Giant Steps was a colossal record for its time. Colossal. The music rags fell over themselves with platitudes for The Boo Radleys. It was the kind of worship that bordered on sycophantic and payola-driven. Yet, these Creation All-Stars in a pre-Oasis world were the label’s brightest hope, and what was clear from the start was the epic title matched the grandiose trail-breaking feel of the record. You stopped what you were doing and took notice. It was that kind of record. A psychedelic pop record, an indie guitar record, a dub-based groove record, a falling down the rabbit-hole record.
Giant Steps wasn’t the Boo’s out-of-the-blue debut. Not by any means. This Liverpool/London quartet had been punching their weight for a few years now, with Giant Steps appearing a year after the Dinosaur Jr/MBV fuzz n’ pop of 1992’s Everything’s Alright Forever. With songwriter/guitarist Martin Carr’s bursting back-pocket Bernard Butler riff, “I Hang Suspended” became the perfect “and away we go!” track to launch the album with vocalist Sice’s featherweight vocals giving Giant Steps an airy, otherworldly feel. The dub/reggae rhythms of “Upon 9th And Fairchild”, the breezy, downbeat vibe of “Wish I Was Skinny”. The shoegaze n‘ politics of “Rodney King (Song For Lenny Bruce)”, the soaring dub-sympathy of “Lazarus”. Every track was a larger-than-life chapter in a book that was 17 songs long.
When you think of what Radiohead were doing at the same time and what The Boo Radleys did with Giant Steps, it’s a crime The Boo’s number never came up the same. The album drips with madcap invention and the same kind of technicolour studio wizardry that an obvious Beatles acolyte such as Carr saw as the ultimate goal. But how do you go about topping the freakish genius of Giant Steps? When Wake Up! rolled around two years later, the playground had changed so significantly that the shoegazers were extinct and the talk about town was this thing called “Britpop”. Almost sensing the sea change in the works, the sprightly lead track and single “Wake Up Boo!” found quick favour with the Britpop kids and morning television presenters, but it’s the kind of song that if someone walked into your room singing (with its “wake up, it’s a beautiful morning!” refrain), you’d feel inclined to knock them clear into tomorrow.
Wake Up! had its moments (it topped the UK album charts, no less) and listening with a fresh pair of ears, it’s a more than adequate follow-up, but one that sold largely on the back of Britpop and the terminally infectious “Wake Up Boo!”. More reigned in and focussed than its predecessor, Wake Up! toned down the roaming psychedelia and tightened up on the Beatles influence, appearing most noticeably on the sing-along nursery rhyme feel of “Find The Answer Within” and the backmasking mad freak-out “Joel”. The Elvis Costello shuck and jive of “It‘s Lulu“ missed its mark as a single, and in its place should’ve been given over to swooning falsetto pop of “Stuck On Amber”, the only track to hit the same Giant Steps stratosphere while straddling the pervading Britpop ethos. The Camden scene name-dropping of “Charles Bukowski Is Dead” places Wake Up! in a semi-perfect time capsule for the Britpop era, but it was never to be one of those defining releases.
Looking back, it’s almost as if Giant Steps never happened, overshadowed by your Definitely Maybe’s and your Parklife’s, yet clearly deserving of the same stature. Cherry Red’s deluxe treatment rounds up the various pre/post album releases (including the classic Adrenalin and Boo Forever! EPs) as well as all extraneous b-sides which means each Deluxe Edition winds up being a whopping 3CDs long each. With b-sides always being the sole domain of the fan, it’s a mixed bag, but there’s a few forgotten gems scattered around — the Boo’s cover of Fat Larry’s Band’s R&B hit “Zoom”, the St. Etienne Remix of “Rodney King” to name just a few. Though the eight (count’em) mixes/versions of “Lazarus” do begin to test your mettle, but if that’s the worst, you’re still in for one hell of a treat.