Saturday, 30 July 2016

The Cult ‎Love Omnibus Edition

The Cult Love Omnibus Edition CD1/CD2/CD3/CD4

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Despite the heady heights of success scaled by The Cult during the arena rock years from 1987 until their break-up in 1995, their second album Love is by far their best. Originally released in 1985, there simply isn’t a bad song on here, and evergreen rock anthems such as Rain and the iconic She Sells Sanctuary are probably their best known and best loved tracks. Love could arguably be called a transitional album. The band’s first effort, 1984’s Dreamtime, was rooted in the emerging post-punk and goth-rock underground scene. Love represented a quantum leap forward, but their sound had yet to be distilled into the pure hard rock of 1987’s Electric. Ian Astbury’s soaring vocals remained much the same, but Love introduced some Led Zeppelin-sized ambition and sonic scope. Big Neon Glitter and Hollow Man are typical of the album’s outright gothic moments, and the band’s core audience accepted The Cult’s new-found rockist tendencies with good grace – there was still plenty of reassuringly brooding atmosphere to keep them happy. Although the title track and the psychedelia-drenched Phoenix were a heavy hint at things to come, overall Love straddles the rock/goth divide with peerless skill. Black Angel and the exquisite Brother Wolf, Sister Moon show the band to be equally adept at ballads. The sheer variety on display also highlights just how mature their writing was. After all, Astbury and Duffy had yet to hit 25 when Love was released. To the public at large, Love may be all about the big hit singles Rain and She Sells Sanctuary, but write off the rest at your peril. Re-mastered from the original studio analogue tapes, this four-disc box set is a feast for fans. Aside from the original album, there’s a disc of remixes and non-album B sides, a disc of previously unreleased early demos and a disc recorded live in 1985 on the Love tour. Add a 48-page book with unseen contact sheets from the album photo session and a mass of other material assembled by Astbury and Duffy and you have the ultimate version of one of the greatest British rock records of the 80s.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Morrissey ‎Suedehead The Best Of Morrissey

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Morrissey has always favored compilations, releasing such hodgepodges of singles, B-sides, and album tracks as Bona Drag and World of Morrissey, but the 19-track The Best of Morrissey: Suedehead is the first official "hits" collection he has released in his solo career. Spanning his years at EMI -- from 1988's Viva Hate to 1994's Vauxhall and I, with the 1995 single "Sunny" added as a bonus -- Suedehead is an imperfect collection, especially since it's sequenced out of chronological order, but it's pretty great all the same, featuring a basic selection of singles such as "Suedehead," "Everyday Is Like Sunday," "Tomorrow," "Interesting Drug," "Our Frank," "Piccadilly Palare," "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful," "The Last of the Famous International Playboys," "Boxers," and "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get." There's also a handful of rarities, such as the extended version of "Interlude" and his cover of the Jam's "That's Entertainment," but at its core, this disc is a solid collection that may convince skeptics that Morrissey's solo records did indeed have a lot to offer.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Suede ‎Suede Deluxe Edition

