Cast -’All Change’/'Mother Nature Calls’/'Magic Hour’/'Beetroot’ (Edsel)
In mid-1995, indie/alternative was having a commercial purple patch. And there were a handful of acts where people who had already had a pretty damn good crack at fame were coming along for their second acts. Dave Grohl had stepped out from his drumsticks to release his debut album as the frontman of the Foo Fighters, and Shaun Ryder, his brother Paul and Bez from the Happy Mondays had regrouped as Black Grape. And then there was Cast.
Liverpool’s Cast were formed from the ashes of two lauded Liverpool indie bands, Shack and The La’s. Cast frontman had been bass player for the latter, whose debut album had been raved about five years earlier, slagged off by the mercurial frontman Lee Mavers and who to this day has not got round to releasing the follow-up. It was the time of Glastonbury ’95, when Pulp stepped in at the last moment for the Stone Roses, and when Supergrass’ ‘Alright’ proved the summer’s anthem (it was more than an ‘alright time for yours truly- I passed my driving test, left school and got into university. Much of the music of this time is indelibly etched into my brain). ‘Fine Time’ came out the week week as the aforementioned ‘Alright’ and was the first of four top twenty hits from the album. The second single was their own ‘Alright’ – and I remember being down the front of a gig at one of Leicester’s Universities where John Power asked why I was waving at him, to which I replied ‘Canihaveyourplectrum?’which at the end of the set he duly gave me (the same night I met a man called Gem Archer who was the frontman of the supporting Heavy Stereo. Mr. Archer would go onto join Oasis in 2000, and then onto Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye after the Gallagher Brothers eventually imploded. Hell, I even got a backstage pass that night. I was eighteen, the world felt like it was my oyster and Cast were part of the soundtrack.
The band released All Change a month or so later. Nearly twenty years later, it has held up pretty well. Though within a year, Cast would be getting lumped in with ‘Dadrock’ – the brand of Britpop that seemed to have been so backward looking it was almost entirely based on 60s and 70s rock -there’s still a freshness here, not least the two other singles ‘Walkaway’ and ‘Sandstorm.’ But that said, there’s also the rather fine ‘Promised Land’ and ‘History.’ All four re-issues are bolstered by extras and the first disc gives us the excellent b-sides ‘Follow Me Down’ and ‘Better Man.’ (****)
The world should have been theirs for the taking. All Change was the best-selling debut by a band on Polydor, trouncing the likes of those with a much hipper pedigree (The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Jam). In late 1996 they released ‘Flying’ as a standalone single (included on disc 2 of All Change), and I remember not particularly caring for it at the time. Time has actually improved it. Sad to say, that’s more than can be said for 1997′s sophomore album, Mother Nature Calls. Of the four re-issues, this has dated the least well of all of them. It did well at the time – I remember the single ‘Guiding Star’ was an anthem I remember bopping along to during their set at a very muddy Glastonbury in 1997, and the album opens on ‘Free Me’ which could have been a single. As it was, the other two singles ‘Live The Dream’ and ‘I’m So Lonely’ were typical of why the album seemed so dull in comparison to their debut. And it seems really stodgy and overproduced in 2014 (**).
By 1999, the consensus was that Britpop was over. As a romantic, I’ve always felt the death-knell was when Oasis released a folly of a third album in Be Here Now and Noel Gallagher was seen on the front pages shaking the hand of Tony Blair (a man who’d been elected the first Labour Prime Minister in nearly twenty years and then promptly started annoying the hell out of those of us who had worked so hard to get him elected, by reneging on pretty much EVERYTHING). It wasn’t that cut and dried, but several bands had split, and the chart positions were slipping for those who still remained. Cast gave us a third album Magic Hour, which perhaps proves the biggest surprise of the lot. It is, quite simply, their best album. ‘Beat Mama’ was the band’s last top ten hit, and yet it’s the title track which typifies an album that’s rockier and dreamier than I had remembered. If you only buy one of the re-issues, this should be it. Maybe not a lost classic, but an album that should be re-evaluated. (****)
In 2001, the band released Beetroot. I don’t think I’d (knowingly) heard it until I put the re-issue in the CD player. Music had moved on again, the twin nightmare of nu-metal and UK Garage was fading and it was a new wave of bands from America like The White Stripes and The Strokes who were leading the charge. The fact is that Beetroot is completely different beast from the rest of their back catalogue. The band had been investigating Latin rhythms and dance music and put their sixties records back in the attic. The album failed to make the top forty, and the ‘Desert Drought’ track was the only single released from it. Yet it’s fun -and it must have been a little frustrating year later, when they called it quits to see a young band from Liverpool called The Coral releasing an album that matched the catchy songs of the early days with the experimentalism of the last album. Elastica must have known how that felt… (***)
The re-issues are certainly exhaustive – and the multiple versions of some tracks can be a bit much to take in one sitting, and the remixes included are ‘of their time,’ to put it kindly. But with the twenty years since the Britpop movement began under the microscope again, there’s two albums and a lot of singles that deserve to be remembered as part of the time.
All Change, Mother Nature Calls, Magic Hour and Beetroot are out now on Edsel.