Sensation Number One

Kevin figures that Laugh were the best pop group on the planet circa 1987, and I wouldn't argue with that. I thought pretty much the same way, a concept based on the sole single I could find, the ludicrously infectious 'Paul McCartney' with its even better flipside 'Come On Come Out', which became the ironic bedroom anthem for the year. I never saw Laugh play out, never even went out much that year at all, it being a year of staying home, staying put and dreaming in words and pictures: the nature of satellite pop existence, after all. I did read an interview in Underground magazine, however, in which they did indeed make a point about being interested much more in dance sounds than their typical indie-boy rock peers like The Wedding Present. I remember also seeing a picture of them and feeling delighted that someone else was wearing golfing jackets like the beautiful white Swallow I had half inched from my dads wardrobe, a relic from his Tony Jacklin days.

The massive wall of beat noise that was 'Time To Lose It' was of course an essential record and it lit up the start of 1988 like a beacon. It meshed with lots of personal discovery at the time as well, making such perfect sense next to the recently discovered joys of Stockholm Monsters and of course the burgeoning interest in the Happy Mondays (they shared the same engineer, Chris Nagle, who worked on the peerless 'Freaky Dancin') and Stone Roses which in fact was still to be measured in terms of being big only in the world of the inky student music press, and even there not so resoundingly admired as people may tell you today. Even in the middle of the summer one year on, you could play 'Bummed' and people would run a mile, whilst 'Freaky Dancin' brought extreme derision and even 'Elephant Stone' got wry looks. All of which made it all the stranger that by the time I had returned to the UK at the end of that summer after only a couple of months in the USA, the Happy Mondays and Stone Roses were everywhere.

And Laugh were nowhere.

It was sad, because as Kevin said, Laugh really did look like they were on the verge of great things, and I'd argue that yes indeed, their 1988 LP Sensation Number One is certainly one of the great underrated albums of the era, and perhaps all time, ranking up there with The Stockholm Monsters' Alma Mater, which is cruelly fitting since the Monsters' Shan Hira was the engineer on the Laugh record. The Laugh singles up to that point had been fractious affairs, as Kevin has said so eloquently, all clang! clang! clang! like those early Subway Sect singles. Sure, they had groove and beat, but it was pure adrenalin dance structure, all loose limbs tightly strung out and hunched against the world, a sound that could have taken its blueprint from the Stockholm Monsters astonishing 'Militia'. And if Laugh were listening to the techno sounds of Chicago or the deep House of Philadelphia, it didn't really show.

That all changed with the release of 'Sensation Number One', a great 12" slab of proto punk techno disco which mixed marvellously metronomic sequencers, loose guitar workouts and Martin Wright's terrifically upbeat vocal delivery. Looking back, its hard to fathom the impact this record had at the time, but many of the indie fraternity who had bought into the previous Laugh records stayed away from it in droves, still embalmed in the luddite fear of modern technology and a format other than a 7". The positive vibe was also something that startled. A vibe that was clearly rooted in celebration of modernity and progress, and not in some yearning for a pastoral idyll; a theme that was already seeming like reactionary nonsense. In this respect, it was indeed a modern urban dance record, which I'm sure is what Laugh intended.

The LP appeared later in 1988, and, kicking off with the title track, was a much more resolutely Up record than most closeted indiepop kids like me were used to. The track titles were things like 'Good To Feel Good', 'Hearing Sound Having Fun', 'It's Easy', 'Come on, Come Out' (a new version, leaner and spacier than before), and there was a bounce (notably supplied by the bass sequences) that was infectious. Certainly it was a record that fused styles, and if listening back now it's easier to recognise the connections being made with the contemporaneous techno noises, at the time it was still the nods back to fractious punkfunk aesthetics that counted the most, even if they were less obvious than on the previous singles. Looking back too, it seems to be a record that just pre-empted the crossing of the boundaries, the crumbling of the walls, because where indeed Laugh were fusing the dance sounds of the new emergent underground with the post-punk pop of the old, the audience had, on the whole, not yet reached the same point on the journey, and by the time they had, Sensation Number One was forgotten, Laugh ignored in favour of the altogether less insightful irrelevance of too many Madchester chancers.

The Stockholm Monsters

© Alistair Fitchett 1999.