Saturday, 30 September 2017

The Charlatans ‎Forever The Singles Limited Edition

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What separates the 2006 compilation Forever: The Singles (released in the U.S. in 2007) from the 1998 Melting Pot? The simple answer: the eight years separating the two compilations and that Forever draws heavily from the four albums that came out since Melting Pot, resulting in such '90s Charlatans classics as "Just Lookin'" and "Jesus Hairdo" being left behind. In effect, if Melting Pot documents the Charlatans peak, tracing their rise from the baggy of 1990's Some Friendly to the retro-rock of the 1997 masterpiece Tellin' Stories, Forever is the story of how this quintet turned into rock & roll survivors, weathering tragedies and shifts in fashion to become a strong, reliable rock band, always dependable for solid, entertaining albums even if their singles were not as big or as memorable as "The Only One I Know," "Can't Get Out of Bed," "Just When You're Thinking Things Over," "One to Another," or "North Country Boy." Forever is a good overview of that band and is a worthwhile introduction in that regard, but Melting Pot remains a better portrait of the band at its popular and creative peak

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Marc Bolan & T.Rex 20th Century Superstar

Marc Bolan & T.Rex 20th Century Superstar

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Although Marc Bolan and T. Rex are no strangers to the best-of racks, it is a sad truth that only one previous attempt has been made to represent the singer's entire career, the Australian triple album 20th Century Boy, back in 1981. And, regardless of whether or not the compilers of this set took that package as their benchmark, the best possible compliment that one can offer 20th Century Superstar is that it doesn't simply equal its predecessor, it utterly surpasses it. Arranged chronologically across four CDs, 20th Century Superstar follows Bolan from his first-known recordings, versions of Dion's "The Road I'm On" and Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" cut under the name Toby Tyler in 1965, through to his final single, 1977's "Celebrate Summer." That's 108 tracks, with no less than 19 previously unreleased relics of Bolan's Tyrannosaurus Rex days, presenting the most well-rounded portrait of that era yet. The years 1967-1970 are, after all, the one part of his career to have so far evaded the wholesale archive scraping that characterizes his earlier and later (post-fame) years, but here we have three previously unheard songs, 11 alternate takes, a couple of demos, and, most important of all, a three-song session recorded with producer Joe Boyd in 1967, which is as astonishing as such a collision ought to be. Woven among these gems, of course, are all the highlights one would hope to hear, from the biggest hits to the all-time fan favorites, from BBC sessions to pseudonymous singles, and onto a couple of extra-curricular goodies -- Bolan's guest spot on David Bowie's 1969 "Prettiest Star" single paramount among them. Add a genuinely sensitive remastering job and an excellent essay by Bolan biographer Mark Paytress, and it all adds up to a presentation that renders virtually every other Bolan compilation superfluous. He may have been a 20th century superstar, but he looks fit to run well into the 21st as well

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Marc Bolan / T.Rex Greatest Hits

Marc Bolan/T.Rex Greatest Hits

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Marc Bolan fans who find this U.K. release while browsing record shelves should rejoice with a gruff Bolan-esque "Yeah!" An overabundance of T. Rex compilations has tried to capture the full span of the godfather of glam rock's career, with very few succeeding -- 20th Century Boy: The Ultimate Collection being the most likely choice. Greatest Hits could practically be marketed as an extended director's cut of that CD with bonus features. This 40-song set includes 17 of the songs found on The Ultimate Collection and groups them with alternate singles and B-sides from 1965 to 1977. Not only does this pairing illustrate the simple brilliance of his 15 songs that hit number one or two on the charts -- including "Bang a Gong (Get It On)," "Cosmic Dancer," "Ride a White Swan," "Children of the Revolution," "Telegram Sam," and "Jeepster" -- but it also shows that Bolan was an absolute songwriting machine, with many of his lesser-known grooves sounding just as powerful as his big hits. The one minor problem with this stellar collection is that most newcomers looking for an introduction to Bolan would probably find a few other songs from his biggest '70s albums (T. Rex, Electric Warrior, Tanx, and The Slider) more essential than some of the picks from his earlier folkie Tyrannosaurus Rex days or later pre-disco years. Regardless, this is a strong overview. "Life's a Gas" is a swaying acoustic classic worthy of any collection, and the boisterous rockers "Laser Love" and "Soul of My Suit" show where David Bowie got his inspiration for his "plastic soul" era. Considering that Bowie was both a peer and pupil of Bolan's, most notably in his Ziggy Stardust phase, this could make for a perfect shelf accompaniment to Bowie's stylistically similar anthology, Singles: 1969-1993; subsequently, no one ever quite explained the curly-headed trailblazer's cultural impact better than Bowie himself, when he spoke for the entire glam community in "All the Young Dudes" and sang "Who needs TV when I got T. Rex?" This collection sums up Bolan's discography brilliantly

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Arab Strap The Week Never Starts Round Here Deluxe Edition

