After six years with the Boo Radleys, in that time clocking up almost no song writing credits, lead singer Sice (real name Simon Rowbottom) released his first and only solo album, First Fruits, under his solo moniker, Eggman.
Recorded and mixed in December 1995 and January 1996, First Fruits was a chance for Sice to indulge himself after the success of the Boo's last album, 'Wake Up!'. Given his role in the band up to that time, it's surprising to find that he not only wrote all the songs on First Fruits, but also co-produced alongside Matt Sime, and even wrote the string arrangement for one of the tracks, 'Out of my window'. That he gets a production credit makes some sense, as the Boo Radleys had done their own studio production from the beginning (although it may have dispelled a few myths about the mercurial status of Martin Carr in the group), but to find Sice arranging strings was something of a shock.
Although First Fruits was a solo project, the Boo stamp is firmly on most tracks, with appearances from Martin Carr, Rob Cieka, and Tim Brown. Creation stable-mate Ed Ball (who had his own fifteen minutes in 1997 with the release of 'Catholic guilt') also features, playing bass on six tracks.
Reviews were mixed, and the inevitable comparisons with The Boo Radleys and references to Martin Carr's shadow were top of the critics' check-lists. Although more consistent than much of the Boo Radleys own output, First Fruits does play it much safer than the band ever did (with the arguable exception of Wake Up!'s chart-fodder). As a result, it never matches the majestic sweep of a 'Lazarus', 'Does this hurt?', or 'High as monkeys'.
Clocking in at a shade under 33 minutes, it's a concise example of unfussy writing, psychedelia, and pure melodic pop, with Sice's control over events allowing him to push the vocal further forward in the mix, eschewing some of the Boo Radleys' production tricks that often hid his sometimes gentle (sometimes just plain weak, it has to be said) vocals.
Opening track 'Purple patches' starts off like Sugar's 'Walking away' and finishes like an early, well dammit!, an early Boo Radleys track if you must - although I was hoping to make it further into the album before mentioning them - with its opening church organ waves giving way to guitar reverb waves, courtesy of Carr. It leads into 'Tomas', a chamber pop arrangement, nice enough in its whimsical way. 'That's that then (for now)' sees Sice become the 453rd artist to re-write Dear Prudence, while the album's only single, 'Not bad enough' - which was backed with the excellent 'Identikit', a great lost song - and the confusingly upbeat but lyrically bitter 'The funeral song' complete the first half of the album.
The second half is a mixed bag, beginning with the straightforward guitar pop of 'Replace all your lies with truth'. It's followed by 'Out of my window', not the album's high point, and more of a stopgap while you wait to savour the delicate piano breaks of 'Look Up', a far lighter song than the Boo Radleys would ever put out. Ed Ball gets out his harpsichord for 'I'll watch your back', and to conclude, Sice harmonises with himself against an arpeggio backdrop on 'First Fruits Fall'.
After the quiet release of this, his only work, Sice went back to the studio with the Boo Radleys, handing the creative reins back to Martin Carr for the recording of 'C'Mon kids'.
If I can cast aside my love for the Rads for a moment, I have to admit that I only really bought this album as a completist, and before yesterday, I hadn't listened to it for some years. But I'm glad I did. There's a kind of summer in the air behind the album, at times evoking the spirits of the 60s and 70s troubadours, at others the innocent simplicity of the late 80s and early 90s shoe-gazing and indie scene. Average, rather than mediocre.