The song you just listened to has less than three thousand plays on Spotify. Surprised? It sounds like a hit song, right? Or, at the very least, some kind of long-lost indie classic? Well, it’s neither of those things. What it is is the sixth track from the 1997 self-titled debut album of a British band called Silver Sun. Never heard of them? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Because despite the fact that they’ve been releasing ingenious, expertly constructed, catchy-as-hell power pop since 1996, Silver Sun are one of the most obscure bands on the planet.
Four of their top ten most-played songs on Spotify have under a thousand plays, and one of the top ten songs isn’t even theirs. I have no idea how it got there. Their most-played song of all time, “Lava”, has only 10,769 plays. “Lava” is one of Silver Sun’s weirdest and catchiest songs, and it’s a personal favorite of mine. But keep in mind: 10,769 plays. To put this in perspective, the most-played song by indie folk artist Bon Iver, “Skinny Love”, has over forty-six million plays. Forty-six MILLION. For an INDIE artist. On the bright side, “Lava”‘s YouTube video has slightly more plays, at 25,145, than its Spotify counterpart.
But Silver Sun maintain an undeservedly small audience. Even lesser-known indie bands such as Teenage Fanclub and Superchunk can at least claim the adoration of a small but devoted group of adherents. Not Silver Sun. Whenever you type the band’s name into Google, most of the results pertain to another, infinitely less exciting band: Silversun Pickups. I probably have a legitimate claim to being one of Silver Sun’s biggest fans in the world, simply because we number so few. Sigh. How did this happen? Why is this great band so blatantly unpopular? British news website The Guardian, who published one of the only articles on the band that I could find on the Internet, posits that the answer lies in the band’s nationality. Silver Sun’s music could best be described as a combination of Cheap Trick’s pop punk sensibilities and the sunny California vocal harmonies of The Beach Boys (did you catch the “Surfin’ U.S.A.” reference in “Last Day”?). But those are two quintessentially American styles of music, and Britain at the turn of the century simply wouldn’t have it. In the mid-to-late 90’s, the UK was entranced by a genre known as Britpop. Britpop acts such as Oasis and Supergrass championed down-to-earth, working-class patriotism and musically hearkened back to British Invasion bands such as The Beatles and The Kinks. Silver Sun, while sometimes lumped in with the Britpop scene, really had nothing to do with its sentiment or style. Take, for example, the song “Golden Skin” from the band’s debut, a blazing power pop anthem which I interpret as a condemnation of Britain’s celebrity culture:
Here’s the single cover for “Golden Skin”:
And a close-up, for added effect:
Add the band’s mismatched ethos to some of the most truly bizarre lyrics I’ve ever heard, and you have a recipe for public indifference. The band’s self-titled first album hobbled to No. 30 on the UK album charts back in 1997 (and, bewilderingly enough, reached No. 60 in Japan), while their second album only hit No. 74, and did not chart in Japan. Silver Sun’s last three albums have not charted in either country. The band never made a showing on the American charts either. Their moment of glory refused to come, despite the compelling nature of their music. The band dropped an album just last year (A Lick and a Promise, released August 22, 2013), and I couldn’t find a single review of it online. But perhaps there is hope for Silver Sun yet. After all, artists such as Nick Drake and Big Star underwent massive critical reappraisals decades after their commercially unsuccessful careers. Both Drake and Big Star are now critical favorites, and have reasonably impressive fan bases. As of now, Silver Sun have been largely ignored both critically and commercially. But hey, in thirty years, maybe you’ll find them on the cover of Rolling Stone!
So, you might ask, how have I heard of Silver Sun? Well, I am actually a big fan of Britpop myself, and while looking up a list of the best Britpop albums, I stumbled upon a list published by IGN, a site that primarily covers video games. IGN listed Silver Sun’s debut as the eleventh best Britpop album of all time. Allmusic.com gave the album a 4.5/5 star review, calling it “pretty damn impressive”. I checked the band out on Spotify, and I was blown away by the indelibly catchy melodies strewn throughout each song. The quality control exhibited by this album is astronomically high. Even though I’ve only actually listened to their debut album and a handful of tracks from their other albums, what I’ve heard has been enough to cement Silver Sun as one of my favorite bands. Many of their songs could be, and should have been, chart-topping hits. It’s a shame that so few people have heard them. But I have a hunch that James Broad, lead vocalist and guitarist for Silver Sun, has a good sense of humor about the plight of his band. His Twitter account (@lordmelbury) contains this wry biography: “I am the ex frontman of the UK’s greatest ever band Silver Sun. I now live a pathetic life in Devon.” I’m sure his 208 followers really get a kick out of that one.
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