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If the Orb's 1995 release Orbus Terrarum was an extended meditation on the earthbound, the band's follow-up in Orblivion rises from the muck of primordial ectoplasm for a guided tour of late 20th century Western culture's more paranoid face. From the Cold War (the album kicks off with Joseph McCarthy's intoning of the immortal invective "Are you now, or have you ever been...") to the pre-millennial ranting of David Thewlis' warped, apocalyptic monologue from Mike Leigh's Naked ("The bar code! The ubiquitous bar code!"), Orblivion does for post-industrial, turn of the century mania what earlier albums such as The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and U.F.Orb did for aliens and flying saucers. Like the previous record -- an effusive mix of sprawling environmental textures, clanging, treated percussion, and humorous, trainspottery samples -- Orblivion brings with it another adjustment in mood, combining elements of downbeat, electro, and drum'n'bass with dense, soupy amalgams of treated electronics and shimmering rhythms. Orblivion also evidences a renewed interest in the more immediately engaging, upbeat pop of "Perpetual Dawn"- and "Little Fluffy Clouds"-era Orb, with a deeper, more embellished sound marked, in all likelihood, by the first full-time contributions from former engineer Andy Hughes (who replaced Kris Weston after the latter's departure in 1994). Dub is still the organizing principle of the Orb's music, however, and whatever one's opinion of the actual album (reactions are likely to range from "genius" to "aimless") the production is undeniably amazing. [Island's 2008 U.K. edition included a nine-track bonus disc of remixes.]
The Prodigy's response to the sweeping legislation and crackdown on raves contained in 1994's Criminal Justice Bill is an effective statement of intent. Pure sonic terrorism, Music for the Jilted Generation employs the same rave energy that charged their debut, Experience, up the charts in Britain, but yokes it to a cause other than massive drug intake. Compared to their previous work, the sound is grubbier and less reliant on samples; the effect moved the Prodigy away from the American-influenced rave and acid house of the past and toward a uniquely British vision of breakbeat techno that was increasingly allied to the limey invention of drum'n'bass. As on Experience, there are so many great songs here that first-time listeners would be forgiven for thinking of a greatest-hits compilation instead of a proper studio album. After a short intro, the shattering of panes of glass on "Break & Enter" catapults the album ahead with a propulsive flair. Each of the four singles -- "Voodoo People," "Poison," "No Good (Start the Dance)," and "One Love" -- are excellent, though album tracks like "Speedway" and "Their Law" (with help from Pop Will Eat Itself) don't slip up either. If Experience seemed like an excellent fluke, Music for the Jilted Generation is the album that announced the Prodigy were on the charts to stay.
Modern Life Is Rubbish established Blur as the heir to the archly British pop of the Kinks, the Small Faces, and the Jam, but its follow-up, Parklife, revealed the depth of that transformation. Relying more heavily on Ray Davies' seriocomic social commentary, as well as new wave, Parklife runs through the entire history of post-British Invasion Brit-pop in the course of 16 songs, touching on psychedelia, synth pop, disco, punk, and music hall along the way. Damon Albarn intended these songs to form a sketch of British life in the mid-'90s, and it's startling how close he came to his goal; not only did the bouncy, disco-fied "Girls & Boys" and singalong chant "Parklife" become anthems in the U.K., but they inaugurated a new era of Brit-pop and lad culture, where British youth celebrated their country and traditions. The legions of jangly, melodic bands that followed in the wake of Parklife revealed how much more complex Blur's vision was. Not only was their music precisely detailed -- sound effects and brilliant guitar lines pop up all over the record -- but the melodies elegantly interwove with the chords, as in the graceful, heartbreaking "Badhead." Surprisingly, Albarn, for all of his cold, dispassionate wit, demonstrates compassion that gives these songs three dimensions, as on the pathos-laden "End of a Century," the melancholy Walker Brothers tribute "To the End," and the swirling, epic closer, "This Is a Low." For all of its celebration of tradition, Parklife is a thoroughly modern record in that it bends genres and is self-referential (the mod anthem of the title track is voiced by none other than Phil Daniels, the star of Quadrophenia). And, by tying the past and the present together, Blur articulated the mid-'90s Zeitgeist and produced an epoch-defining record. [EMI's deluxe 2012 double-disc expansion of Parklife contains the 1994 album on the first disc and a host of B-sides and rarities on the second. Parklife is where Blur hit their stride and this is evident even throughout the B-sides collected here. Sure, there are songs that are proud throwaways -- Graham Coxon's spiteful, boozy pisstake "Red Necks" and Alex James' tweaked twee "Alex's Song" -- but there are also moments of shivering beauty, as in the Ziggy Stardust homage "Peter Panic," the gleefully nasty disco "People in Europe," and the barbed pop of "Threadneedle Street." To these B-sides acoustic versions of "Jubilee" (a song that does not easily lend itself to such an arrangement), "Parklife," and "End of a Century" are added, rounding out a generous and entertaining bonus disc.]
