Saturday, 20 May 2017

Soundgarden ‎Superunknown Super Deluxe Edition



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Superunknown may be easily regarded as Soundgarden’s most commercial album, if only for the fact that it is the band’s most successful, achieving a certification of five times platinum. However, Superunknown is not a sell out record for the band, nor is it devoid of Soundgarden’s signature style or even a relinquishing of said style in favor of the sounds of their brethren in the “Grunge” subgenre of music—a subgenre Soundgarden never actually fit into or exemplified. In fact, while Superunknown may not feature Soundgarden’s best songs, it is arguably the band’s best all around album, with consistently great songs throughout, including those that were packaged as singles to propel Superunknown to super stardom. Part of this is because the songs themselves are fascinatingly complex and cerebral and hardly fit the mold of what most people would consider singles these days, or ever. Most, if not all, of the singles from the album feature dark themes that might cause even Robert Smith of the Cure to suggest that singer-songwriter Chris Cornell try Prozac.“The Day I Tried to Live” and “Fell on Black Days” are two of the album’s biggest hits and deal with depressing failure and crushing defeat, all set to murky song textures that beckon the ear to listen. The album’s mega hit, “Black Hole Sun”, features a surreal dreamscape with lyrics that aren’t quite universally accessible. The remaining two singles, “Spoonman” and “My Wave”, feature unconventional instruments and abnormal instrument tuning. And those were just the singles. Imagine the songs that weren’t chosen for their commercial potential. The 20th Anniversary release could stand as something of a greatest hits compilation in its own right for all of the rarities it contains. The live tracks that dominate the second disc do not merely showcase Superunknown, but also versions of songs from Badmotorfinger and Ultramega OK. Soundgarden have proven their concert chops over and over again, going way back to their 1990 home video (and rare accompanying EP) Louder Than Live. The live tracks here are no exception. The real treasure trove of Superunknown’s re-release however, is found in the vast amount of alternate takes scattered all over discs two through four. When “Fell on Black Days” was released as a single, a video was made, as were videos for the other four singles. However, this was not the band merely lip synching to the album version of the song, but performing it live for producer Brendan O’Brien. That raw and fascinating version is included here, but stands as only one of many examples of alternate takes. Disc two begins with an alternate mix of “The Day I Tried to Live” and continues into the alternate Steve Fisk remix of “Spoonman”. Cut songs and b-sides like “Exit Stonehenge”, “Kyle Petty, Son of Richard” and “Birth Ritual” (which was released on the Singles soundtrack) help to round out the rare side of this soundscape, with oddities like “Jerry Garcia’s Finger” and “Ghostmotorfinger” all pointing toward the fact that this is not your usual “expanded edition” packed with repeats. This is a good thing, of course, because with so many alternate versions, remixes, rehearsals, live recordings and demos, this collection could seem like an exercise in sameness (there are no less than four individual renditions of “Fell on Black Days” and “The Day I Tried to Live” each). Fascinatingly, Superunknown’s 20th anniversary edition never quite falls into this sad trap. The arrangement of the songs on these four discs—plus the Blu-ray, which is a high definition copy of the first disc—is done in such a way as to showcase the band’s talents while separating individual songs from their alternate versions. Further, this arrangement and the professionalism of the band combine to show exactly why there are so many versions of each tune: because Soundgarden is never content to release the song until it is ready. “Black Days III” is a dark and harsh version of its better-known sister song, but sounds like it might have fit somewhere on Screaming Life, the band’s first EP. Conversely, the (original) Steve Fisk remix of “Spoonman” separates itself from the single version by actually including samples from the aforementioned Soundgarden dance song “Fopp”. While it is true that some of the song versions are very similar to their final studio product, such as “Kickstand”, the versions are great to listen to for fans, especially because they don’t appear adjacent to each other on the discs. And then, of course, there are the mess-around tracks like “The Date I Tried to Leave”, which features Cornell’s pained description of a night out with a girl. It doesn’t go well. It is hard to say that the “rehearsal” tracks will be accessible to many more than hardcore Soundgarden fans or musicians who can relate to the start-stop and voiceover style of pushing through a song and trying to get it right, but then again, it’s hard to imagine many outside-of-hardcore fans of the band forking over the €80-plus it costs to buy this collection. Those that have the money and the interest should definitely do so, however. The overall experience is magnificent, even when listened to from start to finish, straight through. Is there room for a sprawling re-release this huge with this many repeated tracks? As Cornell wrote in “Fell on Black Days”, so appropriately, “Don’t you lock up something that you wanted to see fly.” The Superunknown 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition is worth every second of its very long run time.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Teenage Fanclub ‎Four Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty-Six Seconds A Short Cut To Teenage Fanclub