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The album emerged into an era when British music had precious little identity. Cowered into trembling submission by grunge, too terrified to fully open the door to acid house, still attempting to reconcile the death of the overblown synth-pop era that had preceded it. And so, their debut album rose from the mist; not so much into daylight but into day-glo, wide-pupil fluorescence with a record drenched in individuality, bound with delicious confusion and crackling with sexual charge. The rest (as described wonderfully by John Harris in his excellent book The Last Party) is history: Blur, Elastica, Oasis, Britpop, overexposure, New Labour, Be Here Now, death. Somewhere in that whirl of celebrity and cocaine, Suede got lost. But time corrects the crossing out. For a debut, especially considering how out-of-place it was at the time of release, Suede - remastered here by the band, including Butler - is a staggeringly confident and forthright statement. It embraces complicated lyrical themes with maturity and genuine pathos, masking the darkness of the concepts with dense imagery and double-meaning without sacrificing any transparent musical premise or thrill. Despite this, it remains a remarkably bleak record at times, especially on the windswept film noir piers of ‘Sleeping Pills’, bedecked in the most beautiful trailing fronds of lead guitar, and the ethereal, trembling ‘She’s Not Dead’. It also contains moments of genuine threat, tension and fear; notably in the perverse promise of ‘So Young’ and the personality crisis of ‘Pantomime Horse’. Studded in between all this are the indie-disco gems: the glam-rock stomp of ‘Metal Mickey’ and the immortal incandescence of ‘Animal Nitrate’, Anderson’s voice almost cleaved in two by the hacking slashes of Butler’s overdriven guitar. Finishing with the heartbreakingly beautiful, perfectly understated conclusion of ‘The Next Life’, the entire record is a complex combination of emotions, thoughts and feelings into one intensely fuelled, yet perfectly coherent statement. It’s hardly surprising that Suede found such a niche among the wandering teenagers of early Nineties Britain: Suede is practically the teenage experience defined in album form. Musically, they were intensely skilled, at a time when the there was a tendency to lean on dull, grunge-lite dirges. Bernard Butler, arguably the most naturally talented musician, was one of a number of quintessentially British lead guitar players to emerge between 1985 and 1994 who eschewed cliché in favour of a no-nonsense, unadorned yet forward-thinking approach to lead guitar playing. Alongside him, the hugely underestimated rhythm section of Simon Gilbert and Matt Osman pin the whole thing down to prevent it falling off its own axis (Osman’s bass playing in particular is a perfect foil to Butler: solid when required, brilliantly melodic when called upon). And then there is Anderson. Never the most natural singer and a polarising voice, but utterly compelling and committed; able to flip from deep growl to searing falsetto with his estuary accent still preserved within his utterances, pleas and exaltations. They never limit themselves and never repeat, striving to outdo themselves at every turn. The reason that their debut succeeds so gloriously is that it somehow manages to breathlessly dash around so many corners of the musical map in under 45 minutes, without ever compromising its quality or clarity of vision. Reissues can be problematic in that too often they effectively attempt to sell the same product with a smattering of inconsequential add-ons. What is thoroughly impressive about the Suede reissue is the considerable lengths that Edsel Records have gone to in drawing together a genuine snapshot of the context of the band at the time of release. The extras here are truly breathtaking in scale, including a full CD of B-Sides from the album, taking in the likes of the fizzing glamour of ‘My Insatiable One’ and the still-beautiful ‘To The Birds’ from the flipside of ‘The Drowners’: as equal quality of anything on the record. A collection of assorted demos also grace the second CD, outlining that Suede had their masterplan in place from the beginning: the embryonic versions are directly comparable to the finished items in composition and structure. Amongst the demos sits a rough-hewn demo of Anderson and Justin Frischmann singing along to ‘Just a Girl’; a sweet folk ditty that will intrigue those aware of the incestuous London Britpop scene, but ultimately sounds like any other bedroom demo, giving little warning of what was to come.This reissue serves to remind those outside of the bubble of just how astonishingly exciting guitar music can be when it throws all caution to the wind and embraces the past and the future in a fierce, passionate bear hug. It hasn’t aged; it still sounds magnificent. With the right moon, the right time and the right place, it still has the potency and power to change your life. And that is the alchemy that the truly great albums retain over the years. What does it take to turn you on?

