Peaking with a chart-topping album in the latter part of Britpop’s heyday, The Bluetones were assured of success. Just as they topped the charts they came to my university town and became one of the first bands in years to not only appear there but also to sell out. The proverbial sweat dripped from the ceiling, staff handed out water to the overheating crowd and Mark Morriss and chums lapped it all up.
They’ve been back to that venue several times, most recently during their March 2002 tour. They remain one of the very few decent bands that still regularly attends, and I’m assured they are still being well-received each time they offer up new material there. They garnered legions of fans back then – and many of those fans, it would seem, have stuck with them.
Some of their recent new material hasn’t lived up to quite the standard set by the debut album Expecting To Fly, an album of singles if ever there was one with scarcely a dud in sight. Subsequent releases built on their jaunty style of pop and experimented simultaneously. But not quite so many copies of their later albums were shifted, largely due to the untimely death of Britpop and the band’s association with it.
But where other bands of the mid-1990s have simply vanished without trace, The Bluetones are still about, still being inventive and, crucially, still sounding like they’re enjoying themselves too.
This collection reminds us of why the band were doing more than just riding the crest of a wave not of their own making back in those halcyon days of 1996. Slight Return, Bluetonic, Cut Some Rug and Marblehead Johnson are all fine songs which stand the test of time well, even if more recent efforts struggle to live up to their novelty, freshness and all-round musicianship. The single After Hours, for instance, may have achieved top 30 chart success, but lyrically it is relatively weak.
But The Bluetones are musical survivors. They’ve managed to keep doing what they like and it shows in their music, making them unique enough still to matter. This collection of singles, featuring four new tracks and a bonus CD of b-sides, is an excellent way to either get to know the band for the first time or remind yourself of why you loved them before.