There are plenty of genius musical acts that moonlight as one hit wonders. Kate Bush, Public Enemy, The Stooges, and many more certified gods never made broke the Top 40 twice. But the phrase sticks hardest with the disposable acts, who liked big butts, did the Macarena, who whoomped, and yup, there it was. But there are loads of talented acts with breakout songs and full albums, who have been unfairly lumped in with musicians who were just lucky that they got to let those dogs out.
Here, we look at some artists with huge songs and overlooked albums, but there just wasn’t enough space in their place in history for both.
New Radicals, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too
How much can one person rebel against the system? That question was on a lot of kids’ minds when New Radicals made a claim for the anti-establishment pop star mantle with “You Only Get What You Give,” calling Marilyn Manson and a bunch of other pop stars “fakes.” The majority of the other lyrics on Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too aren’t as timely; Gregg Alexander wanted to make social revolution sweet the same way Prince magnified sexual expression. But the charisma wasn’t there, and withered the punch of Alexander’s important message. Fortunately, the Prince influence paid off on the album’s sonics and production. The band break open the toy chests in the studio, while refining their adventurous spirit on casually vital balladry like “I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore” and “Flowers,” stuffed with emotive-and very ’90s chord progressions.
Groove Theory, Groove Theory
“Tell Me” was one of neo-soul’s first big hits, but Groove Theory’s self-titled debut has gotten lost under accolades for the movement’s roster of infuriating geniuses, like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo, and Maxwell. Groove Theory doesn’t fit into as many niches as those debuts, but manages to get adventurous within a smaller but still exciting arena: manicured, instinctually smooth midnight music. The album’s second half briefly stalls with a string of unremarkable velvet vibes for abandoned lounges, but picks up when the untapered live kit hip-hop brings back the life that makes it such an enjoyable, sexy one-off (the band split after failed attempts at a second album).
Deee-lite, World Clique
Deee-lite look like a footnote in an encyclopedia of ’90s culture. Like mascots for electronic music video channels with names like !Pülse!. But their Warhol Factory style and fish-eyed earnestness aren’t what makes World Clique so enduring, though they certainly help. The perpetual motion towards building the perfect club record is never once derailed; it compresses a perfect mix of Chicago House and Detroit techno as well as everything that was baggy before baggy, with loads of strange and wonderful samples that keep their party dizzying and euphoric. It’s probably why three singles from the album topped the U.S. Dance chart, but they’re remembered most for “Groove Is In The Heart” which pulled off some more time and genre compression and united Q-Tip and Bootsy Collins.
The Cardigans, First Band On The Moon
The history of a band like The Cardigans is a perfect example of why we should all endeavour to pop the bubbles we experience music in. You and I know them as the band that disappeared after “Lovefool” and Romeo + Juliet. But they’ve sold fifteen million albums, and are huge in Sweden and Japan, and it’s because First Band On The Moon is a solid coffee shop pop album that’s still too weird for Starbucks nearly twenty years after its release. Aside from their biggest hit, their cover of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” is a strong encapsulation of their structures: deceptively pleasant and brutally dark, a walk through someone else’s dream of what that period’s alt-rock sounded like with a bit of vulnerability.
The Icicle Works, The Icicle Works
Ok, so “Love Is A Wonderful Colour” is not much more than an Echo and the Bunnymen B-side with Phantom Of The Opera vocals, and The first Icicle Works album stays that course. But who doesn’t love “Lips Like Sugar”? If you’ve played out Songs To Learn And Sing, you might get a few dribbly mascara moments from this LP.