"This stairway ain't to heaven, This one's to oblivion."
While 1987’s The Eight Legged Groove Machine was The Wonder Stuff’s statement of intent, ultimately it was little more than thrillingly scruffy post-punk guitar thrash aimed squarely at the pop charts. It was utterly brilliant for what it was, but ultimately it was the type of album that a band could only release once, with any attempt to emulate it automatically rendering the resulting release superfluous. Hooray then for 1989’s Hup, The Stuffies second album on which they build outwards from their established foundations and expand their musical horizons to take in beats, folk, and a continual vice-like grip on emotional relevance.
In order to broaden their sound, Hup found The Stuffies supplementing their four piece line up with a variety of guest musicians for individual songs. None of these guests were more crucial than multi-instrumentalist Martin Bell, who would subsequently become a full member of The Wonder Stuff, thus expanding their musical range, as well as give them a distinctly folk edge whenever they required one. This diversity of sound gave Hup a somewhat more sophisticated feeling than their debut, though this was tempered somewhat by some of Miles Hunt’s most biting lyrics, particularly on “Radio Ass Kiss”, “Cartoon Boyfriend” and “Can’t Shape Up”.
For many of their fans, Hup is The Wonder Stuff’s definitive album. From the opening “30 Years in the Bathroom”, via “Piece of Sky”, to “Them Big Oak Trees”, Hup is a tirelessly brilliant demonstration of everything that made The Stuffies great. Few bands are capable of penning a tune as viciously scathing as “Don’t Let Me Down, Gently”, and it takes a truly special talent to convert that into a top 20 hit. Thing is, key to The Stuffies’ greatness was their absolute commitment to accessibility. Sure, they could be moody, and more than a little petulant, but they always had this underlying dedication to great tunes, regardless of the subject matter of the lyrics. While later in their career their sense of humour waned a little due to a combination of increasing maturity and career frustration, on Hup there was a fine balance of well honed songcraft, strong tunes, humour, and a sense of optimistic purpose that would be later drained out of them due to the music press at the time overlooking them in favour of lesser talents. The Wonder Stuff were one of those bands whose talent for putting difficult to explain emotions into song in an amusing way while still managing to be utterly accessible should have seen them achieve significantly greater success than they did, however a combative relationship with the popular music press of the day put paid to that.
The only misfire on the whole album is Hup’s sequencing, as the opportunity to sign off with obvious closer “Good Night Though” is squandered, as it is left floundering part-way through the second half of the album. Of course, this minor mistake was seemingly acknowledged by The Wonder Stuff when they chose it as the set closer for their final appearance, headlining the Phoenix Festival in 1994, waving goodbye to an adoring audience while the song crashed to the proverbial floor all around them. It was the perfect way for a once in a generation band to say farewell to an audience who loved them and the press who just wanted them to sod off so they didn’t take the limelight from those lesser acts they wanted to hype beyond all comprehension.