Album Review: Slinky by Milltown Brothers (1990) (Label: A&M Records)

For some inexplicable reason this album never bothered the critical acclaim radar, let alone slipped under it. 

In fact the wordsmiths who invent terms like ‘critical acclaim radar’ would be delighted that they could use another tabular inventions (the word ‘blip’) to ensure that those inclined could say Slinky never even registered a ‘blip’ on the ‘critical acclaim radar’, thus showing their parents that their accusatory sighs about a wasted university education could finally be silenced. 

So apart from me who did the album bother? Who was it that convinced the brothers Nelson to pitch up eleven years after their last effort and make another album (2004’s Rubberband).

Based on my recollection from my immediate post student days (when I may have used ‘critical acclaim radar’ without feeling the need to qualify it with six opening lines of self deprecating sarcasm) the following (now ageing) demographics must have been responsible: 

1. Ex Students:  Every student/ex student wanting to impress other students/ex students with their knowledge of obscure bands used to read NME. In those days they were (i) the only print media champions of obcsure bands and championed the Milltown Brothers excessively and (ii) guaranteed a readership by giving away those bizarrely coloured plastic flexi discs of obscure bands that no one ever heard of again. 

2. People from Burnley: A place so godforsaken that anything with a remote semblance of credibility is celebrated like a beautiful sunbeam streaming through a crack in one of it’s many smoke-caked industrial sites (For pendants, Colne the bands hometown is only 6 miles away). I apologize now in advance to the people of Burnley before you ‘twitter kill’ me.

3. Ex Students from Burnley…. really really liked them – obviously. 

In fact it was my immediate post-university housemate Niall, coincidentally a student from Burnley, who forcefully introduced me to them by regularly playing Apple Green (see below) at 5.00am every Sunday morning as he celebrated arriving home from whatever conquest he had surreptitiously left before breakfast. 

Despite hating Niall for this, as much as anything, for having a remarkably active sex life that I simply could not match, this track was actually infinitely tolerable despite the pangs of jealousy it evoked, sheer bloody tiredness I associated it with and a couple of ‘grumpy hangover’ actual fist fights with a good mate it caused.

Exploring it more post Niall (he eventually ‘left me’ and married and is still married to, an ‘Apple Green girl’ he managed to impregnate during one of his above-mentioned Saturday night trysts), tracks such as Here I Stand (see below)Which Way Should I Jump and Something Cheap all tick the exact number of boxes to ensure that they can be defined as truly great jangle pop efforts. Essentially they show that the Nelson brothers who were responsible for the guitar work should have been among the jangle pop greats. 

To some they genuinely were. However, for various reason it just did not take off like it should have, despite a bit of top 30 chart success for Here I Stand (several years after the release it became even more successful in the psyche of the British public when it was used as the title track for the Tim Firth BBC drama series ‘All Quiet on the Preston Front’) in effect the band seem to drift passed popular culture without any group of the young genre disciples of the era adopting it as their own. 

And heaven knows the brothers Nelson courted the fans of just about every genre that was prominent in the early 90’s (with the exception of grunge) which in reality was ultimately their downfall. 

For instance the passing trade of all things baggy/Madchester were offered slithers of the Hammond organ to try and arouse their senses. Unfortunately, like throwing crap at a fan, hardly anything seemed to stick with the floppy fringed, big T-shirted youth who followed the scene, primarily because tracks such as Apple Green and Seems to Me gave only the merest hints of the instrument whereas the disciples of the genre fervently demanded their music to have the living shit drowned out of it with all things Hammond (i.e. Inspiral Carpets and The Charlatans). It just was just too subtle for the Madchester crowd. who quickly sauntered off to start the long wait for an eventually rubbish follow up from The Stones Roses.  

Similarly, the bands jangle sound was occasionally on a par with anything that Johnny Marr had done via The Smiths, (well at least in their last two albums) however it still did not garner any true popularity, or even the slightest prospect  of a similar legacy. This was primarily due to the fact the front man appeared to be just a normal lad, with obligatory floppy fringe with a nice voice. Not for him the excesses of Morrissey’s daffodil throwing, hearing aid wearing, vocal histrionics that could produce immense wit at the flick on a pen. The band just did not have the same charisma or at least the same ‘type’ of charisma that was important to The Smiths crowd, who eventually tiptoed off to buy cardigans and embrace indie/twee pop.

However they ‘really’ did try just about everything in this album. Nationalilty tries to encompass all things anthemic with big Levellers type choruses and echoed voice decoders designed to lead a revolution. I personally love this track but if you have no desire to hear Levellers bombast backed by an awful parody of everything that was bad about the era’s Indie Electronica (more specifically early Jesus Jones) then this track will understandably irritate. 

So there it is. I am probably right when concluding the reasons why the band were unsuccessful. They tried  indie electronica, Morrissey style introspection, Levellers style anthems and tinkled around with the Hammond organ, proving themselves competent if not spectacular at all of the era’s prevalent genres in a desperate bid to gain popularity. 

Perhaps this drive for popularity made them forget to concentrate on their brilliant jangle pop guitar playing strengths and whilst this was rectified to a certain extent on their next on their next album (1993’s Valve) by then 250,000 kids were already cutting their floppy fringes off and planning trips to muddy fields in Hertfordshire to sing ‘Don’t Look Back You Wanker’ with the Gallagher brothers and any potential for critical acclaim was engulfed by Britpop. 

Never mind it can be our secret that we only share with ex students from Burnley and we will always be grateful for the handful of janglepop classics the album provided.

Band links

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