Wednesday, 16 August 2017

World Party ‎Best In Show

World PartyBest In Show

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When Karl Wallinger left the Waterboys in the mid-'80s to form World Party, it only took one song to convince fans that this was no one-off side project. That track, "Ship of Fools," and 12 others populate the band's first-ever "greatest-hits" compilation, the appropriately titled Best in Show. Wallinger, a devout "Beatlemaniac," never aped a move by the Fab Four without throwing more of himself into the mix, which makes World Party's sophomore effort, Goodbye Jumbo, such a joy. Represented here by no less than seven tracks, Jumbo riffed on the new beatnik vibe of the early '90s without ever resorting to the mildly disingenuous Lenny Kravitz version of the "new summer of love." World Party may have been part-Dylan, part-Donovan with a little bit of Wings-era McCartney thrown in for good measure, but Wallinger's socially conscious brand of mysticism felt firmly rooted in the prosperous Clinton era. Cuts like "Put the Message in the Box," "Way Down Now," and "Thank You World" grooved with an easy-enough vibe to lure AAA radio listeners, but connected on a deeper level with the college crowd. 1993's Bang!, 1997's Egyptology, and 2000's Dumbing Up deserve more than the one track apiece that appear here, but to be fair, Bang!'s "Is It Like Today?," one of the group's strongest moments, was the last real radio presence Wallinger and company enjoyed. Best in Show is nothing if not concise, and while longtime fans might lament the omission of songs like "All I Gave," "Vanity Fair," and "Kingdom Come," incoming ears will perk up and seek them out for themselves.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Super Furry Animals ‎Radiator

Super Furry AnimalsRadiator

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Using the psychedelicized prog-punk of Fuzzy Logic as a foundation, Super Furry Animals move even further into left field on their second album, Radiator. As before, the group displays a gift for catchy, deceptively complex melodic hooks, but now its songwriting and arrangements are mind-bogglingly intricate and eclectic. Songs boast intertwining melodies and countermelodies, with guitars and keyboards swirling around the vocals. Similarly, the production is dense and heavy with detail, borrowing heavily from prog rock and psychedelic pop, but pieced together with the invention of techno and played with the energy of punk. It's a heady, impressive kaleidoscope of sounds, but what gives Radiator its weight is the way the sonics complement the songwriting. SFA's songs are melodic, accessible, and utterly original -- melodically, they may borrow from '60s pop, but they rearrange the clichés in fresh ways. Also, Gruff Rhys has a fondness for revolutionary politics and the bizarre that helps give Radiator its intoxicating, otherworldly atmosphere, making it one of the few late-'90s albums that sounds inventive, vibrant, and utterly contemporary.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Jesus And Mary Chain ‎21 Singles

The Jesus And Mary Chain21 Singles

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Volumes have already been written about the historical significance of the Jesus and Mary Chain. The group’s landmark debut, aptly titled Psychocandy, was the archetype for noise-pop, an album that transformed the use of distortion in indie rock with its screeching abrasion, yet managed to feature some of the catchiest melodies of the 80s. This unique blend of challenging noise and melodic pop was later adapted by hundreds of bands, with innovative groups such as My Bloody Valentine among the forerunners. Unlike the majority of its followers, though, the Jesus and Mary Chain was primarily a singles band. However groundbreaking Psychocandy was, several not-so-great songs marred the album, undermining the band’s brilliance. The Jesus and Mary Chain’s formula was not infallible; past the album’s highlights, the overwhelming use of distortion occasionally grew tiring, to the point that it seemed the same song was being played on repeat. While none of the group’s later work saw too great a departure from its original style, a look at only the bands’s singles reveals its repertoire to be more exciting than that of almost any other band within the same genre. 21 Singles presents the band at its absolute best, unhampered by repetition and unaffected by a lack of significant development because of the sheer genius of its best songs. The collection, organized chronologically, begins with The Jesus and Mary Chain’s quintessential debut single, “Upside Down”. Like all of the group’s best songs, “Upside Down” has more energy than most other bands could ever hope to produce, with wailing feedback and thumping drums marvelously accompanying Reid’s triumphant vocals as he proclaims tough-guy phrases like “Feels like I’m going mad/ best friend I’ve ever had”. Psychocandy’s singles continue in very much the same vein as “Upside Down”, especially with the brutal assault of “Never Understand”. “You Trip Me Up”, “Just Like Honey”, and “Some Candy Talking” are calmer, but use just as much distortion to hide their sweet pop nature. These first five songs are all classics, compared either to the rest of the collection or to virtually any other singles released during the mid-80s. The Jesus and Mary Chain’s follow-up to Psychocandy, Darklands, is represented excellently by its three lively singles, “April Skies”, “Happy When It Rains”, and the title track. On these, the group stripped away excess feedback and allowed for a more conventional approach to rock’n’roll. The effect of these songs’ different treatment is equally powerful, although the weaker melodies prevent the singles from attaining the same heights of those from Psychocandy. “Sidewalking” and “Blues from a Gun” are the compilation’s heaviest tracks, revealing for the first time a traditional hard rock side to the band. Here, Reid delivers some of his most convincing vocals. At least, one would think so before hearing “Head On”. Easily the highlight of the band’s career, “Head On” characterizes most of what great indie rock is supposed to be, donating four minutes of complete bliss to the collection. Incredibly riveting, the song features an utterly inspiring chorus (“Makes you wanna feel/ makes you wanna try/ makes you wanna blow the stars from the sky”) delivered with all the band’s visceral emotion. The music perfectly suits the lyrics, with the same breadth of passion present in the guitars as in Reid’s vocals. The four Honey’s Dead singles embrace much of the early 90s British music scene, using more danceable beats to good effect. The controversial “Reverence” (“I wanna die just like Jesus Christ”) juxtaposes hard-rock riffing with a drum machine to create a new sound for the band, a new way to boast both their power and their catchiness. The album’s other singles are very good as well, but unfortunately, after Honey’s Dead, there is a slight dip in quality. Stoned and Dethroned gives us two of the band’s softer numbers, the very radio-friendly “Sometimes Always”, and the simple “Come On”. Munki, the band’s final album, re-introduces a sound that had been absent since Automatic with the hard-hitting “Cracking Up” and even adds to this style with “I Love Rock’N’Roll”, which, very surprisingly, features horns. It is clear by this point that the Reids have lost some of their ability to write exceptional melodies, but these singles are still pretty good. Psychocandy may have been the Jesus and Mary Chain’s classic, but 21 Singles is undoubtedly the place to start with the band. As any singles compilation should, the collection highlights what made the Jesus and Mary Chain the fabulous band it was, capturing the best moments throughout its career without ever dwelling on them so that they become dull. In doing so, 21 Singles proves itself to be both the perfect introduction to the band and the group’s most listenable effort.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Portishead ‎Roseland NYC Live