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For one brief, shining moment in late 1991 and early 1992, Teenage Fanclub looked unstoppable. The Scottish band’s second album, Bandwagonesque—a flawless combination of alternative rock feedback and gorgeous, wistful melodies—came out to ecstatic reviews, the album was getting airplay on college radio in North America, and in a wonderfully bold move, Spin magazine named the album their 1991 album of the year, edging out Nirvana’s Nevermind. But then grunge broke, and everyone forgot about this unassuming band and their great little album. It was all Nirvana all the time, as American audiences chose Nirvana’s brilliant, slickly-produced teen rebellion over Teenage Fanclub’s equally brilliant, slickly-produced pop rock. Even Spin backpedaled, embarrassing itself by openly questioning their decision to go with Bandwagonesque instead of the much more popular Nevermind. Now, twelve years later, tracks from Nevermind are played to death on classic rock radio, to the point where it would be nice to go a day without hearing the opening chords to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and Teenage Fanclub have faded from the mainstream, maintaining a small but loyal fanbase on this continent. However, Bandwagonesque has aged gracefully over the years, and it still sounds as fresh as it did when we all first bought it way back when. There are many people who have not bought a Teenage Fanclub album since 1992, and the band’s new career retrospective Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty-Six Seconds: A Short Cut to Teenage Fanclub is the perfect place for people to start catching up. Spanning six albums over thirteen years, as far as guitar pop compilations go, this is as good as it gets, as you see the band metamorphose from the dissonant feedback-laced sounds of Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth, to Neil Young-style rock, to a straight-up Big Star imitation, to a lovely latter-day sound, reminiscent of the Byrds and Badfinger. With three highly talented singer-songwriters (guitarists Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley, as well as bassist Gerard Love), the band has amassed a wealth of material that would qualify for such a compilation, and with this CD, they do their best to please their fans, cramming in 21 songs, clocking in at nearly 80 minutes Their 1990 debut album, A Catholic Education, is given only a passing nod with the inclusion of “Everything Flows”, with its muddy melody, buried under loud, raw, Neil Young-meets-My Bloody Valentine guitar riffs. Bandwagonesque boasts three selections on this CD, though several more cuts could have easily been included. The most essential songs from that album are here, though, in the form of “What You Do to Me”, Love’s wonderful single “Star Sign”, and most importantly, the classic “The Concept”, arguably their greatest song ever. Opening with a blast of feedback that sounds just as slick and contrived as anything on Nevermind, the mellifluous chords that follow shock the listener, Blake’s opening lines showing this song is more than just angry, noisy rock, as he sings tenderly about a girl with questionable taste in music: “She wears denim wherever she goes / Says she’s gone to get some records by the Status Quo”. One of the most beautiful rock songs to come out of the Nineties, it’s five and a half minutes of pure bliss, comprised of a three-minute melody that rivals the pop genius of Big Star’s “September Girls”, and a stunning, two-minute coda that boasts some of the most heartbreaking harmonies you’ll ever hear. Its epic combination of desperate, raw emotion (“I didn’t want to hurt you”) and ethereal beauty makes this a kind of college rock version of “Layla”, and it still makes your spine tingle today. 1993’s Thirteen (the title an obvious tribute to Big Star) received a less than enthusiastic response from critics and fans, and indeed was a more inconsistent album, and two of its better songs are included: “Hang On”, which goes back to the rumbling guitars of their debut album, and the terrific powerpop of “Radio”. Their 1995 album Grand Prix, though practically ignored by the public, was a fine return to form, and is regarded by many as being their best album. It’s obvious the band thinks so, too, as five of its tracks are on this compilation. Blake’s pretty “Mellow Doubt” hints at the more acoustic slant the band would take in the future, while McGinley’s “About You” and Love’s brilliant “Sparky’s Dream” both have incredible, catchy Byrds-like harmony vocals. Meanwhile, both “Don’t Look Back” and the aptly-titled “Neil Jung” utilize some great, Crazy Horse style guitar work. The four songs from 1997’s criminally underrated Songs From Northern Britain will be real revelations to those who have yet to hear that album. Gone are the loud guitars, as pure pop songcraft becomes the band’s sole focus. The lilting “Ain’t That Enough” has a wonderful Crosby Stills and Nash vibe, “Your Love is the Place Where I Come From” and “I Don’t Want Control of You” sound like Gram Parsons outtakes from the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, while “Planets” sticks to the reliable Big Star formula. The Howdy! album from 2000 is one of the weakest in the band’s career, but songs like “Dumb Dumb Dumb” and “I Need Direction” show that the album had its share of sublime moments. As is always the case with a best-of compilation, no one tracklisting will ever please all fans, and Teenage Fanclub devotees will undoubtedly have something to grumble about: three new tracks are included, and the omission of their great 1990 song “God Knows it’s True”, or overlooked Bandwagonesque gems like “Alcoholiday” and “December” in favor of the new material will likely raise a few eyebrows, but one new track truly deserves to be there. Norman Blake’s “Did I Say” is shockingly good, two and a half wondrous minutes of the best Badfinger imitation that you’ll ever hear, proof that the band still has what has made them great for so long. This album might stop just shy of perfect, but it’s still essential listening, perfect for those who are new to the band, or for those who have just forgotten about them recently. It’s 4,766 seconds of musical brilliance.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Bjork Debut Japan


Bjork Debut

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“Rock and Roll is so passé, so yesterday. Pop music is more important than art”, said Bjork on the release of “Debut” in 1993. Undoubtedly her view was provocative, but for all the quirky, cute innocence she outwardly portrayed there was, and still is a knowing determination to make music that has an expressive purpose that binds both experimentalism and popular musical culture seamlessly. She would insist that “Debut” was merely a stepping stone to greater things, an opportunity to develop her skills as a solo artist and establish a style and content distinctly different to that of The Sugarcubes. Her modest views belie the value of this collection, and for many fans this remains her greatest achievement, showcasing an unerring ability to successfully marry a vast array of styles including pop, dance, electronic, house, jazz and trip-hop. The glue that holds such ambitious intentions is Bjork’s skilful song writing, mainly themed around a joyous celebration of love, and of course her unique vocal style which swoops effortlessly through octaves somewhere between a screaming banshee, a distant melodious mantra from an uncharted heaven and a young child, fresh and untainted by the ills of this world. “Debut” owes much to the cast list of contributors, all cleverly selected by Bjork. Soul II Soul’s Nellee Hooper brings the polished dance rhythms and co writing credits for five of the songs. Veteran jazz musician Corky Hale adds a beautifully understated Harp accompaniment to the Van Heusen/Burke penned classic, Like Someone In Love. The gentle bossa nova rhythms of “Aeroplane” and the starkly mysterious “Anchor Song” are both enlivened by jazz saxophonist Oliver Lake. The album would host a staggering four hit singles (five if one includes the tagged on David Arnold producedPlay Dead), helped in no small part by some of the most innovative promotional videos ever seen. Of the singles,Human Behaviour stands out as one of Bjork’s most memorable recordings. The slowed down four to the floor house rhythm with bass drums beating out a jungle call overlaid with a vocal track that dynamically displays the singer’s range as she takes the perspective of an animal studying the human emotion.Big Time Sensuality andViolently Happy are far more than disposable dance numbers, as the singer adds a rare warmth to the mechanized rhythms, taking the songs way beyond the dancefloor.Venus As A Boy is the sweetest of odd love songs, combining a chilled reggae pace with a keyboard/vibraphone melody that skips around Bjork’s vocal line with the simple whimsy of a child’s rhyme. The heartfelt yearning of Come To Me is supported by a serenely spacious arrangement that includes an exotic eastern backing with added tabla and sub continental string effects. Bjork would distance herself from the success of “Debut”, almost dismissively stating "It's hard to judge yourself but I don't think [the early albums are] my best. Debut was the album that went the highest up there in terms of what is 'Bjork music'. But I think that the persona I created, which was entirely accidental, is better captured on the later albums." Without appearing confrontational, this album is as important, dynamic and enjoyable as any of her later recordings. Few female artists have produced albums as challenging as Bjork and this sets the agenda.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Police ‎Message In A Box (The Complete Recordings)



