Top – Emotion Lotion

Originally released in 1991. Review originally published 7th September 2009.

Now this took some researching. Although Emotion Lotion in itself is now widely available again in virtual record stores, details about the band themselves are less easy find. Hours of trawling the internet had only turned up numerous references to the other “Emotion Lotion” – the one used as a flavouring aid for oral sex – and little else. I began imagining that the band had in fact never existed, like some phantom Madchester puppet show. Hadn’t I seen them in Newcastle in late ’90, right at the movement’s peak? No. As memory now served me right, that was the not dissimilar Real People.

Just as I was about to admit defeat and make a biography up, a la Lester Bangs – what would Lester do, I always think to myself when in a tight spot – the pieces began falling together. Via the BBC’s John Peel session archive (Top recorded for the old warhorse at Maida Vale only once, in early ’91) the line-up’s history began to emerge. As with many bands, the quintessential scouse guitar sound of the early ’90’s which they produced seemed as contemporary as Berghaus and Kickers, but in actual fact the artists were a little longer in the tooth than it first appeared. All three members were in fact veterans of Liverpool’s rich post-punk scene; guitarist/vocalist Paul Cavanagh and drummer Alan Wills had first played together in 1983 for The Room, whilst bass Joe Fearon had only recently left a second incarnation of the near-legendary Wild Swans, of which Wills had also been a past member.

That the trio should find themselves signed to Island is much more of a bellwether for the industry’s determination to fill the vacuum created by Lee Mavers indolence, but whilst Emotion Lotion lacks the messianic one’s songwriting genius, it’s a minor classic by it’s own terms of reference. Songs like the wistful Soul Magic and Goodnight still hold water, despite the almost customary high end vocals which make Cavanagh sound unconvincingly child like. This durability was mainly due to a local specialism for traditional sixties tinged guitar-bass-drums chassis, but whilst up the motorway they gorged themselves on porno funk or folky psychedelic insouciance, by the sea it always seemed like there was more grit, demonstrated by the r’n’b fretwork of Feel Good and the proto Britpop squall of Hi Baby Hi.

It being 1991, with rave hits being the other side of the youthquake shocking middle England, of course there are drug references, Buzzin’s head full of MDMA inspired contentment summing up the era’s highly temporary esprit de corps, although opener No.1 Dominator has failed to age well, it’s rolling wah-wah and Ryder-esque delivery sounding desperately like it was auditioning for Pills, Thrills & Bellyaches. Given that Top as a band wouldn’t last far beyond the Maastricht Treaty, it’s not surprising that this archetype remains their most familiar work, but in truth Emotion Lotion is much more in tone about peace and melancholy, as the understated eulogy She’s Got All The World gives way to panoramic closer Only Dreaming. Cavanagh, Wills and Fearon had taught themselves new tricks alright, but then came Nevermind…