PortisheadRoseland NYC Live

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"They're dark, they're spooky, they're emotional. Ladies and gentlemen of New York City... presenting Portishead!!" In a perfect world, that's how this live record would kick off. Of course, that's not the band's style. Rather, we hear a few seconds of the 30+ piece orchestra tuning their instruments before the eerie whistle of "Humming" sets in, orchestra right on its tail. Two minutes later, Geoff Barrow's trademark slow- motion hip-hop groove bursts in, followed by Beth Gibbons' emotive, whispery vocals. Dramatic? There's no doubt about it. This is a band that clearly takes themselves, their music, and their performances very seriously. And naturally, they went for the full effect on July 24, 1997 at New York City's Roseland Ballroom. Pitched as a "one- night only special live engagement," the show sold out almost immediately. They brought their orchestra, they brought their horn section, they brought their drama, and PNYC documents the performance beautifully. The album sees Portishead elegantly blow through 11 songs culled from their 1994 debut Dummy and Self- titled release with decidedly awesome results. The songs from Portishead are relatively straight- forward as they were performed purely as an introduction to the album which wasn't to be released for another two months at the time of this concert. The songs pulled from Dummy, on the other hand, are executed beautifully, most notably "Sour Times," which starts off gently and climaxes with Gibbons practically screaming the lyrics, her vocals altered electronically

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Underworld ‎1992-2012 The Anthology

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The departure of Darren Emerson prior to the release of 2002’s A Hundred Days Off album could’ve signaled the beginning of the end for Underworld. While his contributions were undoubtedly essential in galvanizing the group’s genre-defining techno and abstract electronica of the 90’s, Underworld continued on to fully realize its panoramic sonic capabilities in the last decade at the hands of its core duo of Rick Smith and Karl Hyde.Spanning 3 CDs, Anthology is luxurious- capturing glorious pieces from 1994’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman through 2010’s Barking album rendering the previous ‘hits’ collection, 1992-2002, obsolete in the process. CD1 covers the sacred early territory including the brooding “Mmm, Skyscraper I Love You,” the punishing “Cowgirl,” the mournful “Dirty Epic,” and “Dark and Long (Dark Train)”- the quintessential archetype for the techno genre. CD2 opens with many people’s gateway track to the band: the crushing 1996 juggernaut that is “Born Slippy.” 1999’s Beaucoup Fish album had the unenviable task of following up the Trainspotting centerpiece and is represented by “Jumbo” and the manic freight train “Moaner.” “Push Upstairs” and especially “Shudder: King of Snake” are more than deserving representations of this underrated album yet they are omitted. “Two Months Off” may be the group’s single most important track as it urgently, joyously declares with soaring harmonies and cascading, sun-drenched synths that Smith and Hyde would be just fine a duo. “To Heal” is a symphonic masterpiece which crystallizes the warmth and humanity that has pervaded Underworld’s post-Emerson works. “Scribble” is a surprising selection from the Barking album that also features the slow simmering Dubfire co-production, “Bird 1” and the irrepressible “Always Loved a Film.” CD3 is a deeper but maybe non-essential exploration of some of the band’s rarities. The highlight is the heavy, monolithic “Second Hand” which featured on the Café del Mar Volume 1 compilation. Other notable tracks include the dazzling acid workout “Why, Why, Why,” the rising jam “Parc (Live)” and spacious, meditative “Simple Peal” which were all previously only available on Japanese imports.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Portishead Dummy Japan Album

Portishead Dummy

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Portishead's album debut is a brilliant, surprisingly natural synthesis of claustrophobic spy soundtracks, dark breakbeats inspired by frontman Geoff Barrow's love of hip-hop, and a vocalist (Beth Gibbons) in the classic confessional singer/songwriter mold. Beginning with the otherworldly theremin and martial beats of "Mysterons," Dummy hits an early high with "Sour Times," a post-modern torch song driven by a Lalo Schifrin sample. The chilling atmospheres conjured by Adrian Utley's excellent guitar work and Barrow's turntables and keyboards prove the perfect foil for Gibbons, who balances sultriness and melancholia in equal measure. Occasionally reminiscent of a torchier version of Sade, Gibbons provides a clear focus for these songs, with Barrow and company behind her laying down one of the best full-length productions ever heard in the dance world. Where previous acts like Massive Attack had attracted dance heads in the main, Portishead crossed over to an American, alternative audience, connecting with the legion of angst-ridden indie fans as well. Better than any album before it, Dummy merged the pinpoint-precise productions of the dance world with pop hallmarks like great songwriting and excellent vocal performances.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Billy Bragg ‎Must I Paint You A Picture? The Essential Billy Bragg

