Cult classic album turns 20 years old.
It’s 1999. The brit party is over. An identity crisis looms. The next decade seems somewhat uncertain. Sound familiar?
Well, it was never that bad. In fact, twenty years ago was a pretty progressive time… for the music industry at least. With Britpop done and dusted, it was only natural fans wanted more from their next favourite artist than a regionally defined accent. Cultural mash-ups were a given. An international vibe was even better. And the launch of Napster made it possible to access and share this wealth of new music for free. The millennium might have followed with fresher sounds, but this was the year that set the scene.
In many respects, it was the perfect time for Belgium art-rockers dEUS to find its ever-so-slightly wider audience. Too unpredictable for the mainstream, they could have easily face planted off the treadmill of traditional media while promoting their third European only release. Instead, it became the sleeper hit that would cement their status as one of the most original bands of their generation.
Now, any die-hard fan will tell you that The Ideal Crash isn’t dEUS at their most inventive. They crammed crazier ideas into their earlier efforts, but these were also harder to reign in. This time around, the band steered a more conventional and coherent vehicle, yet gave it enough throttle to keep out of the middle lane. After all, nothing alienates a cult following more than that dreaded road to accessibility.
Kicking off with a loud wall of distorted feedback, The Ideal Crash took indie’s narrow lanes and collided with urgent guitars, ectopic drumming, sweeping strings, trippy keyboards, plucking banjos, jazzy brass and muffled funk. Its groove was off kilter. Its beauty was often bruised. Even the most straightforward track (Instant Street) unexpectedly changed direction. But perhaps the most satisfying quality was how it reaped the rewards of a slow climb. Each of its ten songs mastered the art of building up to their climatic moment. It was enough to get you reaching for a cigarette afterwards.
Alt-rockers Gomez and The Eels might have been cited as the obvious comparison back in the day. But listening now – particularly to One Advice, Space and Dream Sequence 1 – you can almost hear the template being set for a noughties-era Radiohead. That’s a good thing.
If revisiting this cult classic isn’t nostalgic enough for you, then head to the Electric Ballroom in May where the band celebrates its 20th anniversary by playing it live. It’ll be interesting to see who rocks out to a dEUS gig these days. Perhaps faithful devotees who fell in love with the album first time around will rub shoulders with new admirers it picked up along the way. One thing’s for sure. The roof is going to lift off when that distorted feedback kicks in again.
Original release: March 1999
Key tracks: Put the Freaks Up Front, The Magic Hour, Instant Street, Everybody’s Weird