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Despite their legendary status, the Police only released five albums during their brief reign from 1978-1983. In addition, the trio had amassed a healthy amount of both studio and live B-sides, plus songs that only appeared on soundtracks. For the 1993 four-CD box set Message in a Box: The Complete Recordings, every single song the Police ever recorded is included. All the tracks were digitally remastered for the project, sounding superior to the original CD versions of the single albums. Also included is a 68-page booklet that includes an interesting (and often humorous) biography, a time line, and notes from all three bandmembers regarding the rarities that appear for the first time on compact disc here. But of course, the real charm of the box set is the music -- album tracks ("Hole in My Life," "It's Alright for You," "Driven to Tears"), hits ("Message in a Bottle," "Can't Stand Losing You," "Spirits in the Material World"), and rarities ("Fallout," a live version of "Next to You") are all timeless classics. While the set is highly recommended to newcomers just discovering the wonders of the Police, longtime fans should consider replacing their tinny-sounding single CDs with the definitive Message in a Box. After all, it contains a total of 24 tracks unavailable (for the most part) anywhere else.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Sugar File Under Easy Listening Deluxe Edition



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When Husker Du fell apart at the seams Bob Mould – just one half of that band’s songwriting magic – released two very good solo albums. And then it was straight into Sugar, a power-trio that sat somewhere in the middle of R.E.M. and Nirvana. Mould’s gift for immediacy in a song never gets distracted by the buzz of the riff – and his hard-working ethic saw three albums in three years. You could argue that File Under: Easy Listening, the band’s swansong – wasn’t quite up there with Beaster and Copper Blue. But still this album has so much to offer. Originally released in 1994 here it is represented as a double disc with accompanying DVD. The original 10-track album is added to with the six B-sides, the second disc features an 18-track live concert from November, 1994, titled The Joke Is Always On Us, Sometimes and the DVD collects promo videos for Your Favourite Thing, Believe What You’re Saying and Gee Angel. There are MTV appearances too and a special pairing of Mould with Lou Barlow from the show 120 Minutes. But back to the album, perfect indie-pop that still beguiles, Panama City Motel and Can’t Help You Anymore slowed down from Husker’s fury to suggest that in an alternative (pardon the pun) universe Sugar would have been hit-makers.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

INXS ‎Shine Like It Does The Anthology 1979-1997



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From the vantage of 2001, the year Rhino released the double-disc retrospective Shine Like It Does: The Anthology (1979-1997), it's a little hard to believe that the Australian sextet really rivaled U2 for popularity in 1987/1988, when Kick worked its way to multi-platinum global success. At the time, they belonged next to the likes of U2 and R.E.M., two post-punk legends that worked their way into the mainstream because they were a quintessential college rock band of the '80s, thrillingly balancing style with substance. This, of course, means that they can still sound tied to the times, but that's leavened by their heritage as an Australian rock band -- which means no matter how stylish they got, they could still rock really, really hard. Unfortunately, at the height of their popularity, they made records that camouflaged their raw talents with synthesized bass and drums, which is what rock bands did in the late '80s. And, throughout their career, INXS did tend to favor the sounds of the time, whether it was the angular new wave of Shabooh Shoobah, the evocative Listen Like Thieves, the Stonesy funk of Kick, or the alt-rock explorations of Welcome to Wherever You Are. This can make Shine Like It Does sound a bit like a music travelogue of its time, especially because its 42 songs do have their fair share of songs that seem like filler, but what stands out when the collection is finished is how damn good INXS was when it all clicked. That could mean such new wave classics as "The One Thing," "Don't Change," or "Original Sin," the college rock staples of "Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)" and "Listen Like Thieves," or such mainstream breakthroughs as "What You Need," "Need You Tonight," "Devil Inside," "New Sensation," "Never Tear Us Apart," "Suicide Blonde," and "Disappear." And it didn't stop there, either, because such latter-day songs as "Heaven Sent," "Not Enough Time," "Beautiful Girl" and "Elegantly Wasted" may not have been big hits, but they did hold their own against those hits. All these are here, along with some rarities, album tracks, and quasi-rarities, such as the Jimmy Barnes duet "Good Times" from The Lost Boys soundtrack and a number of remixes and single edits, giving this a reason to spread out over two discs.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Art Of Noise Daft


Art Of Noise Daft

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The place for Art of Noise neophytes to start, Daft collects (Who's Afraid Of?) The Art of Noise! and Into Battle with the Art of Noise, along with two reworkings of "Moments in Love" from the original U.K. release of that song, to make a fantastic hour's worth of music. If anything, a single or two aside, Daft beats out the official Best Of compilation by a mile. Having aged superbly with time, AON's early works sound all the more advanced and of the moment, a testament especially to Trevor Horn's excellent production and Anne Dudley's gripping arrangements. Further entertainment comes from the liner notes, which aren't merely state-of-the-art 1984 album design but an apparently barbed attack on the further incarnation of the band from one Otto Flake. The exact seriousness of this is up to the reader. As for the "Moments in Love" versions, both are gentler and more elegant than the already lush original,

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds ‎The Best Of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Special Edition



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Nick Cave is unquestionably an album artist. Each of his records has a specific mood and theme, standing as an individual work. That said, his albums have also been notoriously uneven. Sometimes, as on From Her to Eternity or The Boatman's Call, he has delivered near-masterpieces, while on other albums, only a handful of songs have hit the mark accurately, which is why The Best of Nick Cave is a welcome addition to his catalog. Granted, the title is a bit odd (it's better than Greatest Hits, however), but the compilation itself is as good as it could possibly be. All the major songs -- "Red Right Hand," "Straight to You," "Nobody's Baby Now," "Into My Arms," "Do You Love Me?," "Henry Lee," "Where the Wild Roses Grow," "From Her to Eternity" 

