ALBUM: The Boo Radleys - Kingsize revisited 20 years on

Exactly 20 years today on 19 October 1998, The Boo Radleys released their final album, the magnificent 'Kingsize'. 

Suffering from a lack of exposure, it went unnoticed by the public and only charted at number 62 in the UK albums charts. Earning much critical acclaim but very little commercial success, this album is described by songwriter Martin Carr as the sound of a band "uninspired and running out of ideas". However, I think that 'Kingsize' contains some of the most brilliant songwriting of the era. A symphonic indie rock album peppered with interesting electronics and thrashy, fuzzy guitar, it still sounds stunning 20 years later. 

You can listen to the album in full below via YouTube. If you appreciate the music, we encourage you to support the artists by buying their music digitally or physically online or from your local record shop.

When I first heard the hectic lead single 'Free Huey' on (Radio 1 show) The Evening Session in 1998, I was thrilled by it and surprised by the band's new sound, which couldn't have been further from what I would've expected from them at the time. Up until then I was only aware of their unavoidable 1995 summer smash hit 'Wake Up Boo'. Before that, they were acclaimed in alternative circles for their shoegaze sounds after forming in the late 80s. After signing to Creation, they released the glorious 'Giant Steps', a kaleidoscopic psychedelic pop record which brought even more praise. The unstoppable wave of Britpop coincided with the release of the release of the joyous 'Wake Up Boo', which became a radio staple and stayed in the charts for ages. With its bright, bouncy optimism, fanfare horns and rise and shine lyrics, their big pop hit overshadowed everything the band followed it with. 

The big hit and it's accompanying album were followed the next year with the loud, messy, weird 'C'mon Kids', seen my many as a deliberate attempt to distance themselves from the lingering memory of 'Wake Up Boo'. The album sold poorly, while the most successful single from it could only just about scrape into the Top 20. "We didn't want to scare away the hit-kids, we wanted to take them with us to somewhere that we'd not been before" claims singer Sice (real name Simon Rowbottom). "All we wanted to do was try something new - to keep ourselves fresh and interested". Learning a lesson in how a huge hit single can set you back artistically, they soon found themselves in a position where some of the indie scene saw them as sell-outs who had lost their edge. Meanwhile, the mainstream pop audience couldn't care less about their other less commercial material. It's correct to say that their audience had become limited. By 1998, Britpop had faded, along with the fortunes of many of the bands who found success during the mid 90s, even those like the Boo Radleys who tried to distance themselves from it. 

Finding themselves "back on the indie scrapheap" while labelmates Oasis were ruling the world, the band seemed to resign themselves to the fact that it was all downhill from there. With songwriter Martin Carr remembering the period as an uninspired time, and Sice quoting that they had "lost interest once a goal had been achieved", The Boo Radleys were at a low ebb when they recorded 'Kingsize", and their hearts weren't in it anymore. Incredibly, and despite all this, it resulted in what many including myself regard as their finest album, one of the most underrated records of the decade, and something that stands as one of the most sad, emotional and tune-packed farewells in musical history. 

However, a complete lack of support from the industry sank one of the most magnificent records of the 90s. Creation boss Alan McGee allegedly reckoned that the album had no appeal, asking the band "who exactly is going to buy this?" Ironic, since 'Kingsize' turned out to be the sort of album that people wanted from the label's biggest act, Oasis. After being ordered to go back to the studio and record two singles to salvage the LP with, the band came back with the terrific 'Free Huey', which found civil rights era-funk flavours welded to supercharged breakbeats and riotous guitars. Back in 1998, Carr said "When you come back after a year-and-a-half you don't want to knock on the door all apologetic saying, 'Can we come back to the party please?' You want to barge in shouting, 'Where's the keg?" The track was reportedly inspired by Norman Cook's remix of Wildchild's 'Renegade Master', a single released earlier that year.

