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The sweet naivete of Shanice's 'I Love Your Smile' [Feb 16, 1992]
Plus: Pearl Jam. Rozalla, Army of Lovers, and Manic Street Preachers
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Welcome to the week of February 16, 1992, where the Top 5 looks like this:
‘Stay’ — Shakespears Sister
‘Goodnight Girl’ — Wet Wet Wet
‘Remember the Time’ — Michael Jackson
‘I’m Doing Fine Now’ — The Pasadenas
‘My Girl’ — The Temptations
We’ll be exploring some of the Top 40 and listening to our Album of the Week, but first, let’s listen to…
This week’s Number 7: ‘I Love Your Smile’ — Shanice
When I was five, I drank some of my sister’s shampoo.
She kept her shampoo in a crystal decanter in her room, and the bright orange liquid inside looked like Fanta. I wanted some Fanta. I was five. What happened next was inevitable.
I uncorked the bottle and, without stopping to sniff, I took a deep drink.
It tasted vile. Bitter and thick and soapy. I’d drank it so fast that it went right down my throat, into my belly.
Oh well. At least I learned a lesson, right?
Ha! I hadn’t learned shit. I was five and reckless. My little legs carried me out of my sister’s bedroom, probably looking more unlabelled chemicals to ingest.
(Look, if you drink enough orange liquids, eventually one of them is going to be Fanta. That’s just science.)
And then, I got the hiccups.
The first hiccup was small. A tiny bubble escaped from my lips. It floated downwards, gently coming to rest on the hallway carpet.
That's weird, I thought.
I hiccuped again. This time, a whole stream of bubbles shot from my mouth. Big ones, little ones. Soapy bubbles were gushing out of me in an unstoppable stream.
I had turned into some kind of human bubble dispenser.
That was the precise moment in which I developed the adult skill of catastrophising. This will never, ever stop, I thought. I will produce bubbles for my whole life until I die. I will always be the idiot bubble boy. I am broken and can never be fixed.
I have never cried so hard as I did in that moment, nor have I ever meant tears that much. It was the sense of hopelessness, the feeling that my old life was over. I wanted so much to go back to my old life, those idyllic, bubble-free days of youth.
Eventually, the bubbles stopped. The tears stopped too.
In that moment, I had learned something. I had a glimpse of my own frailty. I realised I lived in a world where I could get hurt.
All of this is related to Shanice’s ‘I Love Your Smile’. Just give me a second.
Spring of 1992 introduced the world to the fresh-faced 18-year old Shanice Wilson. Her breakout hit, 'I Love Your Smile' is a chaste, wholesome R'nB jam about having a teenage crush on a nice boy, and daydreaming about him during class or while you're working your crappy retail job.
It’s quite twee. Everything about the song is upbeat, perky, sunny. As a teenager myself back then, the song made me go blurgh because the emotions it described seemed so naive and trivial.
I was a grunge fan in 1992. I only acknowledged two emotions: sad and cross.
Listening as an adult, ‘I Love Your Smile’ sounds like a nursery rhyme description of love, entirely divorced from reality. This simple “doo do doo do ndoooo doodle-doo” description of romance feels like some pre-teen, Disney channel bullshit.
The Millenial generation—who were in their shampoo-drinking years when ‘I Love Your Smile’ came out—were raised to believe that romance is something done slowly and indulgently. You spend time getting to know your partner, getting to know yourself. You forget about romantic goals and just follow your bliss.
Many people in that Atlantic article expressed a wish: that they could start again, but this time be more focused on finding a long-term partner. I can’t imagine any of them being in the mood for ‘I Love Your Smile’.
But 'I Love Your Smile' isn't for them.
It's for the people they used to be.
Life is a series of before-and-after moments. I was one person before I drank the shampoo: adventurous, gung-ho, a bit thirsty. And I was another person after the shampoo incident: neurotic and slightly scared of those bubble-blower things.
Romance is one main causes of before-and-after moments in life. You meet someone and it's great for a while. Sometimes, it stays great.
But mostly, they end up hurting you or you end up hurting them. Either way, you are shocked by the sheer force of human pain. And you're never quite the same afterwards. You can’t unlearn what you know about human frailty.
The first time is always the worst. Before that first time, you don't really understand the magnitude of what you’re playing with.
'I Love Your Smile' is not a song about first love, but rather a song about the moment right before first love. It's a song about being open and optimistic and feeling an emotion without being scared of where that emotion might take you, because you’ve never really been hurt.
Which means that how you feel about the song kind of depends on where you are in life. If you’re young and innocent, if you’re in the Before part of life, you can probably just bounce along to the groove and revel in the sunny uplands of its emotional landscape.
If you’re in the After phase, it’s a little different. To appreciate the song, you have to reach back into yourself and try to recall a time when your soul was brand new.
Perhaps this could be a form of therapy. We can listen to simple, naive pop songs and try to remember what life was like when we were as innocent as Shanice.
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Elsewhere in the charts
Number 11 (New Entry): ‘Thought I’d Died And Gone To Heaven’ — Bryan Adams
The drinking shampoo thing (mentioned above) is not the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. Last year, I thought it would be fun to spend four months writing a series of essays about Bryan Adams.
