27 October 2008
Whiteout - Detroit
Year of Release: 1994
I predict I'm going to get an almighty slagging from some random readers for daring to speak positively about this single. There is, you see, a particular mindset which dictates that 99% of all British guitar pop singles released between the years 1994 - 97 were awful. Actually, we'll just call the whole thing "Britpop" and save time.
Whilst I hold Britpop responsible for a vast number of ills (the invasion of dumb, posh, high fashion kids into a movement that was supposed to be an 'alternative' safe haven from that stuff and The Kaiser Chiefs to name but two things) it's something of a fallacy to say that the era which spawned it was blighted with low quality product. For one thing, I refuse to accept that Kurt Cobain was somehow more intelligent or lyrically astute than Jarvis Cocker, and nor do I think that Slowdive (good though they actually were) played with as broad a sonic palette as the Super Furry Animals. You can hate the era for how it turned "indie" into a middle of the road fashion statement, for how it killed the music press's marginally leftfield sensibility, or for how at its worst it gave us dullards like Echobelly, but to say it was "all shit" is a sweeping lazy statement. Not only was a lot of the output at the time breathtaking or even exhilirating, it also saw bands as diverse as Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Leftfield getting Radio One playlisted amidst the confusion. For about a year, the music scene was actually huge fun, and there was a sense that bands who should exist only on the margins were creeping into the mainstream - until the inevitable comedown when 600 awful Oasis clones parachuted into Camden. Defining the entire era by that horrific moment, however, is as unfair as defining Punk by the cascade of Oi! bands that emerged by the time the party was over. Pick the fag end of any movement and you'll observe similar nonsense. Perhaps some of the better material just needs to be rediscovered by a generation who can't quite remember how bad things got towards the end of the era.
Which brings us, two paragraphs late(r), on to the single in question. Whiteout didn't actually start out as also-rans in the whole race, actually being considered as serious contenders for a time. The four scruffy teens from Scotland weren't necessarily playing with new ideas, seemingly copping riffs from the Faces and numerous sixties bands, but they did so in a way that, for a time, actually made them seem as if they might be as good as the debut album-era Oasis. If that sounds laughable, one listen of "Detroit" should make things slightly clearer - it fizzes with an energy that a lot of bands at the same time couldn't have topped, has one of the better choruses of the year, and actually sounds completely in love with itself, even risking the kind of key change at the end which other bands would be too knowing to bother with. It's the sort of thing that could only have been created by a gaggle of arrogant teens with tremendously low self-doubt - which may be repugnant to some, but in my opinion the best simple rock ideas should be done precisely this way. It's the vinyl equivalent of a firework display which pulls out thousands of pounds worth of pyrotechnics right near the end when you thought it couldn't top itself. At no point across its four minutes does it ever trough out.
Whiteout didn't hit the big time, of course, and a number of factors have been blamed for this - their label (Silvertone were supposedly never the most organised cookies), the fact they based themselves in Scotland rather than moving to London to be on the media's doorstep, or the fact that certain journalists in the press never quite took to them. Personally, I have to wonder if leaving most of the singles off their album "Bite It" and filling it with lots of slow tempo ballads was the best move in the world - after all, Dadrock styled epics were never really what the majority of us rated them for in the first place. Despite that, though, "Detroit" is one of my favourite singles of 1994, whether you like it or not. And let's face it, this blog shouldn't really be about going for the easy options all the time.
The B-side "Dee Troyt" is a slightly unusual slow version which was produced by Brian O'Shaugnessy, who created The Firm's "Star Trekkin'", then went on to produce Primal Scream, Saint Etienne, Denim and Misty's Big Adventure. What a peculiar career the man has had.
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