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Pixies Death To The Pixies



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Just as people can't imagine rock music without the Beatles, one can't help but wonder what alternative and grunge would sound like had there never been a Pixies. Having damn near invented the soft, acoustic verse followed by the exploding, distorted chorus that grungers so favored, the Pixies were the inventors of a craft. They wrote the book on alternative. Death to the Pixies' first of two discs is a collection of some of the Pixies' best-loved and best-known songs, and it spans their career, from their 1987 debut Surfer Rosa to their 1991 wave goodbye, Trompe le Monde. It also acts as a "greatest hits" of sorts, as every Pixies song you've ever heard on commercial alternative radio ("Here Comes Your Man", "Gigantic", "Monkey Gone to Heaven", etc.) are all here. Disc two serves as a decent collection of live performances

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

UNKLE ‎Psyence Fiction


UNKLEPsyence Fiction

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James Lavelle and DJ Shadow are unequal partners in UNKLE, with the former providing the concept and the latter providing music, which naturally overshadows the concept, since the only clear concept -- apart from futuristic sound effects, video-game samples, and merging trip-hop with rock -- is collaborating with a variety of musicians, from superstars to cult favorites Kool G Rap, Alice Temple, and Mark Hollis (who provides uncredited piano on "Chaos"). Since Shadow's prime gift is for instrumentals, the prospect of him collaborating with vocalists is more intriguing than enticing, and Psyence Fiction is appropriately divided between brilliance and failed experiments. Shadow and Lavelle aren't breaking new territory here -- beneath the harder rock edge, full-fledged songs, and occasional melodicism, the album stays on the course Endtroducing... set. Shadow isn't given room to run wild with his soundscapes, and only a couple of cuts, such as the explosive opener, "Guns Blazing," equal the sonic collages of his debut. Initially, that may be a disappointment, but UNKLE gains momentum on repeated listens. Portions of the record still sound a little awkward -- Mike D's contribution suffers primarily from recycled Hello Nasty rhyme schemes -- yet those moments are overshadowed by Shadow's imagination and unpredictable highlights, such as Temple's chilly "Bloodstain" or Badly Drawn Boy's claustrophobic "Nursery Rhyme," as well as the masterstrokes fronted by Richard Ashcroft (a sweeping, neo-symphonic "Lonely Soul") and Thom Yorke (the moody "Rabbit in Your Headlights"). These moments might not add up to an overpowering record, but in some ways Psyence Fiction is something better -- a superstar project that doesn't play it safe and actually has its share of rich, rewarding music

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Roxy Music ‎Avalon


Roxy MusicAvalon

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Flesh + Blood suggested that Roxy Music were at the end of the line, but they regrouped and recorded the lovely Avalon, one of their finest albums. Certainly, the lush, elegant soundscapes of Avalon are far removed from the edgy avant-pop of their early records, yet it represents another landmark in their career. With its stylish, romantic washes of synthesizers and Bryan Ferry's elegant, seductive croon, Avalon simultaneously functioned as sophisticated make-out music for yuppies and as the maturation of synth pop. Ferry was never this romantic or seductive, either with Roxy or as a solo artist, and Avalon shimmers with elegance in both its music and its lyrics. "More Than This," "Take a Chance with Me," "While My Heart Is Still Beating," and the title track are immaculately crafted and subtle songs, where the shifting synthesizers and murmured vocals gradually reveal the melodies. It's a rich, textured album and a graceful way to end the band's career

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Lemonheads The Best Of The Lemonheads The Atlantic Years



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Evan Dando -- for all intents and purposes, he is the Lemonheads -- is a sporadically brilliant songwriter. Every one of his albums contains as many flops as masterpieces, sometimes more. Hardcore fans have learned to live with this and even cherish his dopey detours, but there are many others who would prefer to have all the best bits on one disc. Which means, of course, that The Best of the Lemonheads: The Atlantic Years offered the perfect opportunity to achieve that goal. Unfortunately, it was bungled, at least in America (it was released in Europe and Japan with more tracks). With the exception of "Mrs. Robinson" (never a favorite of hardcore fans, but included for those nostalgic Gen-Xers), it's hard to argue with what's here, but it feels criminally brief at 12 tracks, especially since the songs are rarely over three minutes long. It's entertaining, to be sure, and it makes a convincing argument that Dando is a clever pop craftsman, but it leaves you wanting more -- which isn't really what best-of albums should do

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Saint Etienne ‎You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone



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Continuing the trend of Beach Boys-inspired album titles that started with 1992's So Tough and continued through 1997's Good Humor, 1993's You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone is a straightforward singles collection covering St. Etienne's first two or three years. Originally released as a bonus disc with vinyl copies of So Tough, You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone collects 11 single A- and B-sides that had made it neither onto that album nor onto their full-length debut, 1991's masterful Foxbase Alpha. This includes alternate single mixes of "Kiss and Make Up" (St. Etienne's debut single, from before Sarah Cracknell installed herself as the group's full-time vocalist) and "People Get Real" from the debut, and a slinky mix of So Tough's "Join Our Club." The album also features the otherwise non-LP single "Who Do You Think You Are," one of St. Etienne's most groove-oriented tunes

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The Boo Radleys ‎Giant Steps Deluxe Edition