A question to raise is why were they singing about activist and Black Panther co-founder Huey Newton in 1998? Did they feel like prisoners in the music industry? Was it a veiled stab at Creation Records? Were they annoyed with the label's lack of support and their unwillingness to promote their music properly? "we're told to run towards the future while standing on our feet, and be content with the scraps that they throw us after promising a feast"... While I fully understand (and agree with) criticisms that 'Free Huey''s main lyrical hook is repeated far more times than necessary, this single still sounds utterly exhilarating 20 years later. Unknown by many, unloved by some, but one of my favourite singles of 1998. It could send people nuts at an indie disco. Sadly, it didn't get much radio play, and flopped at number 54 in the UK charts. A week or so after I bought the single, I became excited by an NME review proclaiming it to be one a brilliant album. And after hearing it's sublime title track being given a very rare play on on The Evening Session, I decided that I had to purchase 'Kingsize'. And to this day I remain very glad that I did.

Martin Carr is quoted as describing the recording of 'Kingsize' as "painful. We weren’t getting on that well and I didn’t really want to make records like that anymore. It took ages and we spent too much money because we couldn’t agree on anything and I had lost interest." However, I'm certainly not the only fan who rates their final album as their best.

With a more simplified songwriting approach, orchestral indie rock brilliance is imbued with a wondrous sense of introspection and resignation that is hugely endearing. Upon hearing it for the first time, I thought that once more singles were released from Kingsize, they would surely rise well above their perceived status as "one hit wonders". Instead, no further singles were released, and after appearing quietly on the shelves on 19 October 1998, the album flopped at number 62 in the charts. The group announced their split a few months later. It certainly wasn't the result that I expected from such a brilliant album. To this day, I still consider the record a lost classic.

After a brief vocodered hidden track in the album's pre-gap, it begins as the chime of spindly, picked acoustic notes is joined by the urgent patter of drum machines, and a quiet rising of strings. The mood calms and broods as Sice's vocal gently enters, then halfway through the first line, it suddenly bursts into life with a MASSIVE kitchen sink arrangement topped with stately brass sections. A masterclass in symphonic rock delivering huge melodies, 'Blue Room In Archway' is a bombastic plea for solitude that dips and peaks with brilliant effect. As an opener, it is simply stunning. Before 'Be Here Now', when we heard that Oasis were recording with a huge orchestra, this is the sort of thing the masses wished they would come up with. Instead, The Boo Radleys did it, and it sank without a trace. Unlike anything the band had ever recorded, 'The Old Newsstand In Hamilton Square' captures the senses with its dusty funk loop, fantastic basslines and bittersweet memories. I always thought of it as having a mood not unlike James Bond soundtracks, when it was in fact influenced by Lalo Schifrin's music for Bullit. Like much of Kingsize, it possesses a deep sadness that is brought to the fore by the vulnerability and emotional power of Sice's voice.

On the fired-up 'Free Huey', rampant electronics do battle with savage guitars and a hectic, full-throated vocal. A complete red herring that proves to be completely at odds with the rest of the LP, there's an argument that such a contrasting track has a perfect place on the album to give the overall picture a brief burst of rebellious energy. While much of the record demonstrates a skillful simplicity, 'Monuments For A Dead Century' stands out as 'Kingsize''s most progressive moment, an expansive three-part opus written about the building of the Millennium Dome. Delicate acoustic strums and a soft, pretty melody blossom out into mysteriously alluring, dreamy atmospheres while time signature and tempo shifts compliment the wondrous harmonies. With an interrupting flash of guitar, it enters its third part and delivers its big punch, before entering into a marvellous coda sprinkled with funky flutes, congas and melancholic vocoder. Elsewhere, simplicity produces effective results, even if Carr was supposedly feeling low on inspiration. Changing the mood completely, the jaunty, unashamedly cheery ode to booze 'Heaven's At The Bottom Of This Glass' is throwaway yet upbeat Beach Boys-like pop, like Carr's brightened, soulful answer to 'Cigarettes And Alcohol', complete with a joyful McCartney-like piano on the outro.

It was when I first heard the magnificent title track one night on The Evening Session that I immediately knew I HAD to get a copy of this album. The very appropriately titled 'Kingsize' is a genuinely majestic piece of work that once again recalls and outshines that big orchestral rock n roll sound that the Gallaghers were aiming for. An inviting opening line like "the night is filled with stars that last a lifetime long" is exactly the gentle, melodic touch needed to contrast with the loud guitars and symphonic drama that follows. What at first appears to be a lovely chorus turns out to be a simple refrain, as its massive, heaving main part arrives, dazzling with defiance and passion, with Sice's stunning vocal performance, reaching higher and higher. Climaxing with a fantastic Beatles-like coda, it's quite simply one of the best songs of the 90s and yet frustratingly unknown of by the public.

