Brighter is a band for the Monday morning music mavens, a rarefied breed that unearths obscure gems, champions them to the underground, and ultimately discards them once they achieve mainstream acclaim. Of all the labels that released the music these mavens covet, England’s Sarah Records might be one of the most revered. This boutique indie released a cache of fabulous recordings that never reached the mainstream radar but always strove for a consistent level of excellence. The Holy Grail of the Sarah catalogue is easily the works of Brighter, who released three 7” singles and one 10” single that disappeared as quickly as the band itself. This new collection, Singles 1989-1992, lovingly delivered by Matinee Recordings, gathers all of the officially released Brighter recordings for the first time to create a time capsule of British music at the turn of a decade. At first listen, this collection appears to be little more that ambient noise for the period that separated the gloomy dominance of the Smiths and the devil may care antics of Oasis, but with every additional spin this compilation shines with the type of unpolished jewels about which music mavens boast.
Although the songs provide footnotes indicating that Brighter was part of a greater musical movement, the shining jangle pop that effuses from this gathering of material rings with tender nuances that distance this band from the maudlin routine of Mozzer and the Jesus and Mary Chain, and also set it apart from the fist-pumping, drug-encrusted madness of bands like the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays. Make no mistake, this album will remind you of the Stone Roses’ “Sally Cinnamon”, Morrissey’s “Everyday Is Like Monday”, and the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Happy When It Rains”, but this is not simply something borrowed and something blue. The marriage of Alison Cousens, Keris Howard, and Alex Sharkey delivered a bouquet of pop hits that deserve the attention of the musical mainstream.
The opening two tracks do little to dispel the notion that Brighter is a band that takes heed of their peer’s efforts. Both “Inside Out” and “Tinsel Heart” employ mid-tempo, reverb-drenched guitars and protracted monotone vocals that recall the efforts of some of their Mancunian counterparts listed above. In fact, these two tracks sound so similar in melody, tempo, production, and vocal meter that the two-second break between tracks could almost be misconstrued as a measured break. The saving grace is that the melody is so pleasing, and by the end of “Tinsel Heart” light percussion enters the mix and the band seems to find their groove just in time for the world class “Around the World in Eighty Days”. While this song relies on many of the conventions used on the previous tracks, there are subtle yet significant differences here. A lead guitar counters the vocal melody in the chorus and the singing seems more urgent if not more improved.
Two tracks on this collection rise to the surface and differentiate this band from countless others in the path from the Smiths to Madchester and the ultimate rise and fall of the Britpop revolution that would become a phenomena in the United Kingdom and beyond during the 1990s. The first is “Noah’s Ark”, a sunny number with an acoustic guitar lead that wouldn’t sound out of place in the late ‘80s Paisley Underground. There is little question that this track could exist seamlessly on the seminal Galaxie 500 album On Fire. Leaning heavily on the same production values, Brighter shuffles along with heavily-reverbed-yet-sparse drums, an underlying keyboard melody to compensate for the vocal shortcomings, and a late-song tempo change that leads to a bit of delightful noodling during the outro. This is a classic track that is wholly original but defty fuses the influence of the American college rock movement of the late 1980s with the more dance-oriented leanings of the British pop underground.
The other key track—and perhaps what may have been Brighter’s best shot at a radio anthem—“Does Love Last Forever” finds their huggable jangle pop reaching a fever pitch that results in a frenetic two and a half minute bounce-a-long. For once the band uses a bit of distorted guitar in conjunction with the clean and the result is a winner. This track may best illustrate the parallels between Brighter and their more successful Smiths-era peers the Housemartins. Both acts crafted fey songs about love and the loss of it, but the Housemartins were able to find greater commercial acceptance. At times this collection mirrors the Housemartins’ stellar debut, London 0, Hull 4, with similar song structures, themes, and musicianship. The glaring difference, which may have resulted in the commercial success of the Housemartins, is that the sugary vocal harmonies on London 0, Hull 4 soar while Brighter’s vocal deliveries sometimes fall flat.
Music mavens spend a lifetime crowing about bands that should have been superstars but were deterred for various reasons. This collection leaves little doubt about both the abilities and the shortcomings of Brighter. While this was a band that wrote wonderfully emotive songs that recall the thing we love best about music, they were never destined to rule the world. Casual music fans embrace a different set of ideals than the more rabid ones. There is no need to look back with remorse on the demise or diminished memory of this fine band, and this collection is a fitting eulogy to a fine, albeit brief, career.
// Notes from the Road
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