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Too often in music, bands get referred to as being ‘unique’, but this Scottish duo genuinely were that most rare of things. Middleton pulled the strings musically - improving ten fold with each subsequent release yet always maintaining that mystique to the songs’ atmosphere – whilst Moffat supplied the words and tone of voice, always pitching it perfectly between humorous (but often cynical) banter and painfully honest admissions of one’s own faults. People regularly remark of bands putting themselves into their work, but within Moffat’s words lie the entire outline of his life to date. Over their career of 11 years, the band outgrew their initial miserablist mistag and became a relatively unsung national treasure for both their recorded work and live shows. And so it seems right that this, their debut album, should now be reissued forevermore with a second disc featuring their first four Peel Sessions and debut King Tut’s gig (having formerly been packaged in the Scenes of A Sexual Nature boxset). The Week Never Starts Round Here is a perfect snapshot of a Nineties indie band finding their feet. Some songs here hint at what was to come; ‘Blood’ still sounds delightful, walking a fine line between amusing and scathing ("My last lover’s playing with her new man now / It’s only three weeks we’ve been apart / They sat together and he sent her flowers / Well he can fucking keep that fickle disco tart"), whilst ‘Kate Moss’ still sounds remarkably fresh, with its opening statement of shock that someone could not find the model "pretty". Others jar a little with the rest of the band's output, but are still wholly decent indie romps when taken outside of that realm, such as the booming reverberating-snare used on the slightly eerie ‘The Clearing’ and the whimsical ‘General Plea to a Girlfriend’, complete with its whistle solo. It’s particularly interesting hearing the live renditions on the second disc alongside these studio versions, with the results sounding fuller and more rounded, even at this early stage. The Peel Sessions also yield interesting results. ‘The Smell of Outdoor Cooking’ – an early single – is fun whilst ‘Soaps’ gets an early airing before its pivotal role on their second album. Whereas ‘I Saw You’ is a wonderful example too of what it’s like meeting someone for the first time, with the words and music marrying perfectly; starting with sweet reflection, a period of nervous energy as to where you stand and ending in a mess of loved up joy and confusion, featuring such insight along the way as "I saw you twice and both times you were wearing orange / And she told you I fancied you in the toilets at The Garage". But despite the band going on to better it, both the Peel Sessions and album belong to ‘The First Big Weekend’. Even 21 years on, it sounds utterly mesmerising. The splendid live version has entirely ‘new’ lyrics detailing their journey to the BBC and Malcolm’s dour backing, bemoaning the weather, but the accolades belong to the studio recording. Building from a simple guitar line until the starring drum beat expands into a wonderful climactic indie anthem, it captured the hearts of Peel, Guinness’s advertising team, the label bosses and most music fans of the time; because it totally ‘got’ what being a twentysomething in this country was like during your downtime; nights out with your friends, some drinking out, some watching of The Simpsons, some passing interest in the opposite sex and a bit of late night cheese misuse. It’s the song that still defines the band to many, and one that certainly raised the bar of expectation surrounding the band such is it’s confidence and perfection.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

XTC ‎Fossil Fuel The XTC Singles 1977-92

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Fossil Fuel: The XTC Singles 1977-1992 is a splendid double-disc set that runs through every one of the group's 31 A-sides, from the nervy "Science Friction" to the lush, sighing "Wrapped in Grey." Between those two songs, XTC's craftsmanship grows remarkably fast -- based on the edgy pop of their new wave singles "Statue of Liberty," "This Is Pop," "Are You Receiving Me?," and "Life Begins at the Hop," it's hard to believe that they would later write the subtle, near-pastoral Beatles, Kinks, and Beach Boys pastiches of "Love on a Farmboy's Wages," "Great Fire," and "Grass." And those songs just scratch the surface of the terrific pop singles available on Fossil Fuel: "Making Plans for Nigel," "Ten Feet Tall," "Generals and Majors," "Towers of London," "Respectable Street," "Sense Working Overtime," "This World Over," "Dear God," "The Mayor of Simpleton," "King for a Day," and "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" are wonderful songs and forgotten classics. Although XTC continually made carefully constructed albums, they were a dynamite singles band, releasing songs that were tightly constructed and impossibly catchy. They never had hits, because their unabashed pop was never in fashion; plus, Andy Partridge's voice was too pinched and his lyrics frequently too cerebral. But XTC's music stands as some of the best and most influential pop of their era, and nowhere is that more evident than on Fossil Fuel.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Everything But The Girl ‎Home Movies The Best Of Everything But The Girl

