When the Cork band signed a record deal with Sony in 1993, little did they suspect that more than a quarter of a century would elapse before the fruits of their labour saw daylight.
Yet now here it is – the long-awaited first long player by the four piece. No Sound Ever Dies is a shimmering nugget of indie pop and feels all the more precious for having taken so long to gestate.
Why the delay? Blame record label politics and shortsightedness that led to Sony scrapping their deal with the group after the songs had been written and demoed – but before the band had the green light for an album.
Fast forward 25 or so years and all four musicians have gone their separate ways. But when an Irish Examiner feature about Emperor of Ice Cream stoked their memories, they decided to dust down old recordings, add some new production and instrumentation – and presto, No Sound Ever Dies has landed.
“The Examiner wrote the story and then someone set up at WhatsApp group and put up some old stuff,” Eddie Butt, the group’s bass player, who now works at the Irish Examiner as a graphic designer, explained.
"We had a Zoom meeting. The songs were a lot better than I expected. Someone commented that they sound like they were recorded yesterday.” And the rest is history...
In 1966 Capitol Records allowed Brian Wilson and bandmates lavish $75,000 on Good Vibrations, the lead single from their 12th album (including $15,000 for the famous Theremin). It was a slice of genius, so the label was happy to bankroll the rest of the record, under the working title Smile.
Work proceeded at Sunset Sounds and other studios in Los Angeles. But Wilson, already increasingly reliant on drugs, suffered a crisis of confidence after the failure in 1967 of the ’45 that followed Good Vibrations. Heroes and Villains was a rumination on the displacement of Native Americans. Wilson believed it would eclipse both Good Vibrations and Strawberry Fields Forever by his great rivals the Beatles.
It failed to do so and Wilson retreated into himself. He had soon clocked up $30,000 on LSD and marijuana (and catered sandwiches) and was playing piano in a custom-built sandbox. He finally had a breakdown and Smile was shelved, becoming one of the great lost LPs of the Sixties. In September 2004, with his reputation as a pop icon restored, Wilson finally dusted down and completed the recordings and the project was released as Brian Wilson Presents Smile.
Five years is a relative finger-snap compared to the quarter century fans of Emperor of Ice Cream were force to wait. Still, the Roses went to purgatory and back as they laboured on the follow-up to their generation-defining 1989 debut.
Miscommunication was an issue. Guitarist John Squire felt he was expected to carry the weight of developing the Roses sound (he had been listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin). However, his bandmates were of the opinion that he was shutting them out of the process and that they were subject to the whims of his ego.
There were other complications. Singer Ian Brown had a child. And then he and Squire both moved houses, all while they were supposed to devote every waking moment to the what would become Second Coming. Rampant drug consumption didn’t help.
“Walking into John's room and seeing him with another delivery of cocaine in a big pile on his table,” was how Brown described one low point.
"It's 11 in the morning and he's snorting lines of cocaine and I'm thinking, 'Shit, is that what we are now? Do you have to take coke at 11 in the morning just so that you can come up with a guitar line?'"
Fifteen years would pass between Guns N'Roses’s Spaghetti Incident covers album and Chinese Democracy. In that time, all of the original members left aside from singer Axl Rose and Geffen Records poured $13 million into the project Rose was determined to make the most perfect album ever. He certainly didn’t hold back spending Geffen’s cash. The recording engineer at the sessions was on a reported paid $25,000 a month alone – with the band themselves earning multiples of that. Further bills were racked up with the rental of rare guitars – which Rose then barely played and left lying around, in some cases for years (it was estimated that it would have been cheaper to buy the instruments).
Chinese Democracy finally saw daylight in November 2008. Reviews were middling and sales of 2.5 million fell short of projections (and a long way off the 30 million racked up by G’n’R’s1987 break-out Appetite for Destruction). Still, there was a happy ending of sorts. In 2015 Rose reunited with guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan for the $580 million grossing Not In This Lifetime Tour (including a sell out at Slane in 2018). In the jaunt’s 24-song setlist, were just two tracks from Chinese Democracy.
Regarded by some as the greatest Irish album ever, Loveless took over two years to record and went through several producers and studios.
Band leader Kevin Shields’s meticulous working method was an issue. The Dubliner would put songs together in a stop-start fashion, so that sessions stretched into the blue yonder.
“We recorded the drums in September '89,” he would tell Select magazine. “The guitar was done in December. The bass was done in April. 1990 we're in, now. Then nothing happens for a year really."
The release date was pushed back further when Shields and vocalist Bilinda Butcher both developed tinnitus. With bills stacking up, their label, Creation, began to worry about studio costs, which were surging past £250,000. The strain got so much Dick Green, Creation’s second-in-command, woke one morning to discover his hair had turned grey overnight.
Drugs were a constant distraction for the Mancunians across the two years they laboured on their final album before breaking up for the first time. To keep these 24 hour party people out of temptation’s way their record label, Factory, had sent them to Barbados, to work with producer Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, formerly of Talking Heads.
Months drifted by and there was no sign of an album. So Factory boss Tony Wilson got on a plane and flew to Barbados. As he looked down on the runway from his window seat, he could have sworn he saw several of the band carrying a sofa. They had liberated it from the studio, owned by reggae singer Eddy Grant, and were on their way to sell it to pay for chemical refreshments.
The problems had actually started in Manchester, where, to wean himself off heroin, Mondays singer Shaun Ryder had packed a four-week supply of methadone. This, however, was smashed in an accident at the airport. In Barbados the Mondays instead turned to crack cocaine. Bez, the group’s dancer, broke an arm in a car crash. Ryder, meanwhile, failed to come up with any lyrics, driving the mild-mannered Weymouth and Frantz to despair.
Eventually Wilson, the Happy Mondays, and the recordings made it back to Manchester. But the Mondays then refused to hand over the tapes unless Wilson gave them £50 (for drugs). He did, only to discover Ryder had yet to lay down his vocals. These were eventually put on, though, according to label mate Peter Hook of New Order, the record sold just 1,000 copies. Factory declared bankruptcy not long afterwards.