Would I change anything about 'Kingsize'? Yes. It would be a 10/10 masterpiece if two songs were removed. One of them is the daft, messy 'High As Monkeys', a divisive moment where excellent production makes something interesting out of patchy song. A catchy verse is sunk by one of the most woeful bridges in memory, before leading in to a ridiculous chorus built around harpsichord and classical samples. Depending on your mood, it can sometimes be an enjoyable guilty pleasure, and admittedly it does produce another superb instrumental coda sizzling with more tasty, spacey synths, which sounds especially top notch when played loud through a good pair of headphones. Some would probably argue that it's central to the record, and its silliness provides some much-needed relief from all the weariness, finality and melancholy that surrounds it. But compared to everything else here, the standard slips. Things immediately pick up again as the album gets fully back on track with the gorgeous 'Eurostar'. Carr and the rest of the group probably wouldn't welcome the comparison, but the song always used to remind me of Simply Red. In reality, its soulful outlook, relaxed trip hop beats and more sparing touches of vocoder become something different as the song develops with its glorious chord structure picked out by subtle piano, and yearning chorus building on the LP's emotional, introspective charm.

Inconveniently, such an appealing track is sandwiched in between the two songs that I would've removed from the tracklisting. Another odd and disjointed moment, 'Adieu Clo Clo' begins with scattered electronic beats, splashes of melodica, dark sludgy chords, and strange lyrics about "monkeys dressed in uniform" before descending into another outpouring of sadness. Again, themes of saying goodbye loom large and there's a feeling of weary resignation not usually associated with songwriters who hadn't even reached 30 yet. A thundering 'I Am The Walrus'-style outro is probably the best thing about it, since the songwriting itself pales in contrast to that of a work like the masterful, and irresistibly beautiful 'Jimmy Webb Is God'. Opening with delirious melotron chords, it's the sound of heaven. Suffering a crisis of confidence and turning to a hero for comfort, it's probably more of a reflection on Carr himself as he struggled with his sense of momentum. Yet the exemplary songwriting and soaring arrangement reach the standards of Webb himself, while also pulling together magical shades of Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach and hints of McCartney's later contributions to The Beatles output. Carr really does discredit himself when he writes a line like "I'm not fit to even tune your guitar." Evidently, he was wrong. Instrumental codas are done to perfection on this extraordinary record, and the one that ends this particular track pulls in into a new territory. The surging 'She Is Everywhere' bathes in a smoky, jazzy atmosphere during its verses, where nicely accented touches of electronic organ blend into a darkly psychedelic ambience, with a laid back groove recalling 'A Northern Soul'-era Verve. It packs one hell of a punch as it erupts into a huge stratospheric chorus full of billowing guitars and a stunning distant echo of Bowie's epic 'Moonage Daydream'.

'Comb Your Hair' is another one of Carr's most essential compositions, a dizzying helping of sparkling 60s pop perfection not unlike those that Phil Spector used to produce. Melancholia and tiredness find their way into the hooks: "we may never be this young again, half my life has been misspent". Then there are the little clues that in hindsight are scattered throughout the LP... Were they hoping to "get out while we can", and was Carr longing for an escape from the music industry? That heavy sense of finality is all over the heartbreaking 'Song From The Blue Room', a marvellous piano ballad reminiscent of Surf's Up-era Brian Wilson and Abbey Road. Sombre flourishes of brass and strings embellish one of the ultimate portrayals of a broken heart, where helplessness and yearning are in full flow. Effects that evoke the sound of birds flying away, and the simplicity of the words "I can't talk right now" capture the mood perfectly with powerful, overwhelming resonance. Climaxing in a ray of hope with the reminder that "once in your life you'll find the love that you have always had", and "realise that before you knew nothing at all", the penultimate moment ends with rise and swell of its magnificent arrangement, pulling off another smart, graceful Bacharach-like ending.

'Kingsize' ends on a strange note, which makes it all the more enjoyable, as the space funk curtain closer 'The Future Is Now' delivers a brilliant parting statement. More touches of 60s soul filter into its thick rhythm, along with Blockheads flavours, cosmic keys pinging around the surface, disco guitars and strong, punchy bass. Rather than sailing off into the sunset, it's more like the sound of the group cruising off to another orbit, leaving behind a time capsule for future generations to learn from. 