Gabriel had enough success with Security to allow him to take his time in making his fifth studio album, So. During this extended time off, he continued to embrace lighter, humorous music and MTV completed its ascendance to dominate pop culture. "Shock the Monkey" had been a favorite during the early days of the music-video network, so they were prepared to embrace a new record from him -- and he seized the opportunity by developing a brilliant, kaleidoscopic video for "Sledgehammer," an Otis Redding-inspired soul-pop raver that was easily his catchiest, happiest single to date. Needless to say, it was also his most accessible, and, in that sense it was a good introduction to So, the catchiest, happiest record he ever cut. "Sledgehammer" propelled the record toward blockbuster status, and Gabriel had written enough songs with single potential to keep it there. There was "Big Time," another colorful dance number; "Don't Give Up," a moving duet with Kate Bush; "Red Rain," a stately anthem popular on album rock radio; and "In Your Eyes," Gabriel's greatest love song which achieved genuine classic status after being featured in Cameron Crowe's classic, Say Anything. These all illustrated the strengths of the album: Gabriel's increased melodicism and ability to blend soul, African music, and jangly pop into his moody art rock. Apart from these singles, plus the urgent "That Voice Again," the rest of the record is as quiet as the album tracks of Security. The difference is, the singles on that record were part of the overall fabric; here, the singles are the fabric, which can make the album seem top-heavy (a fault of many blockbuster albums, particularly those of the mid-'80s). Even so, those songs are so strong, finding Gabriel in a newfound confidence and accessibility, that it's hard not to be won over by them, even if overall So doesn't develop the unity of its two predecessors. So is unquestionably Peter Gabriel's high-water mark commercially and creatively, it's one of his greatest albums, as well. All this makes it an ideal candidate for a super deluxe set, which the album received in 2012. Like many deluxe sets this comes in two different incarnations, the splashiest one being the Immersion box set containing a wealth of material: there is a remastered So; there is the concert film Live from Athens 1987 concert, presented both as a DVD and as a double-CD; a DVD of the Classic Albums documentary series focusing on So; a vinyl version of the album; a 12" single with two previously unreleased tracks ("Courage," "Sagrada") and an alternate version of "Don't Give Up;" finally, there's an extra CD of So DNA, containing evolutionary edits of each song on the album. Of these extras, by far the most interesting is So DNA. While the live concert -- which is the bonus feature on the far cheaper standard deluxe triple-disc edition -- is quite good, So DNA illustrates Gabriel's creative process in a way no other album has. Each cut begins as an amorphous set of instrumentals and vocals, then slowly the song takes shape. This procedure tends to be more interesting on the livelier numbers like "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time," whose origins are much further away from the finished product than, say, the always eerie "Red Rain," but each of the cuts are quite compelling and surely worth the time of any Gabriel diehard. Whether it's worth the considerable chunk of cash just to hear this disc is another matter, but the rest of the Immersion Box is indeed gorgeous -- a handsomely produced, well-annotated, deep excavation into So -- so anybody with the inclination and budget to purchase the super-deluxe set will likely not be disappointed.
