The 24th of April 1991 will be a day I’ll never forget. It was my first-ever gig. The band? Inspiral Carpets. I was chuffed to little bits that they were playing in my home town. After hearing the single ‘Joe’ on The Chart Show (remember that?), I was intrigued. Their first album, Life, had been released one year and one day before that fateful night. By the time the gig came around, I was a devotee, though I don’t think I have ever been Cool as F**k!
Here we are in 2023, 40 years since the band officially formed. It was 1990, amidst the Madchester movement when the band first cracked the Top 40. The line-up switched a few times until the most well-known arrangement formed – Tom Hingley (vocals), Clint Boon (organ and backing vocals), Martyn ‘Bungle’ Walsh (the band’s 13th bass player), Craig Gill (drums) and the only original member left standing, Graham Lambert (guitar).
The Complete Singles contains twenty-four remastered tracks covering the band’s singles output from 1988 to 2015; with 1989 to 1995 being the most prominent period for the Inspirals. Most of the tracks contained here feature Hingley’s distinctive vocal, but these are bookended by songs sung by the original, and then replacement singer, Stephen Holt. Mute/BMG offer you the choice of either a double “midnight licorice” 180g heavyweight black vinyl offering, or a 3-CD set which also contains a disc full of remixes.
So, does this catalogue of singles dating back thirty-five years hold up in today’s musical landscape? You bet it does! Whilst the earliest tracks such as ‘Keep the Circle Around’, ‘Butterfly’ (both featuring Holt on vocals) and ‘Move’ are all good songs, it is when the opening bars of ‘This Is How It Feels’ blast out that I get the goosebumps. Clint Boon leads us into the track with his 1966 Farfisa organ, shouting at you to take notice – almost like a hymn starting in a cathedral. Hingley belts out the chorus, “This is how it feels to be lonely/This is how it feels to be small/This is how it feels when your word means nothing at all”. Who’d have thought that a song about depression, suicide, family secrets and broken relationships should be the band’s first Top 40 hit, reaching number 14? We are a cheery bunch in the UK, aren’t we?
‘Caravan’, from their second album The Beast Inside, was not a huge hit (position 30 in the UK singles chart), but it will certainly get you up and dancing. Get your baggy jeans out and do some quality shoegazing! The song has a Happy Mondays feel to it – somewhere between ‘Kinky Afro’ and ‘Hallelujah’. I’m wary when making comparisons to either the Mondays or The Stone Roses. All three bands were thrust into the public’s consciousness from the Madchester scene in the late 1980s, sometimes referred to as the Holy Triumvirate. The Inspiral Carpets were sometimes considered the lesser of the three bands, something I always felt was completely unjustified and wholly unfair. They were simply different.
A quartet of singles were released from their third album, Revenge of the Goldfish, which featured a marvellous cover - a photograph of an installation by contemporary artist and photographer, Sandy Skoglund. The album was equally excellent, with ‘Dragging Me Down’ giving the band their highest-ever chart placing, reaching number 12 in the UK singles chart. This song brought a more indie rock sound to the band with a crunchier guitar presence compared to many of their earlier tracks. Boon’s organ playing reminds me a little of Jerry Dammers of The Specials fame on this track.
For me, the second single release from the album, ‘Two Worlds Collide’, is arguably one of the greatest pieces of work from Oldham’s finest. A track that builds and once more brings a greater yell from Lambert’s guitar, and Walsh’s bass to the party. Bungle’s bass was always a strong point, I feel – often bubbling away, coaxing the song forward to its final destination. It’s a song that still makes the hairs on my neck stand on edge when I hear it. Over thirty years on, the song still sounds fresh and relevant. Lyrically, it holds up to today’s world. “I steal to feed, I fight to breathe/Through hunger, not greed/I find these days it's the only way I can survive”, sounds similar to life for many in 2023. “What have I done with my life?/Is this the end when two worlds collide?”, bawls Hingley, with a real pain in his voice. This song also benefits from being played loudly. Trust me.
1994s Devil Hopping saw another trio of singles hit the airwaves. The Fall’s Mark E. Smith's unique dulcet tones are added to ‘I Want You’, bouncing off against Hingley’s voice with a smidge of distortion. Of course, it could be that Smith sounded exactly like that on the day of the recording. It adds aggression and vibrancy to the track, compared to the version on Devil Hopping where Smith’s vocals are absent.
‘Saturn 5’ is possibly the most known track from the album. It was also the first of the three singles released. Once more, Boon leads us in with a scrunchy organ sound backed up by some lovely pounding beats courtesy of Gill. The song references aspects of Boon’s American wife’s family. “Lady, take a ride on a Zeke 64” references Boon’s mother-in-law when she first met her husband-to-be. He offered her a ride in his Ford Mustang with the license plate “Zeke 64” - his nickname and football jersey number. Boon once said this was a very “Inspirally” song. Yes, it is. His psychedelic organ melody permeates throughout the track and works well with the 60s memories contained within the lyrics.
The final few tracks feature Stephen Holt back on vocal duty. Of these, ‘Let You Down’ is the best of the bunch and sits most comfortably with the Hingley-led output. Musically, it sounds very “Inspirally” to use Boon’s terminology – comparable with their earlier output. Holt’s voice is certainly designed for indie rock and works well here. However, I feel Hingley delivers more emotion and greater depth in his singing. The legendary punk-poet, John Cooper Clarke, makes an appearance with his unmistakable Mancunian delivery, bringing an element of added gravitas to proceedings.
CD buyers will also get an additional disc of remixes. These are a mixed bag – as remixes so often are. I would certainly recommend the following as the stand-out tracks to listen to Caravan (No Windscreen Mix), You’re So Good For Me (Like A Tonic Remix) and Uniform (Scripka Mix).
If you grew up during the late 80s/early 90s, you should get this so you can reminisce and remember just how interesting and entertaining the music scene was back then. If you’ve not listened to the Inspiral Carpets before, take a listen. You will wonder why this band is not talked about/played more often. You will ‘Find Out Why’ I love them. Either way, you may feel the urge to buy a Clint Boon-drawn cow t-shirt so you can become Cool as F**k.
Be the first to comment