The band’s initial rise to prominence was timed to perfection. With Britpop holding sway and a group of exciting, if relatively disparate young Welsh acts such as Super Furry Animals, 60 Ft Dolls and the aforementioned Catatonia scooping column inches in the rock weeklies, Stereophonics’ raw, but melodic guitar pop chimed with the times. Their debut LP, Word Gets Around (released in August 1997), shot to No.6 in the UK Top 40.
Largely well-received by the critics, the LP was stuffed with Kelly Jones’ observational, human-interest story songs, many of which centred upon the vagaries of life in Stereophonics’ home town, Cwmaman. One of the LP’s quintet of 45s, the edgy ‘More Life In A Tramp’s Vest’ was a rumination on life as seen through the eyes of a supermarket bag boy, while the band’s first Top 30 hit, ‘A Thousand Trees’, relayed the story of a highly respected athletics coach falling from grace after an unfortunate sexual encounter with one of his students. Arguably the record’s most memorable track, however, was the atypically poised ballad ‘Traffic’ (also a Top 20 hit), which showed that Stereophonics had more to offer than punchy, arena-ready anthems.
Stereophonics toured extensively after their debut was released, receiving a Brit Award for Best New Group in February 1998, the same week their re-released 45, ‘Local Boy In The Photograph’, became their biggest hit to date, charting at No.14 in the UK.
Word Gets Around went gold in the UK and Stereophonics were on a roll. Their second LP, Performance And Cocktails, was released in March 1999 and drastically exceeded commercial expectations, selling 120,000 copies in its first week and going straight to No.1 in the UK charts. Again produced by Bird and Bush, the album eventually went on to sell over 2.5 million copies, gaining multi-platinum status and yielding three consecutive British Top 5 hits courtesy of ‘The Bartender & The Thief’, ‘Just Looking’ and the infectiously poppy ‘Pick A Part That’s New’.
Stereophonics were rarely off the road as 1998 turned into ’99, touring widely in Europe, Australia and the US. Their schedule included a couple of triumphant homecoming gigs: shows at Cardiff Castle (12 June 1998) and Swansea’s Morfa Stadium, in ’99 (the latter before an audience of 50,000 people) were both filmed and recorded for separate DVD releases.
The band seemed unstoppable around the time the world ushered in the new millennium, releasing their third LP, Just Enough Education To Perform, in April 2001. Again topping the UK charts, the record was another phenomenal success, becoming the fourth best-selling British album of 2001 and going on to achieve multi-platinum sales in the UK, double-platinum sales in mainland Europe, and even sneaking on to the US Billboard 200 at No.188.
The album also spawned three Top 10 UK hits in the vitriol-tinged, anti-critic paean ‘Mr Writer’, the breezy ‘Have A Nice Day’ and the band’s emotive cover of the Mike d’Abo-penned ‘Handbags & Gladrags’, which Rod Stewart previously recorded for his 1969 LP, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down. Stylistically, the record was Stereophonics’ most mature outing to date, with elements of blues-rock (‘Watch Them Fly Sundays’) and gospel (‘Vegas Two Times’) infiltrating the raw, instantly recognisable indie-rock sound they’d patented on Word Gets Around and Performance And Cocktails.
Stereophonics enjoyed further multi-platinum success with 2003’s Kelly Jones-produced You Gotta Go There To Come Back (their third consecutive LP to top the UK charts), though it would be their last record to feature original drummer Stuart Cable, who had begun to forge a parallel media career which involved him presenting a TV show named Cable TV.
New drummer Javier Weyler was announced as Cable’s replacement, and Stereophonics played a successful world tour during 2003 and ’04, which featured a celebratory Christmas show at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium and a well-received appearance at the Manchester Move Festival in July 2004. Weyler consequently made his debut on Stereophonics’ fifth LP, Language. Sex Violence. Other?, which was released in March 2005. Though notably more urgent and abrasive than the laid-back blues-influenced rock dominating You Gotta Go There To Come Back, the album nonetheless put up an impressive critical showing, with trailer single ‘Dakota’ topping the UK charts and the album following suit, selling 100,000 copies in its first week of release. The record also attracted praise from the critics, most of whom dug the band’s rekindled aggression and the brashness displayed by the LP’s best cuts, such as ‘Girl’ and the crunching ‘Doorman’.
On 2 July 2005, Stereophonics appeared at the globally televised Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, and, the following year, issued their first officially sanctioned live LP, Live From Dakota: a two-disc compilation capturing some of the highlights from their 2005 world tour. They returned to action in 2007 with a new studio LP, Pull The Pin: a slick, accomplished outing which again topped the UK charts and went gold. Arguably the LP’s stand-out moment, the first single ‘It Means Nothing’, related to the notorious 7/7 terrorist attacks in London. Despite the song’s hard-hitting subject matter, it climbed to No.12 in the UK charts.
