THE BOO RADLEYS Giant Steps (Creation)

"Pet Sounds"? "Revolver"? "Forever Changes"? "Giant Steps", The Boo Radleys second album for Creation has been mentioned in the same breath as all these by the music press, and given the calibre of other bands' second Creation albums (Primal Scream's "Screamadelica", Ride's "Going Blank Again", Teenage Fanclub's "Bandwagonesque", My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless" and Sugar's "Beaster" (I hereby retract everything I said about the latter in my review in the last issue of "Feedback", mere days after I sent off my contributions it turned into one of the best albums of the year) this seems less the talk of idle hype and more something worth investigating.

The previous Boo Radley's album, "Everything's Alright Forever" was a passable enough platter, a smattering of top tunes and lots of noise, but not, to my ears, particularly distinctive. "Giant Steps", however...a bit overweight, perhaps, at seventeen tracks spread over four sides of vinyl, but some of it goes a long way to justifying the wild claims of greatness.

The opener, and recent single, "I Hang Suspended", grumbles into life with a disembodied voice reading what sounds like studio equipment specifications (?) before a tune arrives in the company of a battalion of guitars. "Upon 9th And Fairchild" is dub with distorted vocals, "Wish I Was Skinny" is Big Star meets The Byrds with a picnic hamper of lyrical yearning. Sixties influenced? Certainly, but with enough nineties indie attitude to stop the whole turning into a Stairs or (God forbid) Candy Flip parody album. Other highlights of the first disc include "Butterfly McQueen" (acoustic guitars, dub basslines and a lyric that might be about a broken love affair...or ornithology), "Thinking Of Ways" and "Barney (...And Me)", which is like every uplifting strummy guitar song you'd ever want to hear.

The second album is a bit of a let-down in comparison, much of it wouldn't sound out of place on their competent but uninspired debut. Still, there's "Best Lose The Fear" to enjoy, which sounds like Ride might've if they'd formed in San Francisco in 1966, a slightly disappointing reworking of last year's single "Lazarus", and the closer, "The White Noise Revisited", where the plan is sort of laid bare..."Do you remember?/Kill yourself at work for what seems/Nothing at all/Then you go home and you cry and you/Feel so very small, so you/Listen to the Beatles and relax and close/Your eyes"...and is it such a surprise when it turns into a lengthy singalong fade-out, a la "Hey Jude"?

"Pet Sounds"? "Revolver"? "Forever Changes"? "Giant Steps" is none of these things. By definition great Sixties albums could only have been made during the Sixties, so instead it joins a select band of similarly wonderful albums, for example the aforementioned "Screamadelica" and "Bandwagonesque", and anything by Saint Etienne, that are not ashamed to acknowledge the rich legacy that almost forty years of rock and roll has left us. Lectures in postmodernism rarely sound this good.

THE BOO RADLEYS Wake Up! (Creation)

When The Boo Radleys emerged from years of footwear-and-gaze-to-the-effects-pedal into the warm sunshine of critical adulation with the delicate, reverential and frankly wondrous "Giant Steps" double album, it stood as yet another confirmation of McGee’s Second Album Law, which states that every second album recorded by a band for Creation Records shall be a work of unqualified genius (see "Beaster", "Bandwagonesque", "Loveless", "Screamadelica", "Going Blank Again" and "So Tough" for further evidence). Sadly, the long-awaited next chapter also conforms to McGee’s Third Album Law, which states that every third album recorded by a band for Creation Records shall be, well, a bit of a disappointment really ("File Under: Easy Listening", "Give Out But Don’t Give Up", "Carnival Of Light" and "Tiger Bay", for example, Teenage Fanclub’s "Thirteen" merely being the exception that proves the rule).

