Saturday, 3 December 2016

Underworld ‎Dubnobasswithmyheadman Super Deluxe Edition

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The five-disc, six-and-a-quarter-hour long edition of Underworld’s 1994 debut (well, debut in the form that most people would recognize as Underworld, with Rick Smith and Karl Hyde teaming up with Darren Emerson in the wake of Underworld mk I’s collapse) is the kind of thing you’d never recommend to someone interested in checking out the band for the first time. Lengthier than some bands’ entire discographies, replete with alternate versions and collector detritus (really amazing collector detritus, but still), it is an embarrassment of riches for fans but a very heavy meal for the neophyte. The album itself, justly a classic, sounds great here, but the much more digestible two-disc Deluxe Edition is an easier place to start (and boasts the same remaster, which to the band’s credit sounds fresher and sharper but not painfully louder nor brickwalled into oblivion). That version’s second disc compiles some of the early and important singles and the previously unreleased songs from the bigger version, a smart approach if not actually one that culls the very cream from the (much) longer edition, although it does have the advantage of not taking a quarter of your day to listen to. Or is that an advantage? If nothing else, getting and devoting oneself to this kind of actually-deluxe edition allows the kind of deep dive that many of us seem to find hard to manage or justify in 2014. Editions like this one often work best when you come to them already intimately familiar with the original work, allowing material like the live rehearsal recorded in the band’s home studio (that would be disc 5) to function both as a pleasure in its own right (that 18-minute “Spoonman”!) and a new way of approaching and understanding work you’ve loved for years. The bonus material here has been IntellIgently organized and, with one or two minor exceptions, very intelligently chosen (and given taste, we probably all disagree which of the 41 tracks here are those exceptions). If this isn’t everything of worth Underworld had in the vaults from this era, it certainly feels like it sometimes, a mark of how satisfying (and yes, exhaustive) it is. Dubnobasswithmyheadman has at this point been canonized and picked-over enough that there’s little enough to add, but in the context of all this other material it’s kind of amazing all over again that Hyde, Smith, and Emerson came up with such a fully-formed sound and emotional tone from all these disparate directions they might have taken. While the supplementary material is great, there’s only maybe one example of a track so good you might wish it had made the cut instead (that would be the immortal “Rez”, especially ever since their live album indelibly connected it and “Cowgirl”). Interestingly enough, most of the less dancefloor-friendly songs here are found on the original LP, like the lithely downtempo “River of Bass” and the plaintive, sparse “Tongue”. On the album they serve to give the likes of the dark, cathartic “Dirty Epic” and the propulsive, buzzing “Spoonman” greater impact through contrast, but as the other four discs here prove, Underworld could have easily made an album that would have been much more conventionally club focused (and it would have also been astounding, but perhaps a little less distinctive). Those four discs cover, in order, non-album singles and b-sides (including two songs they released under the Lemon Interrupt name), remixes, previously unreleased material (mostly rough versions, with some worthwhile new songs) and the aforementioned rehearsal tapes. While any fan who owns a significant number of Underworld releases will find some duplication, the band appear to have generally tried to avoid that common pitfall (“Bigmouth” and “Big Meat Show”, both of which appeared on the recent 1992-2012 The Anthology, only appear here on the rehearsal tape for example) while still being definitive. There are definitely some oddities, especially for fans that weren’t around when some of this material was originally released (“Dirtyguitar”, for example, contains elements of both “Dirty Epic” and “Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You”, not two songs you’d necessarily think to combine), and some revelations even for longtime fans: the sublime outro to “Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You” appears to have been composed by adding the guitar riff from the fine, previously unreleased “Can You Feel Me?” to what’s tagged as the “After Sky” version of the former here, and more than once you can hear Karl Hyde trying out different lyrical and vocal techniques on the way to the assured, stream of consciousness sloganeering he fully pioneered on the original album, an approach that’s still one of the most striking things about Underworld’s work. Whether due to the material available or preference, “Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You” and “Dark & Long” get most of the spotlight here, with both songs showing up in six and seven different versions, respectively, across the five discs (although four songs from the original release only turn up on the first disc here). Normally just over two hours worth of those two songs might run the risk of tediousness, but the range from (for example) the pulsing, subdued album version of “Dark & Long”, the featured-in-Trainspotting synth washes of “Dark & Long (Dark Train)”, and the 20-minute, beatific “Dark & Long (Thing in a Book Mix)” are transformed enough that including them all doesn’t feel redundant or lazy. Of course, this is a band who once released a 65-minute US single half composed of versions of the same song that plays better than a lot of contemporary electronic albums. The songs and versions included here are of such uniformly high quality that it’s a bit of a shame that they aren’t spread out a little more evenly, admittedly; the two alternate versions of “Cowgirl” that are here, for example, are among the best bonus material here. The “Irish Pub in Kyoto” mix is an instrumental take that occasionally sounds like a factory in a videogame (in the best possible way), while the previously unreleased demo (tagged, as everything on disc 4 is, with information that presumably means more to them than us, in this case “(Alt Cowgirl C69 Mix From A1564)”) sees a subdued Hyde working through a set of lyrics about a cowgirl “under a branded sky” that did not make the album version at all. It’s further in that Hyde appears to almost stumble on a few lines that would wind up either repeated or just looped in the released version (“call me I feel like flying into” appears here only as part of a longer monologue, for example) over tumbling drums that have a looser feel than the seething LP version. The result is something that is almost totally unlike “Cowgirl” despite being unmistakably the same song; in the old days they could have thrown it on the b-side as a “part two” and it would have been a cult favourite. At the risk of turning in a review as long as the BOX set, there isn’t room to dig through all of this wonderful material to describe how many similar cases there are in this edition of Dubnobasswithmyheadman. But over and over again these discs subtly unlock new angles on the original, the way the instrumental “Dirty Ambi Piano” version of “Dirty Epic” makes those foghorn synths in the back almost holy. Six hours and fifteen minutes is a lot of time to spend contemplating an album once, but this set argues in the strongest possible terms that Underworld Mk II’s first effort is well worth it; 