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In 1983, Billy Bragg was a guy with a cheap electric guitar, a rough but passionate voice, and a knack for writing and singing straight from the heart whether he was discussing leftist political concerns or the mysterious interactions between men and women. The guy has a band and the political issues that have caught his attention are trickier 20 years later, but he's still enchanted and puzzled by love, and hasn't stopped writing worthwhile songs about it. Must I Paint You a Picture? The Essential Billy Bragg is a three-disc, 50-song compilation that does an admirable job of capturing the hills and valleys of Bragg's recording career, opening up with "A New England" from his debut EP, Life's a Riot With Spy vs. Spy, and closing with a cut from 2002's England, Half English. A spin through this set suggests that Bragg's best (or at least most affecting) work arrived in the early stages of his career, as disc one (which follows Bragg through Worker's Playtime) is a decidedly more solid and absorbing listen than disc two (the material from the disappointing William Bloke in particular weighs down the collection's second act), and his love songs have stood the test of time a shade better than his political material (the miners' strike may be over, but broken hearts are timeless). But there are plenty of gems to be found throughout this collection, and Must I Paint You a Picture? serves as a potent reminder that in the grand tradition of Bob Dylan, even Bragg's lesser albums contain a handful of truly memorable songs worth hearing; if this isn't the ideal Billy Bragg collection, it's an excellent introduction, a solid career overview, and a lovely reminder of how much he has to say about the heart and the mind. Initial pressings come with a ten-song bonus disc that adds several hard to find selections, including Bragg's Anglophile rewrite of "Route 66," a telling duet with the late Ted Hawkins, and a bootleg remix that merges Bragg with the Hives.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Julian Cope ‎Peggy Suicide Deluxe Edition

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Casting the ill-advised attempts at too-clean modern rock from his late-'80s days firmly aside and fulfilling the promise of Skellington and Droolian, Cope on Peggy Suicide produced his best album to date, overtopping even his Teardrop Explodes efforts. Showing a greater musical breadth and range than ever before, from funk to noise collage -- and more importantly, not sounding like a dilettante at any step of the way -- Cope and his now seasoned backing band, with drummer J.D. Hassinger in and De Harrison out, surge from strength to strength. Ostensibly conceived as a concept album regarding potential ecological and social collapse, Cope wisely seeks to set moods rather than create a straitjacketed story line. As a result, Peggy Suicide can be enjoyed both as an overall statement and as a collection of individual songs; its sequencing is excellent to boot, moving from song to song as if it was always meant to be that way. Cope's voice is a revelation -- for those not having heard the hard-to-find Skellington and Droolian, his conversational asides, bold but not full-of-itself singing, and equally tender, softer takes when the material demands it must have seemed like a complete turnaround from the restrained My Nation Underground cuts. He handles all the guitar as well, with Skinner concentrating on bass and keyboards; guest Michael "Moon-Eye" Watts does some fine fretbending as well, including an amazing performance on the awesome "Safesurfer," a lengthy meditation on AIDS and its consequences. Picking out only some highlights does the album as a whole a disservice, but besides offering up an instant catchy pop single, "Beautiful Love," Cope handles everything from the minimal moods of "Promised Land" and experimentation of "Western Front 1992 CE" to the frenetic "Hanging Out and Hung Up on the Line" and commanding "Drive, She Said." An absolute, stone-cold rock classic, full stop.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Bob Mould ‎The Last Dog And Pony Show

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Just before The Last Dog and Pony Show hit the streets, Bob Mould announced that his supporting tour would be the last time he hit the road with a full electric band. From this point on, he would be challenging himself, finding different musical avenues to explore and leaving his trademark tower of guitars behind. Presumably, this also meant that The Last Dog and Pony Show would be the recorded farewell to this sound, and it is indeed an excellent consolidation of all of his musical quirks and signatures. The Last Dog and Pony Show is the work of a craftsman, not a nakedly emotional confessional like Workbook or Bob Mould. That's not to say the album is lightweight, since seriousness is one of Mould's signatures, but there is a sense of humor that hasn't been heard since Sugar, and he, overall, sounds more relaxed than he has in years. He's so relaxed, in fact, that he lets down his guard on the cheerfully ridiculous pseudo-rap "Megamanic," the only track on Show that offers a musical departure from Mould's past. The rest of the record is clearly a Mould album, from the rushing rockers to the impassioned acoustic ballads, but the craft in both the songwriting and the production guarantees that the music never sounds like a retread, even if it does sound familiar. And that's not a bad way to draw to a close the first part of his career, if Mould does indeed turn his back on his signature sound

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Big Audio Dynamite ‎Planet Bad Greatest Hits

