Released 25th August 1997. Review published 25th April 2009.
Its hard to believe that on release Word Gets Around was considered something mould breaking, sitting proudly against a background of preening Brit-poppers high on cultural myopia. And yet in their barefaced orthodoxy, Stereophonics served two purposes. Firstly, the Welsh trio’s commercial success damned a thousand lesser acts to deserved obscurity, whilst the album’s subject matter – the post office queue gossip of their home town – exposed the art-rock lyrical absurdities of messrs. Albarn and Anderson for what they were.
Compared unfairly – and unfavourably – to the Manic Street Preachers, the typewriters of hate have long-held the band’s populism in disregard, but Word Gets Round at least finds them at their laconic best. Kelly Jones’ character sketch obsession with the real is almost classicist and was always relevant, never more so than on opener A Thousand Trees, making famous the story of a sports teacher’s submission to temptation and as a consequence wrapping it around immortality . If the words were monochrome enough to form an empathy with, it was just as easy to connect with the everyman music; rejecting epic feel and overdubs, the trio’s noise was rock and roll with the barest of frills, a confession totally without disguise.
The combination brought more than a degree of familiarity. Here then was the good time backdrop which the terminally bored teenager of More Life In A Tramp’s Vest could shout drunkenly, whilst the melancholic Local Boy In The Photograph attempted to cauterise the grief of a rural suicide. Jones’ cracked voice – sounding like that of a man twenty years his senior – added a widescreen perspective, rounding out the relative complexity of the soul tinged Traffic and effectively becoming the lead on the smokily unplugged Billy Davey’s Daughter.
It’s at this pace that the de-tooled pathos is at its most effective. There are few flourishes, not you sense because of debut self-consciousness but rather because wasting time is for the rich and lazy. Had Word Gets Round been written about a logging town in Wisconsin by a bunch of the hirsute and heartbroken it may have been hailed an unreconstructed classic. But Cwmaman is like any other place we already know, and as the title says, it’s the Goldfish Bowl of our own life’s mundanity. Jones’ has since found his own demons to chronicle, but someone else’s glass is much more interesting, half full or half empty.