The sense of relief at Creation and in The Boo Radleys' camp is almost tangible. Their second album, Giant Steps, achieved critical acclaim and gold sales but the follow-up, C'Mon Kids, sold a disappointing 40,000 units. Now, with their latest effort Kingsize, released on October 19, they are back on form with perhaps their most commercial release to date.
"The last album underachieved," says Creation general manager Emma Greengrass bluntly. "It was difficult for people to get their heads round after Wake Up. This one is punter-friendly and has huge commercial potential."
That the label's faith has paid off is partly attributed to the fact that Creation ceo Dick Green encouraged Boos' songwriter Martin Carr to return to a more melodic direction.
"He's very much his own person," says Green, "but I think he listened. The songs that eventually came out of the sessions are the most melodic he's done."
Written in Carr's blue living room in Archway, north London, Kingsize is the band's most sophisticated work to date. "It was supposed to be a history of the last century," says Carr, "with the lyrics about Philip Morris and the raping of the land. And at the end Tim [Brown] turned it into a disco thing. The bassline was fantastic, like the Bee Gees."
Brown's role in the band seems more pivotal than ever. Nominally the bass player, his deft touches include marrying classical strings and programmed drum & bass rhythms on the opening Blue Room In Archway and brings the spirit of the Bullitt soundtrack to The Old Newsstand At Hamilton Square.
"This the closest they've ever come to realising the songs in Martin's head," says Creation head of A&R Mark Bowen. "I honestly believe it's their best record because it's the most fully-realised in terms of Martin's musical ambition."
By the band's standards, reaching this pinnacle has been a slog. Their return to Rockfield Studios in October 1997 initially reaped little success.
"It's very easy after you've been making records for this long to just get comfortable," says Bowen. "I think they stopped pushing themselves for a while and they had to rediscover the spark."
Although productivity improved markedly when the band reconvened at Master Rock Studios, still neither they nor the label were satisfied, which inevitably led to a face-off between Carr and Bowen, who had been friends since their teens.
"It is difficult," says Carr. "He's always been the first person I give the demos to outside the band but now he has to say `That's going to work, that's not going to work' and obviously as soon as he does that, there's huge friction.
"I think the album has got a lot better for all the difficulty," adds Sice, the Boos' vocalist. "All the rough edges have been ironed out. In the past there were things we should possibly have had a go at again but never did."
A trip to Liverpool's Parr Street Studios finally produced the tracks which brought the album together - the album's title track and planned second single and Free Huey, a big beat-driven pop song influenced by Norman Cook's remix of Renegade Master. Released today (Monday) as the first single, it has already taken off in student and indie clubs and features on Radio One's As Featured playlist. Creation's Green recognises that the band will be reliant largely on radio support and "great reviews".
"I know it's not fashionable," says Bowen. "There was a time when the Boos collided with the zeitgeist, but the reason they've been around so long is that they've always done it their way, been outsiders."