Number 21 (New Entry): ‘Are You Ready To Fly?’ — Rozalla
Not to be all “Street of London!” about it, but this song sounds like it’s about to break into ‘Everybody’s Free’ at any moment, and it’s very frustrating when it doesn’t.
Number 25 (New Entry): ‘Laid So Low (Tears Roll Down)’ — Tears for Fears
1992 was a notable low point for Tears For Fears. Roland and Curt had split up and there was a lot of bad blood between them, with Roland fighting to retain the right to the Tears for Fears name. He won, and released several Tears for Fears albums that were really solo projects. ‘Laid So Low’ is a Roland song, released as a single to promote the big Tears for Fears Greatest Hits album.
Roland and Curt are friends again now and Tears for Fears are still on the road.
Number 33 (New Entry): Covers EP — Everything But The Girl
Everything But The Girl are not the most exciting act in the world, but they reach new depths of dreariness on this cover of “Love Is Strange”, a song that most people know from the rehearsal scene in Dirty Dancing.
“Love Is Strange” has two memorable things about it:
The wailing electric guitar riff
The “c’mere, loverboy” spoken word bit
Everything But The Girl abandon both of those things in their version, leaving us with a great big pile of nothing.
The cover of Elvis Costello’s “Alison” on this EP is much better, but it’s kind of hard to screw up a song as perfect as “Alison”.
Number 40 (New Entry): ‘Crucified’ — Army of Lovers
Every Army of Lovers song sounds like what you’d get if Tinto Brass tried to win the Eurovision. They’re camp as hell, way too horny, mad, theatrical, hedonistic, sometimes profound, but mostly very silly.
One of these days, TikTok will rediscover Army of Lovers and they will become the biggest band in the world.
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Album of the Week
Generation Terrorists — Manic Street Preachers
Context is everything in pop music.
Manic Street Preachers exploded onto the alternative scene during one of its most downbeat, introspective eras. The dominant movements were the baggy/Madchester scene, where the bands dressed and acted like the audience, and shoegaze, where the bands wouldn’t even look at the audience.
They were a bunch of weird Welsh punks in eyeliner and spraypaint, talking about how they would sell 16 million copies of their debut album and then disappear forever. And in that context, they were fresh and new and exciting.
But while they were recording that debut album, this happened:
And suddenly the context was different.
Generation Terrorists didn’t sell 16 million copies. It sold around 10% of that, and critics who had been gleefully predicting a pratfall were thrilled. The Manics were failures, according to many of the reviews of the time. Even Simon Price’s infamous 10/10 review in NME seemed to indicate that the record itself wasn’t all that good.
But here’s something funny. The failure created an entirely new context.
Failure has always been a vital part of Manic Street Preachers’ appeal. The album is called Generation Terrorists because the band hated their own generation so much and wanted to blow them up. Often, that feeling was mutual. What would have happened if Generation X had embraced Generation Terrorists?
We actually have an answer to that, because we got to see this exact scenario play out in the first half of the 90s. Nevermind proved you could fill a stadium with people who wanted to hear your songs about feeling lonely. Rage Against The Machine proved that you could scream socialist manifestos and drunk Young Tories would scream along with you.
If any of this had happened to the Manics, it would have destroyed them.
Even worse, it would have also made them useless to their fanbase. Manics fans are rejects among rejects, outcasts among outcasts, the people who literally don’t fit anywhere else. Where would those people have turned to if Generation Terrorists had met its goal of being the next Appetite for Destruction?
(If you thought people lost it when Dylan went electric, you should have seen the existential freakout on the Manics chat groups when Everything Must Go went platinum.)
Fortunately, there was never really any chance of Generation Terrorists selling 16 million copies. Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying that the record is a mess.
Like most double albums, it would have been better as a regular-sized LP. There’s some blatant filler here (“Damn Dog”, a cover of a song from a TV movie), some failed experiments (“Natwest-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds” is nobody’s favourite song), and some extremely regrettable moments (“Another Invented Disease” is proof that if Richey were still around, he would now be a red-pilled Substacker.)
But the core of the album captures the early days of Manic Street Preachers: a supernova of talent, creativity, angst, anger, anguish, joy, playfulness, and notes from a PoliSci class.
The thesis statement here is ‘You Love Us’, a phlegmy gob in the eye of the music press. ‘You Love Us’ had been released as a standalone single in 91, with a slightly jangly 90s indie sound, but here it’s re-recorded as a brawny glam rock epic.
But it would be glib to pretend that the highlight of the record is anything other than ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’. This is the moment that the band had always been chasing, the perfect union between what they wanted to say and how they wanted to say it.
Even people who hate the Manics will grudgingly admit that ‘Motorcyle Emptiness’ is a bit of a classic.
One of the most notable songs on Generation Terrorists is a song that’s not there. ‘Motown Junk’ came out just before they signed to a major label, and it had been quite well-received (because it’s awesome). But the band decided not to include it, and instead took the debut album in a different direction.
As it turned out, the gritty ‘Motown Junk’ was probably more aligned to the zeitgeist of 1992 than many of the songs that did make it to Generation Terrorists. The same is true of the many, many B-sides the album spawned. For example, ‘Never Want Again’ could probably have sat somewhere on an Alice In Chains record.
But that’s the Manics for you, always zigging at the moment zagging becomes cool. It is why we love them.
A special RAWK issue with Pearl Jam and Pantera.