The Melody Maker review of Stereophonics debut album "Word Gets Around" starts with a quote: "As Lou Reed once said, "There's only one good thing about a small town - you hate it and you know you're gonna leave." Lou Reed obviously couldn't count but did he have a point?
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"Word Gets Around" is dominated by stories of rumor, desire, whispers, murder, suicide and "Sex drives, oral highs, cheated wives and spies" ('Same Size Feet'), site-specific events witnessed and retold via the pen and voice of one 23 year old singer/guitarist Kelly Jones. Together with lifelong friends Stuart Cable (drums) and Richard Jones (bass), Kelly has been composing these steamy stories of sleepy lives from base camp Cwmaman (a traditional non-urban conurbation, midway between Swansea and Cardiff, one road in/out, houses, pub) for more years than you'd believe.
This is not voyeurism though, more strikingly Stereophonics mine a rich seam of traditional rock'n'roll songwriting and storytelling. Indeed, "Some of these songs might be the stuff of ancient murder ballads, deep and mysterious. Songs that manage to unleash the spooks and startle the head." (NME, July 1997) Kelly details a loyalty-testing village opinion-splitting drama on "A Thousand Trees".
Stereophonics recent Top of the Pops debut and pumps a dirty loathing through a darkly humorous wedding reception set piece ("Too Many Sandwiches"). He also introduces we, the listener, to a world where there’s "More Life In A Tramp’s Vest", and where you can "Check My Eyelids For Holes". But this is not hick-talk, signposts or colloquialisms as Kelly infuses these snapshots with a literate, soulful, universal voice, "...the sound that will probably become known as 'That Voice'. For Kelly Jones sings like the devil himself, and the world ought to know it... " (Vox, September 1997)
Having signed to V2 at the end of last summer, Stereophonics have wasted little time, playing out constantly and releasing a stream of glittering singles, more or less all gathered on "Word Gets Around". Their first dates pitched them in to the realm of the toilet circuit, but years attempting to impress the elder family on-stage at the local social club saw them through the typical Wet Wednesday in Wolverhampton. A limited edition single "Looks Like Chaplin" / "More Life In A Tramp’s Vest" lit the match in November ’96 and dates followed with Manic Street Preachers, Kenickie, Skunk Anansie and The Who. The year ended with 60,000 Scottish revelers singing along to "…Tramp’s Vest"’ s chorus at Edinburgh’s Hogmany celebrations.
February 1997 saw the release of the first fully available Stereophonics single "Local Boy In The Photograph", a story of a boy who checked the train times before checking out. This was followed in May by "..Tramp’s Vest’s" musings on the plight of the market trader set to a terrace chant that strode in to the Top 40 without any daytime airplay (almost unheard of!)
Kelly, Richard and Stuart then risked health and sanity embarking on a full house of summer festivals and a soul-out headline tour. Starting at Glastonbury Festival and ending at Reading Festival on the day before "A Thousand Trees" reached No.22 in the National charts, countless casual eyes and ears were turned on by Stereophonics blistering live performances.
"Word Gets Around" was released on 26th August 1997 in the UK and entered the album chart at No.6. From a whisper to a yell in a little over a year. ""Word Gets Around" grows better and better and then a bit better again with each repeated listen." (Vox, September 1997). "Traffic" ("… One of the most beautiful songs of the year" Kerrang, August 1997) was the band’s fourth single, released in October 1997 and going Top 20 in the National charts, preceded by another National tour.
The hard work of 1997 finally paid off for the band on February 9th 1998. Which is a distinguished day in the lives of Kelly, Stuart and Richard, when the band walked away from The Brit Awards as Officially 'The Best New Band in UK'. And yet a week later they were rewarded again with a huge hit in the UK for the re-release of "Local Boy in the Photograph", peaking at No. 14 in the national charts. The year of 1998 has continued in the same vain as the previous, but a little more global. The band has since toured on 4 continents of the globe, which has included USA and their first visits to Japan and Australia. The experiences of these tours will show in the bands follow up album, "Performance and Cocktails", which was released throughout Europe on 8th March 1999.
And as for that one road in/out of the South Wales village? Stereophonics love it so much; they’ve all bought houses there.
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