The ’90s British Invasion that wasn’t

The ’90s British Invasion that wasn’t

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. 

The “alternative” boom of the ’90s produced all kinds of bands. Some pushed themselves through MTV Buzz Bin territory to great artistic rewards; others burned bright and quickly flamed out, not even reaching a sophomore slump. Then there were bands like Longpigs, who were somewhere in between.

The band’s 1996 debut, the excellent The Sun Is Often Out, was enormously successful in Britain, leading to opening-act slots for Supergrass and Radiohead. Their sophomore record, 1999’s Mobile Home, underperformed, and the band’s label (the U2-owned Mother) folded. One member, guitarist Richard Hawley, went on to Mercury Prize-nominated albums and collaborations with Jarvis Cocker; other members went on to other bands and behind-the-scenes roles in the music business.

It’s a typical rock story, of course, but “On And On,” an aching single from The Sun Is Often Out, makes one wonder what else Longpigs had in them. In many ways, the song is an extrapolation of The Bends-era Radiohead: Singer Crispin Hunt has a touch of the Thom Yorke falsetto, and the song’s overall production and arrangement are more than reminiscent of “High And Dry.” Though its soaring chorus is straight out of every pop song, it’s also sure-footed and nimble, as if unaware of its many predecessors. Then there’s that circular coda, which, as its lyrics suggest, seems to go on forever, propelled by a vocal performance that combines heartbreak and blind hope. It’s an intoxicating mixture.

“On And On” was enough of a Stateside hit to crack the Billboard Alternative Songs chart and land on 1996’s Mission: Impossible soundtrack, but the song, like the band that made it, was much more popular in England than in America. Yet “On And On” simply sounds like a hit song—albeit one from an alternate universe where every good band gets the chance to find greatness.