Word Gets Around – Stereophonics, 1997
I’m just going to say it: the Stereophonics are never going to top Word Gets Around and Performance and Cocktails. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say they haven’t done anything good since just that they are two such stellar albums that I don’t think anyone could.
Admittedly, I’m biased. I was about 14 when Word Gets Around came out and it became one of those great albums that define your formative years. I was also teaching myself acoustic guitar at the time and can still play a decent number of tracks (badly) now, while giving it my best Kelly Jones voice (worse).
Standing at the bus stop with my shopping in my hands
What a way to open an album. How many bands announce their presence to the world singing about the most mundane non-event you can imagine? And then write an entire, classic album about a whole host of them?
So much of the album’s magic is just that though. Jones isn’t singing about his latest breakup or the love of his life. There are no uplifting, inspirational tracks here, no poignant advice or thought-provoking hidden messages. These songs are about real life in a real place where there’s not much work, even less to do and people just get on with it because, well, what else is there?
Last minute shoppers picking cauliflower
If ‘A Thousand Trees’ is about a rumour spreading through the village like fire – apt given the nature of news around the world at the minute – then ‘More Life In a Tramps Vest’ is a pretty clear message about the state of life in Cwmaman where the band grew up. It’s a song about absolutely nothing at all, and that’s the genius of it.
Listening to the album is like standing on the village green and watching events going on around you, such is the simplicity of the content. What makes it so perfect is its authenticity because that’s more or less what the guys were doing – writing about what was in front of them every day. Simple, gritty truth.
The most significant example of this is the outstanding ‘Traffic’. As well as having a signature acoustic riff to kick it off, the lyrics are an astoundingly astute summation of the daily grind. It would be fruitless to try and explain just how good a track it is so if you listen to nothing else, track five is the one.
Equally, there’s nothing overly glamourous about Jones’ guitar playing, and yet somehow it’s unmistakable. There are no wailing solos, no complex chord patterns, but Jones’ sound and style is definitive in the much the same way as the likes of Noel Gallagher. The brilliance isn’t in making it hard to play; it’s in making it so simple that almost anyone could but hasn’t thought to.
I think it’s also the reason the album can’t be topped. To write songs this cutting, that resonate with everyone because everyone’s been there can only be done when you’re living it. For me, now that the Stereophonics’ lives have changed so much, even if their new music is good, it hasn’t got the edge of Word Gets Around now that they’re outside looking in.
Those are model’s legs, but are they women’s are they men’s?
Some of these tracks became absolutely legendary. At school, you were no-one if you didn’t know every single word of ‘Traffic’, or how to play the little slide in the intro to ‘Billy Davey’s Daughter’. Without a doubt, ‘Too Many Sandwiches’ is one of the greatest observational songs you’ll ever hear and ‘Last Of The Big Time Drinkers’ is an anthem for everyone, whether you are or not.
Just give me hops or the slops
If the themes of the album are basic, Jones’ voice and penchant for quirky, tongue-twisting lyrics are not. Even more recognisable than his guitar playing, his coarse, Welsh-twanged vocals are the perfect vehicle for the non-stop, sometimes nonsensical, stream of words that somehow combine to paint the picture perfectly. Take this example from ‘Goldfish Bowl’:
I’m drinking, sinking, swimming, drowning
Working, smirking, learning, burning, sleeping
Thieving, cheating, beating
I’m eating I’m deep in a goldfish bowl
And yet, in the context of the rest of the song, and the album, it makes absolute sense. As does this from ‘Same Size Feet’:
Sex drives oral highs
Cheated wives and spies
Cream cakes coffee dates
Floral gifts goodbye
Passed away for the day
Had a change of kind sex changes
Too mundane for the average mind
Don’t ask me how, because I have no idea. But when you listen to it, you’ll understand.
Word Gets Around is an utterly unique album and an excellent way to spend forty-two minutes of your life. It’s the perfect companion on a drive, particularly if you follow it with Performance and Cocktails.
What do you think? The best Stereophonics album ever? Let me know below.