The only thing worse than getting royally screwed by someone . . . is screwing yourself over. Here's a prime example.
Sneaker Pimps was the brainchild of two musicians from Hartlepool (in northeastern England), friends Chris Corner and Liam Howe. Chris and Liam were the sort of teenage music nuts who would hang out together after high school, talking about bands they liked and creating their own weird, experimental lo-fi bedroom recordings. Their mutual interests in reggae, pop, funk, folk and show tunes eventually found their way into their music, and after college the pair (as F.R.I.S.K.) inked a deal with small independent Clean Up Records and recorded the instrumental The Soul of Indiscretion EP in early 1993. This disc (along with others such as Massive Attack's 1991 album Blue Lines) is considered to be one of the earliest examples of what soon became known as trip-hop - a label that the duo came to despise, as they weren't out to create a whole new genre of music. Whatever their intent, and despite the label's small reach and limited distribution network, the 'right' people were exposed to the EP, and the new sound began taking off and spreading.
While attending a show in a Birmingham pub in 1995, Corner and Howe noticed Kelli Dayton, a saucy, bubbly lead singer and guitarist for a band called The Lumieres. They didn't think much of her personality, but they liked the sound of her voice, which seemed a perfect fit for the new songs they had available. After a few days of discussions, they talked Dayton into joining their band as vocalist. Two more old muso college friends, Joe Wilson and David Westlake, were also recruited to comprise a rhythm section, and the group entered the studio in early 1996 to record their first LP. Corner and Howe, as Line of Flight, served as producers, and shared engineering and mixing duties with others, including Flood and Nellee Hooper. This album,
Of course, that's not quite how it turned out . . .
After a slow start, momentum behind this disc gradually began to build - first in England, where over the next year, four singles from the album ("6 Underground", "Spin Spin Sugar", "Tesko Suicide" and "Post Modern Sleaze") all made the British Top 25. The album itself went Gold in the U.K., with sales of over 100,000 copies, eventually reaching #27 on the charts. American distribution of Becoming X was picked up by Virgin Records, with the result being that "6 Underground" and "Spin Spin Sugar" also charted on the U.S. Hot 100 (the former nearly breaking into the Top Forty), and the two songs made the Top Ten on the American alternative and dance charts, respectively. The album also charted in the States, never reaching any lofty heights, but spending considerable time on the U.S. Billboard 200 charts and selling in excess of 200,000 copies. By all measures, the disc was a surprising, smashing success.
No one was more surprised than Corner and Howe; the runaway popularity of their little in-house project caught them completely off guard. These guys were primarily studio geeks, with no interest whatsoever in becoming rock stars (or so they initially claimed). But as the buzz began to grow in the U.K., Sneaker Pimps were reluctantly forced to get out on the road and tour. Originally slated for a short series of concerts in England, the tour kept expanding in size and scope, eventually morphing into an international campaign with scores of stops in dozens of countries over the next eighteen months. These shows were generally well-received, further enhancing sales of the album. By the end of 1997, Becoming X had estimated worldwide sales of over half a million. I snapped up my copy in the fall of 1996, while I was living and going to school in Charlottesville, VA - the local college station played "6 Underground" to death!
The release was so popular that an EP of remixes of the album cut "Spin Spin Sugar", put out in September 1997, also made the lower reaches of the UK Top Fifty. The EP song list was as follows:
1. Spin Spin Sugar (Radio Mix)By the unofficial end of their Becoming X tour in early 1998, trip-hop was no longer an underground phenomena but a mainstream genre, with established pop artists such as Bjork, Madonna and Kylie Minogue(!) incorporating elements of the sound into their own music. Sneaker Pimps were classed, along with artists like Portishead and Tricky, as leaders of the musical movement - a circumstance that left the group enormously conflicted. While they had received critical acclaim and great financial success with their sound, Corner and Howe decided they didn't want to be shackled to the trip-hop genre; they wanted the freedom to move in any musical direction they wanted, even if that risked all that they had achieved and experienced over the past two years. To me, that's a bit of a pretentious stance by self-styled "artistes" . . . but that's what they wanted.
2. Spin Spin Sugar (Armand's Dark Garage Mix)
3. Spin Spin Sugar (Armand's Dark Dub)
4. Spin Spin Sugar (Farley & Heller's Fire Island Vocal Mix)
5. Walk The Rain (Previously Unreleased)
In addition to that emotional conflict, tensions also began to rise within the group. As lead vocalist, the attractive Kelli Dayton naturally became the focal point and public 'face' of Sneaker Pimps; her pleasant, talkative personality contrasted sharply with the darker, more brooding personae of her band mates. Corner and Howe, of course, resented all of the attention being focused on Dayton; as far as they were concerned, Sneaker Pimps was THEIR band, and she was considered by them to be little more than a hired hand. Soon after their return to the UK after the tour, the group used part of their Becoming X cash to move their studio from northeast England to London, and began working on songs for the second album. Dayton insisted on assisting in that songwriting, but was repeatedly rebuffed. By this time, Corner decided that he had gained much more confidence in his singing abilities (what a shock, eh?), and not surprisingly, the songs he, Howe and Pickering wrote over the
It took Sneaker Pimps nearly a year to finish their next album (ironically releasing the Becoming Remixed album - featuring Dayton's vocals - as a stopgap during that time). This sophomore
But at least we have some fond memories and good music to remember them by. Here's Sneaker Pimps' Spin Spin Sugar EP of remixes, released by Virgin Records on September 23, 1997. Enjoy and, as always, let me know what you think.
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