Monday, November 14, 2022

Senseless Things - The First of Too Many - expanded edition (1991/2022, Sony/Cherry Red). A Brief Review.

Think back to 1991, from both an international and British perspective. There was war in the world. A prolonged recession was around the corner, the Tories still stubbornly clung to power in England, and a few of us just became introduced to something called 'email.' Then consider what was afoot in the guise of rock music. An alterna/grunge sea-change was well under way in the States supplanting nearly a decade's worth of formulaic, cosplay-ridden glam metal. On the other side of the pond the roots of Britpop were threatening to unfurl into full bloom at any second, while the more subterranean dream-pop movement had just reached it's apex via the woozy and enthralling mechanizations of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless.  So where did that leave London's Senseless Things who would be launching their sophomore record that year?  Hardly in any of the aforementioned categories.

Then again the '90s, writ large, would eventually be characterized for it's anything-goes penchant, and in that respect a quartet of vibrant, high-strung youngsters whose buoyant guitar tones and often strenuous punk-pop delivery system fit in perfectly well with the proceedings, presaging bona fide stars like Supergrass. Contemporary to S/T were other like-minded UK exports including Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Mega City Four and arguably the Wonder Stuff, yet the type of tuneage peddled by the four protagonists this post concerns didn't actually slot into any trend or movement, as no such niche really existed. Undoubtedly there was surely a space to be carved out for the Senseless Things, and luckily they garnered fringe notoriety back home on the ranch, but sadly, in the United States and other scant foreign markets their album garnered a reputation for the first of too many...appearances in cut-out and used CD bins.  For the most part The First of Too Many was where the Senseless Things began and ended for the vast majority of us Yanks. College radio picked up on it, and I'm certain a number of fanzines were happy to endorse the album, but it really wasn't until thirty years later that the band would be name-checked again in America, and for all the wrong reasons.  On Jauary10, 2021 frontman Mark Keds passed away at the tender age of 50 with no cause of death announced.   

Would we have been bequeathed with an expanded (and remastered/mixed) incarnation of  The First... at this time were it not for the aforementioned circumstances?  I highly doubt it, but to be certain this reissue is undoubtedly in Mark's honor.  And why not?  It's the band's most definitive statement - an optimistic, albeit sonically careening and nosediving juggernaut of distortion and euphoria that somehow remains poised and approachable thanks to a bedrock of sheer, relentless melody.  Paisley considerations aside, the album sleeve is a fairly accurate depiction of the Senseless Things kaleidoscopic reach - colorful and chaotic. 

While the band had veritable competition on their home turf (to reiterate, Mega City Four, Neds, etc) they had virtually no equal in North America, save for the likes of perhaps Montreal's Doughboys.  And much like the Doughboys, major label backing didn't exactly do wonders for S/T stateside. Epic Records, flush with cash no doubt from ceaseless sales of  Michael Jackson and Wham! albums from the decade prior, apparently weren't capable of raising the band's profile (though they did wonders with their investment in Pearl Jam the very same year). The First of Too Many's most obvious blush of uptempo salvos, "Should I Feel It," "Ex Teenager," and the momentous lead-off number "Everybody's Gone" may not have shared the same angsty DNA of Eddie Vedder and Co's "Even Flow" but would've still been relatively comfortable adjacent to it on '91 rock playlists.  And there were plenty of mellower, not to mention hooky respites to be had here to boot - "Fishing at Tescos," "Wrong Number," and the considerably chilled-out "Different Tongues." To their good fortune the album did make more than a handful of believers in the U.S. - just not enough to justify an American release of S/T's 1993 follow-up, Empire of the Senseless.

So what to make of the reissue of The First...?  Mostly for the positive, and as for a few criticisms I'll leave those for the end.  Expanded to a three CD set, disk one is a 30th anniversary remix of the whole enchilada. It's rarely the fans who clamor for alternate mixes of albums, but they seem to be coming down the pike more often these days, invited or not.  The original '91 mix of The First... was hardly muddy or indiscernible, yet this fresh twiddling of the knobs and levels reveals a far more lucid portrayal of the album's fifteen numbers and is said to reveal new elements that were left out of the initial mix, including banjo (or so the band claims).  To my ears, Mark's vocals, nor is any specific instrumentation especially prominent in the new mix, but considerably brighter with maybe the high end tweaked a tad.  The second disk is a straight version of the more frenetic and amped-out o.g. mix, which is what most, if not all listeners will be more accustom to. Then comes the final CD, a gripping live set from a Camden Palace gig in London from June 1991, featuring not only songs from The First... but also choice cuts from their debut LP, Postcard C.V. and a clutch of rarely heard gems ("Ponyboy" anyone?)

While the music presented across this set ranges from merely good to fantastic, it could have been that much better. How?  Well, this reissue sticks strictly to the original UK tracklist.  Any of the three CDs could have potentially housed another album's worth of bonus material including an ace non-LP single from the same era ("Easy to Smile," which technically made it to the American version of The First...), not to mention roughly a half-dozen contemporary b-sides (including but not limited to "I'm On Black and White" and the fun "Beat to Blondie"). Additionally, it would have been a treat to have the under-released Andi in a Karmann ep from 1990 appended too. Like I said, there was plenty of room for extras. The only other quibble is that the booklet's liner notes were kept to a bare minimum, with the typeset tiny enough to warrant reaching for a magnifying glass. A little more insight into the music at hand would have been appreciated, but of course Mark wasn't around to provide any.

The First of Too Many is available straight from Cherry Red, either in triple CD or double LP formats, and from a variety of other vendors including Amazon

1 comment:

blureu said...

Thanks for the review. Picked up the 3CD set yesterday. Agree with you on including the great b-sides from that time!