Despite being well into my twenties, by 2001 I had still not yet learned to drive. This meant that when I decided sometime in March that it would be a good idea to buy a new hi-fi from somewhere along Tottenham Court Road, it would need to be one I could comfortably get into a taxi with, then a train, and then another taxi before getting home for that all-important unboxing ceremony.
It also meant relying on my housemate for a lift to work. Now, as it happened, my housemate and I did not have a lot in common musically speaking. He was more Slinky, I was more Club X. Badly lacking common ground, and often too miserable to contemplate early morning small-talk, we’d sit with the radio providing a source of background distraction. For six months, on and off, he’d drive and I’d demist and check for traffic through any areas of windscreen that offered a tantalising view of the road ahead if it was still winter, or sit in silent anticipation of the joy of the day ahead when the weather was more clement. After six months our landlord said he was selling up, kicked us out, then changed his mind and let the property to someone else. I wouldn’t have minded so much if he hadn’t tried to also charge us for the gardening that he’d sent his wife over to do, under discreet cover.
In all this time, through all these journeys to work, to home, back to work again, into town… I can only remember two songs that played on the radio. There must have been others - Sara Cox can’t have talked us in to the mothership every morning, and I’m fairly certain we weren’t listening to the Today programme - but only two seemed to prompt any combined response. One was Love What You Do by The Divine Comedy; the other was, um, It Wasn’t Me by Shaggy.
Curiously, both were released on the same day. Could it be that we never actually spoke to each other except on this one occasion when Neil Hannon followed Shaggy? Did we sing like idiots to Shaggy before a great divide opened up between us when the man behind the wheel expressed his dislike of Love What You Do and then return to bored silence?
It Wasn’t Me went straight in at number one, displacing Atomic Kitten in the process, while Love What You Do perched down at #26, looking up in jealousy at the likes of Limp Bizkit. It might have seemed a disappointing position for the lead single to the appropriately titled Regeneration but then Bad Ambassador and Perfect Lovesong trumped it, only managing #34 and #42 respectively. As regenerations go, it felt less David Tennant, more Sylvester McCoy.
Except really it was Christopher Eccleston. Regeneration was The Divine Comedy jettisoning The Brunel Ensemble, and casting aside the baroque, ornate pop plus strings that had threatened to tip into self-parody on Fin de Siecle. It was a new, lean, mean Neil Hannon. He wore Jeans and a jacket and that sort of thing. His hair was a bit long in some of the press shots. There were some almost loud guitars at times, even if they were still deployed in the pursuit of melody. Doubtless there was a decent budget thrown at it, too. A CD called Re:Regeneration was given away free with The Independent on Sunday newspaper, featuring versions of songs from the album together with a few earlier songs that people might know a bit.
The week Love What You Do was released, Dido was number one in the album charts with No Angel, which went on to become the year’s biggest selling album, at just under 2 million sales. The biggest selling single of the year? That would be It Wasn’t Me, by Shaggy.
Love What You Do sounded bloody good on my new hi-fi, though.