Kate Bush's strongest album also marked her breakthrough into the American charts, and yielded a set of dazzling videos as well as an enviable body of hits, spearheaded by "Running Up That Hill," her biggest single since "Wuthering Heights." Strangely enough, Hounds of Love was no less complicated in its structure, imagery, and extra-musical references (even lifting a line of dialogue from Jacques Tourneur's Curse of the Demon for the intro of the title song) than The Dreaming, which had been roundly criticized for being too ambitious and complex. But Hounds of Love was more carefully crafted as a pop record, and it abounded in memorable melodies and arrangements, the latter reflecting idioms ranging from orchestrated progressive pop to high-wattage traditional folk; and at the center of it all was Bush in the best album-length vocal performance of her career, extending her range and also drawing expressiveness from deep inside of herself, so much so that one almost feels as though he's eavesdropping at moments during "Running Up That Hill." Hounds of Love is actually a two-part album (the two sides of the original LP release being the now-lost natural dividing line), consisting of the suites "Hounds of Love" and "The Ninth Wave." The former is steeped in lyrical and sonic sensuality that tends to wash over the listener, while the latter is about the experiences of birth and rebirth. If this sounds like heady stuff, it could be, but Bush never lets the material get too far from its pop trappings and purpose. In some respects, this was also Bush's first fully realized album, done completely on her own terms, made entirely at her own 48-track home studio, to her schedule and preferences, and delivered whole to EMI as a finished work; that history is important, helping to explain the sheer presence of the album's most striking element -- the spirit of experimentation at every turn, in the little details of the sound. That vastly divergent grasp, from the minutiae of each song to the broad sweeping arc of the two suites, all heavily ornamented with layered instrumentation, makes this record wonderfully overpowering as a piece of pop music. Indeed, this reviewer hadn't had so much fun and such a challenge listening to a new album from the U.K. since Abbey Road, and it's pretty plain that Bush listened to (and learned from) a lot of the Beatles' output in her youth. Incidentally, those seeking to hear the full, exquisite sonic range of Hounds of Love (or any of Bush's pre-1990s albums, for that matter) should ignore the U.S.-made EMI America CDs and go for any of the British CD editions, either individually or in the This Woman's Work set; or, better still on Hounds of Love, the boxed edition with bonus tracks released in conjunction with EMI's 100th anniversary in 1997.
Hooking up with Malcolm McLaren was a pivotal moment for Adam Ant, since the manager not only introduced Ant to the thundering, infectious Burundi drum beat that became his signature, he stole his band, too. Adam and the rest of the Ants had just worked up how to exploit the Burundi style when McLaren pirated the boys off to support Annabella Lwin in Bow Wow Wow -- using the very same sound they had developed with Adam Ant. It was now a race to get that sound into the stores first, and Adam lucked out when he joined forces with guitarist Marco Pirroni, who quickly proved to be invaluable. Ant and Pirroni knocked out a bunch of songs that retained some of the dark artiness of Dirk Wears White Sox, largely anchored by those enormous Burundi beats and given great, irresistible pop hooks -- plus a flash sense of style, as the new Ants dressed up in something that looked like American Indians with a velveteen touch of a dandy fop. It was a brilliant, gonzo move -- something that quickly overshadowed Bow Wow Wow -- and the resulting record, Kings of the Wild Frontier, is one of the great defining albums of its time. There's simply nothing else like it, nothing else that has the same bravado, the same swagger, the same gleeful self-aggrandizement and sense of camp. This walked a brilliant line between campiness and art-house chutzpah, and it arrived at precisely the right time -- at the forefront of new wave, so Adam & the Ants exploded into the British popular consciousness. If image was all that they had, they would've remained a fad, but Kings of the Wild Frontier remains a terrific album because it not only has some tremendous songs -- the title track and "Antmusic" are classic hits, while "Killer in the Home" and "Physical (You're So)" are every bit their equal -- but because it fearlessly, imperceptibly switches gears between giddy and ominous, providing nothing short of a thrill ride in its 13 songs. That's why it still sounds like nothing else years after its release
