The Bluetones – Expecting To Fly review

Released 12th February 1996. Review originally published 30th December 2012.

Just as with punk, looking back at Britpop with years of hindsight it feels like there are very few voices which were worth listening to, with some of Blur and the Gallagher brothers now the fully ordained spokespersons of their generation. Its just as tempting to believe that even the era’s other heavyweights – Suede and Pulp – were chewed up and spat out of the machine like cannon fodder, bent out of shape by fame, or drugs, or both, art for art’s sakers unable to live with the machismo. Never before had a movement so superficial taken such deep thinking casualties.

Formed in London in 1993, The Bluetones don’t even get an index entry in John Harris’ wry account of the movement from which it takes its title, and its the same in Alan McGee’s paean to self destruction Creation Stories. Expecting To Fly does rate a mention in Mojo’s special edition covering the era, lumped in with the likes of Denim and Heavy Stereo, but in short it seems that even the people who were there don’t remember them.

All of this seems odd given that it/they topped the UK album chart in early 1996, knocking off none other than What’s The Story (Morning Glory). Perhaps as an omen of things to come Oasis would immediately reclaim it, whilst this would be the quartet’s commercial peak. In amongst a hailstorm of cheekbones all clutching their guitars like antidotes and extolling the virtues of major chords and minor tragedies, it was an album which took more than a stride away from the narrow horizons of Camden, but perhaps because of that it’s worn considerably better than all but a few compatriots.

Influenced variously by amongst others The Smiths, The Stone Roses and The Small Faces, the band – brothers Mark and Scott Morriss, Adam Devlin and Ed Chesters – arrived at the post Quo-asis scrum with little more than this batch of songs and different aspirations. Lacking the profile of some of their antagonists, Expecting To Fly is unquestionably the sound of unlikely rock stars settling down to do things the hard way, a non tabloid courting ethos that your average member of Menswear would’ve struggled to recognise.

Listening again the feat of unit shifting it performed seems even more remarkable. For sure there are some obvious avenues down which Morriss (M.) rephrases the mid-eighties jangle of a thousand nowhere indie bands, specifically on the gorgeous understatement of Slight Return and the knees up pop of Bluetonic. As well as an added muscularity to that offshoot there were other touches so subtle in context they were almost invisible; a refusal to over elaborate that made The Fountainhead a song as quintessentially British as anything from Modern Life Is Rubbish, or Putting Out Fires’ peaks and troughs, almost two tracks in one, each wrapped around the other like newlyweds.

If Britpop itself had an anti-quality once the proletariat got their hands on it, introspection would probably have been the prime candidate. There’s a feeling of transition in the lyrics (Losing lovers, gaining friends, wanting more than needing), the songs mostly built on ideas quietly expressed and the politics of the self.

Without their peers’ hubris, stories like those of Things Change and Carnt Be Trusted would be told in The Bluetones own meter. Reaching the closer Time & Again, with its oddly muscular chord-upon-chord crescendo, the Londoner’s appeal emerges, their way of pulling punches and snatching defeat from the jaws of public triumph so much more endearing than the cock-grabbing drugs a go-go that surrounded them. A record caught in up in an event horizon nothing could outrun, Expecting To Fly could’ve been released at any time in the last twenty five years, the greatest possible complement to its durability.