1980 and all that: 1999

Gene

History probably won’t devote too much time to the fact that, for a brief period, Gene’s ‘As Good as it Gets’ could be heard playing in a handful of households in which the residents had nothing better to do (and by “better to do” you could include gouging out your own eyes) than to watch a Davina McCall fronted sitcom featuring a particularly long-haired Ed Byrne.

It was called Sam’s Game. Sam may have been, but the audience wasn’t. It lasted six episodes and never graced anyone’s TV set ever again.

The band themselves did fare better with four studio albums, various singles, a B-sides collection and a live album with tie-in DVD. This Life’s Egg was seen singing/cooking along to a tune from Olympian in one episode of the twenty-something drama and sex, drugs and the application of the law of tort.

But they come across as very much like also-rans in late 90s/early 00s indie. Hardly Blur, definitely not Oasis, clearly not Pulp and not particularly Manic Street Preachers, Gene remained very much under most people’s radar.

When Q ran a poll to determine the best albums of the year, they published one admittedly rather evangelical reader’s comment that “the world needs to hear Revelations [the band’s third album from which ‘As Good as it Gets’ comes]” and included a rather terse response of “no it doesn’t”.

In Revelations Gene wore their rather left-wing hearts on their sleeve with little care for the consequences. As far as the lyrics are concerned, it’s very much an album of its New Labour era time with complaints about Peter Mandelson appearing in the song ‘May Day’.

But you get a clear indication of Gene’s political loyalties much sooner than ‘May Day’. The Sam’s Game theme tune (as it is not referred to on the liner notes) appears on the first track of the album.

But for the context of being two years into a New Labour government (“when red became blue, hope denied”) the lyrics relate very much to our own post-Brexit, Day of the May, food bank reliant times:

How can you ask for more?
If you’re paid, you’re not poor.

There are moments when the song veers a little too far into the language of a Socialist Worker sponsored student rally (but hey, I was a student when I got into Gene – so what do you expect). Lines like “the greedy still fear you and me” seem a little sanctimonious, self-important and naïve; in my experience “the greedy” are generally far too busy being greedy to notice anyone else – let alone fear them.

But there’s still something rather special about ‘As Good as it Gets’. It’s one of those wonderful contradictions of a song with its driving, upbeat, almost anthemic tune welded together with lyrics full of vitriol and anger.

I remember the band stopped by Lancaster University for one of the “extravs”, an end of year party put on by one of the colleges. I went and found myself singing along with all the words. I was, I think, the only one.

I suspect everyone else might have been concurring with the Q editorial.

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