Dare! captures a moment in time perfectly -- the moment post-punk's robotic fascination with synthesizers met a clinical Bowie-esque infatuation with fashion and modern art, including pop culture, plus a healthy love of songcraft. The Human League had shown much of this on their early singles, such as "Empire State Human," but on Dare! they simply gelled, as their style was supported by music and songs with emotional substance. That doesn't mean that the album isn't arty, since it certainly is, but that's part of its power -- the self-conscious detachment enhances the postmodern sense of emotional isolation, obsession with form over content, and love of modernity for its own sake. That's why Dare! struck a chord with listeners who didn't like synth pop or the new romantics in 1981, and why it still sounds startlingly original decades after its original release -- the technology may have dated, synths and drum machines may have become more advanced, but few have manipulated technology in such an emotionally effective way. Of course, that all wouldn't matter if the songs themselves didn't work smashingly, whether it's a mood piece as eerie as "Seconds," an anti-anthem like "The Things That Dreams Are Made Of," the dance club glow of "Love Action (I Believe in Love)," or the utter genius of "Don't You Want Me," a devastating chronicle of a frayed romance wrapped in the greatest pop hooks and production of its year. The latter was a huge hit, so much so that it overshadowed the album in the minds of most listeners, yet, for all of its shining brilliance, it wasn't a pop supernova -- it's simply the brightest star on this record, one of the defining records of its time. [The 2012 reissue of the album adds bonus remixes and versions, the Fascination! EP, and expanded packaging.]
ABC's debut album combined the talents of the Sheffield, U.K.-based band, particularly lead singer Martin Fry, a fashion plate of a frontman with a Bryan Ferry fixation, and the inventive production style of former Buggles member Trevor Horn and his team of musicians, several of whom would go on to form the Art of Noise. Horn created dense tracks that merged synthesizer sounds, prominent beats, and swaths of strings and horns, their orchestrations courtesy of Anne Dudley, who would follow her work with the Art of Noise by becoming a prominent film composer, and who here underscored Fry's stylized romantic lyrics and dramatic, if affected, singing. The production style was dense and noisy, but frequently beautiful, and the group's emotional songs gave it a depth and coherence later Horn works, such as those of Yes ("Owner of a Lonely Heart") and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, would lack. (You can hear Horn trying out the latter band's style in "Date Stamp.") Fry and company used the sound to create moving dancefloor epics like "Many Happy Returns," which, like most of the album's tracks, deserved to be a hit single. (In the U.K., four were: "Tears Are Not Enough," "Poison Arrow," "The Look of Love," and "All of My Heart," the last three making the Top Ten; in the U.S., "The Look of Love" and "Poison Arrow" charted Top 40.) ABC, which began fragmenting almost immediately, never equaled its gold-selling first LP commercially or artistically, despite some worthy later songs. [The sprawling, two-disc 2004 reissue includes 11 live tracks, demos for "Tears Are Not Enough," "Show Me," and "Surrender," new mixes of "Poison Arrow" and "Alphabet Soup," an alternate version of "Tears Are Not Enough," and an outtake called "Into the Valley of the Heathen Go."]
