The Boo Radleys – Giant Steps

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

I don’t know why this album is not better known. It is a stone cold modern classic, and in some ways, the Boo Radleys’ undoing. On the cusp of Britpop, when so many British bands were perversely insular, intent on championing and regurgitating their cultural homogeneity (or to them, supremacy – and let’s not ignore the gender dynamics of Britpop, either), the Boo Radleys went the opposite direction with this album, incorporating sounds and techniques from around the globe and from multiple decades, looking backwards, forwards, and side-to-side to demonstrate that music belongs to no one and that by embracing differences, everyone wins. Of course, the band followed this up with the much more digestible Wake Up, Boo!, earning tons of fans with a cleaner, more traditional pop sound that left both their shoegaze origins and the grand visions of Giant Steps behind, but also perhaps suggesting a lack of artistic integrity. I don’t think of the band as sellouts for Wake Up, Boo! – I think Martin Carr was just a dude who had a lot of ideas and each album was a sincere representation of a different set of ideas – but I suspect a lot of people did, and with that Giant Steps was more easily dismissed than it should have been.

What I Think of This Album

I fear I am not going to be able – using mere words (worthless, arrogant, inert little things) – to appropriately describe this album. You should just set aside a block of time, and sit and listen to it. And if you don’t like it, may . . . whoever . . . have mercy on your degraded soul. Imagine if you went to a restaurant and the maitre’d informed you that the degustation menu featured 425 different combinations of flavor profiles over 17 courses, and you were like, “um, that sounds like it’s not going to work,” and the maitre’d said “just try it, you fucking coward,” and then you did and it was GLORIOUS, and the best part is that you could just keep going back and having the meal anytime you wanted again and again and again and it would always be revelatory. It’s like that, except better because you don’t have to go out in public to listen to Giant Steps.

At its core, this album is a blendered concoction of pop melodies, psychedelia, Pet Sounds arrangement and production, guitar fuzz and noise, jazz horns, and dub. Everyone deserves massive accolades. Bassist Tim Brown and drummer Rob Cieka for ably adopting island rhythms; Sice – whose voice tends towards preciousness – for making each vocal fit each song perfectly; guitarist Carr for envisioning this project, writing the songs, and steering the band away from shoegaze into this uncharted territory; all four band members collectively for their ambition and gumption, not to mention an astonishing self-production effort; and the guest horns, woodwinds, and strings, without whom Giant Steps would not exist. Every track on here deserves a careful listen.

Even the most accessible, poppiest numbers – “Wish I Was Skinny” (vaguely reminiscent of New Order’s “Love Vigilantes”) and “Barney (. . . and Me)” – are filled with unexpected twists and turns, resulting in a funhouse of sound where a horn or blast of feedback might jump out at you at any moment. There are guitar heroics (“I Hang Suspended”; “Leaves and Sand”); noise experiments (“Run My Way Runway”; “Spun Around”); orchestral pop (“Thinking of Ways”); dubby dub dub (“Lazarus”); and jazz horns (“Butterfly McQueen;” “I’ve Lost the Reason”), but to suggest any song is just one thing would be irresponsible. Naming an album after a John Coltrane classic, while simultaneously proclaiming your work to be a tremendous advancement, is bold, but the title is about the 85th boldest thing about this album.

Meriel Barham (Pale Saints) guest vocals on two songs, and fellow shoegazers Moose also contribute on a couple of tracks. 

The Best Thing About This Album

Impossible to pick. I will go with the inexplicable “Faye Dunaway” lyric from “Barney (. . . and Me).”

Release Date

August, 1993

The Cover Art

Look for the giraffes! While not my favorite artwork, it does seem appropriate to the music: colorful, unusual, intricate, mesmerizing, and complex. The image uploaded here is quite a bit duller and dustier than the actual art. The giraffes are in the lower left-hand corner.

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