“We never did get to set the world alight, but we got as far as striking the match.” – Pete Fijalkowski, Adorable.
With hindsight, what an absolute mindfuck it must have been for anyone lucky enough to kick around on the roster of the legendary Creation Records in the early 1990s. Forget how things turned out with Oasis, Tony Blair and all the Britpop largesse; a clutch of bands associated with the label were to go on to establish an enviable legacy. The Jesus and Mary Chain and The House of Love – grandees of British alternative music – had come and gone already by this time, snatched away following major label interest, but replaced by a pyramid of bands who would between them go on to create the shoegaze genre and a legacy of their own.
Adorable, a four-piece from Coventry, joined the label as it was beginning to enter a state of flux. What has since been established as the holy trinity of My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Slowdive were having their own travails. My Bloody Valentine for their part had brought the entire operation to near bankruptcy, so far over budget and behind schedule had been their magnum opus Loveless. Ride had already abandoned the trademark feedback and wah-wah of their defining debut Nowhere, in search of a new identity amongst the exploratory psychedelia of Going Blank Again. Most worryingly, the late Richey Edwards had expressed a preference for Hitler over Slowdive, and although they were en route to their own career-highlight Souvlaki, Slowdive’s sophomore album was eventually released to negative reviews in the main, including one in which the writer professed that he “would rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge” than hear the album again. The media backlash was in full effect.
“Adorable were to find that it wasn’t enough just to be a great band; you had to be great at exactly the right time, that time being chosen by the then all-powerful British music press.”
In that context, it is not hard to see why Adorable set about distancing themselves from The Scene That Celebrates Itself, as Melody Maker’s Steve Sutherland had somewhat verbosely chosen to name it. An NME Single of the Week for debut Sunshine Smile was soon in the bag but the song, great as it was, sat a little too close in style to the aforementioned shoegazers. Adorable were to find that it wasn’t enough just to be a great band; you had to be great at exactly the right time, that time being chosen by the then all-powerful British music press.
Whether genuinely, or as a reaction to the subverted-personality, eyes-down attitudes of their Creation peers, the band found themselves inexplicably resented and derided for behaviour that had been, and would be, lauded in others. When Ian Brown wanted to be “adored” it wasn’t a problem. When Liam and Noel Gallagher swaggered in a year or two later wanting to be rock n’ roll stars, that wasn’t an issue either. Adorable released a press picture with the word “arrogant” on it (Creation boss Alan McGee’s idea, not theirs) and a single called “I’ll Be Your Saint” which was even accompanied by a video in which guitarist Rob Dillam’s floppy hair, stripy top and a Rickenbacker was something of a tick, tick, tick on the shoegaze checklist of derision. A music media caning ensued.
“Fijalkowski’s attitude dominates throughout [on Against Perfection]; a proper frontman in an era that jettisoned the concept; vocals strong enough to be high in the mix, a man singing emotionally direct lyrics which, for once, were worth being audible.”
Two albums followed; one exceptional, the other very good. Debut Against Perfection is undoubtedly one of the great lost albums in the history of British alternative music, steeped in post-punk legacy, taking The House of Love’s post-Bunnymen template to an overdriven conclusion, with added strut, no shortage of volume and the tunes to back up the cockiness. The album benefits from being shorn of the two lead singles, leaving behind a much more coherent, arguably classic, work that crackles from start to finish. Fijalkowski’s attitude dominates throughout; a proper frontman in an era that jettisoned the concept; vocals strong enough to be high in the mix, a man singing emotionally direct lyrics which, for once, were worth being audible.
By the time of second and final album Fake, bad luck and cynicism were conspiring in equal measure; song titles like Vendetta and Kangaroo Court barely disguising the band’s disgust at their own treatment. The result is patchy in places but still scales the heights on tracks like Road Movie and Radio Days which capture more of the natural exuberance of the band’s debut while hinting at new destinations where the band might have found a happy home if only they could have found the will to continue.
Few would have called an Adorable reunion. Fijalkowski, or Pete Fij as he is content to be known these days, has enjoyed a much-deserved renaissance during the middle part of this decade. Releasing two critically-acclaimed albums with old Creation labelmate Terry Bickers, Broken Heart Surgery and Millionaires, Fijalkowski had nonetheless used the opportunity of his increased profile to scotch any hopes of a reformation of his old fourpiece; questions made all the more inevitable by the lauded returns of Ride and Slowdive.
