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Underexposed songs from massively exposed albums

10/05/2012

Every now and then an album becomes a genuinely Big Thing. Even if the critical opinion might be critical, the public audience laps it up so hard that all of its half an album’s worth of singles become gigantic hits that you cannot run away from. The cover of the album will greet you around every corner, the charts are relentlessly conquered by the songs and for a little while even those who genuinely do not care the slightest about the music will find themselves closely acquainted with parts of it.

Sometimes these albums carry hidden gems. Songs that never get a mention outside the most hardcore of hardcore fans, rarely get played live, will certainly never be in the greatest hits album and somehow manage to hide from plain sight even when the album is plastered around everywhere. And sometimes these hidden gems are actual gems, songs that reveal something different from the group that those hit singles would never have made you think about them. And sometimes they’re just plain good. This is a bunch of them.

BLUR – TROUBLE IN THE MESSAGE CENTRE

The album: PARKLIFE! The quintessential Britpop album, one of the defining albums of the mid-90s and a home to countless songs buried into public consciousness, including some album tracks that you’d have thought were singles considering how well known they are (“This Is a Low”, for example). It’s also one of the few consistently good albums the somewhat hit-and-miss Blur did. It’s not just nostalgic fodder, it’s a genuinely excellent pop album in its own right with plenty of solid gold songwriting.

The song: “Trouble in the Message Centre” is a bit of an odd one out. In terms of tone and style it’s somewhat out of place among its musical comrades: it’s not particularly britpop-esque and feels somewhat murky and edgy in comparison to the big singalong pop hits that inhabit the rest of the album. Where most of Parklife is somewhat cute and adorable in its bouncy poppiness, Trouble is an aggressively pushing rock moment. The songwriting quality hasn’t gone anywhere though – the delightfully cold vocal delivery, the catchy backing harmonies and the bouncy, drum-pounding chorus are just as great as any of the song’s more famous siblings.

 

COLDPLAY – DAYLIGHT

The album: A Rush of Blood to the Head, the 2002 sophomore effort that turned Coldplay from just another hit band to the plague of everyone with credible music taste everywhere and spawned all the middling pop/rock bands with a whiny frontman and a lead piano that flooded the world in the 00s. And while “The Scientist” and “In My Place” are archetypical for the sound in that sense, a great chunk of the album is a thoroughly interesting listen when heard with knowledge of what happened afterwards. It’s a big album of highly polished, anthemic songs but it not only sounds perfectly natural but frequently hints at ambitions to grow and explore new things rather than staying still. Much like how the typically Britrock-esque “Yellow” bears nothing in resemblance to the moody low-keyness of the rest ofParachutes, “The Scientist” – and the rest of the band’s career – has only a small resemblance to the band stretching out their wings on A Rush of Blood.

The song: “Daylight” is a great example of this. The swerving, swiveling tune sounds like it comes from a different Coldplay with different ambitions and interests to its more famous counterparts. It’s still very much stadium-sized pop/rock but introspective and barely anthemic, more interested in being trapped in those sharp string swooshes than singalongs. The largest key difference is in atmosphere: calling any Coldplay moment aggressive or dangerous is like calling a widdle puppy dawg a ferocious destroyer of worlds, but Daylight churns with a darker undercurrent, something that’s taken the melancholy of Parachutes’ many moodpieces and taken it into something completely different. The chorus’ oo-oo-oohs are trademark Martin but otherwise Daylight is a great example that not oly despite their many shortgivings somewhere within Coldplay there’s a genuinely great band that occasionally bursts to the surface, but that once upon a time they weren’t making music while being the largest band on Earth and it shows. Bonus mention to the secret ace of this song: Guy Berryman’s bass.

 

MOBY – SIGNS OF LOVE

The album: 18, the successor to the insanely selling, superexposed, incredibly perfect Play. You’re most likely wondering why Play isn’t here in the first place – while Play was the one that basically dominated the world’s airwaves for a while due to its dubious promotional strategy, 18 always felt like more of a hit album despite selling only half as much as Play (which was still HUGE numbers). Its singles were all genuinely huge hit singles that became such entirely on their own merits rather than slapped behind advertisements, and in terms of sheer exposure “We’re All Made of Stars”, “In My Heart”, “In This World” and “Extreme Ways” all felt much more omnipresent and huge than the Play tracks. Regardless of such arguable points, 18 too was a big deal and for a while continued Moby’s random stint of global fame and status as an international superstar.

The song: The haunting, gorgeous “Signs of Love” that screams of being as worthy of a hit single as its more famous counterparts. I’ve always been an unashamed Moby fanboy and it’s tracks like “Signs of Love” that showcase everything that can be brilliant in his works: the beautiful production, wonderful melodies, captivating atmosphere and even the everyman vocals of Moby himself that make the songs sound fragile and personal. In my books, it’s another classic.

 

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS – SAVIOR

The album: Californication (1999) is the reason why Peppers have become one of the biggest rock acts around right now. Blood Sugar Sex Magik had already made them big names but the rest of the 90s was filled with trouble and problems for the band and while brilliant, 1995’s One Hot Minute wasn’t a particularly impactful album. But then the recently rehabbed John Frusciante rejoined the band, dug into his new-found sense of style and inspiration and revitalised and resurrected Peppers as a band, not only commercially but also stylistically. Californication instantly turned them into one of the biggest things on the planet, armed with five hit singles and plenty of album tracks and radio promo singles that paved way for further success.

The song: And then there’s Savior, arguably the ultimate example of the new-found creativity the Peppers displayed during the era. Because, you know, it’s a spaghetti western anthem. With a quiet, tip-toeing chorus that effectively stops the track on its tracks for a little bit of light-as-air guitar melodies and vocal harmonies. It’s a bizarre oddity even when you look at the whole of the band’s career, let alone Californication by itself – in the album it somewhat comes out of nowhere, does its somewhat baffling five-minute run and then disappears again without a trace. And it’s so good. Not even Rick Rubin’s infamously bad loudness war production can ruin the sheer gorgeousness of those choruses or the surprising epicness of its High Noon verses.

 

SCISSOR SISTERS – IT CAN’T COME QUICKLY ENOUGH

The album: The eponymous 2004 debut album, a huge hit everywhere and even the talk of the town around people who can’t stand radio hits because of the (ingenius) “Comfortably Numb” cover. I’m of the admittedly unpopular opinion that Scissor Sisters is actually one of the best debut albums of its decade, and unfortunately also a classic case of a band who puts everything into their grand debut and then begins a quick descent towards forgettability and mediocrity in everything afterwards. It’s a shame really because despite how the album’s signature songs are the discofied Pink Floyd cover and the filthy, loudmouth camp strut “Filthy/Gorgeous”, a lot of thealbum’s heart and one of the secrets as to why it’s such a goddamn good record lies in the moments when it stops being a dynamite package of youthful attitude for a tad and puts its heart on its sleeve.

The song: “It Can’t Come Quickly Enough”, tacked near the very end of the album, has little of the colourful attitude of most of the album and especially its hit singles. Instead it’s a haunting, broken down anthem that fights to the very end. It’s a song about disillusionment, losing track of what matters and drifting along pointlessly despite such great start. The verses are weary and the choruses bittersweet mood-raising, with the entire song covered in quietly mournful tones and some genuinely beautiful instrumental parts. It’s a frail and ethereal song and shows a humongously different side to most of the band’s tracks, displaying that there’s some genuinely strong songwriting talent and emotion in the band – something which every album ever since the debut has tried its best to forget ever existed.

“We knew all the answers and we shouted them like anthems”. What a line.

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