Things Can Only Get Better as D:Ream reissue album

Peter Cunnah was the tartan-suited frontman, Al Mackenzie the DJ; club buddies who became pop stars and yes 90s dance duo D:REAM wrote that epoch-defining hit… But there is a lot more than just Things Can Only Get Better in their story – we’re talking a brilliant platinum-selling debut LP, drug epiphanies, cocaine addiction, a falling out over whether or not to support Take That and eventually reconciliation…

How did the pair of you first meet?

Al: I used to run a night at the Brain Club in Soho. We met via my ex-wife. Pete used to go down there and one night she said to him, ‘Look, Al’s doing music, you’re struggling with something, why don’t you have a chat with him?’ I hadn’t been in a studio before where it was in a bedroom. Was there a bed in there?

Peter: No, I kind of sacrificed the bed so that I could sleep on the floor and have all my synths around the wall.

Peter, back then the story was that you’d had this epiphany in a club…

I did – I was being led astray, quite willingly by various people. I was with this girl at the time. One night she said, ‘My friend is running this club in the Elephant’. I heard all this music and she gave me half a pill and I just went off my head. It was a moment where I felt so connected to the universe and the music – and ‘cause I’m a synesthesiac I could see the colour of the sounds. I was blown away by the whole thing. That was my road to Damascas moment.

To what extent were early D:Ream tracks inspired by that experience? U R The Best Thing sounds like a hymn to ecstasy.

Peter: Quite possibly it was. It could be about a drug or about a person – it doesn’t matter. It just has that feeling, that euphoria you get when you’ve been searching for something and then all of a sudden you find it. Things Can Only Get Better is: ‘I’ve found the scene, I’ve found the people, I’ve found Alan’. That line: “You sort the wood from the trees/ You bring in the light”, that’s specifically about Alan bringing his vibe to the table. It’s about that epiphany moment.

Al, is it true you left because you didn’t want to tour with Take That?

I just got sick of the whole machine. I liked making the music but we weren’t making any. Once you get into the whole promo round you’re not doing anything and for me that wasn’t any fun.

Things Can Only Get Better was reissued and reached No.1 in 1994. Why do you think the country was ripe for that message at that time?

Al: This country is always in some impending crisis. So that song works at any time.

How did pop fame effect you, Peter?

In one way it’s a complete joy but the other side is quite traumatic – you’re faced with new and very challenging things pretty much constantly. I ended up with a proper cocaine habit. I was doing coke just to keep going. By ’96 I was out of the limelight, it was just me and my hangers-on and then I was in recovery. I spent four-and-a-half years in AA and NA.

90s dance duo D:REAM – Peter Cunnah and Alan Mackenzie

The second album World sold far less than the first one. What went wrong? 

Peter: The label wanted another album and I’d gone through my best songs. I was writing away but the pressure was on, as it always is, to feed the machine. I thought it wasn’t too shabby at the time, but it wasn’t my best work.

What led you to donate Things… to the Labour campaign in 1997?

Peter: It was Jazz Summers. I was managed by him and he felt that it would be a good idea to show some support for the Labour Party – New Labour, let’s not forget. When they took us to war in Iraq I dropped them like a hot potato. I still get people claiming that I’ve got blood on my hands…

Al: I’ve had people say I’m responsible for the Iraq War! But you know what? I hate the Tories; always have. So I think getting them out was a great thing. You don’t know what’s going to happen afterwards. It’s not the song’s fault.

How do you feel about it becoming so emblematic of the 90s? Every time there’s something on TV about the decade there’s that clip of Blair glad-handing people at Downing Street to the strains of the song.

Al: Well, it’s a calling card. It means we can still work and for a song to almost be a symbol of the 90s means you’ve done something right.

D:Ream’s debut album D:REAM ON Vol.1 has been remastered from the original master tapes and will be digitally reissued on 14 June through New State Music. 

Pre-save the D:REAM ON Vol. 1 2024 Reissue here