when snowball was released in 1989, the cover art itself made a statement. released in a plain mauve cover, on 10" vinyl, with the song titles simply printed on the back, the debut album from london's the field mice showed their post-punk roots with artwork so basic as to be boldly provocative.

bobby wratten's effete indie-pop outfit had won legions of bookish admirers when, on the band's first-ever seven-inch, he sung "i'm not brave/i'm not special/i'm not any of those things."
by the end of '89, they'd issued three soon-to-be-classic singles on the almost-already-iconic sarah records imprint, and topping it off with snowball put the field mice on the frontlines of the underground movement that would, eventually, become regarded as twee.

wratten's boy-alone-in-his-bedsit lyrics —delivered in a callow, half-spoken voice that never reaches 'raised,' let alone approaches screaming— spoke directly to an audience of dissatisfied, lonely youths playing records in their bedroom. to be a field mice fan was to hand yourself over to fey, jangly, drum-machine backed music that dealt solely with relationship dramas; was to wear your heart on your sleeve as proudly as wratten did on his. in short, it was to be the kind of person wholly comfortable with a monochromatic mauve color scheme.

though following in morrissey's footsteps, wratten eschewed lyrical flourish, keeping things impossibly simple. "i do not mean one word of what i say/i don't hate you/i love you," he sings on snowball opener "let's kiss and make up," six minutes of mournful, electro-tinged balladeering later covered by saint etienne. two songs on, wratten offers "this is it, isn't it?/i don't love you" on "the end of the affair," showing he can tell it like it is whether the news be good or bad.

the flip-side of reaching surety in one's own feelings is the unpredictability of reading other people. "when you say that you no longer love me/when you say that you're going to walk out on me/you're kidding, aren't you?" wratten asks, suspending a state of ignorant disbelief over 150 seconds of pop exuberance on the suitably-titled "you're kidding, aren't you?"

snowball is notable in that, from its original eight songs, very few are upbeat (the later cd reissue, which doubles its length by adding the contents of the first three singles, features many more). where outfits that'd preceded them in the twee-pop underground —like the shop assistants or talulah gosh— bashed out songs at a hectic, perilous clip, the field mice played things even more sombre. even when they were building on electronic 'dance' beats.

this infuses early field mice records with an intense sense of sadness; snowball an lp seemingly purpose built for rainy days and sundays. it's a study of the beauty of melancholy, one that, 20 years on, shouldn't just be consigned to the twee ghetto.


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