Big Audio DynamitePlanet Bad Greatest Hits

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Culling together tracks chosen from a decade's (and seven albums') worth of material, Planet BAD serves as a focused, well-chosen compilation of Mick Jones' post-Clash outfit. Although neither as critically or commercially successful as the Clash, Big Audio Dynamite's blend of rock and dance music, with a generous dose of samples, was a fixture on college radio in the mid- to late '80s with tracks like "E=MC2," "The Bottom Line," and "C'mon Every Beatbox" (all included here). The band even managed to make a foray onto the U.S. Top 40 charts in 1992 with the infectious "Rush." With his place already secure in rock annals, Jones' work with BAD was much more lighthearted, but it cannily anticipated the influence electronics and technology would have on music. it's also undeniable that the band was a more interesting venture than it was sometimes given credit.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Orb ‎U.F.OFF The Best Of The Orb

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If you're a big fan of the Orb and have most of their releases, the big question you may be asking yourself when you see this release is whether you even need it or not. Since I heard Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, back in late 1993, I've been a massive fan of the group and have managed to pick up all of their major releases and even a couple singles. Still, when I saw that this one had come out, I had to get my hands on it for the simple fact that the version I purchased had a bonus disc of unreleased material. After the initial run of 2CD sets, they went and cut it down to one CD, making it more of a release for those just getting into the group. I must say, if you're just getting into them, it's about damn time. Not only has the Orb been around for a long time releasing great disc after great disc, but they've always kept that sort of goofy attitude about themselves that they never manage to come across as pretentious and neither has their music. They've released songs that run both 40 minutes and 1 (as well as about every length in-between) and if there's ever an electronic music hall-of-fame, they should probably be one of the first few to get inducted (after the obligitory forerunners like Eno and Stockhausen). Anyway, the first disc is exactly what you'd expect to get in a best-of release, with a couple other tracks thrown in for good measure. Instead of starting out the disc with the bands almost trademark song of "Little Fluffy Clouds," they open with a rather unexpected Orbital (not by the group Orbital, though) Dance Mix of "A Huge Evergrowing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Center Of The Ultraworld." Quite a bit different than the album version, it's a nice way to start things off. From there, they go into 7" mixes (meaning radio edits) of the aforementioned "Little Fluffy Clouds," "Perpetual Dawn," "Blue Room," and "Assasin." The first disc also includes original versions of "Toxygene," "Towers of Dub," and "Asylum" among others. A very nice inclusion on the disc is of the unreleased track "Mickey Mars." It's a little bit of a different style for the group, but it's great. Things close out with a couple more classics and a hidden remix of their track "Oxbow Lakes" from Orbus Terrarum. For more hardcore fans, the second disc offers a lot more in terms of excitement. Things start out with a live version of "Little Fluffy Clouds" that doesn't offer a whole lot new to the formula. From there, the group goes into the Ultrabass II mix of "Perpetual Dawn" and a super tricked-out take on "Pomme Fritz." Things get even more strange with the drum and bass spiked version of "Toxygene" by the Ganja Kru. It seems a bit weird at first hearing the track redone in such a different genre, but it manages to work a lot better than other drum and bass inflictions I've heard. After sort of a throwaway mix of "Assassin," the disc continues with excellent versions of "O.O.B.E.," "Blue Room," and a remix of the previously unreleased "Mickey Mars" that's even better than the original on the first disc. Things close out on the harsher side with the Vestax Mix of "Montagne D'Or (Der Gute Berg)." Overall, it's another great release for the group. I may be a little biased in my support of the group (since they're one of my favorites), but the 2CD set provides a lot more Orb music for those who can't get enough of the group. If you have most of their releases, definitely go for the 2CD version, as the first one mainly just has the classics, but even those are all mixed together and it makes for a nice smooth flow through the course of their music. The second disc is mixed as well, and it's a little more across-the-board in terms of styles, but very interesting nonetheless. 140 more minutes of fun from the pranksters.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Ian Brown ‎My Way

Ian BrownMy Way

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After the Stone Roses' shambolic demise, few would have predicted that frontman Ian Brown would go on to achieve both a prolific solo career that would far outlast the band's, and sustain a loyal following that worships him as though he was the personification of the Roses' difficult sophomore album, Second Coming. But 12 years after his debut, the man who's influenced pretty much every lad-rock band of the '90s and 2000sis back with his sixth studio album, My Way. Produced by longtime collaborator Dave McCracken, it may be named after Sid Vicious' anarchic cover of the Sinatra standard, but it's the only trace of Brown's early punk leanings on an album which is perhaps his most punchy, hook-laden, and immediate to date. Indeed, eschewing the politically charged dub-reggae/hip-hop of its predecessor, The World Is Yours, Brown has gone straight for the jugular on 12 tracks which are said to have been inspired by Michael Jackson's seminal opus Thriller. A rather tenuous link with monkeys aside (Brown's first album was titled Unfinished Monkey Business, a play on his "King Monkey" nickname), at first glance, there appears to be very little in common between the King of Pop and the King of Madchester. And while it's ludicrous to suggest that there's anything on My Way that sounds even remotely similar to Jackson's groundbreaking epic, it does appear to have at least attempted to adhere to its "all killer, no filler" policy. Opening track "Stellify" doesn't quite stand up to his claim that it was originally intended for Rihanna, but its jaunty piano stabs, pounding military beats, and triumphant horn section provide his most infectious single since 2001's "F.E.A.R." His newfound chart-bound stance continues by teaming up with esteemed songwriter-for-hire Amanda Ghost (James Blunt, Beyoncé) on "For the Glory," a vitriolic attack on former Roses' guitarist John Squire and the doom-laden electronica of "Vanity Kills." But My Way is much more interesting when Brown is left to his own devices. "Crowning of the Poor" is a working-class call to arms set against a backdrop of menacing synth stabs and the kind of underground grime beats you'd find on the first Dizzee Rascal album; "Always Remember Me" is a blissed-out shoegazing ballad full of rousing strings and My Bloody Valentine-esque distorted guitars; while the anagram-titled "Own Brain," is a groove-laden blend of Timbaland-style R&B and '80s synth pop .My Way may not live up to Brown's rather bombastic praise, but it's an inventive and consistently strong collection of songs which sounds more like a debut from someone in the prime of their youth than a middle-aged Mancunian 20 years into his career.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The Coral ‎Magic And Medicine

