Sometimes the history books only tell half a story. Certainly that's the case where Inspiral Carpets are concerned. Having shot to prominence in 1990 as part of the 'Madchester' baggy scene alongside Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses et al, their popularity soared almost instantaneously. Debut album Life sold by the bucketload, reaching the dizzy heights of number two in the process. A headline slot at Reading Festival soon followed, while the band's merchandise sales also rocketed, largely inspired by their infamous 'Cool As Fuck' t-shirt design which featured a shades-wearing cow smoking a cigarette. At the time, nothing could stop them, their unassumingly upward trajectory seemingly assured of reaching even dizzier heights in the future. However, with first grunge and then Britpop lying in wait around the corner, they had to settle for a mid-table spot in rock's Championship instead.
Nevertheless, that is only a small part of Inspiral Carpets' lineage. Originally formed way back in 1983, the Oldham five-piece went through several line-up changes during their formative years, with only guitarist Graham Lambert and drummer Craig Gill present throughout. It was in 1987, though, that things really started to take off for the band. The quintet, then consisting of Lambert and Gill alongside original singer Stephen Holt, keyboard player Clint Boon and bassist David Swift found themselves courted by labels and promoters off the back of their growing reputation as one of Greater Manchester's most exciting live bands. Support slots with the likes of The Shamen and Spacemen 3 soon followed, and it wasn't long before their output started to emerge, initially in the shape of a flexidisc with local magazine Debris featuring early composition 'Garage Full Of Flowers'. Next came a four-track demo cassette entitled Cow which was given away free at gigs. With an album's worth of songs in their armoury, it was only a matter of time before they returned to the studio and on the last three days of 1987 Dung 4 was conceived. Recorded and mixed in the Guide Mill studio in Ashton-Under-Lyme, the cassette didn't see the light of day until the summer of 1989, immediately becoming a collector's item while selling 8,000 copies in the process.
Listening back, it represents a period in the band's development some would argue saw them at their very best. All five songs which made it onto 1988's Plane Crash EP appear here, most notably opener 'Keep The Circle Around', three minutes of swirling melancholia that sits somewhere between Rattus Norvegicus era Stranglers and The Pretty Things at their most opulent. 'Seeds Of Doubt' and 'Theme From Cow' further augment their garage flavoured roots while the cover of ? And The Mysterians '96 Tears' which bookmarks both this and Plane Crash stays close yet undoubtedly introduced a whole new generation to the original.
Breakthrough single 'Joe' also sits pretty here although perhaps surprisingly doesn't stand out from their other output like its re-written and recorded version some two years later. 'Butterfly' and 'Causeway' are taken off the band's second EP, Trainsurfing, released just a few months beforehand in the early part of 1989. Again, propelled by Boon's distinctively channelled Farfisa, the former's lyrics and musical arrangement once again having been altered by the time it was re-recorded for general release.
Elsewhere, maudlin ballad '26' isn't a million miles from Sarah Records staples The Sea Urchins 'Please Rain Fall', while 'Inside My Head' and 'Sun Don't Shine', both later reworked for the Life long player highlight both sides of the Carpets' songwriting palette. The final four tracks here, all taken from the Cow cassette represent the band during their embryonic phase. 'Head For The Sun', reissued last year as a limited edition seven-inch for Record Store Day packs two minutes of adrenaline fuelled, Nuggets inspired pop under its nostalgic belt like The Barracudas on speed. Former live favourite 'Whisky' also sounds like a lost artifact from the same era, Holt asking "Who's round is it next boys?" while Boon's organ and Lambert's six-string compete for centre space. 'Now You're Gone' slips by largely unnoticed while 'Love Can Never Lose Its Own' energetically brings up the rear.
What happened next is already well documented. Both Holt and Swift left the band to form The Rainkings (although the singer has recently returned to the fold) to be replaced by Tom Hingley and Martyn Walsh respectively halfway through the sessions for Life. Critical acclaim and commercial success followed, yet despite those later rewards, Dung 4 admirably stands the test of time as a fitting document of a band finding its creative feet.
8Dom Gourlay's Score