Whenever indie music seems lost in its own self-righteous, unchallenging, inoffensive fundament, Primal Scream rides in to try and save it all. So just as Screamadelica tried to encapsulate the importance of ecstasy culture, or Vanishing Point tried to exorcise their own insanity, here XTRMNTR is a nasty, fierce realization of an entire world that has also lost the plot. The album starts with a gloriously vindictive sample of a kid commanding "Kill All Hippies," and this roughly states the album's modus operandi. There are songs shouting with furious, feedback-splayed anger ("Blood Money," "Exterminator"), songs of club-based revolt (both house-influenced versions of "Swastika Eyes"), and songs of utterly manic desperation ("Accelerator"). The album only lurches when lead singer Bobby Gillespie's weedy vocals can't keep up with the black noise of the music. "Insect Royalty" meanders and mumbles with a blank approach. "Pills" is a half-realized hip-hop song, with Gillespie diminishing its power on every verse (it only saves itself when it caps the song off with the album's central theme: "Sick f*ck f*ck sick f*ck f*ck sick f*ck"). Thankfully, Scream's highs, such as the gentleness of "Keep Your Dreams" (sounding like the third sibling to 1991's "I'm Coming Down" or 1997's "Star"), as well as the inversely monstrous and apocalyptic "MBV Arkestra (If They Move, Kill 'Em)," shower down with purely visceral poise. The album is not the flawless statement against complacency the band seemed to strive for, but it succeeds at tearing heads off, shooting fascists, and quickly asking questions later with unbelievable fury. For these reasons alone, it easily serves as one of the band's highest marks. These aren't the aggro-simpleton maneuvers of bands like Rage Against the Machine or Korn; the implosive production and sheer political belief prove that ingenuity must come hand in hand with "statement" if an idea is to come across effectively. XTRMNTR is simply a protest -- sonically as well as lyrically -- and maybe this would be a fine time to once again rally behind something worthwhile
A compilation of singles, B-sides, album tracks, and BBC sessions assembled for the American market, Louder Than Bombs is an overlong and unfocused collection that nevertheless boasts a wealth of brilliant material. Since Hatful of Hollow was unavailable in the U.S. at the time of the release of Louder Than Bombs, this compilation contains large chunks of that album, as well as several cuts from The Smiths, which makes the record a little redundant for most Smiths fans. Also, Louder Than Bombs contains some of the worst material the group ever recorded, including the bland instrumental "Oscillate Wildly" and a cover of Twinkle's "Golden Light." Excluding all of this material, the remainder of the record is brilliant. The singles "Shakespeare's Sister," "Panic," "Ask," "Shoplifters of the World Unite," and "Sheila Take a Bow" are all definitive, as are the elegiac "Unloveable," "Asleep," "Stretch Out and Wait," and "Half a Person," which are all unavailable anywhere else (excluding the British counterpart to Louder Than Bombs, The World Won't Listen). Furthermore, the sneering, bouncing pop of "You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby" and the bizarre travelogue of "Is It Really So Strange?" are two other essential songs not available anywhere else. Though The World Won't Listen is a more concise collection, Louder Than Bombs is a necessary purchase for any Smiths fan
Early punk backgrounds and the like behind them, Perry and Gerrard created a striking, dour landmark in early-'80s atmospherics on their first, self-titled effort. Bearing much more resemblance to the similarly gripping, dark early work of bands like the Cocteau Twins and the Cure than to the later fusions of music that would come to characterize the duo's sound, Dead Can Dance is as goth as it gets in many places. Perry and Gerrard's wonderful vocal work -- his rich, warm tones and her unearthly, multi-octave exaltations -- are already fairly well established, but serve different purposes here. Thick, shimmering guitar and rumbling bass/drum/drum machine patterns practically scream their sonic connections to the likes of Robin Guthrie and Robert Smith, but they still sound pretty darn good for all that. When they stretch that sound to try for a more distinct, unique result, the results are astonishing. Gerrard is the major beneficiary here -- "Frontier" explicitly experiments with tribal percussion, resulting in an excellent combination of her singing and the rushed music. Then there's the astonishing "Ocean," where guitar and chiming bells and other rhythmic sounds provide the bed for one of her trademark -- and quite, quite lovely -- vocal excursions into the realm of glossolalia. Perry in contrast tends to be matched with the more straightforward numbers of digital processing and thick, moody guitar surge. The album ends on a fantastic high note -- "Musica Eternal," featuring a slowly increasing-in-volume combination of hammered dulcimer, low bass tones, and Gerrard's soaring vocals. As an indicator of where the band was going, it's perfect.
