Diamonds in the Dust is a weekly study of the criminally neglected; songs, albums and entire genres swept under the rug by a lack of media attention, misunderstandings or simply being too ahead of its time.
Inventive and catchy — two adjectives that every band hope describes them. The majority of bands will fail to be either; maybe it’s been done before or maybe the music is just too far-out. Some will succeed in gaining one of them, a triumph that means an appreciation for its music has mustered. But it takes something special, a disruption in history, to assemble a group of musicians talented enough to evoke both. And when it happens, the whole world will know.
Pick a year, or even a month, and there’s likely to be a clear choice for an album that defines the period. In 1967, we get The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s,” in 1991 there was Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” These are icons of music — monoliths of a place and time seemingly crafted to revolutionize culture and capture a moment in time for future generations to study. Inventive and catchy: achieve them both and the legend will write itself, right?
Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been a surefire lane to the top. In fact, plenty of groups have embodied the adjectives and were still buried beneath heaps of poor circumstances, faulty contracts or record label debt. The Beta Band, once described has “Britain’s most innovative band,” managed to suffer from all three.
The Beta Band epitomizes the meaning of “Diamonds in the Dust” and is a facet of the many failures within musical fandom. Ushering in the sounds of a new millennium should be lauded and remembered. Instead, The Betas were tragically left to rot.
You needn’t spend more than a few minutes with 1998’s “The Three EP’s” to understand my frustration. Opening track “Dry the Rain” is a revelation in genre expansion. It begins like a somber ode to Beck’s “Mellow Gold,” complete with slide-guitar and the drugged-up melancholy of lyrics like “Choking on the vitamin tablet the doctor gave in the hope of saving me.”
Layer by layer, “Dry the Rain” transforms into a joyous mantra for anyone in a slump peaked by the jumpstart-your-heart introductions of a new drum beat and horns. If by the end of the song you’re not screaming “I will be your light” while imagining everyone you’ve ever loved get a therapist, you need help.
The next logical listening step is “She’s The One,” an eight minute inscription of love’s devotion to taking us all for a ride. Love makes us silly and freewheeling, never afraid of who’s watching. It makes us meditate in the comfort of repetition. Sometimes it’s loud and boastful, growing to unexpected heights. But at all times love is unpredictable, teetering between stances of combat and embrace. If these themes are familiar to you, then keep them in mind when you listen. You’ll understand soon enough.
All of “The Three EP’s” is excellent, but songs like “Needles In My Eye” and “B+A” are vital blows in The Beta Band’s destruction of Britpop and every other late ‘90s trope. But for all the hope and positivity laced throughout “The Three EP’s”, the band’s 2001 album “Hot Shots II” matches it with doses of downcast and depression.
Standout track “Al Sharp” is a band coming to terms with its failure to gain momentum and popularity. You can sense the jagged edges inundating the band’s once healthy and passionate heart. Regardless, the emotional juxtaposition is an alluring change of pace. The mutilated acoustic guitar skips and chokes while a hypnotic vocal harmony brings The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” into the 21st century.
Most of “Hot Shots II” has a similar aura about it. “Squares” is hardly original, 2001 is a bit late for a laid back trip-hop song, but the band’s undeniable knack for melody shines through here. “Human Being” should be the blueprint every group uses for building crescendos. Every moment is spent tightening the belts strapping you down in preparation for the post-rock explosion capping off the track.
I was actually apprehensive about writing this article. The Beta Band is almost impossible to describe. Its music is too complex; I constantly feel as though it transcends anything I could put to type. Each song is phenomenal for its own reasons and deserving of pages of context — a book is far more fitting for a band like this.
Hopefully, my enthusiasm reaches out and grabs you. Hopefully you’ll take those few moments to listen to “Dry the Rain.” Hopefully the word spreads and The Beta Band has a much deserved posthumous revitalization.
Maybe I’m a wishful thinker, but a band that encompasses the coveted adjectives of inventive and catchy so well will convert almost anyone into a fan. Below is a playlist of what I think is The Beta Band's best songs. Press play, hit shuffle and indulge.
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