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+ {Kelly Jones}

Welsh Britpop was kept afloat by two major lad-ish combos: the precursory MANIC STREET PREACHERS, and their late-90s trackers, the STEREOPHONICS. Latecomers to the scene compared to their aforementioned rivals, Kelly Jones and Co have secured five chart-topping albums from 1999’s “Performance And Cocktails” to 2007’s “Pull The Pin”, while all of the excitement of their cool singles were appreciated on their double-platinum 2008 compilation, DECADE IN THE SUN: BEST OF STEREOPHONICS {*9}.
Equally fuelled by angst and emotion, the original trio of Cwmaman, mid Glamorgan chums, Kelly Jones (vocals/guitars), the unrelated Richard Jones (bass) and Aberdare-born Stuart Cable (drums), duly shelved nugatory covers act Tragic Love Company for the more in-line and operative, STEREOPHONICS; their moniker stemmed from the manufacturer of Stuart’s dad’s record player.
The trio proved they were more than capable of spearheading Richard Branson’s fresh subsidiary V2 imprint with the release late in ’97 of debut single, `Looks Like Chaplin’, a melodic riff-a-thon that was more in common with trad 70s rock and/or Seattle grunge than the then dominant Brit-pop. Sadly, the record (and its rollicking B-side, `More Life In A Tramps Vest’) was only afforded a limited-edition of 500 copies, thus rendering it non-plus for the singles charts. Signalling their first true retail release, `Local Boy In The Photograph’, came within breathing distance of the Top 50, a dizzying amalgam of the MANICS, RADIOHEAD, OASIS and BUFFALO TOM, that managed to sound simultaneously contemporary and classic.
Jones confirmed his newfound status as one of Old Blighty’s most promising young songwriters as STEREOPHONICS embarked on an impressive chart run with the Top 40-breaking `More Life In A Tramp’s Vest’. Late summer saw them nudge closer to the Top 20 with `A Thousand Trees’, the opening track on debut album, WORD GETS AROUND (1997) {*8}.
A massive selling UK Top 10 success, the record featured in the upper reaches of many end-of-year polls, helping to net the band a (Best New Group) Brit Award early the following year. Having seen out ‘97 with the moody magnificence of `Traffic’, the triumphant trio began the new year with a Top 20 re-issue of `Local Boy…’, prior to a summer of heavy touring.
Towards the fall of ‘98, STEREOPHONICS became a household name with the MANICs-like Top 3 hit, `The Bartender And The Thief’, proving that despite the continued predictions of its imminent demise, good old fashioned guitar-rock and solid songwriting was alive and well and living in Wales. The following year saw the trio peak both critically and commercially, four additional and massive hits, `Just Looking, `Pick A Part That’s New’, `I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio’ and `Hurry Up And Wait’, all squeezed out of an excellent sophomore set, PERFORMANCE AND COCKTAILS (1999) {*9}. Welsh pop idol, TOM “The Voice” JONES, also called up the services of his fellow countrymen to duet with him on a Top 5 hit of `Mama Told Me Not To Come’.
Everyone’s favourite trad-rockers returned in 2001 with JUST ENOUGH EDUCATION TO PERFORM {*7}, the record’s title engendering an unlikely bout of controversy when the band – much to car manufacturer Daimler-Chrysler’s disapproval – attempted to abbreviate it to “J.E.E.P.”. Needless to say, this episode was more unpredictable than any of the meat and potatoes fare on offer within. Which wasn’t to say STEREOPHONICS were worthy but dull, just that their acoustic-laced melodic rock lent itself to daytime radio play annoyingly well. Once again, Jones proved himself a master of rock classicism, taking his inspiration from the choicest, most authentic sounding 60s/70s moments and infusing them with the deftest of rootsy flourishes. Thus, trying as you might to resist, attendant singles such as `Mr Writer’, `Step On My Old Size Nines’, the breezy `Have A Nice Day’ and `Vegas Two Times’, slowly but surely shoehorned their way into your consciousness, much like that “Top Gear” compilation your dad used to play. While Kelly was a writer who was undoubtedly maturing with age, he still lacked that strain of rugged individuality that marked out a ROD STEWART or a JOHN FOGERTY; the fact that raspy Kelly and Co superseded Rod The Mod’s nugget, `Handbags & Gladrags’ (penned by MIKE D’ABO) into the Top 5 was proof that maybe the post-millennium tide was turning.
KJ did yet more growing up the hard way with YOU GOTTA GO THERE TO COME BACK (2003) {*6}, detailing his travails through a series of affecting if often disillusioned vignettes. With the likes of `Nothing Precious At All’ and the hit singles `Madame Helga’, `Maybe Tomorrow’, `Since I Told You It’s Over’ and `Moviestar’, the band sounded less like they had something to prove and more like they had something to say.