This collection focuses on the 'chilled' and more relaxed sounds of the '80s. Includes tracks from a-Ha, Duran Duran, Howard Jones, Nik Kershaw, Soft Cell, Japan, Culture Club, Level 42, Hall & Oates and many others
The three CD set showcases electronic, synth and drum machine 80s genres from electro to synth pop to new romantic to new wave to hip-hop--all in their full-length 12" extended mix glory. Featuring a mix of the classic and the underground, this back to basics collection includes seminal 80s 12”s from such legends as New Order, Human League, Simple Minds, Grandmaster Flash, Soft Cell, Japan, Afrika Bambaataa, Heaven 17, Yazoo and Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Clubbed to Death paints a definitive picture of the vibrant, eclectic club culture of Britain in the ’90s. The album’s three discs cut across the years and genres of that decade, unity tracks with a common thread - the inspirational left-of-centre electronic sound that warped its way out of the US hip hop and house scenes and ended up as the foundation for some of the biggest careers in dance music. Far from being a nostalgia trip, Clubbed to Death shines a light on the endlessly experimental period of dance music that happened in the UK at the end of the millennium. From Bristol to Brighton via Madchester and the capital, club soundsystems shook to a grab bag of sounds – stoned and broken breaks and beats topped with twisted analogue noise – and just for a short while, people bought the records they were hearing in their droves. Featuring some of the very best music of the era released on labels like Mo’Wax, Warp, Skint and Creation, Clubbed to Death looks back at a time when the UK’s nascent Balearic scene would rapidly make Top 10 singles out of club hits (Bass-O-Matic, the Beloved) and when wide-eyed indie kids loosened up and began to experiment with electronics (Primal Scream, Saint Etienne, Happy Mondays); a time when well-respected rock’n’roll stars surrendered their mastertapes to young, free-thinking mixers (Paul Weller, Everything But The Girl) and some of the country’s most uncompromising underground producers would go on to create award-winning, truly panoramic music (Goldie presents Metalheadz, Roni Size). It’s a timely reminder of a time when the cutting edge of electronic music was the sound of the Top 40 as well as the country’s most forward thinking dancefloors. Clubbed to Death comes with specially written sleeve notes by Rob Dougan (the man behind the iconic titular track Clubbed to Death).
Spread out over four discs and lovingly packaged, Cherry Red's Millions Like Us tells the tale of the mod revival, one of the most insular and focused music scenes to ever come out of the U.K. Inspired by the success of the Jam, who played with all the pent-up energy of the Who and sported the dress sense of the nattiest '60s mods, and the release of the film Quadrophenia, England exploded with bands eager to follow in the Jam's wake, and Millions collects up most, if not all, of them. From the most obscure corners of the scene to the bands who almost made it (the Lambrettas, Secret Affair, the Chords, Squire -- each of whom get two songs), there are tons of groups made up of young lads in stylish gear looking to express their frustrations, celebrate their small freedoms, bash out ringing chords, and impress the young modettes in the crowd. For the most part, the bands involved play with enough energy and fire to obscure their obvious debt to the past, and the Jam, and the collection is filled with tons of great songs. Split between rave-ups about scooters, bank holidays, and girls, and empowering mini-epics about the "kids" and the scene, there's a positivity to the music that must have provided a nice alternative for people who wanted loud and aggressive music, but also wanted to hear good melodies and look smart. To that end, a great deal of the songs here share a lot with the power pop scene that was operating in the U.S. at the same time. Check out Secret Affair's "My World," which sounds like it could have been on a Raspberries album. There's also a strong R&B thread running through the scene, mostly in a good Northern soul/Motown-inspired way, sometimes in a corny, overly reverent way (like the Q-Tips' tepid cover of "S.Y.S.L.J.F.M [The Letter Song]"). The set takes a few interesting detours here and there, gathering up some music on the fringes of the scene like L.A. band the Untouchables' "Free Yourself," the twee pop psych of Direct Hits' lovely "Modesty Blaise," the modern girl group snap of Dee Walker's "Snap Back," and the bubblegummy pop of the JetSet's "Wednesday Girl." These diversions show how far the mod revival's reach extended, and it keeps the set from being merely four hours of bands who wanted to be the Jam's little brothers. The fourth disc shows that this urge was very strong and long-lasting, since even by 1989 there were still bands in deep thrall to the classic mod sound, though peppered by psychedelic leanings (the Leepers' "Paint a Day") and early acid jazz (the James Taylor Quartet) too. Like most box sets, Millions Like Us isn't perfect and goes on a little too long, but overall it's a fun, exhaustive, and inspired look back at a vibrant scene that tends to be overlooked, but really shouldn't be.