Featuring two brand new tracks, ‘You’re My Star’ and ‘My Own Worst Enemy’, the band’s 40-track, platinum-selling career anthology Decade In The Sun: Best Of Stereophonics followed in 2008, before they re-entered the fray with November 2009’s Keep Calm And Carry On, their first record to feature recently recruited second guitarist Adam Zindani. The album stalled at No.11 on the UK charts, but it again went gold and spawned two well-received singles, ‘Innocent’ and ‘Could You Be The One?’. Drafted in to co-produce with Kelly Jones, Arctic Monkeys’ producer Jim Abbiss removed some of the gloss of Pull The Pin, but the stripped-down approach suited many of the album’s best tracks, including the lithe ‘She’s Alright’ and the spirited ‘I Got Your Number’.
On 5 June 2010, Stereophonics played the first ever gig at the Cardiff City Stadium, with support from Doves and unsigned South Wales band 4th Street Traffic. Advertised as ‘Summer In The City’, the event attracted a sold-out audience of 30,000 people, though the band’s euphoria was dampened somewhat by the sudden death of their old friend and former drummer Stuart Cable, only two days later.
Stereophonics were back working on their next album during 2011, though before it was released, Jamie Morrison (ex-Noisettes) had replaced Javier Weyler on drums. Recorded primarily at ICP Studios in Brussels, the long-awaited album – Graffiti On The Train – finally arrived in March 2013, peaking at No.3 on the UK chart and selling an impressive 300,000 copies. The LP’s exhilarating second single, ‘Indian Summer’, reacquainted the band with the UK Top 30 singles chart, and the album itself attracted a brace of highly positive reviews, with critics lauding the record’s diversity and the quality of tracks, such as the orchestrally inclined titular song and the country/soul flavoured ‘Been Caught Cheating’.
Another worldwide promotional trek followed after the release of Graffiti On The Train but, by February 2014, Stereophonics were already ensconced in the studio working on new material. Released through their own Stylus label, the seemingly inexhaustible Welsh band’s ninth album, Keeping The Village Alive, was released in September 2015 and immediately shot to No.1 in the UK, as well as climbing to an impressive No.17 on the US Billboard Heatseekers Album Chart. Another highly confident return, its 10 tracks threw a few intriguing curveballs, including the baroque-flavoured ‘Sunny’ and the sinewy, disco-inflected ‘Fight Or Flight’, but mostly it was highly credible business as usual, with soaring anthems such as ‘C’est La Vie’ and ‘Sing Little Sister’ showing exactly why Stereophonics will inevitably continue to connect on the world stage.
Prior to releasing their third effort, Stereophonics endured brief controversy under the album's title, Just Enough Education to Perform. Already having dealt with the critics' views of this being a country or acoustic record, frontman Kelly Jones wanted the album to go by the abbreviation of J.E.E.P., which captures the band's opinions of the music industry. Of course, politics played the game and Daimler-Chrysler objected to the use, claming copyright and usage of the word "Jeep." Despite the media drama, Jones isn't entirely disenchanted on Just Enough Education to Perform and the album isn't heavy with needle acoustics or twangy licks either. It's another glassy cast of rock & roll rawness (with slight acoustics) that's made them indie darlings since their inception in the mid-'90s. Performance and Cocktails (1999) was more abrasive with Jones' signature scratchy vocals, and the rough poetics on 1997's Word Gets Around were impressive; however, Just Enough Education to Perform illustrates a more mature Stereophonics. It's a monolith of 11 detailed narratives, each playing with areas of soul, aggro rock, and moody pop/rock. The band from Cwmaman, Wales is trying to be more comfortable with the gradual process of feeling out their own place. The debut single "Mr. Writer" scowls at music journalists for their quick-witted opinions, and twitching riffs carry Jones' heartfelt aggression. The gospel-tinged "Vegas Two Times" is one of the album's more ruffled tracks, but it's the old-fashioned "Step On My Old Size Nines" that makes for an enjoyable transition from rock tune to classic ballad. It's quite endearing, similar to older cuts such as "Hurry Up and Wait" and "Traffic." The Stereophonics appear to be achieving a much-welcomed calamity. Changes within their personal lives shaped the sounds found on this record, most notably "Maybe" and "Watch Them Fly Sundays." Crafted around blues-rock guitars and shimmering percussion, these swan songs reflect the demise of Jones' relationship with his longtime girlfriend. They're gorgeously haunting with emotional depictions, and The Stereophonics are okay with that. No longer into the destructive side of rock & roll, Just Enough Education to Perform exudes a peaceful sect; a charming side is more visible even though Jones has had his row with the press. He can laugh about it while wholeheartedly believing that The Stereophonics have shaped their latest work into their most stunning material yet.