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The La's ‎Callin' All

The La's Callin' All

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You can generally separate people into two classes: Those who love The La's, and those who've never heard 'em. Okay, that's not really true—but in a fair world it would be. For a band that only made one album, which they wrote off immediately upon release, they've enjoyed a hell of a ride as the poster boys for the age old tale of talented musicians who could't help from shooting themselves in their collective foot. So, twenty years after The La's came out, is it surprising to find a 4-CD box set that comprises all the other versions of songs from their sole album outing that were recorded way back then? It shouldn't be. Callin' All is two discs of A-sides, B-sides, and outtakes, plus two discs of live recordings, including two complete concerts from 1989 and '91, and a detailed book about why Lee Mavers virtually ran his band into the ground trying to find the perfect takes or recordings of a dozen songs that define indie pop in its most pleasurable form. And that is, songs where great melodies are key, simple, thoughtful lyrics are the keyring, and chiming acoustic and electric guitars are the hasp. [Lord, that is the worst analogy I've ever typed!] Surely you've heard "There She Goes," the song on which what little popularity the band's enjoyed is hung. And chances are, if you're reading this review (and not sleeping at the laptop), you've heard the other great songs that make up their lone LP, produced primarily by Steve Lillywhite from what he thought were the best recordings and takes available. Well, long story short, Mavers was never happy with the album, continued recording the same songs (with big league producers like Bob Andrews, John Leckie, Mike Hedges, and more), and eventually drove his bandmates and fanmates nuts. The band splintered (trusty righthand man and bassist John Power went on to play in Cast), the fans moved on, and poor ol' Lee kept on at it.This box set is for those of us who can't get enough of The La's and Mavers' raspy-but-right vocal delivery, even if it means shelling out 40 pounds for umpteen versions of "IOU," "I Can't Sleep," "Doledrum," "Looking Glass," and the other brilliant gems that make up the bulk of his songbook. There aren't a lot of major differences in the different takes, but they are a pleasurable lot (and they're different from the ones that make up disc 2 of the Deluxe Edition of The La's), and even if they're a bit much, there are two great concerts and two radio sessions that show what these guys were like in front of an audience. It's a real nice box,but it's worth the cost and the hunt. Yeah, it may have more versions of "Son of a Gun" than most mortals can stand, but personally I think it's fine if you're in the right line...

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Killing Joke ‎The Singles Collection 1979-2012

Killing Joke The Singles Collection 1979-2012 CD1/CD2/CD3

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Saying that a Killing Joke best of album is going to be good is like saying that the sun is going to rise in the morning. It’s inevitable in both cases. On Spinefarm’s 3-disc The Singles Collection 1979-2012 fans of their earlier post-punk anthems can join together with fans of the heavier band the mid to late ’90’s saw them become. If you’re not a fan already then this is the perfect introduction because in addition to the 2-disc best of portion you also get a bonus disc of unreleased material and it’s definitely on par with some of the bands’ finest work. For me, it’s a toss up between the main two discs. Disc one is all of the undeniable “classics” but disc two is the album that has the songs that made me a fan as “Millennium” was the song that enticed me almost 20 years ago. Can you really compare a song like “War Dance” and “Requiem” to “Pandemonium” or “European Super State”? Of course not. The beauty of the Killing Joke catalog though is that at its core, the same band exists no matter how much they’ve evolved over the years. The perfect example would be taking a listen to the dub/reggae influence on Disc 1’s album opener “Nervous System” (Which is over 30 years old, mind you) and hearing the similarities between a recent song like “Ghost Of Ladbroke Grove” off 2010’s Absolute Dissent. If that’s not a clear testament of Killing Joke sticking to their roots no matter how much they’ve inevitably expanded their sound over the years then I don’t know what is. For disc three’s gems there’s the throbbing “Drug” and “Hollywood Babylon” which came out of an era that saw KJ lean towards a more dance oriented sound and one of my all time favorites, “Zennon”, which came from the 2003 Killing Joke sessions which are the immediate standouts. There’s also the Burton Bell (Fear Factory) led “Our Last Goodbye” and some great Absolute Dissent outtakes (“Feast Of Fools” and “Timewave”)

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Various ‎12"/80s Alternative