Direction Reaction Creation is the ultimate Jam package, offering 117 tracks over five discs -- essentially the band's complete studio recordings. With a strict adherence to chronological order, the box presents each single followed by its B-side(s) (six of which appear on CD for the first time, including the brilliant "See Saw"), followed by the proper album tracks -- oddly, though, the album versions of the singles are chosen in most places. Unfortunately, this approach sometimes disrupts the flow of the albums, especially in the case of All Mod Cons, which loses three tracks to the treatment, and Setting Sons, which loses "Eton Rifles" to a separate disc. This is a small point for purists to debate -- the difference is really unnoticeable in light of the truly great music found on the discs. In addition to the regular studio tracks, disc five offers over an hour of studio demos -- 22 previously unreleased tracks of considerably different takes of better-known material, a few never-before-heard Weller and Foxton originals, and some interesting covers like "Rain," "Dead End Street," and "Every Little Bit Hurts." A lavish 88-page booklet accompanies the set with great liner notes, an extensive band chronology and discography, and the band's complete gig list, along with plenty of rare photos and memorabilia. The Jam, simply put, were one the finest bands in rock & roll history, and Direction Reaction Creation offers the proof, showing both their remarkably rapid growth and their incredible consistency
Given the blockbuster success of the Jam's exhaustive box set Direction Reaction Creation, perhaps it was inevitable that Polydor would give the Style Council a similar treatment, but the 1998 release of the five-disc box set The Complete Adventures of the Style Council was still a bit of surprise -- there never was much interest in their catalog following their 1990 disbandment. Fortunately, Polydor took a chance and assembled The Complete Adventures, a lavish box set containing all of the group's singles and albums, minus the live Home & Abroad but including the notorious unreleased 1989 record A Decade of Modernism, which the label allegedly rejected because it found Weller turning toward house music. As it turns out, A Decade of Modernism wasn't that far afield from what the Style Council was exploring from their inception, as the chronological running order of the set makes clear. The sequencing is a blessed occurrence, since it's easy to trace their development over the years. Instead of an aberration, the Style Council seems like a natural extension of the Jam's final record, The Gift, and every one of their subsequent records makes more sense than before. That doesn't mean the music is always compelling. No matter how interesting some of Weller's ideas were, they didn't always work, and he wrote way too many pompous, directionless songs to have The Complete Adventures rank with Direction Reaction Creation. (There are also too many Mick Talbot instrumentals, but that's another story.) For most listeners, including some serious Weller fans, the Style Council is best appreciated as a singles band, but for the dedicated, The Complete Adventures reveals that the Style Council, no matter how maddening they could be, were a group that continually reinvented themselves, occasionally making some remarkable music along the way
Daft Punk titled their hits compilation with an indicator (Vol. 1) that more would be forthcoming, and it's easy to believe that in a dozen years, another dozen singles could be collected with no drop in quality. Unlike their contemporaries coming of age during the rise of electronica, Messrs. Bangalter and de Homem-Christo structured their tracks with drop-dead hooks, peerless beats that were perfect for the dancefloor or the living room, and an innovative production sense. Although Musique, Vol. 1: 1993-2005 won't be necessary for longtime fans, it boasts a few inclusions that should lure in even those who have each of the first three albums. The first reason is its opener, "Musique," actually a B-side (of debut single "Da Funk") whose basement sonics and filter-disco vocal treatment made it the best side of Daft Punk's best single. The second excellent tactic is including three of Daft Punk's greatest remixes, including the electro-shocked "Mothership Reconnection" (originally by Scott Grooves) and "Chord Memory" (originally by Ian Pooley). During their first dozen years, virtually all of Daft Punk's best productions were singles (the only exception being "Face to Face" from Discovery), and Musique is the best example why the duo was tops in electronica from the late '90s to the turn of the millennium.