Words: MacKenzie Wilson
In December 1998, the Stereophonics released the single "The Bartender and the Thief," which became an unexpected explosion on the charts, peaking at number three in the U.K. In March 1999, the band's sophomore effort, Performance and Cocktails, was released to impressive sales -- it was reportedly outselling Blur's 13 when that album was released. A second single, "Just Looking," also peaked within the U.K. Top Ten, making the first half of 1999 a very unexpectedly busy time for the Stereophonics. Never a favorite to become a hugely successful Brit-pop band, their noisy, raw hard rock came into favor after the more produced and calculated sound of Brit-pop had become passe. Unfortunately, however, this disc isn't quite as consistent as the debut. Part of the reason why Word Gets Around was so appealing is that there was a sense of urgency that, on this release, seems to have disappeared. There are more ballads than before, and some of the rockers don't burn with the intensity that they did on the last album. This doesn't make Performance and Cocktails a bad album, though; fans will be very pleased that the Stereophonics have released another slab of indie-flavored hard rock. Some highlights include "T Shirt Sun Tan," the acoustic "She Takes Her Clothes Off," and the poppy "Pick a Part That's New." (Japanese versions of this album include three live tracks, but the quality is mediocre and the performances are unspectacular, making this version of the release for hardcore fans only.)
Words: Jason Damas
In the late '90s, a rash of Welsh rock bands emerged, among them Catatonia, Super Furry Animals, 60 Ft. Dolls, and the Stereophonics. On the surface, the Stereophonics' gritty rock & roll seems relatively uninspired, but upon close listen Word Gets Around proves to be a very accomplished debut. Vocalist/guitarist Kelly Jones' vocals are raw and rip the songs apart, as his loud, arena-ready guitar assault gives every track a gritty edge. Jones' lyrics are also of note; highly poetic and meaningful, he writes about the underbelly of a small town. The anthemic opener, the outrageously catchy "A Thousand Trees," details how a respected high school athletic coach ruined his career through a lurid sexual encounter with a female student, and the quick, jagged "More Life in a Tramp's Vest" displays the view of the world through the eyes of a supermarket bag boy. Word Gets Around isn't all about hard rockers, though; the hit "Traffic" is a beautifully constructed ballad that works marvelously when a juxtaposition is made between the music and Jones' rough vocal styling. While Word Gets Around occasionally suffers from blandness, it is a remarkably accomplished debut LP.
Words: Jason Damas
Stereophonics frontman Kelly Jones roars "Cuz all I wanna do/Is make a mess outta you" on "Doorman," one of many white-hot blowouts from the band's fifth album, Language. Sex. Violence. Other? The album title borrows from the classification code used on the backs of DVDs, and its blunt display instantly pulls listeners toward Stereophonics' nonchalant chutzpah. Jones and bassist Richard Jones have never sounded more brash. The punk-inspired spark that made their 1997 debut, Word Gets Around, so impressive is rekindled. This 11-song set, which features quick and curt one-word song titles, is matched with sex appeal and an unshakable confidence. Argentinean-born Javier Weyler, who replaced founding drummer Stuart Cable in 2004, is a great fit with Stereophonics' wicked yet sensitive personality. Songs such as the smoldering bass funk of "Brother," the crunchy drop-kick of "Girl," and the glossy guitar hooks of "Dakota" find Stereophonics' second coming to be a convincing one. Jones' signature vocal grit saunters around the bravado of "Superman" and slow wax of "Pedalpusher" particularly well. This is the studio record they've been dying to make. While their previous four albums all showcased great moments, Stereophonics never fully realized their full-throttled power until Language. Sex. Violence. Other? Previous singles like "Madame Helga" and "The Bartender and the Thief" were mere glimpses into what this Welsh rock threesome could do if they just built upon their thick, merciless riffs and Jones' rough-edged vocals. Language. Sex. Violence. Other? is such an intense studio record. Stereophonics could not have nailed it any better.
