Flowered Up – ‘Phobia’ (1990)

Flowered Up’s dancer Barry Mooncult often donned a latex flower costume on stage. Image courtesy of Fandor1n via Flickr.

The legacy of the baggy movement has always been puzzling; there’s no in-between.

Bands are either seen as classic acts that defined the late 1980s and early 1990s – such as the Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets and The Charlatans – or ones that were immediately forgotten like The High, The Bridewell Taxis and Paris Angels.

Unfortunately, Flowered Up fell into the latter category. Fortunately, though, that category also saw some of the most off-the-wall indie from the early 1990s.

‘Phobia’ was Flowered Up’s second single and, while it’s never earth-shatteringly brilliant, it is definitely intriguing.

Liam Maher’s vocal delivery – who died on this day last year, after a heroin overdose – has an eerie and mysterious quality, which is rather fitting for a song called ‘Phobia’.

Maher’s performance is unorthodox, but it’s also unique and immediately hooks you into the song. The chorus’ ambitious effects adds to its deliciously sinister and demented tone.

If there’s one word to describe ‘Phobia’, though, is that it’s inconsistent. Flowered Up were a band full of personality, but they failed to apply this strength consistently enough.

‘Phobia’ goes off on various tangents, far too many times, and it ends up sounding too ordinary at times.

There was nothing sub-standard about the Madchester-esque breaks in the song, for instance, but it was disappointing, as Flowered Up were a little bit different.

The song, therefore, was not half as memorable as their début single ‘It’s On’, which was full of unique little quirks.

For a second single, the conceptualisation of ‘Phobia’ was perhaps a little too grand for it to work as well as ‘It’s On’ – especially when you consider that it was the strange, yet simple, touches that Flowered Up really excelled at.

Despite this, much like the criminally forgotten New Fast Automatic Daffodils, they were far better than the other bog-standard indie bands who were around at the time.

Their ideas were far more exciting than the ones by the awful Candy Flip, while their accomplished musicianship and guitar solos were superior to The Real People.

Flowered Up just needed more focus.

They eventually found the winning formula in their Top 20 single ‘Weekender’, and they were starting to look like an act that had hit their stride.

It’s a shame that it was one of their final recordings, as it was not only one of the most ambitiously out-of-the-box records of the 1990s but it remains one of the most acute musical representations of the rave culture.

Weekender’ showed that Flowered Up were capable achieving great things, but only when they put their minds to it.

In essence, ‘Phobia’ was a typical second single.

It failed to scale the heights of their début single but, on occasions, they showed that they were capable of producing something special.

For a song that was far more credible than some of the dross served during the later months of 1990, such as The Farm’s ‘All Together Now’ and ‘My Rising Star’ by Northside, it’s disheartening that ‘Phobia’ never peaked higher than Number 75 in the UK Singles Chart.

Insanity has rarely sounded better.

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This review was self-published on 20 October 2010.

Non-web sources

Weller, H. (ed) (1997) The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles. 11th edition. London: Guinness Publishing.

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