Technically released under the adjusted band name, Brussel, this was to be the last recording from Brussel Spaceship. It was also one of the best. Recorded live in 1992, it captures the authentic sound of the band – and it also has some of the best songwriting and musicianship of all their work. So, why am I reviewing a thirty-year-old record you can’t find anywhere? Let me explain.
Just as the nineties were emerging and while Tim Berners-Lee was busy working on the first Web Browser, a pre-teen me attended my first live gig. The headliners were Brussel Spaceship. The band blew me away in that “it’s my first live band experience”, and I eventually saved up enough pocket money to obtain a cassette tape. This purchase, like so many others, was eventually dismantled by my second-hand Walkman, but I followed the band and saw them play more more more times than you can imagine. I don’t remember how anyone managed to successfully be a fan of a band before The Web, but somehow I found out when and where they were playing live and travelled around the south coast to see them.
It was sometime later that Slowdown was released. Unlike ‘Norman’s Big Surprise’, which captured the songs but not the live performance, this new record was the real deal. Mike Randon’s drumming, inspired by the likes of Boris Williams, transformed the on-tape sound. Les Driscoll’s agile bass guitar lines pumped strength into the power-trio backbone, and Ian Stewart’s guitar, with its crisp delay, burst forth in all its glory.
‘True’ opens the album with swimmy phased guitars, giant bass chords, and vocals that turn up late in the track. The first line: ‘I can’t move you from my mind,’ foreshadows what this album does when you listen to it. What happens next is ‘Fluorescent Hat’, which is nothing short of a total stunner. It has an instantly recognisable guitar line, a driving beat, and rumbling bass with cool runs. The verse sparkles, and the chorus smashes it out of the park – Randon’s hands flying across the drum kit in a blur of crashing rhythm. Watching this song live made me want to join a band, play drums, wear Converse, and get a funny haircut.
A rendition of the TV theme for ‘Rainbow’ gets the Brussel treatment next. This was always a live favourite with its indie-rock twist and crazy vocal moments. We’re quickly into the funk-tinged title track, ‘Slowdown’. The guitars are more sultry, allowing the bass line to provide the big hook. I love the vocal on this track; rich and warm and a perfect match to the atmosphere.
The guitar flickers back into life with the crystalline riff of ‘Here I Stand’, with the bass sliding around underneath with a pushed beat, adding a real bounce to the rhythm. You can hear the chorus coming as things thicken up in preparation, and the bass does I don’t even know what, but it’s amazing.
‘Love’ has a bass and drums intro, with a riffy top end getting pumped by low notes that pop away underneath. The guitar joins with a choppy chord progression, and there’s a hooky ‘well I knew I had to change’ chorus.
Prepare yourselves for an emotional anthem as ‘Going Home’ drops a smouldering tear-jerker amongst it all. This has a magical guitar and bass interplay, with the bass actually pumping the same riff throughout as the guitar echoes around a pleasing picked progression. The melody is still as crisp and fresh as it was thirty years ago when it echoed into the stormy sky in what was one of their last big appearances together. This turned into an oddly fitting communal break-up song as the rumours of the end emerged on the grapevine to collective disbelief.
Next up is ‘Failure’, a pacey track with quick and trebly bass accompanied by jet-plane phased guitar. The verse is punchy, and the chorus is short and melodic. This moment is different from much of the other stuff but slots alongside neatly. It’s then into ‘Healing Hands’, a full-on Brussel track with the huge bass pump and the signature delay-pedal guitar licks.
‘Fire’, with its stadium-riff intro, was the final track on the cassette, with its stutter-beat brilliance, but now I have my fingers on the original sessions; with all the live takes, I find there’s an unreleased song that many FOBs would love to get their hands on. The twenty-second thrash in G called ‘Bognor’.
Brussel Spaceship, like so many others, were caught in that catastrophic moment in time for music when vinyl lost its grip for a time, and CDs weren’t yet the dominant format. The cassette era was certainly portable, but it wasn’t a medium destined for successful archives. One by one, each tape was stretched, chewed, or destroyed by UV rays and time. While we could enjoy our childhoods in private, with our mistakes forgotten rather than shared online, our music collections were also lost in the ashes.
Slowdown, though, has been rescued. Finding this record in a playable format is near-impossible, but we were lucky enough to obtain a recording of the original live session. This was passed to our digitally savvy technical people, who managed to create the full track listing. Maybe, just maybe, we will be able to share the recovered recordings with you soon!
Update! Slowdown, along with previous releases Norman’s Big Surprise, Out of the Bath, Into the Desert, and The Truth About Llamas, has been digitally converted, restored, and is available on all the usual digital platforms.
This article was updated in April 2022, when we got our hands on the full live session!
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