THE XL-FILES by April Long, NME Reporter
The Boo Radleys have had a tough time of it -- alternately lauded as visionary and damned as weirdos, their "difficult" last album saw their pop creed go . . . pop! But now they're back with the new "Kingsize" LP and a gargantuan dollop of self-belief.
They make a funny pair, these two. Their reflections glinting on the muddy surface of the Rhine, The Boo Radleys' song writing guitarist Martin Carr and sidekick singer Sice trungle across the concrete expanse of a Cologne industrial estate. Carr's tall frame shuffles forward with deliberate concentration, while diminutive Sice bobs and weaves a step behind, his glossy egghead offset by his friend's wiry thicket of unruly headgrowth.
It's an unlikely, but prolific, union. Dreaming together since childhood, their somewhat uneven partnership has spawned many albums, and briefly brought them the rock'n'roll glory they so ardently craved with 1995's "Wake Up!" album, before they crashed back into the indie scrapheap with the ill-received "C'mon Kids". Yet the story isn't over yet. A sixth album, "Kingsize", hovers close, and for the first time, after years of wanting more than their efforts have won them, The Boo Radleys have nothing to complain about. The Boo Radleys, finally, are happy.
Later, as mullet-sporting skateboarders whiz haphazardly past the foot of cologne's ancient cathedral and the setting sun washes the city in the light the color of burnished bronze, Martin and Sice are even happier. For they are on a high-speed train whisking them away on a whiplash European press tour, and they have found the bar. Convincing these two relentlessly articulate men to discuss their musical progress proves something of a struggle. Alcohol seems to lubricate their desire to verbalise The Boo Radleys' world view. Here, for example, we have Martin on politics: "It was1984 throughout the whole Conservative era -- Britain was a really cold place. Now it's frustrating because Tony Blair's got a chance to do something creative and he's not doing it. It's the same with Clinton --you've had fundamental Christian Republicans in the White House for 20 years and he's had a chance to do something different. Instead he's just used it to get blowjobs."
On war: "For hundreds of years before 1945 there was always a generation who had to go to war and who lived in awareness of that. And now in the music business you get all this 'Life! You gotta be fucking mad for it!' and all the time sitting in a pub and nipping to the bogs to do lines of charlie. Thatís shit. So maybe war is an integral part of being alive."
On art: "Fashion, now, is considered art. That's shit. Clothes are something you wear to keep you warm and dry. Music, on the other hand, is forever. What would ballet be without music? People standing on one fucking leg."
Then, finally, gripping a towering stein of weissbier and pursing his plump lips, Martin sighs surrender to the interview's demands.
"We were definitely confused after 'C'mon Kids'. We didn't know what we had done wrong and everyone was pointing the finger and saying 'You willfully awkward little bastards, you deliberately made an album that no one's going to like."
"Like we'd intentionally sabotage our own career!" Sice explains. "Why would we do that? We were just trying to be different. It wasn't so that we would stop being famous or because we were trying to be willfully obtuse. We wanted to have the same success we'd had with the 'Wake Up, Boo!' single. It just didn't happen."
The problem, they concur, was that they shifted too far away from the buoyant pop classicism of 'Wake Up!' at a time when Britpop ruled the land.
"It was all over the shop and people weren't willing to listen and work out what it was we were doing because we weren't trying to do 'Hey Jude' over and over again and we didn't have a nice orchestra playing along," opines Martin, who still clings to his notion that, musically, the album was no failure.
"That's the price you pay for changing every album," nods Sice. "but if you donít change, you don't survive. You've got to evolve, otherwise you donít make any more albums. There were bands that we started out with in 1990 and they made a second album and that was it. Seeing that happen reinforced any natural instinct we had to change, because we were absolutely terrified. The only way to keep going is to adapt, to try something different."
"That's evolution, innit? You don't want to just stay being a fish, you want to grow teeth and walk on the land. We want to build things and start killing each other." Martin Carr bares his teeth, and laughs. Scarily.
So The Boo Radleys of 'Kingsize' have adapted once again, discarding former experimentation and schizophrenic orchestration to allow a more straightforward pop alchemy to flourish. The tone is predominantly one of introspective balladry, with an overriding optimism. Only 'Free Huey', the raucous first single from the album, sandblasts its way through the gentle rhythmic fabric, with an exuberant shout of "And you know you've got to be all you can be!" that is as much an affirmation for the Boos themselves as for the American Black Panther strategist Huey Newton, who inspired the song.
"We had finished recording the album," explains Martin, "and I canít remember if it was us or the record company who felt that it wasn't complete, missing a certain something. So I decided to write two more songs-- 'Kingsize' and 'Free Huey'. When you come back after a year-and-a-half you don't want to knock on the door all apologetic saying, 'Can we come back to the party please?' You want to barge in shouting, 'Where's the keg?'"
"We wanted to show off," Sice concludes, swigging his stein. "I think the thing that made this whole album different for me was the fact that we stopped and looked at it at a certain point and asked, 'Is this what we want?' Before, once it was done it was done."
"There wasn't a vision this time," Martin adds reflectively, "so we had to ask ourselves, 'What are we trying to do here?' There wasn't a goal, so whenever knew when we had enough. It made is a lot harder. We never had to try this hard. Yet, strangely, it sounds simpler than anything we've ever done."
"We've always thought that you should start off with ten per cent your own stuff and 90 per cent influences and the whole object of your life is to get it the other way around. But most bands seem like it's their main ambition sound more and more like some other band. So we weren't interested in having this album sound like a classic record, we didn't want it to sound like 1968. We wanted it to sound like 1998. And I think it does. It's a pop record, but a very modern one."
All this is remarkable devoid of hyperbole for a man famous for self-aggrandizing statements and prognostications of rock greatness. Have the Boos actually given up their dreams of megastardom?
"You see the pictures of these people at premieres in Leicester Square, or people partying in LA with Leonardo DiCaprio..." Martin snorts. "And if we were there, we'd just be complaining about how fucking boring it is."
"That's how we've changed most," muses Sice. "Realising not so much what we want but what we don't want and how pleased we are not to have it."
"We've been quite lucky. I hope the one thing we have learned over the past ten years is to appreciate life and how lucky we are, instead of blindly going through it and never stopping to think. It sometimes sounds like weíre bitter and we complain, but we're just trying to celebrate the way we are. We'd rather do it our way than live in a mansion and stuff. We love the way we are: it's great," Martin concludes, rightly.
Eyes darting maniacally in efforts to capture the attention of the barmaid, he bellows, "When is she going to come over? I'm fucking gagging for a beer!" Then, inspecting his empty stein for a moment, the newer, humbler Martin Carr is overtaken by sudden calm. He smiles. No need to demand too much too soon. There'll be more later.