Ringleader Of The Tormentors

Something Changed – Part 3

There’s a moment during Gene‘s 2004 performance at the Leadmill in Sheffield, captured on the imaginatively titled DVD ‘Gene Live‘, when a member of the crowd shouts out, “Irish Blood, English Heart,” the title of Morrissey‘s then-latest single. Martin Rossiter, the band’s captivating and rather moody frontman, pauses and says, “3 out of 10 for the joke. I would have given you 2, but you delivered it so well.”
That’s pretty much the story of that band in one paragraph. Constantly dismissed by the press as Smiths soundalikes, always willing to answer back and the sort of band that records a live DVD in Sheffield, rather than in some swanky London venue. The first point was always rather lazy. Yes, there are comparisons to be made, not least with the artwork of the early releases, but for me there was more in common with The Jam at times, and when Gene covered ‘Wasteland‘ and ‘A Town Called Malice‘ that shone through. The second point relates mainly to Rossiter’s constant delight in winding up an audience or an interviewer for his own amusement. If it wasn’t on his terms, it wasn’t happening, and fair play to him for that. Considerably more interesting than another two page feature on a dullard like him out of Snow Patrol or the lead singer of Cast. That said, whether it was the savvy approach is another matter, because once the media decide they hate you, your coverage options are pretty much fucked. The only appearance you’ll make in those hallowed pages will be the reviews section and, fairly obviously, you won’t be getting the ‘album of the week’ mantle. And the third point. Well, I suspect the DVD being filmed in Sheffield was more down to the fact that filling The Leadmill was doable, but anything much bigger than that would’ve been a struggle. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not pointing this out whilst rubbing my hands together and grinning. It pissed me off for many years that people didn’t seem to get Gene. Having seen their career take off at the height of Britpop and seem to develop even further with the Albert Hall headlining times around the second studio album, ‘Drawn To The Deep End‘, suddenly the public moved on, and only the loyal fans remained.
I have to be honest. I drifted, along with the masses, after the second album. When I finally did pick up ‘Revelations,‘ the third studio effort, in 2001, I realised that I’d been missing out on a diverse, mature indie-rock record that demonstrated how far the band had come. ‘You’ll Never Walk Again‘ is one of my preferred tunes of the last ten years and is a masterclass in how to build the atmosphere of a piece of music and the tension of a lyrics. My all-time favourite Gene track is ‘Speak To Me Someone‘, from that second album. Sometimes the bit in a song where nothing happens can be just as powerful as the bit where everything is happening. Such is the case with the tiny pause, towards the end of the song where Martin bawls, “I’m home again” and the entire musical backdrop just disappears from beneath him as his dream of being in this person’s arms fades and he snaps back to reality. Straight after the pause, Rossiter comes back in, singing in a far gentler manner, “I’m drunk for your love, speed into my life, and speak to me now, oh just speak to me someone.” Whether that resonates with you or not, it just floors me. See below if you wish to have similar flooring done unto you.
Just as I realised that I shouldn’t have left them behind, it became clear that Gene were having to limp along of their own accord, ditched as they had been by Polydor. This should have meant a sub-standard album on a dingy little label. Instead, while on a small label of their own creation, they produced what some members of the band consider to be their masterpiece and and a record that I was somewhat taken aback by. If they had this in them, why had they waited so long? Soulful, cohesive and rhythmic in a way that none of their prior work had quite managed, ‘Libertine‘, the forth and final studio album, is a lost classic. ‘O Lover‘ pretty much swings along whilst tackling the topic of domestic violence, and Martin Rossiter says he adores album closer, ‘Somewhere In The World‘, because it’s the only Gene song he “could imagine Elvis singing.” Sadly, very few people even knew ‘Libertine’ was out, let along chose to ignore it. The band continued for a few years of touring and slowly working up new material, but soon after the filming of the ‘Gene Live’ DVD the band decided that enough was enough.
There’s plenty of additional Gene stuff out there to sample. ‘To See The Lights‘ is
essential stuff, collecting together non-album tracks and rarities from the early years, while the recently released ‘Peel Sessions‘ 2CD set has its moments. The live album, ‘Rising For Sunset’ is pretty much a ‘fans only’ title, while the ‘Gene Live’ DVD is a delight to someone who loves the music, but might not be so joyous if you’re coming to them cold.
In the extras for the aforementioned DVD, the band are asked why they think their fans stuck with them for ten years. Martin looks at the floor, then lifts his head, looking very matter-of-fact, and calmly states, “well, we’re good.” Can’t disagree, old chap.

 

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