The Boo Radleys - Giant Steps

TIME FOR a rethink. At some point (just between the dreamy acoustic sway of 'Wish I Was Skinny' and 'Leaves And Sand' I think, but don't quote me on it) things become remarkably clear. The Boo Radleys are on their way toward making a classic album. One of those rare treasures you find yourself putting on to shake off a bad day when normally only 'Pet Sounds' or 'Revolver' or even 'Bandwagonesque' will do.

The next thing, you're playing it to dubious friends (who pull faces and mumble low monologues about scouse underachievers 1981-to-present) who, before you can say "The La's", are as wrapped up in its spell of wonders as you are. Jesus! Maybe we're going to have to say 'Giant Steps' is one small leap for mankind after all. But heart be still. Let's take this slowly.

'I Hang Suspended' I assume we all know about. Ushered in by a dreamy sampled heartbeat, it starts off with a crunch of drums and a squalling fuzz solo. Eek! But wait, because from nowhere in comes Sice with a voice stolen from the Archangel Gabriel himself "Ain't that just you/You know the facts but you just haven't got a clue". In terms of delivery, it's like that moment when you first hear Teenage Fanclub's 'Star Sign', where through the fumes of noise there's suddenly this pause and Mr Love gently crooning, "Hey/There's a horse-shoe on my door" right through it. As an opener it's up there with Suede's 'So Young' and Verve's 'Star Sail' in the let's-get-this-straight-from-the-start stakes. And only 16 to go!

'Upon 9th And Fairchild' is a Matt Johnson lyric swamped in a white reggae noise fest (glad we got that sorted out); 'Wish I Was Skinny' a gorgeous stroll through the twanging gardens of Orange Juice where Sice, should the video be as it should, sits forlorn in a summer park dreaming of being everyone - sod it, anyone - else: "Wishin' I was kissin' a girl with lips smooth as pearl". Aah.

The switch to Beach Boys odyssey mode comes with 'Leaves And Sand'. A tale of a tangled up relationship ("Greet the world with tired eyes/But something just ain't right") it spins between a near inaudible acoustic lament and the sort of bulging stomp of brass'n'guitars last seen at the site of Spiritualized's 'Medication'. We then slip into the extraordinary mini-opera 'Butterfly McQueen', skate over 'Rodney King' (the Real People play Jesus Jones OR WHAT?) and find ourselves lost in 'Thinking Of Ways', which is 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' right down to the rinky-dink descending piano and flugel horns.

Halfway through, and the experiments keep on coming. 'Barney (...And Me)' is pure midwinter English psychedelia ("the lake is almost frozen, the grass is silver air". Whooo!); 'Spun Around' and 'If You Want It, Take It' are the eternal opposites of post-night out depression and free-wheeling next day optimism: "There's nothing bright about being undecided" opines the latter. A cheesy organ and a clarinet solo emerge for the wonderful Turtles-like 'Best Lose The Fear', while last year's 'Lazarus' 45 reappears as a dark, dubby trance. With added trumpets.

Still there? OK, a quick stroll through 'Take The Time Around' (guitars? How passe), 'Run My Way Runway' (plane engines; fire engines) and 'I've Lost The Reason' (unintentionally, one assumes, Cornershop-esque) and we're though and out the other side, heads reeling and preconceptions in tatters.

It's an intentional masterpiece, a throw-everything-at-the-wall bric-a-brac of sounds, colours and stolen ideas. That The Boo Radleys (of all people!) have decided to accept their own challenge and create a record as diverse and boundary-bending as this is, at first glance, staggering. Isn't this the job of the U2s and the leisured idols of rock, unable to do anything without the tacit approval of history? Fortunately not. The Boo Radleys are sifting through time (the mid-'60s, mostly) and conjuring up something that's as cut-up and ambitious as anything you'd care to mention. As we're reminded by the closing 'The White Noise Revisited', "So you listen to The Beatles and relax and close your eyes/And you feel it running through you"; it's about time we took the '60s off the mantlepiece and started doing something strange to them.

They've made the album every band you've ever met talks about at three in the morning, eyes rolling, declaring that it will change the face of rock beyond recognition. It won't, but it may just deliver a few large bruises.


Paul Moody