Perfect Songs – The Bluetones: Slight Return

by Ben Hogwood

The BluetonesSlight Return was released 25 years ago today.

From a personal point I remember it well. I was searching for employment in the backwaters of Norfolk and 1996 was one of the greyest January months you can imagine, thick cloud stretching across the Fens as far as the eye could see, which was not very far.

In the midst of this Britpop had already established a firm footing in the UK singles charts thanks to Blur, Oasis and Pulp, and Radio 1’s Evening Session was providing a lifeline of quality new music, either in thrall to those three or forging new paths on the electronica side of things.

The Bluetones had already established themselves as gifted tunesmiths with Bluetonic in 1995, but Slight Return took them up a level.

Why is it a perfect song?

To get all musical, the harmonies on Slight Return are sublime. Listen to the first two chords strummed by the guitars in the first five seconds of the song. The first (D major) sets a bright picture; the second chord simply adds one note – a C# – which opens up all sorts of new possibilities. Having sung “Where did you go?”, vocalist Mark Morriss has set the scene for his story, and the C# opens the music up to give him the chance to tell it in full.

From here the song is rather wonderful, Morriss’s earnest vocal supported by jangly guitars that take the music round in a couple of exquisite circles. The music stops whenever we come back to those two chords we heard at the beginning – all acting as natural punctuation for the story.

The words of the chorus are radio-friendly gold, too – “You don’t have to have the solution, You’ve got to understand the problem” – with a curious word accent that works really well.

The catchy chorus and verse match each other, with a lovely instrumental break that brings the guitars to the fore. The last chorus is even better, Morriss repeating the joyful refrain “I’m coming home” several times then countering it with “…just for a short while” and a lovely harmonic shift. That sets the scene for a breezy coda, this time using a C# right before the end, which leads to a ‘D’ for perfect closure.

Do you agree? Have a listen here:

Perfect Songs is a new occasional series from Arcana. If you have any suggestions for the series, or would like to contribute to it, get in touch – editor@arcana.fm