There can be no doubt that we’re in the midst of some kind of 90s revival right now. Every time I see a young person wearing the same Ellesse sweatshirt as I did when I was fifteen, or see a bloke at a gig in a bucket hat, I wonder how the undoubtedly uncool era in which I did most of my growing up became cool again. Next we’ll be drinking White Lightning in the park again. Thinking Tony Blair is a young man making politics interesting again, rather than a war criminal in waiting. Fuck. The 90s sucked.
One thing that dreadful decade did have going for it, though, was the music. While some of that music (and the people that made it) has not aged particularly well, there can be no doubt that growing up at that time offered a way into several thriving music scenes that just haven’t been seen in the same way since. So, arguably, that’s one part of this revival that may be welcome to some. Are you one of them?
Your answer to that question is likely to affect how you feel about the latest album from Tess Parks, And Those Who Were Seen Dancing. Because this album is drenched in 90s nostalgia. ‘Do You Pray?’ has the epic, swirling sound of The Stone Roses at a young age. ‘Wow’ could be Primal Scream. Album highlight ‘Happy Birthday Forever’ sounds so much like Primal Scream, in fact, that it could have been lifted directly from Screamadelica – the influence is clear, but the song is actually as good as anything that the band it sounds like have done in a long time.
‘We Are The Music Makers And The Dreamers Of Dream’ starts off with an acoustic guitar that sounds like the one at the start of ‘Half The World Away’ by Oasis, and develops to sound like another song that would have fit in if it had showed up on later releases by the Mancunians. Even the title of the album seems to hark back, a call to those who were there at Knebworth and in the hundreds of clubs that played this Manchester tinged 90s indie sound. There’s even a song called ‘Good Morning Glory.’
For some readers, that last paragraph will probably be enough to put them off listening to And Those Who Were Seen Dancing. I get that. In many ways, this felt like a style and tone of music that we were beginning to leave behind and not everyone will welcome it’s return. But I don’t say all that to be negative. While Tess Parks wears her influences on her sleeve, and it would be impossible to review this album without mentioning them, she has enough personality as a performer to make these songs sound fresh and identifiably her. Her raspy vocals are captivating. There is also an air of confidence and swagger to her performance, a sense that when she plays these songs live she knows she will hold the attention of the whole room.
There are many things about 90s revivalism that I could live without, and I probably err on the side of thinking that while there are rooms for albums like this one, I hope we don’t see a wholesale return on this particular brand of indie music. But spending time with this Tess Parks release has allowed me to appreciate its intricacies and find a lot to admire. This will appeal to those young people in Ellesse tracksuits who are currently discovering the music that made many of us Picky Bastards tick as teenagers at the same time as it will appeal to those among us who are ready to welcome a bit of our youth back in. In you’re either of those people, this is well worth a listen.
Words by Fran Slater