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Like most Everything but the Girl compilations, 2001's Home Movies: Best of Everything but the Girl restricts itself to the duo's first decade, before they reinvented themselves as the pop face of trip-hop with 1995's "Missing." A roughly chronological sprint through Everything but the Girl's first seven albums, from 1984's Eden through 1992's Acoustic, there's no room for any more than two or three songs from any one record; while this does a handy job of tracing Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt's career path from folk-jazz indie to sophisticated and adult pop music, it also means that several worthy songs, especially from the group's early days, are missing: no "Night and Day," "When All's Well," "Riverbed Dry," "Sugar Finney," or "Oxford Street." On the other hand, the songs chosen are a balanced and representational lot, including favorites like Thorn's indelible bossa nova "Each and Every One" and the lovely, Dusty Springfield-like orchestral pop of "Come on Home." Home Movies is an excellent introduction to Everything but the Girl's early years for newcomers beguiled by later hits, but all of the group's early albums (Eden, released in a very different U.S. version as 1984's Everything but the Girl; 1985's Love Not Money; 1986's Baby, the Stars Shine Bright; and 1988's Idlewild) are well worth seeking out on their own.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Lamb ‎Best Kept Secrets The Best Of Lamb 1996-2004

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For old-schoolers, Best Kept Secrets is Louise Rhodes and Andrew Barlow's thank-you note. The U.K. electronica duo accompanies each track with personal reflections, letting longtime listeners in on some first-time knowledge. But for the considerable portion of the globe that never discovered Lamb, its 16 songs are signal flares in the darkness. From the comforting, romantic swirl of "Gabriel" (from 2001's What Sound) through the chattering beats, slurping bass, and cut-up strings of "B Line" -- what is it, hot jazz in the 23rd century? -- all the way to the outfit's relative "hit," the chilly '90s electronica boom nugget "Gorecki," Best Kept Secrets covers the Lamb bases for both the knowledgeable and the neophyte.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Skunk Anansie Stoosh Japan Album

Skunk Anansie Stoosh

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Skunk Anansie were one of those acts in the 90s that you couldn’t help but be aware of, particularly around the time of their second album, Stoosh. A punkish hard rocking quartet, they stood significantly apart from the various cookie-cutter Britpop acts of the era, with an utterly different attitude and a significantly different sound. Also, the fact that they were fronted by one of few performers of the era to possess a genuinely effortless star quality didn’t hurt either. Skin remains to this day a woman with a striking appearance and a voice that can channel a rare blend of vulnerability, soulfulness and fury. That’s not to say her bandmates were slouches, because Stoosh is all the evidence you need that they certainly weren’t, but one of the few things that Skunk Anansie did have with their female fronted contemporaries, was that the blokes tended to blend into the background somewhat, with the difference being that Skin didn’t have to be cynically marketed as a sex symbol in an attempt to shift units. Her voice alone did that. Over two decades since its release, Stoosh remains a narky, aggressive and generally angry album. Cass, Ace and Mark (how come he didn’t get a vaguely ridiculous nickname?) get chance to demonstrate that they can do subtle, but they sound most at home when the volume gets cranked up and they are allowed to match their front woman’s aggression. Skin for her part sounds like a woman possessed, yet utterly dripping with conviction. Regardless of whether you liked Skunk Anansie at their commercial peak, you can’t argue that Skin came across as one of the most genuine performers of the era. Be it “Yes It’s Fucking Political”, “She’s My Heroine” or “Pickin’ on Me”, she can provide whatever the song needs vocally and you just don’t doubt the fact that she means every word she is singing. Skunk Anansie never sound anything less than full-blooded or committed to the material. It’s an aggressive hard rock album, released at a time when very few British acts were releasing aggressive rock albums, or at least not without a huge side-order of irony. Stoosh is played with an utterly straight, uncompromising bat, and if nothing else, you have to give Skunk Anansie credit for that.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Curve ‎Cuckoo


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The duo of Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia (with help from three others) gave us the refinement of the deeds they started before. This 1993 release garnered them the press and acclaim they deserved, and although it would be five years before their next release, they left the masses with a lasting impression. The lead-off "Missing Link" burns by with the loudest number they had done up to that point. Using the loudness as a driving force instead of an accompanying factor, it's a refreshing blast of energy. An illustration of the opposite end of the noise spectrum is "Left of Mother" with its acoustic base and Halliday's airy vocals spilling into the tracks. "Unreadable Communication" showcases a different train of thought with its electronic intro and main body, only heightened with moments of the Curve grind. These are the extremes, and Cuckoo is the crystallization of previous works. Following the blitz of "Missing Link," "Crystal" finds the band back in the mode of power through coloring and groove. The color of noise is used splendidly in the chorus, adding to the tone of the lyrics. "All Of One" leads off with Halliday's floating lyrics before plunging into a guitar driven choruses. Additional flourishes of guitar throughout add depth and teeth to the composition. The "Curve style" is used to great effect in "Turkey Crossing" with its simple bass groove and ultra-dirty guitar phrases accompanied by Halliday's seductive vocal. Lyrics like "I'm finished with you/please be finished with me" are only embellished by layered guitars adding musical weight to the lines. Flood's prowess at the board only helps "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" pound a groove into your head, only to have the salt of dirty guitar added into your wound. It's grind and melody join two things that at times seem to be in conflict, just like the objects of the title. Curve was one of the top purveyors of "shoe-gazing" pop, and Cuckoo demonstrates why. This is an essential album to the genre.
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