The Boo RadleysGiant Steps Deluxe Edition

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Giant Steps was a colossal record for its time. Colossal. The music rags fell over themselves with platitudes for The Boo Radleys. It was the kind of worship that bordered on sycophantic and payola-driven. Yet, these Creation All-Stars in a pre-Oasis world were the label’s brightest hope, and what was clear from the start was the epic title matched the grandiose trail-breaking feel of the record. You stopped what you were doing and took notice. It was that kind of record. A psychedelic pop record, an indie guitar record, a dub-based groove record, a falling down the rabbit-hole record. Giant Steps wasn’t the Boo’s out-of-the-blue debut. Not by any means. This Liverpool/London quartet had been punching their weight for a few years now, with Giant Steps appearing a year after the Dinosaur Jr/MBV fuzz n’ pop of 1992’s Everything’s Alright Forever. With songwriter/guitarist Martin Carr’s bursting back-pocket Bernard Butler riff, “I Hang Suspended” became the perfect “and away we go!” track to launch the album with vocalist Sice’s featherweight vocals giving Giant Steps an airy, otherworldly feel. The dub/reggae rhythms of “Upon 9th And Fairchild”, the breezy, downbeat vibe of “Wish I Was Skinny”. The shoegaze n‘ politics of “Rodney King (Song For Lenny Bruce)”, the soaring dub-sympathy of “Lazarus”. Every track was a larger-than-life chapter in a book that was 17 songs long.When you think of what Radiohead were doing at the same time and what The Boo Radleys did with Giant Steps, it’s a crime The Boo’s number never came up the same. The album drips with madcap invention and the same kind of technicolour studio wizardry that an obvious Beatles acolyte such as Carr saw as the ultimate goal. But how do you go about topping the freakish genius of Giant Steps? When Wake Up! rolled around two years later, the playground had changed so significantly that the shoegazers were extinct and the talk about town was this thing called “Britpop”. Almost sensing the sea change in the works, the sprightly lead track and single “Wake Up Boo!” found quick favour with the Britpop kids and morning television presenters, but it’s the kind of song that if someone walked into your room singing (with its “wake up, it’s a beautiful morning!” refrain), you’d feel inclined to knock them clear into tomorrow. Wake Up! had its moments (it topped the UK album charts, no less) and listening with a fresh pair of ears, it’s a more than adequate follow-up, but one that sold largely on the back of Britpop and the terminally infectious “Wake Up Boo!”. More reigned in and focussed than its predecessor, Wake Up! toned down the roaming psychedelia and tightened up on the Beatles influence, appearing most noticeably on the sing-along nursery rhyme feel of “Find The Answer Within” and the backmasking mad freak-out “Joel”. The Elvis Costello shuck and jive of “It‘s Lulu“ missed its mark as a single, and in its place should’ve been given over to swooning falsetto pop of “Stuck On Amber”, the only track to hit the same Giant Steps stratosphere while straddling the pervading Britpop ethos. The Camden scene name-dropping of “Charles Bukowski Is Dead” places Wake Up! in a semi-perfect time capsule for the Britpop era, but it was never to be one of those defining releases. Looking back, it’s almost as if Giant Steps never happened, overshadowed by your Definitely Maybe’s and your Parklife’s, yet clearly deserving of the same stature. Cherry Red’s deluxe treatment rounds up the various pre/post album releases (including the classic Adrenalin and Boo Forever! EPs) as well as all extraneous b-sides which means each Deluxe Edition winds up being a whopping 3CDs long each. With b-sides always being the sole domain of the fan, it’s a mixed bag, but there’s a few forgotten gems scattered around — the Boo’s cover of Fat Larry’s Band’s R&B hit “Zoom”, the St. Etienne Remix of “Rodney King” to name just a few. Though the eight (count’em) mixes/versions of “Lazarus” do begin to test your mettle, but if that’s the worst, you’re still in for one hell of a treat.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Trashcan Sinatras ‎Weightlifting


Trashcan SinatrasWeightlifting

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The Trash Can Sinatras' third album, 1996's A Happy Pocket, sank out of sight on a wave of apathy from the record-buying public, critics, and seemingly the bandmembers themselves. Apart from a hard to find EP from 2000, Weightlifting is the group's first album since and it is a satisfying return to the jangling heights of their wonderful albums Cake (1990) and I've Seen Everything (1993). The band has thankfully made few concessions to modern times. There are no drum loops, soundscapes, or duff hip-hop tracks; nothing here wouldn't have sounded perfect in the early '90s. They also have written a batch of soothingly melodic, achingly pretty songs that may not contain anything as immediate or hooky as "Obscurity Knocks" or "Hayfever," but still pack quite the emotional punch. Frank Reader's voice is the same sweet melancholy croon that it was back in the day, and he wraps it around some melancholy gems that will be twanging the heartstrings of Trash Can fans both old and new. The majority of the album's tracks are lovely ballads like "Got Carried Away," "What Woman Do to Men," and "A Coda," the last being the best of them with its strings and Scottish soul feel. "Usually" is the standout; Reader sounds positively angelic and the strings bathe him in sorrowful splendor. "Country Air" is also a splendid cut with some plangent acoustic guitar, loads of atmosphere, and some smart soundtrack-flavored chord changes. The uptempo songs are darn good, too; "Welcome Back" is a powerful opener and statement of intent, "It's a Miracle" combines classic '90s jangle pop guitars with a bouncing beat and some rumbling timpani, and the title track has rich backing vocals and Reader's most intimate and powerful vocals. The song that should be a hit is the glittering "Freetime," with its jaunty beat, winning melody, and bells -- of course it won't be, but what can you do? Play it again and again, one supposes. The only small flaw with the album is the occasional heavy metal guitar solo that stands out like a sore plectrum. That kind of guitar-store technique has little place in music as charming and sweetly pastoral as this. Luckily, it only rears its ugly mug once or twice, most notably on "Welcome Back." Apart from that, Weightlifting is like a gift to anyone who was left hanging by the band's disappearance. Listening to the record makes you feel like it's 1993 again -- in a good way; a melodic, honest, and jangly kind of way; a way that makes you think "nobody makes records like this anymore." Hey, not too many people made them as good as this back then, either. A great comeback that deserves every last bit of attention it gets.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Suede Sci-Fi Lullabies



