Formed in Oxford, England, in 1991, the Bigger The God were initially tipped as likely inheritors of Ride’s throne as local indie heroes. Indeed, Radiohead (then known as On A Friday) unequivocally told the press their rivals were the ‘best band in Oxford’. Over subsequent years the quartet - David Cowles-Hamar (vocals), Ellis James (guitar), Andy Smith (bass) and Steve Brownsill (drums) - struggled to make good on the lofty claims made on their behalf, although they did release a series of imaginative, under-acclaimed records. They self-released the EPs Gluttony And Self Abuse (1994) and Lily (1995) before their first stroke of ill fortune - their double a-side single, ‘Miss Pritchard’/‘Shagged’, was withdrawn from sale in 1995 after local label Indigo discovered it shared a name with a jazz reissue imprint. National television exposure followed for ‘Mum Steals Boyfriend’ and ‘Pentonville’. Attendant debut, Variety, documented the band’s playful indie-noir, songwriter James’ eye for satire and singer Cowles-Hamar’s downtrodden but defiant persona (compared by some to Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker). It earned good reviews, notably in Melody Maker, without making the breakthrough some predicted. May 1997’s ‘When Martin Met Martine’ again confirmed their ability to pastiche the soundbite sociology of the British tabloid. After a further single (‘If Everyone I Ever Loved Left Me’/‘Mr. And Mrs. Right’) for Oxford’s Shifty Disco singles club, the quartet recruited Jim Driscoll (keyboards) and John Franklin (accordion) for 1999’s The Bigger The God And The Ugly. The pop dynamic was abandoned for a nightmarish Euro-cabaret, a Jacques Brel meets Lou Reed hybrid which perfectly suited Cowles-Hamar’s brittle falsetto. Yet for all the spaghetti western guitar codas and dark undercurrents, the album’s finest track, ‘Lullaby’, demonstrated that the band could still pen songs that recalled the pure emotional resonance of late-period Undertones.
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