Those of you who know me, or have read this blog for some time, might have expected me to have written about this already. The trouble is, contrary to how it may often appear, these posts don't just throw themselves together you know... and for this, I wanted to take the time to write something half decent. So here we go, better late than never: the Gene re-issues.
First things first, I want to address the obvious issue. If you read Gene's Wikipedia page, this is what the first paragraph has to say:
Gene were an English alternative rock quartet that rose to prominence in the mid-1990s. Formed in 1993, they were popularly labelled as a Britpop band and often drew comparisons to The Smiths because of their Morrissey-esque lead singer, Martin Rossiter. Gene's music was influenced by The Jam, The Small Faces, The Style Council and The Clash.
So... Jam, Small Faces, Style Council, Clash... why is it then that the music press, now and back in the 1990s, could never really see beyond The Smiths? Yes, Gene were a drums/bass/guitar/voice four-piece with a literate, fey singer abnormally blessed with grace, wit and style. But musically? Really far less in common than you might think. Still, the music journo's of the day were so desperate to label someone as "The New Smiths" (see also Suede, The Stone Roses, even Marion) and with the Rozzer seeming a ready-made heir to Mozza... I guess it was all too easy. Back then, I remember reading copyist "proof" being the extra track on the 12" of The Smith's first single. Go on, look it up. More recently, I have seen a Gene track described as being similar to Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others... just because it fades in. Really, you have to laugh...
Anyway, that's my beef over. Though I may revisit this during the course of what follows. For now, twenty years on from their breakthrough, Gene's studio output has warranted a glorious re-issue from Edsel, part of the Demon Music Group, in beautiful casebound CD form. Each album has had a digital "light touch" remastering and comes with a second disc of bonus material, primarily live and session tracks, with a sprinkling of B-sides too. The extras get most interesting on Libertine, but before I get too far ahead of myself, let's review the albums in order.Hand In Glove or This Charming Man. Stylistically, it's reminiscent of the entire Smiths back-catalogue, with that type face and the constrained, over-saturated palette. It looks like The Smiths, ergo they must be Smiths wannabes. QED, right? Well, not really, as I shall explain in the course of the next four reviews. Before I move on, let me just add that the re-issue is topped up with radio session tracks and two live sets, none of which are essential but all of which are soaked in nostalgia for fans of Gene and the era alike. Hatful Of Hollow... ergo.... QED... again. Except, to follow that argument to an extreme, you might as well say any band that ever released, let's say, a live album was a copyist too. But anyway, what of this album? Well, to me this is an essential purchase because it includes both versions, guitar and piano, of I Can't Help Myself, a song of such beauty (especially in piano-led form) that it ranks among Gene's finest recordings from any album. Actually, the latter is very much in the style of Martin Rossiter's current solo work, and it was nice to see it reprised as such at recent live shows. Even beyond this reviewer's personal affinity with the stand-out track here, any album that opens with the mighty Be My Light, Be My Guide and closes with For The Dead much surely be worth £9 of anyone's money. Throw in the bonus material - a radio session that was very much a signpost for their third album, and a live set from the Phoenix festival - and it's clear that you can't go wrong with
So, some closing thoughts. Edsel have done a beautiful job - the casebound CDs, complete with colour-coded spines that look excellent all in a row on the shelf, are lovely to just hold, let alone listen to. Plus they are stuffed to the gills with old photographs, and excellent liner notes by Terry Saunders. Lewis Slade, who has almost single-handedly kept the Gene flame burning online since the band's demise, undoubtedly deserves some of the credit here too, I suspect. Criminally under-rated guitarist Steve Mason, bassist Kevin Miles and drummer Matt James were all heavily involved in these re-issues as well, contributing extensively to those liner notes and providing archive material. They also all turned up at the launch party in London last month, all of which makes it even more of a shame that Martin Rossiter chose not to be involved at all, beyond wishing the venture well. Not surprising really, given his recent thoughts on a Gene reunion. One other gripe - personally, I would have liked to have seen live album Rising For Sunset also given the casebound, remastered treatment, to complete the set. There's probably a good reason why it wasn't, but I'm blowed if I can think what it might be. Luckily for us all, you can still scoop it up for peanuts here.
The bottom line though is this - right now, I can't think of a better way to spend £45 of your hard-earned than on these re-issues. If you're a Gene fan already, you'll love the sound quality, the bonus tracks, the packaging and of course the inevitable nostalgia... and if you are new to Gene, prepare to be dazzled...
I leave you with this:
Footnote: a new Gene T-shirt has been produced to tie in with the re-issues. Grab that here.