The CoralMagic And Medicine

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An album for long, meandering summer afternoons, Magic and Medicine is a quirky and imaginative bundle of joy. True to past form, The Coral are able to employ stylistic kleptomania without resorting to derivation or cowardly irony. "Don't Think You're The First", smacks of tasty spaghetti western with a small dollop of surfy sauce. Deep echo guitar is supplemented by melancholy violin in "Milkwood Blues". A 'jam-session' feel pervades throughout as the many influences just keep on coming. With endearing hyperactive childishness, most tracks refuse to stand still. The greatest focus is achieved in the story-telling of "Liezah" and "Bill McCai". The plaintive longing of the former is backed by finger-picked Simon and Garfunkel guitars with added bounce. Key changes herald rolling black cloud mood shifts. "Bill McCai" is perhaps the most musically upbeat treatment of suicide you are ever likely to hear. It is incredible that a band of 18-22 year olds can produce such an accomplished lament to decaying dreams, lost youth and the sheer terror of advancing years. Any album that incorporates dreamy seaside Wurlitzers, brass, funk bass, strings and harmonica plus skiffle, folk, Super Furry Animal school psychedelia (despite the band's denials), beat, blues and more (often in the same song) should really be considered a novelty record. However, The Coral are more than just a wacky bunch of cheap tricksters. When their approach works, it works well.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Shack Time Machine (The Best Of Shack)

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Whenever Shack are mentioned in print, invariably it’s not long before phrases like ‘criminally underrated’ and ‘lost classic’ raise their clichéd heads. Formed in 1988, the Liverpudlian four-piece have always been lavished with critical praise in inverse proportion to their meagre record sales, but perhaps the best way to summarise their career to date is ‘very unlucky’. After an unremarkable first album, songwriter Michael Head and his band knew they had a potential hit on their hands with 1991’s Waterpistol. Falling somewhere between the classic Merseybeat of the Las and the fluid, Byrds-influenced melodies of the Stone Roses’ eponymous debut, it seemed perfectly placed to catapult Shack to stardom. But a series of disastrous events, including a studio fire that destroyed the master tapes, meant Waterpistol did not see the light of day until 1995, by which time the music scene had moved on. After a four-year split, 1999’s HMS Fable emerged boasting a host of Oasis-like big choruses, but they jumped on the Britpop bandwagon just as it was grinding to a halt and the charts remained untroubled. Unperturbed, Head and his sidekicks have continued to release great music ever since. Time Machine is a fine retrospective of their significant talent, featuring some of the best tracks from their four albums from Waterpistol onwards as well as several rare and previously unreleased songs. The highlights are many, but the delicious yearning harmonies of “Undecided” and “Neighbours” are probably the pick of Shack’s earlier work, while their evolution towards a more textured, orchestrated sound on 2003’s Here’s Tom With The Weather is emphatically captured on the epic “Meant To Be”, which employs scintillating mariachi brass and strings sections that would not be out of place on Love’s timeless masterpiece Forever Changes. the hitherto obscure “Al’s Vacation” stands out as one of their best compositions, a quirkily tuneful little jaunt bringing to mind the lazy psychedelic folk of Pink Floyd’s oft-overlooked post-Barrett, pre-Dark Side Of The Moon albums. If you like Shack, you may already own much of what’s here and decide you don’t need this collection. But if you’re an admirer of intelligent, imaginatively arranged guitar pop that’s yet to discover their charms, then Time Machine is quite simply an essential purchase.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Cabaret Voltaire ‎Conform To Deform '82 / '90. Archive;

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Designed as a companion piece to the 12" compilation The Original Sound of Sheffield, the three-disc Conform to Deform is the flip side, literally speaking in places. The first two discs, labeled Conform and Deform, trace a spiral path through Cabaret Voltaire's major-label period, compiling B-sides, alternate mixes, unreleased 12" singles, video outtakes, and more. Deform is probably a good word to use in conjunction with most of this material, as much of it is essentially other work poked and prodded, pulled into a new shape, and given a new name. The most extreme realization of the urge to deform comes two tracks into the second disc with "C.O.M.A.," which originally appeared on the flip side of the "I Want You" 12" single and consists of all of the album The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord placed through an audio blender -- well, it sounded nifty at the time. The third disc, Liveform, features the band live in Edinburgh in June of 1990, well after Cabaret Voltaire's catch-up transformation into a house act, on the tour for Groovy, Laidback and Nasty. The material on this third disc is, expectedly, mostly from this album, with a few nods to the past: There's a version of "Sensoria" dressed up as a house track, and a few old lyrics are slyly dropped into the middle of "Ride Baby Ride." The audience is polite to this new material, but if you listen between the songs you can also hear someone screaming for "Yashar" -- surely not a ringing endorsement. Ultimately, the Liveform disc is interesting, but it's hard to believe that someone shelling out money for a box set of Cabs obscurities would be clamoring for a live document from this particular period. The set comes with a booklet complete with a 1983 essay by Andy Gill, written just as the band was embarking on its major-label journey. The booklet is also filled out with words of praise from a new generation of artists who were influenced by the Cabs' collision of funk and electronics, but that praise will seem obvious to anyone dedicated enough to seek out this set of rarities. Those who really want to know why Cabaret Voltaire appealed to the hearts, minds, and feet of a whole generation of listeners and artists (many of whom went on to be the genesis of the techno movement) will be much happier with The Original Sound of Sheffield.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss ‎Raising Sand

