, Sweden for some years, and outside my apartment block was a second hand collectors shop, which sold stamps, books and other antiquities, but which also had a small section left outside comprising of records and CDs. I had the occasional nose at this, and once stumbled across a veritable treasure trove of old skool Indie CDs, most of which I already had, but in a slightly battered jewel case lay the debut album by Chapterhouse - Whirlpool. I noted to a friend that some adolescent shoegazer had probably finally topped themselves after listening to Slowdive in a darkened room once too often in the long cold and dark Swedish winter (boy were they dark - just thinking of them makes me shudder), and their parents had given away their most treasured CDs to the shop. I couldn't resist it for less than a fiver; I wasn't really a fan, but this took me back to dark, steamy Northern nightclubs in the early 90s with ear shatteringly bad bass and watered down beer for 75p a pint, and I vaguely remembered the track "Pearl" which was not a displeasing memory. I was to be pleasantly surprised by this admittedly generic and yet somehow appealing shoegazing staple from 1991.
Along with Ride and Slowdive, this group was formed around the Thames Valley area in the late 1980s. They comprised of Andrew Sherriff (guitar/vocals), Stephen Patman (guitar/vocals), Simon Rowe (guitar), Jon Curtis (bass) and Ashley Bates (drums). They were part of the category of Indie bands dubbed as "shoegazers", so named because of their introspection, and their fans habit of not so much dancing but shuffling, looking at their shoes. Their lack of ego and sonic ideas, where the vocals weren't so important or clear, considered as just another instrument to add to the sound, countered strongly against the more Northern, in your face egotistical, working class and vocal Britpop like Oasis and The Verve that would, along with grunge, sweep away these fey, shy middle class Southerners.
TRACK BY TRACK REVIEW
Breather - you can tell straight away that this has all the classic ingredients for a good shoegazing track - swirling, riffy guitar, throbbing bass, and "ahh-ahhhh"ing all over the shop, and the obligatory ambiguous refrain you can make of what you will, in this case "breather, ahhhh, sleeper ahhhh".
Pearl - incredibly generic of the scene it belonged to, and yet I love this track, as it shuffles along with it's breathy, dreamy lyric "mother of pearl", with swirly, jangly guitar and thumping, tinny percussion. You can almost see the mop topped people dancing along to it; barely moving, heads straight down, staring at their DMs.
Autosleeper - a slow, thumping, almost chant-like song, full of the swirly dynamic that characterises this music, sounding like it was recorded in a very narrow tunnel.
Treasure - another dreamy track, with a kicking percussion and the lyric "oooooo, I'm in heaven" making it a probable student-in-bedsit pleaser. There's even a buzzy guitar solo thrown in at the end.
Falling Down - heavy on the wah-wah guitar and a hint of buzzing guitars at the back of the mix, with a distorted lyric and whacking drums that drive the track. A total rip off of something or other I'm sure - but a great one.
April - a machine like feedback roar leads in to a hypnotic guitar riff and another dreamy lyric. Great stuff, and even more "ahh-ahh-ahh"ing to remind you of where you are.
Guilt - jangling guitars, urgent drumming, a dreamy, spacey vocal weaving to the fore, of the mix then running away to the back again. Interesting.
If You Want Me - I really like the way this track starts off with a gentle, clean sounding guitar riff and whispered vocals, before exploding into a cacophony of drumming, a distorted, buzzing roar of guitar, and thumping bass.
Something More - produced by Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins, this has their signature chiming guitar sound, as opposed to the distortion of every other track. The lyric is very much to the fore, and quite clear, yet still has an element of dreaminess to it. It's a nice track to wind down the album with.
1. "Breather" - 4:20
2. "Pearl" - 4:52
3. "Autosleeper" - 4:50
4. "Treasure" - 6:22
5. "Falling Down" - 3:58
6. "April" - 4:39
7. "Guilt" - 4:15
8. "If You Want Me" - 2:41
9. "Something More" - 3:20
BONUS TRACKS WITH REISSUE
On June 6, 2006 the album was reissued on the label Cherry Red with seven bonus tracks taken from the three EPs (Freefall, Sunburst, and Pearl) released in the same time frame as the album. I haven't got this and so can't comment on the extra tracks.
1. "Need (Somebody)" - 3:07
2. "Inside of Me" - 4:40
3. "Sixteen Years" - 4:41
4. "Satin Safe" - 5:42
5. "Feel the Same" - 4:15
6. "Come Heaven" - 5:32
7. "In My Arms" - 4:39
It's hard to justify a legacy left by a band of such generic ordinariness compared to their contemporaries, and yet I still feel drawn to their music. The spacey, trancey dynamic of this album is probably copied from Spaceman 3, who are most notable for spawning Spiritualized, who were formed by ex Spaceman, Jason Pierce; he perfected and is still using that vibe. My Bloody Valentine were also probably an influence, as was 60s psychedelia.
However, I have recently been alerted about a wave on bands known as "nu-gaze" who are directly influenced by bands like Chapterhouse. The Guardian has an interesting article about this:
Chapterhouse went on to record a second album "Blood Music", which had more elements of psychedelia and even techno. No-one was interested; their sell by date had expired and grunge had conquered, with Britpop not far behind. The end.
They were obviously not complete mugs, though. Andrew Sherriff has done worked as a sounds engineer for the BBC series Walking With Dinosaurs, and Stephen Patman works as a producer. Simon Rowe plays in the country music influenced band Mojave 3, alongside a couple of ex members of local contemporaries Slowdive.
It might seem that I'm damning Chapterhouse with faint praise, and inserting the odd barb, but the fact is that I still listen to this CD and enjoy it very much. I haven't used any words that usually accompany my record reviews, such as "groundbreaking", "inspirational" or "unique", but that is not to say there isn't a place for an album born of it's times to be listened to in another era. There is, and it is definitely worth a listen to. So if you're a nu-gazer, here's the work from a shoegazer! This also might have added relevance with the recent announcement that My Bloody Valentine are reforming to perform and record.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
5 Falling Down
8 If You Want Me
9 Something More
10 Need (Somebody)
11 Inside Of Me
12 Sixteen Years
13 Satin Safe
15 Feel The Same
16 Come Heaven
17 In My Arms
18 Die Die Die