Say what you wish about the magic of Creation Records—with Screamadelica (Primal Scream), Giant Steps (Boo Radleys), and Definitely Maybe (Oasis) the label released many of the best records of the 1990s—Alan McGee’s über-indie also had its share of subpar releases (Medalark Eleven, Kevin Rowland anyone?). While The Telescopes were never at the bottom of the Creation pile, they were also never more than shoegazer alsorans. In 1996, from the rubble of the Telescopes arose Unisex, a spacey, art rock band which would really be rather harmless except for that their form of derivative, uninspired music is precisely what gives the Brits a bad name in the United States. Each track on Stratosfear attempts to mimic one genre or another, with varying levels of success, never actually distinguishing Unisex and allowing many a shortsighted American critic the chance to sweepingly and erroneously dismiss everything British hitting these shores as Radiohead-esque, unoriginal rubbish.
The LP begins with the painfully drawn out “The Full Force of the Sun”, a space rock mess which I can only guess was conceived after repeated listens to Ash’s cover of “Give Me Some Truth” along with a fair dose of Air outtakes. “Calmer Song”, except for briefly reminding me of Yo La Tengo’s “Autumn Sweater” during the drum build-up, fares no better. Stephen Lawrie’s vocals whine over a decaffeinated blend of electric guitars before getting pointlessly shouty for the chorus. “Departure Lounge” is fuzzy, sample tinged, and tipped by vibraphone and ghost tube, obviously Fuxa-inspired (as Lawrie and Jo Doran have recently contributed to the Fuxa2000 LP) but not nearly of the same quality. “The Anti-Gravity League” is bizarrely bossanova, but the Spanish guitars and cabbassa seem more like the stuff of a bad Beck covers band than anything authentic.
At least “Midnight in the Stratosphere” provides a glint of salvation. Lawrie’s vocals are scorched with pent up anger as the guitars verve into a caterwauling mix of prominent electric basslines, piano and ebow before fading back into British Invasion-styled bridges. Where “Midnight in the Stratosphere” is provocative, the remainder of Stratosfear is drawn out, drab while also lost in its excess, and only about half as memorable as Medalark Eleven.