Robert Plant & Alison KraussRaising Sand

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You don’t have to be a fan of the country, blues or folk genres to appreciate the heartbreaking brilliance of this inspired collaboration. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss? Sounds like one of the most unlikely collaborations in contemporary music since Nick Cave gave Kylie a call. Yet the pairing of the Led Zeppelin rocker with the gorgeous young Union Station singer – under the sonic supervision of the legendary T Bone Burnett – has proved to be just as inspired a move. Recorded in Nashville and Los Angeles, Raising Sand features the two singers doing cover versions of lesser-known material from various country, R&B and folk songwriters. The songs they’ve chosen may not be very famous, but their writers sure are – Townes Van Zandt, Tom Waits, Doc Watson, the Everly Brothers, Gene Clark, etc. Mixing country, blues and folk rock, the mood throughout is dreamlike, ominous and ethereal. At times, it’s downright spooky, like something you’d hear on the Twin Peaks soundtrack. Not that there was ever really any doubt, but Plant and Krauss – singing both solo and in harmonies on songs well out of their respective comfort zones – prove themselves to be amazingly versatile vocalists. Plant has never sounded so wounded and vulnerable as he does on their slow take on Gene Clark’s ‘Polly Come Home’. A couple of foot-stomping honky-tonk moments aside, for the most part the music is slow, sublime and intimate – incisively crafted by, amongst others, multi-instrumentalist Mike Seeger, guitarists Norman Blake and Marc Ribot, bassist Dennis Crouch and drummer Jay Bellerose. Burnett himself plays six-string guitar on a couple of tracks, while Krauss’s fiddle also gets some welcome workouts. While there are obvious standouts – Krauss’s wonderful take on Sam Philip’s ‘Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us’, Plant’s revealingly melancholic reinterpretation of his own ‘Please Read The Letter’ – there really isn’t a dud among the thirteen songs here. You don’t have to be a fan of the country, blues or folk genres to appreciate the heartbreaking brilliance of this inspired collaboration. Raising Sand is easily one of the best albums of 2007.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Aztec Camera ‎High Land, Hard Rain Reissue

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Some performers never make a bigger splash than with their first record, a situation that the Ramones and De La Soul know all too well. If that's the case, though, said musicians had better make sure that debut is a doozy. Aztec Camera, or more specifically, Roddy Frame, falls squarely into this scenario, because while he has doggedly plugged away ever since with a series of what are, at times, not bad releases, High Land, Hard Rain remains the lovely touchstone of Frame's career. Very much the contemporaries of such well-scrubbed Scottish guitar pop confectionaries as Orange Juice, but with the best gumption and star quality of them all, Aztec Camera led off the album with "Oblivious," a mini-masterpiece of acoustic guitar hooks, lightly funky rhythms, and swooning backing vocals. If nothing tops that on High Land, Hard Rain, most of the remaining songs come very close, while they also carefully avoid coming across like a series of general sound-alikes. Frame's wry way around words of love (as well as his slightly nasal singing) drew comparisons to Elvis Costello, but Frame sounds far less burdened by expectations and more freely fun. References from Keats to Joe Strummer crop up (not to mention an inspired steal from Iggy's "Lust for Life" on "Queen's Tattoos"), but never overwhelm Frame's ruminations on romance, which are both sweet and sour. Musically, his capable band backs him with gusto, from the solo-into-full-band showstopper "The Bugle Sounds Again" to the heart-stopping guitar work on "Lost Outside the Tunnel." Whether listeners want to investigate further from here is up to them, but High Land, Hard Rain itself is a flat-out must-have.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Cosmic Rough Riders ‎Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine

Cosmic Rough RidersEnjoy The Melodic Sunshine

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Every time you want to dismiss this Scottish quintet as harmless, winsome fluff, they disarm you with depth of feeling and substance. This LP is well titled: there's a real sunniness to these folks that's completely unforced. It's so surprisingly welcome. When so much of rock tries to beat you into submission, you find yourself playing Enjoy the Melodic Sunshine nearly everyday. Like some throwback California sun 'n' surf morning that never existed, the glistening harmonies, '60s light-pop touches, and over-earnest but well-mannered, tender lyrics send the cynic in you fleeing in disbelief that you'd fall for this. But fall you do. Mind, it starts slow, if OK. The opening "Brothers Gather Round" and "The Gun Isn't Loaded" are more Gordon Lightfoot than pretty Byrds and the more pastoral Teenage Fanclub, and the next few cuts only start to warm up for the nuggets down the road. Beginning with the gushing verses of "Revolution (In the Summertime)," the second two-thirds begins to soar on its own momentum. In particular, "You've Got Me" is as lithesome and sweet a love song as you've heard in eons, so sincere and heartfelt it beckons to your more valiant impulses. Likewise, "Melanie" draws you into the melodrama, cursing the JFK customs agents that sent the singer back, when his longed-for is here. Even when they interject a tiny note of callousness in "Sometime" -- fending off hints of marriage with a thoughtless "let's live for today" -- they redeem it by promising "Sometime/I might change my mind/But 'til I do/I'll be right here with you" -- set to a tune so breezy and grabbing, it's made for singing along. One is equally seduced by the pristine pangs of "Have You Heard the News Today," wherein a '60s bridge like "I really didn't like her style/And then I looked in her eyes" is placed within a diving riff and descending chord melody that's a knockout. This bunch has the tunes, they have the delicate appreciation for all that is small wonder in the bright light of one's stare, and a pleasant air that's bound to stop you dead.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Heavenly ‎Operation Heavenly