Words: MacKenzie Wilson
Ten years in, Stereophonics sound appropriately settled on their sixth album, 2007's Pull the Pin. Then again, Stereophonics were never the liveliest of rock bands even in their youth. They beat out the likes of Travis to be perhaps the stodgiest of all the post-Oasis bands, aspiring to nothing more than being a solid stadium rock band, borrowing some of the sweeping sonics of U2 but relying more on the revivalism of Oasis with a slight hint of the epic scale of fellow Welsh rockers Manic Street Preachers. Stereophonics soldiered through album after album, aided considerably on their march to popularity by the cinema star good looks of guitarist/vocalist/all-around nice guy Kelly Jones, who was undeniably attractive in photos but not quite forceful on record. Nowhere is that soft center in sharper relief than on Pull the Pin, which sounds bigger and slicker than anything they've ever done -- a large-scale album suited for their large popularity in the U.K. -- but Jones seems to be carried along by the sound instead of driving it. It's not as much that he's overwhelmed as he is...settled. Stereophonics have achieved the maturity they've aspired to all these many years, easily mimicking Oasis on "Bank Holiday Monday" while they wash out Nirvana and mellow out the Manics elsewhere, turning out music that's louder than Coldplay (or even Travis' 2007 album) but feels less rock & roll, as everything here is immaculately manicured and manipulated; it's a stadium rock album in form, but not sound. As the trio are professionals -- something they've always planned to be -- this is hardly bad but it sure sounds as if the band has gone out of their way to be inoffensive to all audiences...which is pretty remarkable given that there are songs that explicitly confront the London bombings of 7/7.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Stereophonics frontman Kelly Jones was still licking some serious wounds due to the breakup of his 12-year relationship with his girlfriend and a fallout with a best mate. The band's 2001 release, Just Enough Education to Perform, briefly touched upon his broken heart; however, Jones' darkest period came later as the band played countless sold-out gigs across Europe throughout late 2001 and 2002. Jones found himself personally and professionally isolated -- emotionally distant from his bandmates and best friends, drummer Stuart Cable and bassist Richard Jones, and creatively exhausted. However the fire that had made this band a major force in the post-grunge English rock scene still burned. Stereophonics' fourth album, You Gotta Go There to Come Back captures Jones' soulful journey, and the band's classic rowdy rock style is as sultry as ever. While their three previous albums exuded cockiness just for the sake of being cocky, You Gotta Go There to Come Back doesn't care to be so snide. Sure, the band's classic swagger remains an integral part of its overall appeal, but moving beyond that silly behavior has somehow affected Jones and his band. Cable became a father during the recording of this album while Richard Jones settled down and got married. Perhaps Jones craves a bit of stability as well? His confidence is on par throughout these 13 blues-rock-tinged songs as his life unfolds through words. "Jealousy" and "You Stole My Money Honey" are the album's more vexed moments. "Climbing the Wall," layered in acoustic guitars and horn and string arrangements, and "Nothing Is Precious at All" continue Stereophonics' psychological sifting with warmth. "Madame Helga" is the punch in the face Jones has been waiting to deliver. Heart-pounding musicianship from the band itself makes this swanky gospel number an album standout and a career staple. It's a song that Stereophonics have been wanting to make for years, and the overall fierce presentation finds the band at its best. Stereophonics are consistent with their craft, and You Gotta Go There to Come Back highlights the band's growing talent as musicians, but the fact is that they've only made good records up to this point. They have yet to make a really great record, but that's not to say Stereophonics don't have what it takes. You Gotta Go There to Come Back is a solid rock effort, and in due time, the band will have its epic.
Words: MacKenzie Wilson
Continuing in the sober vein begun on 2009's Keep Calm and Carry On, Stereophonics manage a nifty trick on 2013's Graffiti on the Train: they sound simultaneously massive and intimate. Arena rock remains their specialty, as they're adhering to the tradition articulated by U2 and refined by Coldplay, two bands whose influence echoes throughout Graffiti on the Train, but Stereophonics never sound as massive as either group. Instead, as led by Kelly Jones, the band seems preoccupied with smaller issues, either matters of the heart or sundry mundane issues of existence. They're at their most distinctive when they bend big music traditions a bit -- the strings are a nice touch to the title track, "Indian Summer" has some propulsion, "Catacomb" dilutes the Manics, and, best of all, "Been Caught Cheating" is an unexpected and successful stab at country-soul -- but Stereophonics seem loath to leave all that they know behind, so Graffiti on the Train remains distinctly earthbound for all its big aspirations.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Keep the Village Alive comes crashing out of the gates with "C'est la Vie," a dead ringer for the Manic Street Preachers at their anthemic best, a new wrinkle to Stereophonics' parade of anthems. Elsewhere on this, their ninth studio album, they try on a few new styles for kicks -- notably, there's a bit of muted Cult to "Sing Little Sister," a hint of neo-disco on "Fight or Flight," a bit of baroque pop on "Sunny" -- but otherwise, the power trio still trades on the hybrids of Coldplay and U2 inspirational urgency and melodramatic introspection that fill out arenas across the U.K. and Europe. If there are no surprises, there are also no stumbles: Kelly Jones and his crew know how to craft big music, knowing that often the atmosphere matters more than melody.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine