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Frazier Chorus – Typical

frazier chorus

There isn’t a lot I would choose to change about 1989, a year which I will always consider to be one of the greatest in all of pop history. But were I able to bestow chart success on one act while taking it from another, I would have no hesitation in depriving Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers of their three entirely undeserved no.1 hits and bestowing their untoward good fortune upon Frazier Chorus instead.

Brighton’s Frazier Chorus never got a whiff of top 40 action, and for at least the first act of their career it was largely down to bad timing. This is one of the more vexing things about pop – it’s entirely possible to record a brilliant album that’s completely in tune with the times, but by the time it’s actually released it’s hopelessly out of step with current trends. This, if you ask me, is the fate that befell the band’s first album Sue. I can only imagine that the group went into a bunker at the height of the sophisti-pop boom, made their delightfully nuanced record and then emerged, heading immediately for a celebration drink in their nearest wine bar, only to find it had closed down. Yes, lush was out and brash was in; 1989 had adopted a stance and it was buffalo (and eventually bunny, but the least said about that the better).

What should a record company do when this happens? It’s a tricky one. Theoretically you could remix the whole thing to sound more current (see: diana by Diana Ross), or you could stick your head in the sand and hope that an album packed with outstanding tunes will somehow withstand the force of the prevailing pop winds. Virgin Records plumped for the latter option, and in some ways it’s hard to blame them – I certainly wouldn’t change a thing about Sue (the title, by the way, doesn’t refer to a person, it’s from the line “They say you’re itching to sue and I can’t stop you if I wanted to”). The only thing I might have done differently would have been to put out a different first single. I love Dream Kitchen, but I can’t deny it comes across a bit like Prefab Sprout’s quieter, even more polite cousin, and I tend to think it condemned Frazier Chorus to be forever written off as ‘twee’ and ‘winsome’ when of course they were nothing of the sort.

If I’d had a say in the matter I’d have argued for Storm as the first release (perhaps with a radio edit to remove the word “piss”) – a much harder dollop of catastrophe-pop that might been able to jostle nearer to the front of the chart and make people more receptive to what followed. I say might – I’m not sure anything could have done the trick in 1989. Dream Kitchen made a fairly reasonably no.57 in January of that year, but it was the follow up, Typical, that I really longed to see in the upper reaches of the top 10.

Frazier Chorus were quite unusual for a band in that they didn’t have a guitarist, bassist or drummer – instead, they had bongos and vibraphone and, very prominently, a flute. I am always a sucker for a pop record with a flute in it, because for me it lends it a faint school-orchestra-ish quality that I always find completely irresistible and very very relatable.  But my favourite thing about Typical – other than the use of the phrase “sodding off” – is that it has NO CHORUS to speak of, giving over the space usually reserved for it to a gorgeous, swirling instrumental section in which the flute goes where you might expect to find the vocal. It always makes me feel like I should be freewheeling along a country lane on a wonky bicycle with the rest of the Famous Five.

Another thing you might have noticed is that compared to most pop records Typical doesn’t really have much in the way of lyrics at all, and this is something else I love about it – “typical” being a word I like to use when I have so much to say but no inclination to say it – so I find it completely brilliant that it’s used in exactly that way here. It’s like a ‘tut’ that’s been turned into a song.

For single release Typical had a minor reswizz, adding in a lovely warm bit of brass – not something that would necessarily endear it to 1989 any further – but it did make it an even more lovely listen if you already happened to adore it, and it managed to do slightly better than Dream Kitchen, reaching no.53 in April. Frazier Chorus were to become quite familiar with positions in this region of the chart – the singles from 1990’s Ray landed at no’s 52 and 51 (the latter of which is of course the utterly amazing Nothing). The annoying thing about those ones is that they were bang on trend for the times and could have been proper hits had the promotion been a bit more enthusiastic.

Back in 1989 I thought Frazier Chorus had come along a little too late. Now, though, I have the feeling they just arrived a little too early –  and with perhaps just a few minor tweaks I can see them fitting into 1995 very nicely indeed. So much of Sue – with its references to lumpy couches and carpet burn –  sits comfortably alongside the kitchen sink dramas of Dubstar and Pulp – whose own Common People bears more than a few similarities to Sloppy Heart, the third, glorious, and really rather epic single from Sue. Perhaps Frazier Chorus should have stayed in their bunker a bit longer, eh?

frazier-chorus-typical-virginEntered chart: 02/04/89

Chart peak: 53

Weeks on chart: 4

Who could do a nice version of this that people might like but not necessarily buy? I suggest Belle and Sebastian.

 

6 Comments »

  1. Almost everything about those first two albums is perfectly realised. In retrospect, perhaps it was this almost hermetic perfection that was their chart undoing, ensuring they would only ever reach Cloud 8.

    Moreover, their cover of Anarchy In The U.K. can stake a reasonable claim to being the best cover ever.

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  2. ‘Sue’ was pretty much the soundtrack to my entire summer that year. Having hit on the idea of giving myself exam motivation, I’d purchased the cassette when it first came out and then stuck it on my bedroom wall with a strict note that it was not to be played until June 15th, which was the date of my final GCSE exam. When that deadline finally passed I played it to death and committed every last moment to memory.

    I remained hugely disappointed there were no hit singles, but this was nothing compared to the sense of betrayal I felt a year later when they went all Oakenfold and Osbourne. The flops second time around hurt slightly less.

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      • Take in its own right, Nothing is a truly magnificent record, oozing with everything that was good about dance music in the latter half of 1990. Totally in agreement there. Despite my misgivings at the time, I think had it become a hit it would have actually opened the door to the ‘real’ Frazier chorus of twee flute lines and arty tales of domesticity landing some mainstream success. Like the Flood mix of James’ Come Home, it would have been a means to an end, not a rabbit hole that they would vanish down.

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  3. I was so in love with the versions on the 4AD EP from 1987, that I was a bit disappointed when I heard Sue for the first time. It sounded a bit too smooth around the edges. Not that the early versions of Typical, Storm and Sloppy were in any way rough, but they had a bit of an edge to them (the faint JAMC-esque guitar in Sloppy Heart). It was a bit of the old “see what you get, when you sign to a major label”-moment.
    Nevertheless, Sue is fantastic and I like the other two albums as well, but I must admit that I very, very rarely listen to them.

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