Various 12''/80s Alternative CD1/CD2/CD3

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This three-CD set celebrates the alternative side of popular music in the 1980s, covering a trio of broad genres: new wave, goth and indie. The usual suspects are rounded up, and the songs selected are – as the title so accurately conveys – 12" mixes. So the listener gets over seven minutes of Simple Minds’ Up on the Catwalk, almost a full 10 minutes of Propaganda’s P: Machinery, and lengthy versions of Frankie’s Welcome to the Pleasuredome and Talk Talk’s Living in Another World. Iconic offerings rub shoulders with significantly rarer numbers. Kicking off everything is the original 1983 cut of New Order's Blue Monday, still the biggest-selling 12" of all time. Its crystalline beats are as perfectly sharp today as they were almost 30 years ago. Closing the same CD – disc one, with synths dominating proceedings – is the extended remix of Japan’s Nightporter, a hardly-heard version of the Catford-born band’s 1982 hit. Between these points are fantastic tracks from Soft Cell (Memorabilia), The Lotus Eaters (1983’s top 20 single The First Picture of You), and Scritti Politti (another top 20 success, 1984’s Absolute). The goth disc begins with Bauhaus’ Bela Lugosi’s Dead – the influential Northamptonshire gloom-rockers’ debut single of 1979 is showing its age a bit, but remains a nostalgic treasure. Post-punk combo Killing Joke follow with Love Like Blood, which – some 32 years after its original release – is probably still their best-known number. The Sisters of Mercy and Siouxsie and the Banshees are expectedly included, with Lucretia My Reflection and Cities in Dust respectively (the latter being its makers’ debut single release in the US), and the 11-track CD two closes with The Cure’s Hot Hot Hot!!! – something of a flop for such a successful band, having peaked at 45 in the UK, but a highlight of the band’s excellent 1987 LP Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (which reached number six). Disc three collects tracks by Big Country, Julian Cope, Visage, Yello, Echo & The Bunnymen and Prefab Sprout; each number is a classic of a kind, albeit not always representative of the band’s commercial peak. Prefab Sprout’s Faron Young, for example, missed the UK top 40 by some distance, even though it does open their fine album of 1985, Steve McQueen. To these ears it’s the least essential of this release's discs, but personal taste will obviously determine which one enjoys the most spins. And there’s certainly enough variety and quality across these 35 songs to appeal to the widest possible audience.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Various ‎12"/80s New Wave

Various 12''/80s New Wave CD1/CD2/CD3

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The New Wave collection has all the usual suspects from Simple Minds to Blondie, The Human League to Yazoo and with the New Wave banner covering New Romantic, Ska, Reagge and Alternative it’s a real treat to hear all the extended and remixed versions included on the album. Like your typical 80’s club night out certain tracks are just pure dance floor heaven like ‘Planet Earth’ (Night Version) Duran Duran and ‘I Ran’ (Club Mix) A Flock Of Seagulls, and others are of the sit down and bop around classic variety. The New Wave scene produced some great pop and listening over the track list you can’t help but feel a guilty pleasure from all the over the top flamboyance of it all.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The Sugarcubes ‎Life's Too Good

The Sugarcubes Life's Too Good

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It is more difficult to write about The Sugarcubes‘ Life’s Too Good than I had anticipated. Although I know the record well, played it endlessly throughout my mid-teens and still find it to be a really good listen, it is hard to say any more about it than has been said elsewhere.It is a great album, a great first album and a record that stands up very well considering how much has happened musically in the intervening years. It is a big record, it is bouncy, exuberant, fun. Fun hasn’t always felt like something that is quite allowed in indie music and when this Icelandic four piece bounced onto the scene in the late Eighties it was refreshing to be smiled at, gurned at and generally made to feel included in something that was exciting and a just a little bit naughty — like licking the cake spoon, or eating peanut butter straight from the jar. I was fourteen at the time, so perhaps it has to do with the joy of hearing something that wasn’t quite like anything else, at an age when everything new shines ultra-bright and seems incredibly significant. There is something very important about the music you find in your teens, the songs that help you to find out about yourself. The soundtrack to young love, first experimentations and the emergence of self-definition — the poignancy of belonging to a scene, being the weirdest kid at school, listening to the most outlandish music, wearing provocative clothes. Standing out from the crowd was an act of rebellion and The Sugarcubes were the rebellious freaks that I wanted to emulate. Björk Guðmundsdóttir‘s dresses and big boots and shaggy bob and the band’s colour clashing image was an antidote to the drab, somewhat goth-influenced indie scene, their sound an escape from the seriousness of most British and American indie music; playfully defying convention and demanding to be danced to I keep trying to remember when I first heard the first single, “Birthday”. I think it was on Snub TV, though it could also have been on John Peel‘s radio show — both favourites for discovering new music. I do recall vividly how I was immediately drawn to the band’s infectious, buoyant joy coupled with such deliciously weird silliness. The weirdness of The Sugarcubes was important. Not in the “pocket-sized pixie” labels applied to Björk, nor the romanticised Icelandic other-ness of the band. – As Einar Örn Benediktsson put it in one interview in 1987 they were not “Eskimos in disguise”. I was not so awed by their Icelandic-ness as I was by the spell cast by Björk’s voice and by the discordant, hectic rhythms that sunk into my brain slowly and then refused to leave. That tenacity remains and though I had not listened to this record much in the last twenty years, the memory of these melodies and the infectious joy that I felt the first time around come back to me time and again.Life’s Too Good still sounds exciting and exuberant, filled with creepy longing and that infectious silliness by turn. The songs are short, following in the punk traditions they originated from; there is only one song over four minutes long (“Deus”) on the whole thing and whilst it is easy to recall the jarring discordia of “Birthday”‘s happy/crazy warped melancholy, it is tracks such as “Mama” that haunt me still — visceral and demanding and precocious as hell. The Sugarcubes split in 1992 and though Björk continues to innovate and astound with her solo projects, musically and culturally there is something so deeply engaging about the youthful exuberance — the sheer determination — of Life’s Too Good that continues to make it iconic and compelling in ways that only first albums by exciting new voices can. As with many of the recent re-releases of golden-age indie records, there will undoubtedly be a certain cachet attached to owning this pretty green vinyl record and if you loved The Sugarcubes then, or want to grab a piece of history now, then it might indeed make a nice addition. But unlike other re-releases you’ll find no easter-egg bonuses, no extra tracks or long-forgotten gems. Of course you could argue that this album is a gem in its own right, something worth having around to revisit and enjoy long into the future, a piece of magical musical history that remains as exciting today as it did in 1988.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