The first album to feature Argentinian Javier Weyler on the drum-stool (in place of temp Steve Gorman who filled for the departed Cable), LANGUAGE. SEX. VIOLENCE. OTHER? (2005) {*7} was the sound of a rejuvenated, testosterone-taut band mitigating their primal rock instincts with contemporary 80s-centric treatments. Lead single `Dakota’ cruised to the top of the British charts with James Dean-dream, stick-shift cool, arguable the most stylish three minutes they’ve ever committed to vinyl tarmac. Follow-up and album opener, `Superman’, combined falsetto vocals and an evil sounding bass-line, going Top 20, as did successive spin-offs `Devil’ and `Rewind’, both of which reverberated to echo-chamber vocals and the latter recalling nothing so much as vintage U2. So much for the singles; the album cuts – from the brutal epiphany of `Doorman’ onwards – weren’t so forgiving, pulverising slabs of crew-cut rock that might’ve been hewed raw from the glowering Welsh valleys. Many of the best tracks showed up on LIVE FROM DAKOTA (2006) {*6}, a double-set capturing the band in their leather-clad element.
Over the years, STEREOPHONICS were responsible for some effective B-side covers, including `Who’ll Stop The Rain’ (CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL), `Sunny Afternoon’ (The KINKS), `Positively 4th Street’ (BOB DYLAN), `Something In The Way’ (NIRVANA), `The Old Laughing Lady’ + `Heart Of Gold’ (NEIL YOUNG), `The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ (EWAN MacCOLL), `I’m Only Sleepin’ + `Don’t Let Me Down’ (The BEATLES).
Coming after a rather bare-bones KELLY JONES solo set, ONLY THE NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED (2007) {*6}, and toasting just over a decade in the biz, PULL THE PIN (2007) {*5}, disappointed all but the faithful. It saw the band adding a fourth member in English-born guitarist, Adam Zindani. Sounding unsettling at times in their role of OASIS-meets-NIRVANA-meets-U2, STEREOPHONICS upped the alt-rock ante on songs such as `Pass The Buck’, `Bank Holiday Monday’ and `Soldiers Make Good Targets’; only `My Friends’ and the TRAVIS-esque `It Means Nothing’ hit the charts in a music world in a recession of downloads and internet freebies.
There was nothing else for it but to KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON (2009) {*5}; the name of their seventh studio album. Produced by Jim Abbiss (who’d worked with KASABIAN, ARCTIC MONKEYS, et al), the quartet seemed to have lost their standing in the alt-rock community as the record just failed to hit the Top 10 – their first to do so. Once evergreen and utilising the model-boy looks of their accessible frontman, dated anthems such as `Trouble’, `She’s Alright’ and `I Got Your Number’, couldn’t buy them a hit single.
The tragic death in 2010 of their former drummer, Stuart Cable, and the un-associated switching of Weyler for former NOISETTE sticksman, Jamie Morrison, were testing times for the ‘Phonics, but like all great bands they pulled resources for the long-awaited GRAFFITI ON THE TRAIN (2013) {*6}, incidentally, still featuring Weyler. Echoing their trad-rock exercises of old, resurgent album sales gave them a Top 3 success, while tracks such as lonesome hit, `Indian Summer’, `Been Caught Cheating’ (inspired by the long-missed vocal prowess of AMY WINEHOUSE) and the touching title track, kept their heads above the all-too-unforgiving parapet of the music industry.
Turning in their 9th studio set, KEEP THE VILLAGE ALIVE (2015) {*6}, many had predicted the power quartet might’ve passed their sell-by date; not so, as the record beat off opposition from fellow Brits BRING ME THE HORIZON, The LIBERTINES and DURAN DURAN, to reach the top of the charts. Shunned by the Yankee dollar (reasons on the back of a postage stamp please), STEREOPHONICS filled the set with lush orchestration, melodrama and anthemic ballads, nothing coming close to classics of old, but held up by modest download hits `C’est La Vie’ and `I Wanna Get Lost With You’; an alternative to U2 or COLDPLAY, the remainder `Sing Little Sister’, `Mr And Mrs Smith’ et al, clock in and play it safe.
Autumn 2017 unveiled STEREOPHONICS tenth album, SCREAM ABOVE THE SOUNDS {*6}, their first incorporating Parlophone Records and another Top 3 ingress. It was worth noting too that on-tour keyboard player Tony Kirkham made his usual contributions, whilst engineer Jim Lowe added to the band’s sonic swathes. A melancholy Manics to anyone assessing the band’s anthemic alt-rock touches, only `Before Anyone Knew Our Name’, `Caught By The Wind’, `Taken A Tumble’ and the RADIOHEAD-ish `What’s All The Fuss About?’, appealing to the non-affiliated.
Understated everywhere but the British Isles, the cliché-cutting Kelly Jones and crew still maintained a loyal support for every album launched; and the chart-scaling KIND (2019) {*7} was no exception. The sobering set, co-produced by Kelly and George Drakoulias, was recorded in eleven days at Ramsbury Brewery & Distillery in Wiltshire, and one supposed without its opening big ticket item, `I Just Wanted The Goods’ (one of their songs best ever!), many fans just might’ve dropped off the radar. A sedate STEREOPHONICS could divide music lovers like a Brexit debate, but in singled-out `Fly Like An Eagle’ (not the STEVE MILLER tune) and `Bust This Town’ (plus others), they played safe without stepping on too many cracks.
© MC Strong 1998-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Mar2013-Nov2019

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