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Fall ‎458489 B Sides

The Fall 458498 B Sides

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The title cleverly encapsulates the contents - the Fall's B-sides (45s) from 1984 to 1989. The Fall were a first-rate singles band, and the flip sides were often their equals. There is the odd dud here -- there are a thousand Fall songs to hear and "Clear Off" and "Mark'll Sink Us" wouldn't be high on ones list of priorities. But there are also many genuinely great tracks: "Petty Thief Lout," "Australians in Europe," "No Bulbs." It should be noted that in the Fall's turbulent history, their six-year spell at Beggars Banquet was their most productive and artistically rewarding. There are actually 31 tracks on view here, including a handful of remixes -- rich pickings (the album was never originally issued outside of Europe).

Saturday, 26 November 2016

The Fall ‎458489 A Sides

The Fall 458489 A Sides

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Bypassing their edgy, early singles and concentrating on their artier, more eclectic work of the mid- and late '80s, 458489 A-Sides encapsulates nearly all of the Fall's many attributes. All of the singles on A-Sides are culled from the era when Brix Smith was in the band, arguably the band's most cohesive and rewarding years. Drawing from their strongest albums -- The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall, This Nation's Saving Grace, Bend Sinister, The Frenz Experiment -- A-Sides offers an excellent introduction to the Fall. It is both a useful retrospective and a kind of road map, pointing out the differences between albums. For neophytes and the uninitiated, there is no better sampler, and for longtime fans, the collection reiterates what a fine singles band the Fall were in their heyday

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

808 State ‎Ex:El Deluxe Edition

808 StateEx:El Deluxe Edition

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Capturing 808 State at their absolute best, none of their subsequent albums quite matched Ex:El's perfect blend of art, mass appeal, and zeitgeist (one of the most common vocal samples in techno, Willy Wonka's "We are the music makers," made its first major appearance here). A major change here from past releases is the increasing variety and power of the State's percussion: beats are heavier and more staggered, embracing earlier flirtations with hip-hop and industrial music with even greater success, as heard on heavy duty groovers like "Leo, Leo." A sign of how influential Ex:El ended up being can be seen in how one of the commonest clichés of U.K. techno albums -- the guest appearance of a noted indie/alternative rocker on a track or two -- got its start from the cameo vocals here. Fellow Mancunian dance pioneer Bernard Sumner of New Order sings one of his patented gentle ruminations over "Spanish Heart," a nice piano-led number with a solid backbeat. Meanwhile, even more notably, the Sugarcubes' Björk lends her swooping singing to the lower-key but still active "Qmart" and the dramatic, flamenco-tinged "Ooops," establishing a partnership with the State's Graham Massey that would result in his working on many of her solo projects. Add to all this two of the best techno singles from the early '90s -- "In Yer Face," a subtly politicized anti-American slammer, and the almighty "Cubik" (in America replaced by an astonishing remix of the same song, the original having appeared on UK Version) -- and Ex:El stands out all the more strongly. A true masterpiece.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Various ‎Back To The Old Skool Indie Dance Classics

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Ministry of Sound's Back to the Old Skool Indie Dance Classics collects club hits from the '80s and '90s. The three-disc set leans heavily toward acid house and U.K. artists, especially those from the Madchester scene, such as Happy Mondays, New Order, and the Stone Roses. While a few of the 60 tracks don't quite fit the "Dance Classics" bill (the La's' alt-pop ballad "There She Goes" would likely clear a floor), songs like the Shamen's "Move Any Mountain," M/A/R/R/S' "Pump Up the Volume," and the Stereo MC's' "Connected" are surefire jams to get a retro dance party started right.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Various ‎Britpop At The BBC