Indulgent? Yes. Flawed? Yes. Overlong? Certainly. But 'Kingsize' is a magnificent piece of work. Following its release, a tour was planned, but allegedly scrapped due to the band not being able to tour the album with a string section. Aside from an acoustic session for Danish radio, and a 'Black Session' performance, the songs from the LP were never played live. It's likely that the band just didn't have the energy to go on any longer. "I didn’t enjoy making that record at all. It cost a fortune because my heart wasn’t in it and we were directionless" says Carr. "I should have taken control of the situation but my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t like the music we were making, I didn’t like indie guitar music any more. I was bored out of my mind." Sice remembers the period as an equally difficult one: "It was such a relief when Martin phoned me and said he didn't want to make any more records. We’d been wanting it to stop for quite a long time, but I couldn't do it – I didn't want to leave. I wanted the band to end and only Martin could have done that. There was always the fear if I left, that they would just get another singer in and I didn't want that. Never mind not having the heart to tour – I barely had the heart to go down to the studio while we were making Kingsize."

Following the group's split, Carr returned to the studio to record 'The Fingertip Saint Sessions Vol 1', a mini album released under the moniker Bravecaptain, and featuring another one of Carr's most wondrous compositions, 'Raining Stones'. Throughout the 2000s, Carr would release more Bravecaptain albums, before being dropped from his label and taking a break. "My confidence hit an all time low... I hit rock bottom and stopped writing songs, I just forgot how to do it. For the next two years, I didn’t write a single song and earned money illustrating for a national newspaper." However, a couple of years later he returned to the scene with the low key 'Ye Gods (and little fishes)' album, which was released online. After becoming a father, Martin Carr had pretty much given up on his solo career. That was until German label Tapete Records contacted him, with the casual offer of releasing some of his songs. His second solo album under his own name 'The Breaks' was released in 2014, a record built from Carr's experiences. Last year in 2017, he released his most recent full length effort 'New Shapes Of Life', described as "the first record I've made where I can stand by every word I've written."

"I was on a downward slide from 1996 until about 2007, it was very gradual... I think people want a certain thing from me and I tried to get away from that for a long time. To me, my music has always been completely accessible, but it didn’t help that I was recording stuff at home that were only a couple of notches above demo status." Now, Carr seems to have regained his passion for music making: "I'm finally making good music after years of shitty home recordings... I have no doubts about myself now, in the songwriting sense. I have everything I need." 

As for the rest of the Boo Radleys, frontman Sice spent a few years away from music and became an author. He soon returned with a new group Paperlung, who released two singles and an album before splitting. He is now working as a psychologist. Drummer Rob Cieka became a member of the band Domino Bones, alongside Happy Mondays icon Bez. Bassist Tim Brown built a recording studio, before changing careers to become a teacher. It's unlikely the band will ever reform. 

But what about 'Kingsize'? Will it ever be loved by its author? "I have listened to it recently because there are a couple of tunes from it I am thinking of doing... Yeah, it’s pretty good. Everyone had given up on us by then, we were trying to create music but in the end the wallet will always win..." Since revealing this, Carr has been known to play the occasional 'Kingsize' track at his solo shows. A few years ago, the album was reissued along with all the other Boo Radleys releases. The reissued edition featured the 'Free Huey' B sides as bonus tracks, plus the unreleased B sides that were due to feature on the cancelled 'Kingsize' single release. I'm not the only one who loves the album. A recent article on Sonic Cathedral HERE hailed it as "a true, underrated classic that plays to the band’s strengths, sweetening the psychedelic experimentalism of 1996’s C’Mon Kids with perfect pop melodies and proper grown-up songwriting."

I've wanted to write about 'Kingsize' for years. It was a big favourite of mine when I was a 14 year old indie kid, and years later it is still one of those lost classics that I often recommend to people. The 20th anniversary articles that I write regularly have finally given me the opportunity to get round to revisiting the final Boo Radleys album, and trying to find the words to explain just how magnificent it is. I hope I've done it some justice.

Full album

Rare TV performance

Acoustic Danish radio session

Black Session playlist


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