The Jesus And Mary Chain ‎Psychocandy Reissue

The Jesus & Mary Chain Psychocandy Reissue CD1/CD2

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Brothers Jim and William Reid spent years as teenagers watching telly, walking around the Glasgow suburb of East Kilbride talking about music, planning the perfect band in their heads while not actually doing anything much. They knew what they liked – The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, ’60s girl-band The Shangri-Las – but it wasn’t until their dad got a redundancy pay-off in the early 1980s that they actually decided to do something about it. They bought a portastudio, and by 1983 had actually started recording demos in an attempt to get gigs in Glasgow. No one was interested. Cue fellow Scot Bobby Gillespie, who was in the middle of forming Primal Scream. By chance he heard the band’s first demo tape and was blown away. The men bonded over music and attitude, and crucially, The Jesus and Mary Chain got a London gig thanks to Gillespie knowing Alan McGee (they were school friends). They were duly signed to McGee’s Creation Records and first single Upside Down became a massive success on the indie chart. By the time the band came to record Psychocandy they had been signed to Blanco y Negro (a WEA owned label) and had sacked original drummer Murray Dalglish with Gillespie stepping in to replace him. His limited drumming abilities (“I’m not a fucking drummer”) considered less important than passion and an understanding of the music. Psychocandy brought to the mid-’80s an influential mix of leather-trousered rock (The Stooges), lo-fi attitude (Velvet Underground) and sixties production (Phil Spector). Although renowned for the noise and feedback element of their recordings, the pop sensibility of many of the songs are there for those who care to look. Just Like Honey, The Hardest Walk, Cut Dead are all superb indie-pop and the feedback-free acoustic radio sessions on disc two of this deluxe edition serve to underline the song-writing credentials of the Reid brothers. That said, they could also be pointlessly shouty when they wanted to be. See outtake Jesus Fuck as a good example. This deluxe edition gathers together most of the essential elements of these early years. The first disc includes all the appropriate b-sides, while the CD 2 contains a mixture of unreleased radio sessions, demos and outtakes. A couple of these demos appeared on the 2008 box set The Power of Negative Thinking but most are previously unreleased. Given that these are the original portastudios demos they are predictably rough with drum machine backing, but nonetheless historically significant – the demos of Never Understand and Upside Down were what persuaded Alan McGee to give them a gig. McGee’s first independent single with the band (Upside Down) is also included with the Vegetable Man, the Syd Barrett penned b-side.
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