First in an occasional series of blogs on little moments in pop culture which have largely been forgotten, but which still own a little piece of us. Alternative title: we remember so you don’t have to.
All this talk of Olympians suddenly made us remember this song, “Olympian”, by Gene. It’s very beautiful, as you will hear if you click play below.
For those of you who are under 35, or who spent the mid 1990s pounding their brains with ecstasy and BPMs rather than weeping in their student hovels over indie pop, Gene were a distinctly second tier Britpop band with a bad (and eventually fatal) case of Morrissey-worship.
Indeed, the one and only time PopLifer saw Gene live, it was at Morrissey’s “Meltdown” festival on the South Bank in 2004. Stepping inside the venue on our way to see the mardy Manc himself, we heard a muddy noise coming from a tiny little room underneath the cavernous main auditorium. It sounded like bad early Smiths, being sung by a singer coming down with a cold. That’s rather witty, we thought, Morrissey has booked a Smiths tribute band to play second fiddle to his own solo set. That’s one in the eye for Marr, Rourke and Joyce!
Then we recognised the tune being played – it was minor hit “Sleep Well Tonight” – and realised that it was actually Gene, in the last whimpering moments of their career.
But let’s rewind 9 years, to when Gene first emerged into the pages of the NME and Melody Maker. Despite singer Martin Rossiter’s obvious Morrissey fixation – which extended to his hairstyle, diction, interview technique, lyrics, songwriting and even the band’s album covers – the music press were surprisingly enthusiastic about this new band on the block. It might have been because they presumed the band would grow out of their brazen Smiths-borrowing (they didn’t) or it might have been because the band had actually written a very good album.
There are many bits of fine songwriting on “Olympian” the album, but the title track was the best. One way in which Rossiter did go one better than his idol was that he was happy to talk about his bisexuality openly (Morrissey is yet to confirm that the queen is not dead, actually, but still on tour, though without a record deal), and this sense of sexual difference – and the angst that results – hangs over this tender, broken little love song. As he sings in the surging final moments, “I wanted to be there with you/ For I can only feel normal with you,” a perfect us-against-the-world lyric which will hit an emotional chord with anyone who has ever felt like they didn’t quite belong, except in someone else’s arms.
It would be unkind to call Gene a dog – we do genuinely love that first album – but if we were forced to, at least we could point to this song and say that every dog does indeed have its day. We look forward, eagerly, to it being the centrepiece of the Olympic closing ceremony.