Eg and Alice – Indian
So here I am scanning through a list of 1991’s top 100 selling singles in the UK and boy, does it makes for some grim reading. It appears to have been a rather sex obsessed, rave-y, novelty, re-issue-y period in pop, during which Hale and Pace trounced Pet Shop Boys and 1985 Madonna (Crazy For You) outsold new Madonna (Rescue Me – arguably her most dull record ever). What a rum do. In fact of the top 100 there’s only three records I can genuinely claim to love unconditionally – Peace by Sabrina Johnson, What Do I Have to Do by Kylie and Love…Thy Will be Done by Martika.
However; while that list would lead you to believe that 1991 hasn’t aged particularly well (unless you are still a huge Color Me Badd fan, in which case it’s the best year ever), there was lots of good stuff, some of which – Susanna Hoffs, Army of Lovers, Kirsty MacColl and Banderas – we’ve already featured on this site. It’s just that not many people bought it.
Chief among the albums that not many people bought that year was 24 Years of Hunger by Eg and Alice. Now, this is a record that has taken on an almost mythical status in the 26 years since its release, and it’s still occasionally cited – quite rightly – as one of the best albums of the decade. This is usually the bit where I go on a mild rant about a lack of promotion, but in the case of Eg and Alice I recall there having been quite a lot – full page adverts in the music press, interviews and at least some radio airplay. Much was made of the fact that Eg White had been a founder member of Brother Beyond, bailing shortly before Stock Aitken and Waterman won them in auction (or something), along with faint surprise that he had gone on to create something so – and I use this word with a look of mild distaste on my face – credible. Speaking as someone who considers Brother Beyond’s own Be My Twin an underrated classic, I can’t bear that kind of pop snobbery. That being said, I’m pretty you sure you wouldn’t have found S/A/W in a bidding war to produce an Eg and Alice single. They were about as far from the ‘sound of 1991’ as it was possible to be; you couldn’t do the Bartman to any of it.
The duo, to be fair, did not exactly do themselves any favours. Perhaps taking a leaf from the Listen Without Prejudice playbook, they resisted traditional forms of promotion in favour of almost total invisibility. On the one hand, this is an admirable attempt to focus all the attention on the music, but on the other it leads to quite astonishingly pompous press releases, one of which I reproduce here:
“Eg and Alice have just recorded an album in Eg’s kitchen for WEA. Their first single, “Indian”, is about and for outcasts everywhere. There is no video, no remix and no team of crack session players, no name producers, female backing singers or troop of baggy trousered military drilled dancers. So who exactly do Eg and Alice think they are?”
Had I been an ‘influencer’ at the time and not just a pop enthusiast, I might well have answered that query with “Eg and Alice are on a hiding to nothing, thank you very much” and thrown that press release in the bin. But as nobody was sending me press releases, I just had the single to go by, and Indian was gorgeous.
A lot of pop tends to wallop you with its message – whether that message is about world peace or just having a good old dance – and while that has made for lots of brilliantly exciting pop moments, I love this approach just as much. Indian gives you more of a soft pummelling, one which leaves you feeling super-relaxed and secure in the knowledge that there’s someone else like you out there. Even if you weren’t worrying about that, I think it’s nice to know.
Things I love about Indian: Alice Temple’s breathy, talk-y voice, which gives me goosebumps when Eg joins in – these old friends sound absolutely beautiful together, don’t you think? Then there’s the string arrangement – creeping in on the first chorus before weaving deftly in and out of the vocals for much of the remainder. And most of all, at 2:48, Eg’s “you’re an Indian too”, followed by an “oh-oh-oh-ooh-ooh-ooh!” of proper delight. After that it just sort of ambles off into the sunset (or the nearest bar) in a hand-hold-y sort of a way. Just lovely.
Nearly all of the references used to make sense of Eg and Alice in reviews were, at the time, meaningless to me – I was clueless about Steely Dan (not that I’m much better informed now), had never heard all of Sign o’ the Times, was ignorant of Joni Mitchell, Curtis Mayfield, and just about any other name that was dropped other than Tears for Fears. As far as I was concerned, this was just a really good album for late night, headphone-based introspection where you fantasise about being a more interesting person than you in fact are.
It’s really rather unfortunate that 24 Years of Hunger was released into such an incredibly inhospitable, sweaty ‘n’ sexy environment. Even just a couple of years later would have suited it much better, so long as its makers were willing to compromise their aesthetic a little bit and actually admit to their existence. Another year where it might have flourished? 2003, when Will Young reached no.1 with the Eg White written Leave Right Now, a song that probably wouldn’t exist without Indian.
Given how well received it was, and that Eg went on to become a hugely successful songwriter for other people – among them Natalie Imbruglia, Adele, James Morrison, Duffy, Florence and the Machine and – gasp!- Diana Vickers, it’s kind of shocking that 24 Years of Hunger has never been re-issued. I hope it eventually does come back out, because I sold my copy during my late 90s lean years (for about three quid as I recall) and I’ve regretted it ever since.
Entered chart: did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Possibly only Ed Sheeran, who only seems to have to drop a song on the pavement for it to be a hit.