“25 years on, we’re planning on going out on a high – to play some shows that are a celebration of our time together and exit this time on our own terms!” – Adorable Press Release.
The announcement in May that Adorable were to reform in their original line-up for two shows (also featuring Stephen “Wil” Williams on bass and Kevin Gritton on drums alongside Fijalkowski and Dillam) was greeted with pockets of euphoria, particularly within the resurgent shoegaze community who had claimed the band as one of their own – whether they wanted it or not. “When we originally split up in 1994 it was because of dwindling sales, press indifference and a label that didn’t want us anymore,” announced the band in their press release. “25 years on, we’re planning on going out on a high – to play some shows that are a celebration of our time together and exit this time on our own terms!”
Such was the demand for the sole London gig, this reviewer ended up attending the hastily-added second date at Bush Hall, an old Edwardian dance hall-turned independent music venue. A third London date was subsequently added at the larger-capacity Scala in what was to be the final night of the short-lived reunion. Bush Hall however was a great choice, its ornateness and atmosphere building a fitting sense of occasion. The tight confines also heightened the sense of excitement, as Antonio Mercero’s 1972 short film La Cabina was screened by way of an appetiser to the main event.
Any concerns about ring-rust in the returning heroes is quickly dispelled. The first of many of Williams’ rumbling bass intros crashing into the dualling guitars of “I’ll Be Your Saint”. The intensity is effortlessly maintained with the punk energy of “Favourite Fallen Idol” and bombast of “Glorious” sandwiched between Vendetta and Road Movie. “We’re handcuffed together, like it or not and drinking our dreams is all that we’ve got,” bellows Fijalkowski, his words loaded with the palpable significance of the occasion, “I can never forget you.”
“The adrenaline rush of Sunshine Smile is duly delivered. It still raises any remaining hairs that may be present in a crowd of inevitably advancing years.”
Fijalkowski and Dillam grab the audience a breather with Sunburst from the reverse of the debut single, then the pace is picked back up immediately by Fake-era standouts Kangaroo Court and Radio Days, driven respectively by another memorable Williams bass line and Dillam’s skyscraping lead guitar. Less than two thirds of the way through the set, the adrenaline rush of Sunshine Smile is duly delivered. It still raises any remaining hairs that may be present in a crowd of inevitably advancing years.
The main set list is rounded off with a blistering assault on some of the best of the material from Against Perfection. The ornate cornice work of Bush Hall may not be Michelangelo’s but it’s a fitting enough arena for Sistine Chapel Ceiling, as Fijalkowski, in his trademark cream jacket, conducts his audience with relish. Cut #2 follows, propulsive and turning back the years, while debut album closer Breathless shines like a beacon in the fog: “In words of one syllable, I love you” declares Pete, in unison with those who have travelled from all corners of the planet to be able to share in the occasion.
“It’s clear that this has been more than a footnote to the Adorable story; it has allowed the band members to rediscover their friendships alongside the fans who never let them out of their sights.”
The encore is nothing short of pandemonium, any hint of self-consciousness dissolving amongst sweaty participation in another signature tune, Homeboy. Fijalkowski acknowledges the significance of the reunion tour for himself and his bandmates and there is humility and heavy emotion in his voice as he thanks the crowd. It’s clear that this has been more than a footnote to the Adorable story; it has allowed the band members to rediscover their friendships alongside the fans who never let them out of their sights in what has been a long 25 years away from the spotlight. Any lingering hopes that the reunion might be permanent are laid to rest. Pete, Rob, Wil and Kevin have all moved on, have their own lives and their own priorities beyond music.
A to Fade In brings the night to a euphoric end, fittingly. It remains Adorable’s finest hour and, like many of the other songs, its existential message has loaded further with the passing of a generation: “I don’t want to be faded skin, I don’t want to fade out, I wanna fade in,” sings Fijalkowski with a renewed sense of defiance.
In that moment, in the sauna conditions of an old venue in West London, there is finally vindication for all.
“These shows weren’t about new beginnings for me – it was about putting ghosts to rest and re-editing the film of the life of the band so now it has a happy ending. You all made it a very special time that I think I will take to the end of my days.” – Pete Fijalkowski.