In anticipation of the forthcoming release of the deluxe edition CD/DVD sets for the 4 albums by Scouse Brit-Pop rockers CAST, we take a look back at their career and review each of the albums.
Formed in 1992 from the ashes of cult indie groups The La’s and Shack, John Power (vocals, guitar), Peter Wilkinson (bass, backing vocals), Liam Tyson (guitar) and Keith O’Neill (drums) formed Cast. Allegedly taking their name from the last word sung on The La’s self-titled album, the group would go on to be highly revered by the likes of Noel Gallagher during the Britpop movement, and have been known to be referred to as ‘The Who of the 1990s’.
January 27th sees the release of re-mastered 2-CD versions of Cast’s albums ‘All Change’, ‘Mother Nature Calls’, ‘Magic Hour’ and ‘Beetroot’, all of them stuffed with bonus tracks and live performances, so what better time to look back at the Merseyside foursome and the infectious indie-pop they created together?
After an early period of establishing their line-up, the band were soon playing support slots with the likes of Elvis Costello and Oasis. During the tour with Oasis, the head of Polydor’s A&R, Paul Adam, signed the band after being surprised nobody had made them an offer as yet.
Cast were perfectly timed for Britpop, and their debut single ‘Fine Time’ became a sleeper hit, charting at No. 17, with the follow up ‘Alright’ (also played during the time of The La’s when it was known as ‘Fly On’) charting at No. 13.
The group’s anticipated debut LP ‘All Change’ (****) came in October 1995, becoming the fastest selling debut album in Polydor’s history. It’s an album that is chock-full of memories for not just Cast fans, but any fan of 90s indie music, so popular were the band.
The album has aged extremely well for an LP that is nineteen years old. Naturally, ‘Alright’ and ‘Fine Time’ are stand out singles, and in ‘Walk Away’, the band created an emotional ballad that could still be sung either down the pub or on the football terraces. To concentrate on just the singles however is doing the album a massive disservice however; ‘Tell It Like It Is’ is perhaps better than any of the songs they put out to promote the record – but then again perhaps they were saving the best for those committed enough to buy the album?
Off the back of their initial success, the band released ‘Flying’, a non-album single that peaked at No.4 (possibly due to fan interest due to it not being available elsewhere), and remained their highest charting single. The release of 1997’s ‘Mother Nature Calls’ (***) showed off a more confident style, a brash rock swagger with shades of The Rolling Stones and a more reflective feel than their exuberant debut. It also introduced more of a willingness for experimentation, with an orchestra being used and some ace psychedelic sounds being wrung out of the band’s instruments. The stand-out tracks here include ‘On the Run’, ‘Mirror Me’, ‘Guiding Star’ and ‘The Mad Hatter’.
The release of album no.2 came at a strange time, what with the end of Britpop in sight – a number of Cast’s peers such as Kula Shaker and The Seahorses had already split, and many other groups were seeing a change in fortunes as a move away from Britpop, which some had seen becoming a mill-stone around the necks of groups expected to churn out hit after hit.
When ‘Magic Hour’ (***) was being worked on, producer Gil Norton, whose resume included work with Pixies, ensured that a heaver rock riff-based sound was committed to tape, rather than the rather light-hearted and radio friendly sound of Britpop.
By now, the group were sounding sure of themselves, comfortable in their skins, and while ‘Beat Mama’, the lead single from the LP, was reminiscent of the past Cast sound, there was certainly more to the album than met the ear. With changes in structure, melody and electronics making an appearance, it was a breath of fresh air in an uncertain musical climate when a lot of bands were either calling it a day or struggling to find themselves after the explosion of the ‘Britpop bubble’.
For the most part the album gives you confidence that Cast still had something to say, with excellent tracks like ‘Compared to You’ and ‘Dreamer’ being amongst the best of the bunch. The heavier sound engineered by producer Gil Norton is evident when compared to the band’s debut, and its startling to see how far they have come in the four years since. With a tidal wave of riffs and chunky songs on offer, it’s done with aplomb and real verve.
However, with a lack of touring and criticism over the choices of singles from the album, it’s evident that things were not all well for the group. After a third single from the LP was cancelled, frontman John Power felt that the end of a chapter had perhaps come for the band. Despite this, he began writing for what would become the band’s fourth LP in 2001.
Beetroot (**½) saw a change of producer, this time to Tristin Norwell, who Power later commented on as being “up on (the sounds of) now”, and a long gestation period began as ideas were worked out. The rest of the band took more of a back-seat for various reasons, with Wilkinson absent due to the birth of his son, Liam Tyson featuring as rhythm guitarist and a lot of the drum sounds taken from loops and samples. Wanting to move away from their trademark guitar sound, horns and flutes featured in abundance. This was designed to offer a fresher sound, doubtless continuing the trend Cast had established on ‘Magic Hour’.
