20 Years of Adorable’s ‘Against Perfection’
20 years ago this month (March 1993) Adorable launched their debut album ‘Against Perfection’ into the world. To celebrate the album’s anniversary Pete Fijalkowski gives us a track by track guide to the album. He’s also posted an acoustic version of the bands third single ‘Homeboy’ for you to download on his Bandcamp page here.
We had commissioned the photo by Louise Rhodes of the burning flower, when we had originally wanted to call the album ‘Against Nature’ but then discovered that The Fatima Mansions had released an album in 1989 with that title. We then opted to call it ‘Against Creation’ – we liked the dual meaning, but our fraught relationship with the label meant we chickened out 24 hours before the deadline to submit the artwork, as we felt that it might be pushing our luck and their patience just a step too far. You could get away with a sly title like that if your relationship with your label was healthy, but ours was anything but. In the end we settled on ‘Against Perfection’ as one of the many manifesto points that me & Wil had was the celebration of the imperfect, – because it is those flaws that make us human and give us character. It is quite telling that we felt we had to be ‘Against’ something.
The idea of the song is a celebration of the hope and excitement I felt of being young. It’s about the thrill of the unknown – of going out and making your own path not necessarily in music, but in life in general It’s full of confidence, and dare I say it the arrogance of youth – “I don’t need you to share your knowledge out, and the feeling is glorious” .Lyrically and musically it has a lot of energy which makes me feel old, but i can’t but help smile at the sheer exuberance of my younger self. Like quite a few of our songs on this album (Cut#2, Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Breathless) it doesn’t really have a proper chorus – the chorus sounds more like a bridge to me, and a lot of the songs on the album are the same in that respect – I think the guitar hooks are the secret choruses.
2. Favourite Fallen Idol
I always had a fixation with failure – George Lazenby was my favourite James Bond, not just because he’s in the best Bond film (‘On her Majesty’s Secret Service’) & he shows a vulnerability to the role (famously crying at the end of the film), but probably in large part because he messed up his career so spectacularly. There is a theory that those who have this kind of outlook and willing embrace of defeat will ultimately never really succeed, and maybe Adorable and my career in general would back this up. When I first met Alan McGee in a pub in Coventry, I made him promise that if dropped me from Creation, he would have the guts to tell me to my face – not on the phone as he had done to Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine some months before – so already even before we had signed to Creation my focus was on failure (when we were dropped 3 years later it was by phone, and then not even by McGee). I had loved Ian McCulloch, but felt in the early 90’s his output and demeanor was fading fast, and Wil had similar views about his hero Morrissey. This song was an acknowledgement that our heroes ultimately let us down, and there was an awareness that there was no reason to believe that we would be any different.
3. A To Fade In
This was quite an early Adorable song, and was part of a more introspective side to us musically and lyrically that would come out more on ‘Fake’ (1994). When I first wrote the song I was trying to ape ‘Cattle and Cane’ by The Go-Betweens both musically and in the subject matter – it has the same wistfulness of lost childhood, and is about my relationship with my father. The first line is basically a re-writing (or rip-off if you prefer) of Grant McLennan’s first line (Cattle & Cane: “I recall a schoolboy coming home…” A To Fade In “I remember walking home, with my father from the station…”).
4. I Know You Too Well
This was one song that was written slightly differently to other Adorable tracks – usually either me or Wil would write a riff, chord structure or bass line and then we would expand from that, often in rehearsal jams. We would then very quickly discard parts, and cut and paste parts from other songs that had fallen by the wayside, but had good bits that could be rescued and welded on, rather like harvesting parts from dead cars in a junk yard. This was written differently on my under-used 4 track in my flat above a TV repair shop in Coventry. It was rare to present a completed song in this way to the band. I don’t think any of us were really 100% convinced by this song if I’m honest, there were stronger b-sides that could have made the album in it’s place, but it had a different vibe to some of the other songs which helped the flow of the album. Lyrically it’s about music fans who don’t read any books or watch any films except the cool ones that their idols name check, and who bought the same unfashionable tops that Kevin Shields wore as if he was some style guru. That total lack of individuality or independent thought really bugs me. They are like the mindless followers in the ‘Life Of Brian’.
This was written pre-Adorable when we were called the Candy Thieves, which I had formed in 1988 with my friend Wayne Peters on guitar, when we were on a Film Studies course together at Warwick University. I can still remember the day we wrote it. Wil started playing the bass line, and Kevin joined in on the floor tom. I sang a whole load of lines culled from other discarded songs, Wayne picked some notes, and then when it felt right I stepped on my distortion pedal to make it start feeding back, Kevin sensed it was time to move onto the snare and we all crashed in – it was beautiful. Afterwards we danced around high on adrenaline, absolutely convinced we had created something special (see Sistine Chapel Ceiling). It is one of my favourite Adorable songs, though I can’t really tell you what it’s about specifically as the lyrics were just cut up parts of other songs, so didn’t have a coherent structure as such. Maybe it’s about obsession. Because he had written the inspirational bass line to the song Wil got naming rights to the song, so he called it ‘Homeboy’ after a chapter in the autobiography of Malcom X that he was reading at the time because he thought it was a cool word and quite incongruous for the title of a song from a white English/Scottish/Welsh/Polish indie band, and so I incorporated this into the lyrics. It follows the great quiet- loud-quiet-loud structure of songs like ‘Gigantic’ by The Pixies that we loved dancing to every Thursday at Silvers – our local indie nightclub in Coventry. It really mystified me that this was our least successful single we ever released in the UK – it felt like something went wrong there.
