The Lightning Seeds have released five studio albums and two compilation albums, and they're all of the highest quality.
If you're new to the band and want to know what all the fuss is about, then your best bet is the compilation Like You Do... Best of the Lightning Seeds (don't confuse this with the other compilation, Pure Lightning Seeds, which isn't much cop). Every fan has their own favourite studio album, but for classic Lightning Seeds pop Dizzy Heights has to be a contender, and for a more adventurous but no less rewarding sound, check out Tilt.
Although Cloudcuckooland sounds a bit dated compared to later Lightning Seeds albums, it's a beautiful album, and showcases the Broudie songwriting and production talent that would explode on later albums. The highlight of the album has to be 'Pure', which is about as pure as pop songs come. The catchy three-note chord sequence is an instant hook, and the lyrics demonstrate Ian's love of saccharine pop:
Just lying smiling in the dark
Shooting stars around your heart
Dreams come bouncing in your head
Pure and simple every time
Now you're crying in your sleep
I wish you'd never learned to weep
Don't sell the dreams you should be keeping
Pure and simple every time
The minimalist 'Joy' is excellent (though surprisingly it's the only single to be missed off the Like You Do compilation), and 'Bound in a Nutshell' and 'Love Explosion' are blueprints for the more poppy creations on later albums. Cloudcuckooland's a good album, but this is a band that has improved with each release...
Sense continues the homegrown pop vibe of Cloudcuckooland, but it doesn't develop it very far. The catchy 'Life of Riley' is a bone fide pop hit (though some listeners find it irritating, something that's hard to level at other Lightning Seeds songs), and 'Sense' demonstrates just how wonderful it is when two artists like Ian Broudie and Terry Hall collaborate, but although the album is full of good pop songs, it sometimes fails to ignite. If there's a Lightning Seeds album that's pop music by numbers, it's Sense, though it's also the album you're most likely to find in the bargain bins.
If you don't own either of the first two Lighting Seeds albums but are intrigued, then the Pure Lightning Seeds compilation is a good option.
Arguably the first album on which the Lightning Seeds really hit their potential, Jollification is a brilliant album. From the heart-wrenching opener 'Perfect' and the psychedelic pop song 'Open Goals', through to the celebrationary pop of 'Lucky You', 'Change' and 'Marvellous', Jollification is a gem.
There simply aren't any fillers on this album. 'Feeling Lazy' is a beautiful look at suburban life, 'Punch and Judy' examines violent relationships, and 'My Best Day' joins the writing talents of Alison Moyet with the band, producing a driving pop tune with bitter-sweet lyrics. Throughout it's a showcase for well-crafted and intelligent pop songs.
If it wasn't for the fact that Dizzy Heights is even better, this would be the one recommended Lightning Seeds pop purchase. Brilliant stuff.
Pure Lightning Seeds (1996)
A rushed compilation of 18 songs from the first two albums, this may be a handy way to get your hands on the Lightning Seeds' earlier work without having to fork out twice, but that's about the only reason to consider it. It misses off one song from Cloudcuckooland ('Control the Flame') and two from Sense ('Where Flowers Fade' and 'Marooned'), so it's worth considering as a cheaper option if you can't justify the price of the individual albums.
Dizzy Heights (1996)
If Jollification is a brilliant album, then Dizzy Heights needs a thesaurus to describe it. Right from the opening lines of 'Imaginary Friends' to the closing track 'Fishes on the Line', this is pop music of the very highest quality. Every song is excellent.
Picking highlights is difficult, and ultimately pointless. If you want songs to bounce around the room to, put on 'Sugar Coated Iceberg', 'Ready or Not' or 'What If...'. If you want beautifully layered ethereal pop, skip to 'Wishaway' or 'Touch and Go'. Sarcastic social commentary comes in the form of 'Imaginary Friends', while apathy gets an airing on 'Waiting for Today to Happen', and the album is rounded off with the frankly surreal 'Fishes on the Line'.
If you like perfect pop, this is as close to perfection as you are likely to find. The only reason not to buy this album is if you already own it.
Like You Do... Best of the Lightning Seeds (1997)
Given the rich pickings of the four preceding studio albums, it would take a complete cretin to make a Lightning Seeds 'best of' compilation disappointing, and Like You Do is far from that. This 16-song album comprises two new songs plus all the band's singles except 'Joy', with a remix of 'Waiting for Today to Happen' replacing the original version.
The only criticism of this compilation is that it doesn't reflect the more thoughtful side of the band - all the songs were singles, so they tend to be the more uplifting songs from the band's catalogue, rather than the more thoughtful ones ('Wishaway', 'Joy' and 'Feeling Lazy' are stunning Lightning Seeds tracks, but none of them appear here). To be fair, though, you can never include everything, and as an introduction to the Lightning Seeds, this is cracking.
When Tilt was released in 1999 it was heralded in the music press with comments that the band had 'gone all dance music'. You can see where this comes from - the opener 'Life's Too Short' has a beat that can only be described as thumping - but underneath the mature production are the same clever pop hooks that make the previous Lightning Seeds albums so wonderful.
Influences from other spheres of music are evident on Tilt. The album's most heart-wrenching song, 'I Wish I Was in Love', is based round the guitar riff from Peter Green's haunting 'Man of the World', and manages to create something completely new from an already classic sound. 'Sweet Soul Sensations' samples Al Green to produce a laid-back song about the end of a love affair, while 'Happy Satellite' looks at the world from the point of view of a satellite orbiting the planet, all to a classic Lightning Seeds pop tune.
'Tales of the Riverbank' is a stunning paean to the Liverpool dockers that would probably define 'folk-pop' if such a thing existed, and 'Cigarettes and Lies' continues the exploration of the mellower Lightning Seeds that compilations such as Like You Do fail to represent. The down side to fame is explored in the tongue-in-cheek 'Crowdpleaser' (with its fade-out chant of 'It's great to be back out of re-hab'), while 'If Only' takes a lilting piano progression and adds in the layering that made 'Wishaway' on Dizzy Heights such a blistering track.
While Dizzy Heights is the ultimate Lightning Seeds pop album, Tilt is mature, modern, mellow and a masterpiece. Highly recommended.
Lightning Seeds Websites
Official Lightning Seeds Site - The band's official website isn't a great deal more than a vehicle for Tilt, though no doubt this will change when new material is released. As it stands there's a short article about Tilt, a discography, some links to Real Media versions of the songs, a mailing list, and apparently some discussion forums (though these don't seem to work). Not terribly great, really.
The Lightning Seeds Fan Site - The pick of the many Lightning Seeds fan sites around, this site is still being finished off (so some of the navigation doesn't work), but what is there is great, and the news is bang up to date. Keep your eyes on this site as the band prepares to release its next album...