Back in early 1999, Gene were about to release their third studio album, Revelations – their most political record yet. When I spoke to frontman Martin Rossiter, he was feeling betrayed by Tony Blair and New Labour and out for revenge…
Gene’s thumping new single, As Good As It Gets, is a brutal attack on Tony’s Blair’s New Labour.
Over thundering piano, Hammond organ and in-yer-face guitar, frontman Martin Rossiter sings: “We’ve been bought, we’ve been sold, but at least we’re not old. When red became blue, hope denied – our dreams swept away with the tide.”
As the National Health Service fails to cope with the influx of OAPs suffering from flu and has to create makeshift mortuaries to deal with the ever-growing number of fatalities, the song is more relevant than ever.
It’s also the first single from Gene’s third studio album, Revelations – a record which has far more of a political agenda than the group’s previous releases. Several of the lyrics deal with Blair’s failed promises and highlight that New Labour has well and truly sold us down the river…
“It’s a record that’s not afraid to speak its mind,” says Martin, adding: “but there’s more to it than that. The important thing to remember is that there are other songs on the record, but, certainly, politics is something we’ve never been afraid to talk about.”
Indeed. Last year, Martin cropped up on the BBC’s Newsnight, taking part in a political debate.
“Yes,” he says. “I’m just a media whore.”
‘I’m like Santa Claus armed with a machete’
Two of the songs on the latest album – Mayday and The British Disease – are calls to arms that urge us to recognise the new enemy, rise up and storm the gates.
“Both of those songs are perhaps lyrically more optimistic than As Good As It Gets – they’re saying that change can be created,” says Martin. “I have my own little army of helpers. I’m like Santa Claus armed with a machete!”
Revelations is an album which attempts to capture the dynamic, punchy sound of Gene playing live. It’s definitely more ballsy than its predecessor, Drawn To The Deep End, but it still veers between the band’s trademark, swaggering indie-rock anthems [Mayday and In Love With Love] and epic ballads [You’ll Never Walk Again and Angel].
On some songs, Martin seems to possess more vigour than ever before, such as the wonderfully-titled The Police Will Never Find You, in which he, shockingly, threatens to take a Stanley knife to someone’s face and smash their kneecaps with a hammer!
“Aren’t I awful?” he says, coming over all Kenneth Williams. “There’s always been a little bit of grit and gristle in my lyrics. I’ve always enjoyed revenge and I’ve always enjoyed imaginative uses of bicycle D-locks.”
One of the highlights of Revelations is Fill Her Up. It celebrates the joys of drinking and contains several bizarre musical influences, including rockabilly, Cossack chanting and El Mariachi brass.
“It’s a Polish-Mexican hybrid,” says Martin. “It’s a very geographically confused song – it doesn’t know where it fits in. If you get a map of the world and plot out the various influences, you actually end up in Slough.”
Revelations was recorded at Rockfield Studios, in Wales – the home of the piano that Queen’s Freddie Mercury played on Bohemian Rhapsody.
“It still has the stains to prove it, ” says Martin.
So did he use it on the new album?
“What? The stains or the piano? The piano is all over the album – all the piano that you hear has Freddie’s sweat on it.”
‘The piano you hear on the album has Freddie Mercury’s sweat on it’
Can we expect Martin to be sitting behind the old Joanna when Gene head out on tour later this month?
“No, because I don’t want to become Bruce Hornsby – that’s a frightening thought.”
Gene are a band who are in their element when they’re playing live…
“I’m always amazed why people are surprised by that,” says Martin. “They come along and they think, ‘oh my God, instead of whipping out poetry, you’re more likely to whip out your nob!”
It’s fair to say that Gene haven’t really achieved the critical acclaim and commercial success that they so richly deserve. How does Martin feel about that?
“We’re human and we want to be successful. Our drummer, Matt, has his little dream of being able to walk out at Walthamstow dog stadium.”
He adds: “We like the songs – we love them. After a while, they cease to become ours and they exist independently of us. We want them to do well.”
So will Gene be able to survive in this current, post-Britpop climate?
“I think there’s life in the old dog yet,” says Martin.
What does he ultimately want to achieve with the band?
“I’d like to lead them and make them realise that I’m far more important than they are. I’d like to rule them with a rod of iron.”
The original version of this article was first published in Splash! magazine in February 1999.