Despite this manifesto, the album and accompanying single ‘Desert Drought’ were not commercial successes, with the single reaching only No.45 and the album not even troubling the Top 75. The music on offer wasn’t as fresh as first hoped; while there were glimpses of a band looking to achieve greatness again, there was still a reliance on their past glories, something which had belonged to the 1990s. A planned tour was cancelled, and only a month after the album, the group decided to split; this was spun as the band experiencing internal differences, but Power released a statement to confirm that the group’s end was merely the natural order of things and there was no animosity.
The reissues of these first four albums (a fifth LP, ‘Troubled Times’, was released in March 2012, but wasn’t included in this reissue campaign) is a useful time capsule for fans and newcomers alike. With each album featuring a bonus disc (except for ‘Beetroot’ which instead comes with a DVD) packed with live tracks, remixes, B-sides and radio session recordings, it’s predominantly for the fans, but for the completists out there or those just wanting to judge Cast not only on their albums, but practically their entire output, they’re definitely good to have.
There is perhaps an over-reliance on the live offerings, but this is indicative of just how popular Cast were for the first half of their career: they were literally everywhere for a time, and perhaps just as popular as the likes of Suede or Supergrass.
Overall, Cast were never going to be world-conquerors, but for those who shared the ride through the summers of the 90s, and stuck with the band during their inevitable decline, this didn't matter: purely and simply, it was a great journey to be involved with. Thanks for the music, lads!
All Change (1995) ****
Alright/Promised Land/Sandstorm/Mankind/Tell It Like It Is/Four Walls/Finetime/Back of My Mind/Walkaway/Reflections/History/Two of a Kind
(Bonus tracks: Better Man/Satellites/Follow Me Down/Meet Me/Hourglass/Fulfil/Mother/
Between the Eyes/Flying/For So Long/Finetime (Acoustic)/Reflections (Live)/Back of My Mind (Live)/Alright (Live)/Walkaway (Live)/Back of My Mind (BBC Evening Session)/Follow Me Down (BBC Evening Session)/Four Walls (BBC Evening Session)/Finetime (BBC Evening Session)/Alright (Mark Radcliffe Session)/Sandstorm (Mark Radcliffe Session)/Finetime (Mark Radcliffe Session)/Reflections (Mark Radcliffe Session)/Finetime (Simon Mayo Session)/Flying (Simon Mayo Session)/Walkaway (Simon Mayo Session)/All In You (Outtake)/All My Days (Outtake)/Satellites (Home Demo)/Mankind (Home Demo)
Mother Nature Calls (1997) ***
Free Me/On the Run/Live the Dream/Soul Tied/She Sun Shines/I’m So Lonely/The Mad Hatter/Mirror Me/Guiding Star/Never Gonna Tell You What to Do (Revolution)/Dance of the Stars
(Bonus tracks: Soul Tied (Piano Loop)/Come on Everybody/Canter/Free Me (Acoustic)/
Release My Soul/Dancing on the Flames/Out of the Blue/Keep It Alive/Free Me (Live)/Mirror Me (Live)/Redemption Song (Live)/Guiding Star (Acoustic)/Hold On/Flow/Effectomatic Who/
Live the Dream (Acoustic)/On the Run (Demo)/The Things You Make Me Do/Theme from/
Never Gonna Tell You What to Do (Live)/Free Me (Simon Mayo Session)/Guiding Star (Simon Mayo Session)/History (Headrillaz Remix)/History (Lo Fidelity All Stars Remix)
Magic Hour (1999) ***
Beat Mama/Compared to You/She Falls/Dreamer/Magic Hour/Company Man/Alien/Higher/
Chasing the Day/The Feeling Remains/Burn the Light/Hideaway
(Bonus tracks: Solo Strings/Beat Mama (Solomon’s Slow Mix)/Beat Mama (Fire Island Classic Boys Own Mix)/Beat Mama (Fire Island Classic Boys Own Dub)/Beat Mama (Edit)/Get on You/Three Nines Are 28/Hoedown/Whiskey Song/Gypsy Song/I Never Wanna Lose You/
What You Gonna Do/All Bright/The Seeker/Company Man (BBC Session)/Compare To You (BBC Session)/Dreamer (BBC Session)/She Falls (BBC Session)/Beat Mama (BBC Session)/
Higher (BBC Session)/Alien (BBC Session)/The Feeling Remains (BBC Session)/Hideaway (BBC Session)
Beetroot (2001) **½
Desert Drought/Heal Me/Curtains/Kingdoms and Crowns/Giving It All Away/Lose Myself/I Never Can Say/High Wire/Meditations/Jetstream/U-Turn/Universal Grinding Wheel
(Bonus tracks: Cobwebs/Desert Drought (Desert Dry Mouth Mix)/Curtains (Purple Curtains Remix)/Desert Drought (Solomon Remix)