REVIEW: The Wonder Stuff, _If The Beatles Had Read Hunter...The Singles_ (Polydor U.K.)

by Martin Bate (for Consumable online magazine) Subscribe at:
The Stuffies will forever hold a place in my heart, having been a significant part of the soundtrack of my life through my late teens and early 20's. And to top it all off they go and split up while they're still on top, thus ensuring that the memories will never be tainted - although also ensuring that I never get to spend another night bouncing, smiling and occasionally swallowing the lump in my throat to these songs with another 2,000 nutters. Sigh.

So what was all the fuss about ? It was about the best pop band the UK had produced since Madness! And I don't mean 'pop' as in the vapid dance and rock that fills the charts, I mean 'pop' as in: songs no more than three minutes long (scientifically proven optimum pop-song length) with verses, choruses and hooks that sink in after the first listen that have you playing the singles 5 times in a row when you get them home and then whistling them for days to come.

This is _The Singles_ rather than _The Best Of_ so its always going to be missing more than a few gems but that's OK - if this is the first you've heard of The Wonder Stuff, then after this you're going to want to get the four albums and as many B-Sides as you can lay your hands on anyway.

So, since its _The Singles_ we get "Full of Life (Happy Now)" which was always a crap choice for a single but was perhaps representative of the quality of the disappointing (by their standards) fourth album. What went wrong with that album, I'll never know as the B-sides to all the singles from _Construction for the Modern Idiot_ proved that they were still effortlessly writing great songs. We also get the vaguely irritating collaboration with British comedian Vic Reeves on "Dizzy" (their only Number One hit) and their cover of 70's glam rocker's Slade's "Coz I Luv You" which is actually not bad. Although never released as a single, it appeared on the U.K. charity compilation album, _Ruby Trax_.

After you get rid of those tracks, it's self-penned pop classics every step of the way with the Stuffies knack for an infectious tune played with just the right mix of electric and accoustic guitars, sprinkled with mandolin or fiddle as time progressed. And, on the final blaze of glory that is "Hot Love Now", a Las Vegas horn section to die for. Aahh....

Much has been made of singer/songwriter Miles Hunt's cockiness and withering sarcasm - and its not hard to see why with song titles like "Give Give Give Me More More More" and lines like "I didn't like you very much when I met you/And now I like you even less....". But few ever seemed to mention the gaps in the facade that increased over the years and were what always affected me most. Lines like "I've been a long-time disappointment to myself" ("Circlesqare"); "And these should be the best days of my life / But life is not what I though it was!" ("Size of a Cow"); and the moment in "Caught in My Shadow" where Miles' voice soars on "Its not enough I gave you my blood, my sweat, my tears and all that I said I would" (in reply to the people in his home town who shunned him because of his fame) always put a lump in my throat.

Yet again, because this is _The Singles_, you'll need to get the albums to hear Miles' best lyrics - but that's OK, you'll be buying them soon enough, remember ?

Put simply, the Wonder Stuff were one of those rare bands that mixed fun and poignancy in their lyrics and music so that you often didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Only British bands seem able to do this (American Music Club lean too much on the heart-breaking) and only Blur are even in the same ball-park in 1994.

I miss them dearly. I wish I had been in the UK so that I could have gone to their farewell show but I couldn't and well.....if you've never bought a Stuffies album (which is more than likely if you're American) then it's time to start. And catch up with what you missed.

- Martin Bate

Reprinted With Permission
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