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Few debut singles have the impact of Suede's "The Drowners," which helped set the course to Britpop and established Suede as one of the U.K.'s most important bands. In that light, it isn't surprising that the B-sides were considered as important as the A-side -- the slow, grinding "My Insatiable One" was covered in concerts by Morrissey weeks after its release, while the band often closed shows with the majestic "To the Birds." The strength of the "Drowners" B-sides wasn't an anomaly -- it established a precedent of high-quality B-sides that Suede strove to maintain on their first three albums. The double-disc Sci-Fi Lullabies collects the majority of those B-sides, leaving behind the odd live track and remix, as well as the worthy "Painted People" and "Asda Town" and the non-LP single "Stay Together." What's included is stellar, offering an alternate history of Suede. In fact, the first disc -- comprised of Suede and Dog Man Star B-sides, plus the haunting "Europe Is Our Playground" -- is as strong as any of their albums, featuring such essentials as the sleazy "He's Dead," "The Living Dead," "My Dark Star," the storming "Killing of a Flash Boy," the sighing "Where the Pigs Don't Fly," and "Whipsnade," all strong enough to be A-sides. Disc two isn't quite as consistent, which might be because they're all drawn from the singles for Coming Up, but it does find the band exploring their darker, more adventurous side, which they largely suppressed on that record. Unlike most B-sides compilations, Sci-Fi Lullabies is far from extraneous -- for any Suede fan, and most fans of contemporary Britpop, this is absolutely essential material, confirming the group's status as one of the '90s' greatest bands.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Microdisney ‎39 Minutes


Microdisney39 Minutes

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In many ways Microdisney exemplify the difficulties facing any band who feel that they have something valid and non-conformist to say but are also driven by a desire to bring that vision to as wide and diverse an audience as possible. Within those terms of reference, 39 Minutes may be a definitive offering. Certainly, it is by far the Micros' most polished effort to date, slick and streamlined yet much harder and more direct than last year's Crooked Mile which, on reflection, sounds rushed and strangely incomplete. The melodies are as comforting and reassuring as a familiar fireside and a bottle of well-aged malt - but what separates Microdisney from the Johnny Hates Jazz' and even Prefab Sprouts (with whom the Disneys have more in common than one night think) of the world, is the lyrical bile of Cathal Coughlan. "You've got dreams and I've got dreams", he sings on 'High And Dry' and his unwillingness to lie down and write a few nonsensical ditties and let the resultant ackers exorcise his troubled spirits must be the cause of great consternation when Virgin's annual accounts are totted up. On 39 Minutes both Mr. C's dander and muse must have been up extremely early in the morning as the targets are spread wide and none - but none - are missed with as vicious a verbal volley as is conceivable in 'mainstream' pop. And yet, no matter how many times Coughlan twists the knife, there's always a flowing melody courtesy of Sean O'Hagan to soften the blow, which continually drags the listener back to the songs and ultimately prolongs the public humiliation of the target. Taking lines of lyrics out of context is not something which becomes these songs as Coughlan treats each track as an entity rather than stumbling upon a snappy couplet and working backwards and around it to arrive at the finished text. The subjects tackled encompass tabloid harassment ('Singer's Hampstead Home'), the devaluation of the media ('Bluerings'), cultural imperialism ('Herr Director') and the pernicious influence of colonialism ('Send Herman Home'). The latter is one of the album's standouts as a perfect impersonation of a well-known Northern political figure leads into a razor-sharp rhythm track, O'Hagan's guitar-playing leading you to think that the lad grew up in Memphis rather than Cork, and the mid-section features a tap-dancing solo which mutates into the sound of stomping jackboots (incidentally, the tap-dancing/jackboots solo is credited to Eugene Terrablanche and John Hermon… naughty boys!). Off the wall, playful and hurtful, 'Send Herman Home' is arguably the best song Microdisney have ever recorded. Whatever fate ultimately befalls Microdisney, be it chart acceptance or the dreaded epithet of 'cult status', there can be no remotely convincing argument against the assertion that they're making some of the best and most provocative pop music ever to have emanated from this country. 39 Minutes catches them at their very best.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Frank And Walters ‎Trains, Boats And Planes


The Frank And WaltersTrains, Boats And Planes

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Trains, Boats and Planes is a charming early release from the Frank & Walters. The album sees the band creating music of a more anthem-oriented rock sound than later releases. The subject matter is the same, but the songwriting is less subtle. The music is overall more dependent on guitars than Beauty Becomes More Than Life and Glass. The feel of the album is actually quite similar to that of Grand Parade, but the production isn't as sharp and there's less refinement of the musical grandeur on display. The album sees the band concerned primarily with matters of the heart and friendships. On "This Is Not a Song," Paul Linehan sings that the song isn't about politics, sex, James Dean, animals, trees, or wealth; it's "a song I wrote especially for you/I want to say thank you for having me." There's quite a few touching, sincere, and sweetly awkward moments of a similar nature on the album. "Trainspotters," with a guitar underscore that sounds straight from Johnny Marr's songbook, sees the bittersweet tale of a trainspotter named Tim, with Linehan asking, "Does Timmy know the score?" It's the sort of touching moment fans have come to adore. Every song maintains an optimistic core that things will always turn out right with a little bit of love in one's heart. "Fashion Crisies Hits New York" employs epic guitars and deeper-pitched vocals than usual from Linehan and jangling background sounds.Since it was out of print for quite some time, it might be a pleasant find for newcomers. It would be hard to imagine a more positive, under-appreciated band than the Frank & Walters, and these 11 songs simply prove that a band can continue along in one style, with only minute changes from album to album, and have an incredible career. Trains, Boats and Planes is entirely winning, and it's a necessary addition to any fan's collection.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Public Image Limited 9


Public Image Limited 9

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9 features essentially the same group of characters found on Happy?, with only Lu Edmonds having left the fold (though he did contribute to the writing on each song). Seven studio albums, seven lineups -- Lydon failed yet again to keep the same people together for more than one record. But is this notion really of major consequence? Not really, and Lydon probably prides himself in it. Thankfully, 9 retained the Happy? core of Bruce Smith, John McGeoch, and Allan Dias. If Happy? and various points prior were flirtations with accessible dance-pop, 9 was a bear hug embrace of it. 9 is split between a modern rock record and a dance producer-derived one, but credit both producers and band for making it a successful combination; on paper, the game plan looks like an accident waiting to happen. Stephen Hague was responsible for just over half of the album's production, with E.T. Thorngren working on the remainder and Nellee Hooper mixing one of Thorngren's productions. 9 is easily PiL's slickest yet, but there's substance to balance it out. The catchy "Disappointed" provided the band's greatest success in the States, with plenty of airplay on modern rock radio stations and light rotation on MTV. Other highlights: the dubby, almost Police-like near-instrumental "U.S.L.S. 1" and the surprising use of acoustic guitar on "Worry." Lowlights: the slightly goofy "Sand Castles in the Snow," the oddball fusion of Asiatic keyboards and late-'80s R&B on "Like That," the character play of Lydon in "Warrior."