What’s so not-much-cop about "Wake Up!" then, especially after the genuine top pop hit thrills that the preceding single "Wake Up Boo!" promised? Well, how many times can you listen to "Wake Up Boo!" before its saccharine smugness starts to claw at your dentistry? Is it any coincidence even that its creators are now ashamed of its blatantly-engineered-for-maximum-commercial-potential big choruses and cheesy harmonising? Sometimes even indie kids can be just too pop. Navigating through the rest of the album, and wading through the copious interview baggage that’s been accompanying it in the music press recently, it appears that "Wake Up!" is a concept album about how, like, Preston isn’t a particularly happening place and, uh, London is, man. What this actually means is cod-analytical song titles by the number ("Find The Answer Within", "Reaching Out From Here"), much appropriation of great effects from pop’s past (the Floydesque alarms throughout "Martin, Doom! It’s Seven O’Clock" and the closing lockgroove train that any "Pet Sounds" owner will find instantly familiar), further ingratiation with the glittery satanic mills of POP ("It’s Lulu") and a painful dearth of decent songs. There are maybe two occasions, when the Boos aren’t playing at being cheery-faced deconstructionists hacking up their favourite albums, that "Wake Up!" is genuinely impressive, the lengthy Teenage Fanclub-y outro to "Stuck On Amber", and the closing track "Wilder". Ignoring the similarity to Pavement’s "Range Life", both in melody and meaning, for once Martin Carr’s lyrics take on a genuine humility, and Sice’s vocals have a sense of wonder that has nowt to do with selling records, getting on "Top Of The Pops" and all the other things we’d rather our favourite bands didn’t do, if we’re honest. Meanwhile, having long ago made the best album of their career, and now genuine chart stars, The Boo Radleys have nothing left to prove. The only way is down.

THE BOO RADLEYS C’Mon Kids (Creation)

This is more like it! Once upon a time The Boo Radleys made a huge, sprawling double album, aptly titled "Giant Steps", that was both breathtakingly ambitious and totally successful, a heady brew of 90s psychedelia that flew in the then-prevalent fashion for musical underachievement. Their next, the tedious and unlovable "Wake Up!" was a concept album about how miserable chief songwriter and guitarist Martin Carr had become living in Preston (hardly "Quadraphenia", is it?!) compromised by their desire for shiny top 10 stardom. After "Wake Up! Boo" got them everywhere commercially (including the dreaded no-cred land of German children’s television) and nowhere musically, "C’Mon Kids" was heralded as a retreat from the minds and Our Price bags of the nation’s Top Of The Pops-watching youth.

Which, fortunately, it is: "Have we ever let you down?" hollers Sice, hopefully with just a little irony, above the MC5 frenzy of the title track, as glorious a call to arms as we’re likely to get this year. "Meltin’s Worm" follows, probably the first rock song about a tapeworm, while "Melodies For The Deaf (Colours For The Blind)" demonstrates the Boo’s knack for the insidiously tuneful (i.e. "Wake Up! Boo" without the blatant commercial potential). The rest staggers between early-Who style windmill guitar blowouts ("What’s In The Box? (See Whatcha Got)"), distorted dub/trip-hop ("Fortunate Sons") and longer, more ‘symphonic’ works ("Ride The Tiger", Martin Carr’s token Preston track), all lovingly mixed with enough Simon and Garfunkel, Beatles and Beach Boys references to make you think its 1966 again. In which case, "C’Mon Kids" is "Revolver" and "(What’s The Story) Morning Glory" is the "Sound Of Music" soundtrack.

(Another freebie for vinyl buyers here as well, in the form of a 7" single containing "Skywalker" from the "Beautiful Game" compilation - a thrash/jungle/football track, if that doesn’t take too much imagining - and the otherwise unavailable "French Canadian Bean Soup".)

THE BOO RADLEYS Kingsize (Creation)

Having rightly decided that the chart-shaped fame and acclaim they once craved wasn’t worth the inevitable artistic compromises it entailed, The Boos follow 1996’s happy-return-to-the-lunacy-fold "C’Mon Kids" with possibly their best album yet. "Kingsize" tempers their trademark wibbly modern psychedelia and Lennon and McCartney tunesmithery with great dolllops of funk and spices it with the odd outbreak of sound effects and scratching. Whilst some previous fine Boo Radleys albums have given the impression that they’re out to explore as many different dimensions at the same time as aurally possible, "Kingsize" works as a cohesive whole: without going all out to impress, it’ll snag you over the repeated hearings it slyly demands. And then you’ll start to notice the lyrical dexterity that’s at play here as well, as Martin Carr’s observations flit from religion to terrorism to alcoholism to religion to The Millenium Dome to drugs (inevitably) to Jimmy Webb. Simply put, "Kingsize" is another great album from a band who make the form look embarrasingly easy, and if it reaches fewer ears than any of their efforts since "Everything’s Alright Forever" the loss is ours, not theirs.

Brave Captain