HeavenlyOperation Heavenly

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Heavenly's last album finds them working with a more rock-oriented sound that hasn't been heard since the mid-'80s, when its key members were in "shambling" pioneers Talulah Gosh. While Operation Heavenly may not impress those who aren't already indie-pop fans, it still stands as a solid conclusion to a great career; bouncy gems like "Ben Sherman," "Fat Lenny," and a cover of Serge Gainsbourg's "Nous Ne Somme Pas Des Anges" combine new wave lightheartedness, a hint of edgy indie-rock, and Heavenly's knack for writing sweet and perfect melodies. The band might have been moving away from the cloying cuteness of their previous albums, but they retained their energy and their unparalleled skill at writing catchy, ironic pop songs

Saturday, 3 June 2017

The Flatmates ‎Love And Death (The Flatmates 86-89)

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The Flatmates were one of the best groups to come out of the oft-maligned C-86 movement in the U.K. Led by the tough but tender vocals of Deb Haynes and a noisy guitar-led attack, they were a pop group first and foremost, sounding like a near-perfect blend of the Shangri-Las and the Ramones. This collection of their finest songs released during their short lifespan is a compelling argument that the Flatmates were one of the best guitar pop bands of the era. The disc is made up of the best songs from the band's five EPs and compilation appearances as well as a handful of unreleased tracks that were demos recorded in search of a major-label deal. That deal never materialized and the band imploded in 1989, having gained some popularity but never reaching the big time. This collection won't change that, but it does firmly cement the Flatmates' status as leaders of the indie pack.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Ride Going Blank Again 20th Anniversary Edition

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Difficult to believe as it may be, just 25 years ago Ride found themselves sitting pretty in the top tens of both the UK singles and albums chart. While not the most commercially unfriendly band of the day by any stretch of the imagination, their achievements still raised a few eyebrows back then, not to mention a hail of celebratory cheers up and down the land from the indie and underground fraternity. After all, it isn't every day that a guitar heavy mantra clocking in at eight minutes gatecrashes a top ten containing such gems as The Pasadenas and Curtis Stigers that particular week. Entering the charts as the second highest new entry in the lofty position of number nine just six places behind Michael Jackson's 'Remember The Time' - indeed The Jesus & Mary Chain's 'Reverence' also cracked the final ten that week one place below - 'Leave Them All Behind' has arguably become Ride's signature piece. The moment they left the shoegaze tag behind once and for all. Eighteen months earlier, the band had released their debut long player, Nowhere, to a fanfare of universal acclaim. Even today still heralded as one of the most inspired records of its generation, most bands would have been daunted at the prospect of following such a near perfect artifact as this. But then Ride never were a band that rested on their laurels. Despite Rob Newman's occasionally humorous send-up sketch on The Mary Whitehouse Experience, their focus and determination could never be faulted. So, less than a year after Nowhere's release, work had already begun on its successor. Whereas Nowhere was borne out of a shared love of My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus & Mary Chain and The House Of Love, Going Blank Again would see a more diverse range of influences enter the melting pot. Recorded towards the back end of 1991 with Alan Moulder, whose previous credits had included the Glider and Tremelo EPs for My Bloody Valentine and the Mary Chain's Automatic long player, Going Blank Again was unleashed in March the following year with both critics and consumers alike falling head over heels for its box of delights. Comprising ten songs in total, it's a beguiling affair for those like myself previously turned onto Ride's effluent charm by those flawless first four EPs and the innocent beauty cum maelstrom of Nowhere. And yet also compelling, not least in the way every single piece offers something new on each subsequent listen. Take the aforementioned 'Leave Them All Behind' for example, already a firm favourite due to Andy Bell and Mark Gardener's harmonising incandescently over guitars that resemble successive tidal waves crashing against the shore. However, it's the often understated rhythm section of Steve Queralt and Loz Colbert that really come to the fore here, driving the song along at its widescreen core, occasionally traversing into dub territories before Gardener and Bell declare "I don't care about the truth!" in the coda. The term masterpiece is bandied about far too easily nowadays but for eight glorious minutes or so in 1992, this was as close as the UK independent scene ever got to creating its own 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. And so it continues throughout the record. 'Twisterella' arguably represents Ride's finest three minutes from a pop perspective (although it could be said of the early singles 'Chelsea Girl' and 'Like A Daydream'), while 'Not Fazed' sees the Oxford four-piece reliving their wildest Marquee Moon fantasies. 'Chrome Waves' meanwhile samples Massive Attack's 'Unfinished Sympathy', its string segment and laidback aura owing more to Bristol's burgeoning trip hop collective than the Home Counties so-called scene that celebrates itself Ride were allegedly spawned from. Duelling guitars - check out Bell's mesmeric solo in the final third - and a melody that accentuates yet pre-dates Britpop by a good two years characterises 'Mouse Trap', another stark diversion from what had previously been regarded as the accepted norm with Ride. Indeed it's only on 'Time Of Her Time', situated at Going Blank Again's halfway mark, that Ride come close to the reverb heavy overload of their debut. Influenced by Terry Bickers of The House Of Love while not sounding a million miles away from his 'Destroy The Heart' opus, its place here perhaps a final sign-off to Nowhere's dense soundscapes. Another sample, this time from Bruce Robinson's 1987 adaptation of 'Withnail & I', introduces 'Cool Your Boots', a reflective, and somewhat sprawling opus that serves as 'Leave Them All Behind''s slightly paralytic younger sibling. 'Making Judy Smile' also doffs its cap towards Britpop, albeit the original Sixties era that started the ball rolling. It's on the dreamy, dub heavy, two-songs-in-one 'Time Machine' where Ride really come into their own. Imagine King Tubby and Kevin Shields sat at the controls while Paul Simon's recording Graceland and you're halfway there. Having already flirted with similar experiments in sound on 1991's Today Forever EP, 'Time Machine' is yet another example of a band at a creative peak they would struggle to repeat again. 'OX4' closes the record in a psychedelic swirl reminiscent of Hawkwind at their In Search Of Space finest, Gardener and Bell both managing to sound errant yet wistful in their delivery. The album was re-issued with four bonus tracks taken from the 'Leave Them All Behind' and 'Twisterella' singles in 2001, and all four remain for this twentieth anniversary edition too. While 'Going Blank Again' the song didn't make Going Blank Again the album first time round, its symphonic urgency resonates here, particular against 'Howard Hughes's more sombre nature and the plodding if partially incisive 'Stampede', possibly the weakest track of the bunch. The ten-minute instrumental 'Grasshopper' closes the audio element, at the time resembling nothing else on this earth, even though the likes of Godspeed! You Black Emperor would soon be churning out textured pieces of similar magnificence in their sleep. What radiates through Going Blank Again from start to finish is how the record's never dated badly. If anything, it carries the same amount of succulent vitality when first released, its contents still refreshingly relevant now as then. And then of course there's the bonus DVD, Live At Brixton. Essentially it's a greatest hits set recorded on 27th March 1992 and originally released in VHS format later that same year. It captures Ride at their diligent, if unspectacular best. Highlights from their first four EPs - check out the double whammy of 'Unfamiliar' and 'Like A Daydream' early on in the set - congeal with choice picks from Nowhere (the title track, 'Vapour Trail' and 'Dreams Burn Down' standing out emphatically) and the majority of Going Blank Again, the complicated arrangement of 'Time Machine' unsurprisingly omitted from the live set. As an added incentive to purchase what is already a must-own record anyway, the twentieth anniversary edition of Going Blank Again is an essential addition to anyone's collection. So what are you waiting for..?