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Talk Talk ‎The Colour Of Spring


Talk TalkThe Colour Of Spring

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Many people look back on Talk Talk as the band that pioneered post-rock. It's easy to look back favourably on them in retrospect, but as is the case with many genre pioneers, they weren't appreciated in their day and age. Despite the cult following both The Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock have developed, they were largely passed off as pretentious and bloated at their time of release, when nobody could look back like we can to see the impact these albums would have on the modern musical landscape. It should be noted that the bands third album, The Colour of Spring is actually their best-selling album, containing their most popular singles while performing leaps and bounds over their previous releases in terms of both originality and quality. By doing away with the synth-heavy new wave the band had developed and taking influences from jazz and art-pop, the band created an eclectic melting pot that paved the way for it's successors without alienating fans, making it a defining album for the band and a landmark transition album for music as a whole. Right from the get go, the band wastes no time establishing their new direction with “Happiness Is Easy”. Beginning with nothing but a repeating drum track, the track is immediately more bare-boned than anything in their back catalogue, but the slow and careful addition of layers to it's skeletal structure indicates a far more mature approach to their song-writing. The song slowly builds into a track somewhat more familiar to fans; Hollis' signature croon is still here, as are the addictive grooves and a memorable chorus, but there's something different. The expressive strings that ease in a little over a minute into the song, the extended instrumental sections, a far wider instrumental palate, all of these show a band striving to take an idea and push it to its limit. The singles of the album (#16 hit “Life's What You Make It” and #48 single “Living In Another World) also adhere to this pattern, bearing a loose similarity to past singles but containing more experimentation, more creativity and as such are a more satisfying experience overall. They are no less addictive when compared to past singles, but there is a whole new level of depth given to these new songs. However these tracks are the reason that, despite how far Talk Talk expanded their sound here, one foot was grounded firmly in the past. The real meat of the album lies in between these more fan-friendly cuts. “April 5th” marks the most haunting ballad of the band's career, expanding on the morose sound played with in the second track and multiplying it tenfold. Throwing in a wider range of instruments (including a saxophone, a variophon, a dobro and an organ), a more creative song structure and some of Mark Hollis' most emotive vocals makes this the most unique track thus far in the bands career. This is their first big step in the direction of their future sound, and an important statement from the band. This statement is furthered by the 7th track, “Chameleon Day”. Easily the most experimental song on the album, this piece wouldn't be out of place on either of their following albums, consisting of nothing but an extremely sparse jazz atmosphere and Hollis' evocative croons. The final track is the real highlight though, standing as a perfect snapshot for the entire album and the perfect marriage of old and new styles. “Time It's Time” is a monumental epic that epitomises everything the band has accomplished thus far. With more creative ideas and even more unique sounds (harmonicas, melodicas and tribal chants are a focal point of the track), the band essentially hits all of the targets they were aiming for throughout the album. The track covers several different sounds and feelings, with lyrics like “Time it's time to live through the pain, now that it's over” that perfectly reflect the atmosphere. Even though the track can become pompous and overbearing with its exuberance, it was a necessary piece to the puzzle and the perfect close to the album. While one foot is still grounded in the past, this is the foot that was planted in the future, the foot that would pioneer a new genre and affect music as we know it today. For a band with a legacy as important as Talk Talk's, it is difficult to appraise a past album without comparing it to their revered classics. These is no doubt that the albums succeeding this one were far more important to music today, but that should not diminish the success of this release, as well as its importance to the band itself. This was a masterful album in it's own right, the culmination of everything the band had built until this point, and the perfect transition into the sound they would become known for. It was the bands first successful experimentation and gave them the confidence needed to release albums as challenging as The Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock in the future. The Colour of Spring stands as an integral part of Talk Talk's history, the most pivotal moment in their career and a brilliant album that is truly worth your time.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Iggy Pop ‎A Million In Prizes The Anthology



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If you're willing to count his work in such early regional bands as the Prime Movers and the Iguanas, Iggy Pop has been playing rock & roll for over 50 years as this compilation hits the stores -- meaning there are guys in big-league rock bands who've spent years trying to be Iggy but weren't even alive when the guy first started plugging into the Real O Mind. That, dear readers, is influence, and while the man has had more than his share of creative ups and downs over those four decades, one spin of A Million in Prizes: The Anthology tells you why Iggy has always mattered, and still does -- he has never lost the ability to plug into the primal madness and furious belief that separates great rock & roll from ordinary stuff, and he can call up that near-demonic passion on a regular basis. While this isn't the first career-inclusive Iggy compilation, A Million in Prizes is comprised of two full-loaded CDs, which gives it a scale and scope that bests its closest competition, 1996's solid Nude & Rude: The Best of Iggy Pop, and it also gives full props to his work with the Stooges, featuring 11 songs from that band's various incarnations (though whose idea was it to only include one track from the epochal Fun House? For shame!). As for the solo stuff, this set follows the bizarre roller-coaster ride from the gloomy self-reappraisal of his albums with David Bowie through his desperate efforts to find his own solo voice in the 1980s to his reemergence in the new millennium as an artist who can merge mind and muscle with equal force. While not every album is represented on A Million in Prizes, this offers an accurate and compelling look at the Iggy time line, and the mastering is strong, clear, and loud (especially on the earlier material, which has long merited aural refurbishing). The liner essays from Danny Fields and Lenny Kaye are excellent, and Iggy sums himself pretty well when he tells Fields, "I get up in the morning, I look in the mirror, and I think, 'Hey, you're a pretty interesting guy.'" That may well be rock's greatest understatement, and while A Million in Prizes is hardly the final and definitive statement on Iggy Pop's life and music, as an introduction and career overview it's damn near unbeatable -- at least until Iggy finally gets the box set treatment he so richly deserves.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Doves ‎The Last Broadcast US Limited Edition