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Britpop at the BBC is a slightly misleading title for this three-disc collection. While the 44 tracks on the first two discs are compiled by Radio One's Evening Session DJs Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley, they are not actually BBC recordings, but the artists' original studio recordings. Hardcore Brit-pop fans will likely already own most of these classic tracks from Suede, Cast, Ocean Colour Scene, and many more, though it's a fine compilation in its own right. However, the third disc is actually devoted to the BBC's Evening Session performances and features some very nice unreleased cuts by Pulp, the Auteurs, Blur, Supergrass, and other great bands of the era And Here's The Documentary Live Forever The Rise And Fall Of Brirpop

Saturday, 12 November 2016

The Housemartins ‎London 0 Hull 4 Deluxe Edition

The Housemartins London 0 Hull 4

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Has there ever been a band where the members have gone on to such disparate occupations? Paul Heaton we know about - he invented mum rock with the Beautiful South, sold nine billion copies of 'Carry On Up The Charts' and remains one of pop's most doggedly loyal footy freaks. Bassist Quentin 'Norman' Cook decided it would be a laugh to wear loud Hawaiian shirts and marry Zoe Ball while at the same time reinventing rave to no small degree of success. Jangly guitar maestro Stan Cullimore went on to bonk and bash Ulrika Jonson, play some football and still managed to find some time to indulge in a spot of dogging. Only joking. That was Stan Collymore. Stan Cullimore opened a vegetarian delicatessen before launching another more successful career as a children's author and script writer for the BBC. Meanwhile, original drummer Hugh Whittaker decided to take up amateur surgery and rearranged somebody's features with an axe before being held at Her Majesty's pleasure. 'London 0 Hull 4' was originally released in October 1986 on the influential Go-Discs label during a stark period for British music, where such esteemed greats as Nick Berry, Five Star and Cutting Crew roamed the dressing rooms of Top Of The Pops on a weekly basis. The Smiths were gone, the C86 bands were still finding their feet, Madchester was still a twinkle in Tony Wilson's eye and Ian Brown and John Squire were still a) talking to each other and b) goths. This deluxe edition of the Housemartins' debut is a fabulous reminder of what a fine and necessary group they were. "Happy Hour" remains a beguiling combination of group harmony, Stan's catchy, shimmering guitar and a scathing lyric that decries the 80's preoccupation with success and wealth. Unbelievably, it got to number three in the charts. "Get Up Off Our Knees" continues in a similar vein with a youthful exuberance and energy, while the more melancholy "Flag Day" (another single) is a plea for real heroes rather than simply do-gooders with its intriguing refrain: "It's a waste of time if you know what they mean /Try shaking a box in front of the Queen / 'Cause her purse is fat and bursting at the seams" No punches being pulled here. There isn't really a duff track on the album. One tiny complaint that may be levelled is that the while the material is universally fabulous, the light-as-a-feather production by John Williams (no, not that one) is a little same-y, although the gospel stylings of 'Lean On Me' are a nice contrast to the jangle pop that precede it. The second disc is where the unreleased treasures are hidden, with eight previously unheard tracks and the obligitary collection of b-sides. Heaton's vocals are a revelation here as he growls, moans and falsettos like a man possessed. In particular, 'I'll Be Your Shelter' is a lost classic, a gospel hymn with a joyous feel to it akin to the 'Stones 'Shine a Light'. Even the choir at the end doesn't grate - seriously impressive stuff. Superb acapella versions of Curtis Mayfield's 'People Get Ready' and gospel standard 'Joy Joy Joy' show just what a versatile and intriguing band The Housemartins were. Less impressive is 'Rap Around the Clock' which is some kind of throwaway bonkers hip hop mash up - the birth of the Fat Boy perhaps? The Peel Sessions and Janice Long BBC Sessions are solid, workmanlike versions of album material and sound almost identical to the studio versions, the sign of a really tight band establishing their sound and setting out their stall in grand fashion.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Prefab Sprout ‎Jordan The Comeback

Prefab Sprout Jordan The Comeback

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Jordan: The Comeback is Prefab Sprout's largely successful attempt to embrace the breadth of popular music; wisely reuniting with producer Thomas Dolby, Paddy McAloon freely indulges his myriad ambitions and obsessions to weave a dense, finely textured tapestry closer in spirit and construction to a lavish Broadway musical than to the conventional rock concept LP. Over the course of no less than 19 tracks, McAloon chases his twin preoccupations of religion and celebrity, creating a loose thematic canvas perfect for his expanding musical palette; quickly dispensing with common pop idioms, the album moves from tracks like the samba-styled "Carnival 2000" to the self-explanatory "Jesse James Symphony" and its companion piece "Jesse James Bolero" with remarkable dexterity. Dolby's atmospheric production lends an even greater visual dimension to the songs, which -- with their tightly constructed narratives and occasional spoken-word passages -- seem almost destined to someday reach the stage; indeed, Jordan: The Comeback is like an original cast recording minus the actors, or a rock opera without the silliness and bombast -- a truly inspired work.
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