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Paul Weller ‎Stanley Road Deluxe Edition

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With Stanley Road Paul Weller has managed to prove to his fans and his critics that he is still an important musician even in his solo days. He hasn’t just written 12 good songs, instead, he’s written one great album. A factor in any great album is the overall feel that perpetuates each song, making them all feel as though they deserve their place and complimenting the songs that come before and after them. A mostly guitar driven album, Weller fuses good solos and riffs with his usual effective lyrics, often ending a song with a long instrumental that gently ushers in the next song, which gladly and competently carries the album along. However, there is the occasional song that primarily uses the piano evoking another great feel. Though these songs are quite different from the guitar based ones, they seem to come at just the right points in the album so that, not only are they a nice change of direction, but also they effortlessly fit in. To truly appreciate this fine album start at the beginning and just let it play on to the end. It far outweighs the sum of its parts, and as these parts are so good, you’re in for a great journey.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Edwyn Collins I'm Not Following You

Edwyn Collins I'm Not Following You

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Having found himself back in the commercial limelight with Gorgeous George, Collins followed it up with the equally -- possibly even more -- delightful I'm Not Following You. Trademark wit blended with passion intact and with key sideplayers drummer Paul Cook and bassist Clare Kenny helping out among many others -- including a wonderfully scabrous vocal cameo by Mark E. Smith on the very disco "Seventies Night" -- Collins tries all sorts of different things and more often than not comes up with the goods. "The Magic Piper (Of Love)" was the understandable lead single, catchy and with more than a little bite to it, drawing from finger-snapping hep-lounge Vegas sources and his own fun lyrics: "My girlfriend she got blotto/Half cut in Santa's grotto/It turns out he's a dirty old man." Add to that some just right flute and a clever brass sample that suddenly turns into an orchestrated sample from the Velvet Underground, and the man still has it. It's one of many joys throughout, with Collins showing a musical heterodoxy that would probably stupefy most other bands or acts. "Seventies Night," for example, is followed up by the sweet orchestration and quick acoustic fingerpicking of "No One Waved Goodbye," a regretful look at a relationship in pieces. There's full-on feedback and pounding drums, there's sly, compressed production touching quirky keyboards and Euro/cabaret arrangements, and even the self-explanatory Hammond-tinged "Country Rock." The hint of wistful nostalgia is often matched by the lyrics, with asides like "I'm going back to my old school/Cause to tell you the truth/All those songs of my youth/Move this old fool." Not many musicians so readily and easily allow for the hints of the passage of time. Leave it to Collins to find a number of ways to do just that.

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.
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