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When Doves issued Lost Souls in fall 2000, Britpop was immersed in its melodic gloom-and-doom era, ushered in by the success of Radiohead. The likes of Coldplay, Travis, Elbow, and Starsailor followed in their wake, as did Doves. What separated Doves from the rest was a glint of passion, evident on their 2000 debut, Lost Souls. Two years later, the atmospheric dreamscapes of Lost Souls were torn asunder for the musical daybreak of The Last Broadcast. As it turns out, the psychedelic vibrancy of "Catch the Sun," the brightest track on the album, pointed toward this brave second record. Gone are the hazy space rock trips and the cheerless attitudes; Doves are on the sunny side of the street for The Last Broadcast. The seven-minute sonic boom of "There Goes the Fear" finds Jimi Goodwin sharing vocals with Jez and Andy Williams for a glorious chorus. Each of them switches up vocal duties throughout, lending a joyous feel to the album itself. From the bold front of "Words" to the fiery momentum of "Pounding," The Last Broadcast shows a refreshing rawness that was absent before. The High Llamas' Sean O'Hagan delivers sweeping orchestral arrangements for the sublime "Friday's Dust," while the electronic dewdrops of "The Sulphur Man" push Doves' divine ambience further to the front.Doves were caught up in making grand compositions on Lost Souls, which worked fabulously, but it was too much. They've stripped down to the basics, letting the optimism of The Last Broadcast take center stage. It's a brilliant moment.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Morrissey ‎You Are The Quarry Deluxe Edition



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At his core, Morrissey has always been conservative -- not in his politics, of course, but in how he romanticizes the past and plays by the rules of a different time. His passions, whether it's the New York Dolls or '60s British cinema, exist out of time, and he's gone to great lengths to ensure that his music also can't be pinned to a particular era, which means all his solo albums share similar musical and theatrical traits, and they're subject to the whims of fashion. In the years following the Smiths, he could rarely set a foot wrong, but sometime after releasing his best solo album, Your Arsenal, in 1992, the British music press turned on him and he was not much better than a pariah during the mid-'90s heyday of Brit-pop, the very time that he should have been celebrated as one of the great figures of British pop music, particularly since the Smiths inspired every band of note, from Suede and Blur to Oasis and Pulp. By the time he released Maladjusted in the summer of 1997, he was a forgotten legend, not even given approval of his album art, and instead of cranking out records to the diehards, he chose to move to Los Angeles and wait out the storm. He stayed quiet for seven years. During that time, fashions changed again, as they're prone to do, as Brit-pop turned toward the sullen art rock of Radiohead and Coldplay, the mainstream filled up with teen pop, and American rock music was either stuck in the death throes of grunge and punk-pop or in emo's heart-on-sleeve caterwauling, which owed no little debt to Mozzer's grandly theatric introspection in the Smiths. Instead of being seen as a has-been, as he had been in the latter half of the '90s, Morrissey was seen as a giant, name checked by artists as diverse as Ryan Adams and OutKast, so the time was ripe for a comeback. But Morrissey had waited long enough to do it on his terms, rejecting major labels for Sanctuary (on the condition that they revive the reggae imprint Attack Records) and recording You Are the Quarry with his longtime touring band, with producer Jerry Finn, best-known for his work with neo-punk bands blink-182, Sum 41, and Green Day. Finn's presence suggests that Morrissey might be changing or modernizing his sound, designing a large-scale comeback, but that runs contrary to his character. Apart from some subtleties -- the glam on Your Arsenal, the gentleness on Vauxhall and I, the prog rock on Southpaw Grammar -- he's worked the same territory ever since Viva Hate, and there's no reason for him to change now. And he doesn't. There are no surprises on You Are the Quarry. It delivers all the trademark wit, pathos, and surging mid-tempo guitar anthems that have been his stock-in-trade since the beginning of his solo career. It's not so much a return to form as it is a simple return, Morrissey picking up where he left off with Maladjusted, improving on that likeable album with a stronger set of songs and more muscular music (even if no single is as indelible as "Alma Matters"). If You Are the Quarry had been delivered in 1999, it would have been written off as more of the same, but since it's coming out at the end of a seven-year itch, he's back in fashion, so its reception is very warm. Frankly, it's nice to have his reputation restored, but that oversells the album, suggesting that it's either a breakthrough or a comeback when it's neither. It's merely a very good Morrissey album, living up to his legacy without expanding it greatly. But after such a long wait, that's more than enough.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

New Order ‎Retro


New OrderRetro

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Add Retro to the dizzying stack of New Order compilations and best-ofs. Actually, it was the second comp to come out in the last half of 2002 (International was released in October and contains nearly every song that is on Retro). With that said, Retro is probably the most expansive and interesting New Order compilation since 1987's Substance. Keeping an eye and ear on the amazing Joy Division set Heart and Soul, Rhino stepped in to publish this box as well (that alone will give Retro a bit more credibility). The packaging is more or less identical to Heart and Soul's four-CD orientation and comes complete with its own Peter Saville-directed artwork and 70-plus-page booklet. Unlike the Joy Division set, Retro makes no attempt to create a comprehensive or complete look at New Order's expansive catalog. Rather, it is set up as an ultimate mix tape that might be made for someone's cousin who knows nothing of this band. And like a mix tape, everyone's track list would be different and would probably carry on a different mood. This one is curated by four individual selectors, and each disc carries on with a major theme. The first disc, "POP," is compiled by U.K. journalist Miranda Sawyer and contains all the major New Order favorites: "Blue Monday," "Bizarre Love Triangle," "Confusion," and a few minor surprises such as "Brutal" (featured on the Beach soundtrack). John McCready, journalist and Hacienda DJ, put together a "FAN" disc that contains some moodier album cuts like "Your Silent Face" and "Sooner Than You Think." Mike Pickering (M People, Hacienda DJ), selects New Order's dance-friendly material on the "CLUB" disc. Finally, Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) picks up some "LIVE" tracks -- which proves to nicely distill New Order's generally hit-or-miss concert performances. While Retro may not be a complete necessity it does pull together into one spot enough rarities (nothing too impossible to find, though) and a rather entertaining track list for obsessives.
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