For some guitar acts ‘pop’ is a dirty word. Not so The Wonder Stuff. Over the course of their three previous albums they had demonstrated that they could be as snarky, difficult and aggressive as any dyed in the wool indie rock act, but still retain a pure pop heart. Sure, by the time of 1993’s Construction for the Modern Idiot internal and external pressures had started to impact on the music, but when it resulted in an album of this quality who could complain?
Miles Hunt could, and to be fair, he had every reason to.
You see, while Construction for the Modern Idiot was The Wonder Stuff’s most polished album to date, hopefully giving it an accessibility that would finally see them crack the American market in a way that The Stuffies record label paymasters wanted them to, everyone had missed the point that America was exporting its own rock music to the UK. For years precious few UK acts could be heard above the sound of Grunge in the USA, infact, it would not be until 1997, when Radiohead unleashed OK Computer, that a UK guitar act would make an impact of any size on the USA market.
Ah well, at least The Stuffies would be treat as returning heroes when Construction for the Modern Idiot hit the charts back home.
Errr, to a point.
The thing is, as opinionated mouth piece of The Wonder Stuff, Miles Hunt had never had the easiest of relationships with the press, and at the time an unfavourable review in Melody Maker or NME could make or break a band’s fortunes, and the British Music press had finally got over their obsession with The Stone Roses and decided that Suede were the only band that mattered that year. With the hype train behind just one band, The Stuffies would have to pull off a miracle to make any kind of mark with Construction for the Modern Idiot, even in the UK.
For a while, it seemed like the impossible had happened. Construction for the Modern Idiot charted just one place lower than 1991’s Never Loved Elvis, hitting the top 5 of the UK album chart, and the “Hot Love Now” EP had gone top ten. Despite a promising start, the album dropped out of the charts quicker than expected, and a further top 20 single and another in the top 30 indicated that perhaps the writing was on the wall. With the record label insisting on morale-eroding tours of the States, The Wonder Stuff threw in the towel less than a year after Construction for the Modern Idiot’s release, playing a glorious headlining set at 1994’s Phoenix Festival.
All of this has contributed to Construction for the Modern Idiot’s reputation as being the unlovable runt of The Wonder Stuff’s four albums in their original run, and listening to the album now, it’s a reputation it doesn’t deserve. Sure, it has a more polished sound than its predecessors, but it retains the fine balance of agro and pop smarts that few outside of Stourbridge’s finest could pull off. The guitar work of Malc Treece and Miles Hunt sounded as angry as ever, Hunt’s lyrics were still full of bile, although optimism at his improved romantic prospects had started to bubble up here and there. As a collection of songs, Construction for the Modern Idiot is as strong as anything The Wonder Stuff has ever released, and it’s a real shame that the circumstances in which it was originally released were not more favourable.
A quarter of a century after its release and Construction for the Modern Idiot still remains one of the great lost opportunities of 90s guitar rock. The Wonder Stuff had fulfilled their part of the bargain, but sadly the press were against them and the potential huge audience the album deserved were distracted by lesser talents that would dominate the charts for the rest of the decade.