6. Sistine Chapel Ceiling
A lot of our early songs were built around riffs, and the bass line to this was originally a guitar line that I wrote that didn’t quite work out, and Wil then adapted and became the basis for the song. It’s in part about that one moment of artistic creation – that split second when you have inspiration. The moment when a great word comes out of your mouth or the moment that the brush touches the canvass. It could also be about sex, though I wasn’t aware of that at the time. The production by Pat Collier on the album was great – and this song is a great example. this song was so delicate but he made it come alive and blossom to it’s full potential. We had done a so-so demo of it, and we recorded it with Alan Moulder (Jesus & Mary Chain, Ride, MBV, Lush, Swervedriver, Curve producer) along with a handful of other tracks as a possible 3rd single but it hadn’t really worked. We thought it was an ok song and had potential, but Pat really worked on this and brought it out, and captured such energy – Kevin’s drumming on this is just great, and Robert’s squiggly almost electronicy guitar part at the very start is genius.
7. Cut #2
The Candy Thieves had a song called ‘Cut’ which we lost along the way, but I nicked the lyrics from it, hence the title which we never got round to changing. With most of our songs you can tell who plays the guitar by the order they appear – generally the first guitar to come in with the main simplistic hook/riff is me, and the twiddly more picky stuff is Robert – on this he plays a really nice sequence of chords in the instrumental part before the verses that ends on a really great unexpected and unsettling chord. It was one of Alan McGee’s favourites and he kept on wanting to release it as a single, but we weren’t convinced by it as a single – we couldn’t imagine anyone dancing to it on the dancefloor at Silvers. To his credit Alan always allowed us to get our way on single choices. It’s about when someone says “I love you” almost as an aside,half-asleep without really meaning it – back then everything was all or nothing for me, you had to mean everything you said. It was tiring being so passionate!
8. Crash Sight
We came from Coventry, home of The Primitives, and this feels like an attempt to capture some of the energy of their early singles. The similarities of the title to their biggest hit (possibly one of best pop singles ever made) is accidental. This was in the running as a possible single at various times.
9. Still Life
We recorded ‘Summerside’ as a b-side for ‘I’ll be Your Saint’ which we really liked, and we would have put it on the album, but we had already had ‘A To Fade In’ (b-side to Sunshine Smile) as well as the singles ‘Homeboy’, ‘Sistine Chapel Ceiling’ & ‘Favourite Fallen’ idol on the UK album, and we were mindful that putting too many tracks on the album that had already been released was seen as bad form. So we decided to try and re-write it as we wanted something more downbeat towards the end of the album, and we came up with this. Maybe because it was trying too hard and it didn’t come from the heart – it came from a perceived need to try and write a fraught quiet song for track 9 on the album, which maybe isn”t the greatest reason to write a song – but for whatever reason ‘Still Life’ does little for me.
This is up there in my all time Adorable favourites. It was one of the first songs we wrote when Robert joined. He lived in this rambling house in the country full of cats and beds and old grandfather clocks, and we’d rehearse in a bedroom there. I detuned all of the strings on my guitar to E and just barred the chords and loved the wave of notes that came out. Recording it we just layered guitar after guitar on so it built up into a massive wall of E, and Robert used an E-Bow on his guitar which is what gives that sound half way through that sounds like a cello. A lot of what I wrote lyrically in those days hid behind metaphors, maybe because I was unable to truely reveal my feelings openly, or maybe because I misguidedly thought I was some kind of poet, but this song is refreshingly open and simple and honest. About 6 months after we wrote it, we recorded it as a 3 track EP with some free studio time Pat Collier gave us, and he pressed it up onto 12″ but never released it, because we started to get record company interest so we decided to hold it back. This is from that recording session, as we really liked the spirit of the original rushed recording, but the only thing we changed was the drums as Kevin didn’t like the the first recording and wanted to re-do them. His original take was recorded with his beat-up drum kit that didn’t sound too great, and now we had signed to Creation & EMI publishing we were able to spend money on equipment & he had a great sounding shiny new kit. He overdubbed his new drums on top, but he ended the take too soon & the original drum kit from the first take can be heard taking over right at the end. It’s happy mistakes like that can sometimes make things special and was one of the (many) things that we were passionate about – seeing beauty in things that are ‘wrong’ . The clue is in the title – Against Perfection.
You can follow Pete Fij’s blog by clicking here. There will also be a new single from his project with The House of Love’s Terry Bickers soon, you can follow their adventures on their Facebook page.