Producers that make (or break) the band
If there are some albums which sound like they could have been produced by just about anyone, there are others that sound like they really ought have been made by absolutely any other producer. The flat baking tray of production. This is usually just the result of a mismatch between what the album needs and what the producer gives it.
I recall back in the early 90s seeing a band called Poloroid who I thought were extraordinary. Within a year or two, they’d been signed by EMI under the name Inaura. Their live sound fell somewhere between Ultra-era Depeche Mode and God Lives Underwater, but perplexingly they wore casual “indie” clothes instead of black leather and found themselves lumped in with the short-lived “Romo” scene that never really got anywhere. I stood next to Simon Price at one of their gigs, and he muttered that they sounded “like bloody Nine Inch Nails” and was resolutely unimpressed.
EMI had absolutely no idea how to market their new act, and brought in Steve Osborne to produce One Million Smiles. Osborne would have seemed like a good choice on paper, with indie credentials such as Happy Mondays’ Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches. He was just a lousy choice for this particular act.
Without any point of reference, it’s difficult to demonstrate the disappointment I felt while hearing this, but this is Inaura’s debut album:
Weak. As. Fuck. Utterly insipid and soulless – and a complete insult to the band. The album sank without trace. Inaura were quietly dropped.
A year or two later, popular industrial-rock nightclub Full Tilt started playing the harder, heavier ‘Toytown’ remix of Inaura’s song ‘Soap Opera’ by Sank that was more reflective of their live sound. It was indeed embraced by Nine Inch Nails fans. At last Inaura found their audience – too late to be of any use.
In my previous column, I remarked how Iron Maiden’s low-key production had been detrimental, because they’d hired the worst producer of all (themselves). But even if you take what you think is the safest bet – the hitmaker Phil Spector – it can go horribly wrong if you’re Ramones. Their End Of The Century album is a bewildering clash between their punk ethic and Spector’s Wall of Sound. Their very basic songs were buried by a tsunami of brass.
Production was fraught, with Dee Dee being threatened by a pistol-waving Spector. The band claimed to have been working for 14 hours a day without recording a note of music. Dee Dee wrote in his autobiography that he has no idea how the album was made or who actually played on it. He hated the album.
[The first three tracks are genius! As are the three singles from the album – Ramones biography-writing Ed]
You can get a lot of things wrong with a cake and still end up with something palatable. Perhaps music is more like a souffle. Get one tiny thing wrong and it’s a deflated, turgid mess. Then again, a truly great producer can make a good record out of poor ingredients just as easily as the wrong producer can kill your wonderful songs stone dead.
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Princess Stomper is a former magazine contributor and music researcher, who now works in a marketing department for an academic organisation. She lives in the English countryside and runs the Reinspired blog.