Gene will forever be haunted by comparisons to the Smiths, especially since lead singer Martin Rossiter favors the same strangled croon and tortured loneliness of Morrissey. Nevertheless, under the direction of guitarist Steve Mason, Gene developed a tougher sound than the Smiths, drawing not only from the fey tradition of British indie-pop, but also from the three-chord raunch of the Faces, the working-class punk of the Jam and the soulful stomp of Motown. Most critic s didn't hear such subtle differences, and opinions on the group's worth were fiercely divided upon the release of the group's first single in 1994, with the band earning as many detractors as supporters. Amidst such divided reaction, Gene developed a devoted following which helped them become one of the leading artists of the Britpop second tier in 1995, even if the band had trouble breaking into the States.
The roots of Gene lay in a band called Spin, which featured guitarist Steve Mason and drummer Matt James. Spin disbanded after their career was sidetracked by their bassist's injury in a car crash, yet Mason and James continued playing together, recruiting bassist Kevin Miles through a mutual friend. The trio eventually met Welsh native Martin Rossiter, and the quartet formed Gene in 1993. Over the course of the next few months, the band wrote a batch of songs and had performed a number of concerts by the end of the year. A pair of music journalists, Keith Cameron and Roy Wilkinson, formed the Costermonger label in order to release Gene's debut single, "For the Dead," in April 1994. Nearly every copy of the limited-edition release sold out within the first week, and Gene soon became favorites of the British music weeklies. That July, "Be My Light, Be My Guide" became a number one hit on the indie charts, and Gene had emerged as one of the leading new bands of the burgeoning Britpop movement. Major-label interest beckoned, and the group signed with Polydor, who subsidized Costermonger in the U.K. An acclaimed third single, "Sleep Well Tonight," followed in September, and in January of 1995, Gene was named Best New Act at NME's Brat Awards.
Until the release of the group's debut album, Olympian, in the spring of 1995, Gene had continued to build momentum, partially because Martin Rossiter had adopted Morrissey's technique of giving articulate, outrageous and witty interviews. Olympian, however, was greeted with mixed reviews, and although the group had a sizable fan base -- the album debuted in the Top Ten -- they were soon overshadowed by the legions of groups that popped up in the wake of Blur and Oasis' success. Even so, "Haunted by You" and "Olympian" both became Top 20 hits. Early in 1996, To See the Lights, a collection of B-sides and BBC sessions, was released in England. For the remainder of the year, Gene was quiet, preparing their second album, Drawn to the Deep End. "Fighting Fit" was released as a teaser in the fall and became a Top Ten hit, but Drawn to the Deep End didn't follow through on its success. Although it debuted in the Top Ten upon its release in early 1997, it was greeted with decidedly mixed reviews and quickly fell down the charts, although the group's core audience remained loyal. By the new millennium, the band was without a label. They founded Contra and issued the live set Rising for Sunset: Live at the Troubadour in 2000. The album went almost unnoticed among the indie scene, however a true comeback loomed ahead. In mid-summer 2002, Gene emerged with Libertine, their strongest material since Olympian. A late summer/early fall trek across America coincided with the release.
~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine