The Boo Radleys
Photo: Perspective Communications

The Boo Radleys Still Sound Vital on ‘Eight’

The Boo Radleys’ Eight boasts too many potential singles to be written off as another wishful reunion. It proves they’re not only back but also thriving.

The Boo Radleys
9 June 2023

The 1990s were a crazy time for Britpop, of which the Boo Radleys were something of a high-profile casualty. Starting life as a noisy shoegaze outfit riding in the wake of My Bloody Valentine‘s sophomore success, they gradually shifted to a blissed-out version of Oasis, full of brass, positivity, and more thoughtful lyrics. After stumbling upon large-scale success (at least in the UK) in 1995, the pressures of the music business only multiplied for them, causing the band to split just before the decade was out.

Fast forward to 2021, and singer/guitarist Simon “Sice” Rowbottom, bassist Tim Brown, and drummer Rob Cieka decided it was high time to get the band back together again. Now, a Boo Radleys reunion without Martin Carr is a bit like having the Who without Pete Townshend. Sure, everyone involved can all sing and play their instruments just fine, but the prospect of the band making new music without their songwriter seemed odd, to say the least. But they pulled it off. After all, Rowbottom had already proved his worth as a songwriter and frontman outside of the Boo Radleys by releasing First Fruits under the name Eggman and later fronting the band Paperlung.

After the release of the moderately successful single “A Full Syringe and Memories of You” late in 2021, the reunited trio released the album Keep on With Falling in 2022, only to immediately follow it up with their eighth album overall in 2023 titled, well, Eight. This time around, Rowbottom quickly points out that he can’t take all of the credit for all of the songs on Eight. “There is a greater depth of integration, which means that it’s more difficult to tell which member of the band the song originated with.” So yes, the Boo Radleys have proven themselves to be very self-reliant without Carr. Is the music just as good, though? Can their new music rival the quality of their earlier music, even if it’s written by someone else? Or will Eight disappoint?

The lazy answer to those questions is that Eight is very good. No, more than very good – quite excellent. It surpasses its predecessor in spirit and quality (although Keep on With Falling was no fluke either). The horns are blaring, the guitars are jangling just as much as they’re crunching, and the Boo Radleys keep knocking out one unshakable chorus after another. Spend enough time with Eight, and you may easily forget that this is a Who missing its Townshend. If Eight doesn’t wind up being a top-tier Boo Radleys classic like Giants Steps or Wake Up!, it will at least go down as a 2023 highlight, suggesting that there is room for a 1990s Britpop revival in 21st-century music.

Eight hits the ground running with five singles; “How Was I to Know?”, “The Unconscious”, “Now That’s What I Call Obscene”, “Sorrow (I Just Want to Be Free)”, and “Seeker”. Lyrically, these songs cover topics from failed therapy sessions and cultural discord to deep desires for companionship and accidentally making a drunken ass out of yourself in front of your secret crush. Musically, each track is just as uplifting as the last, using styles such as light ska and the sunny bursts of UK pop that marked the rise of Creation Records in the 1990s.

“Now That’s What I Call Obscene”, in particular, makes an uneasy marriage of jubilant music and angsty lyrics work in the Boo Radleys’ favor: “You’re such a killing machine / And then you silence the scream / Now that’s what I call obscene.” In case there’s any confusion on where the band stands on current affairs, Rowbottom says the single is “a fury-filled rant against the hypocrisy of ideologies and religions that find armed conflict and violence morally acceptable, but the idea of homosexuality abhorrent”. If you think that’s all too heavy for pop music, then you’ll be glad to know that Eight ends with “How Was I to Know?”, a tale of a man who accidentally drank too much before deciding to make his move. “How was I to know she’d think I was a fool? / How was I to know she’d sneer and call me tool? / How was I to know I’d end up such a mess? / How was I to know I’d be sick on her dress?”

The remaining eight songs can stand toe-to-toe with the bulk of Carr’s output in his final years of the Boo Radleys, particularly the sturdy guitar attack of “Way I Am” and a foggy, slowed-down Madchester dreamscape “Swift’s Requiem”. “Skeleton Woman”, in turn, isn’t afraid to mix ska beats with a heavy atmosphere, letting “Wash Away That Feeling” become the grab-for-glory moment that stands just as tall as the absurdly catchy single “Sorrow (I Just Want to Be Free)”.

Listening to Keep on With Falling and Eight, it’s difficult to believe that Kingsize, their final album before Carr split up the band, was 25 years ago. It sounds like they’ve barely missed a beat. With two full-length albums of new material released within two calendar years, this reunion train isn’t slowing down anytime soon. The Boo Radleys’ style of bright melodies, oversized guitars, and peppy horns may not be in fashion at the moment, but that doesn’t make the band a dated force to shrug aside. It does not matter if Eight is missing the Dinosaur Jr. roar of the Boo Radleys’ early work because it has retained everything that made the group’s later work great. Eight boasts too many potential singles to be written off as another wishful reunion. The record proves that they’re not only back but also thriving.

RATING 8 / 10