While Placebo's self-titled debut contained mostly elements of '90s alternative (Smashing Pumpkins, etc.), their second album, Without You I'm Nothing, is full of '70s glam rock and punk references. Placebo's rhythm section of Stefan Olsdal (bass) and Steve Hewitt (drums) is impressively tight, but the band's star attraction is undoubtedly androgynous singer/guitarist Brian Molko. Whereas the debut was written solely by Molko, their latest is a bona fide group effort, with Molko still handling the lyric-writing. The swirling anthemic album opener, "Pure Morning," is a self-proclaimed "celebration of friendship with women," and should be a guaranteed hit single, while the racing "Brick Shithouse" merges '90s electro-rock with Sonic Youth punk guitars. "You Don't Care About Us" shows that Molko can easily re-create J Mascis' late-'80s guitar tones, and "Scared of Girls" contains gender-bending vocals from Molko and a tribal-rock accompaniment.
Though not as big and swirling as Just for a Day, there's more of an attempt to put advanced song structure and melody in place rather than just craft infinitely appealing, occasionally thunderous mood music. Everything is simplified, as if Brian Eno's presence on two songs -- he contributes keyboards and treatments and co-wrote one tune after turning down the band's invitation to produce -- hammered home the better aspects of "ambient" music. This is no Music for Airports though. On the opening "Alison," the largely uplifting "When the Sun Hits," and the darkly blissful "Machine Gun," Slowdive are still capable of mouth-opening, spine-tingling flourishes. They've found a way to be quiet, moving, and aggressive simultaneously, mixing trance-like beauty with the deepest delayed guitar sounds around, a sound at once relaxing, soothing, and exciting, and most of all harshly beautiful. [SBK released Souvlaki in the U.S. a full eight months after its English release on Creation, with three-quarters of the 5 EP tacked on the end, plus one unreleased track, a memorable, spacy run through Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood's "Some Velvet Morning."]
The Chemical Brothers' second career-spanning compilation is basically a substitute for the first, including nine of the same tracks first reissued on 2003's Singles 93-03 and then making room for a few of the touchstones released between 2003 and 2008 (two of which are new to this collection). The early classics Chemical Beats "" and "Leave Home" are still among the best of their career, while "Block Rockin' Beats" and "Setting Sun" (featuring Noel Gallagher) found the mature Chemical Brothers quickly growing comfortable with a stadium-sized sound and profile. From there, the duo appeared to merely refine their approach, gathering in further psychedelic and house influences while they scored gradually more popular guests over the subsequent ten years. Brotherhood's track listing could easily be quarreled with, but it includes most of the approved highlights from each album, early or old, innovative or orthodox. One of the new tracks features an intriguing matchup, with Spank Rock's Naeem Juwan joining the ChemBros for "Keep My Composure," a rather clever piece of acid hip-hop. [A deluxe version of Brotherhood included a special treat for fans, a bonus disc including all ten of the "Electronic Battle Weapon" tracks that found the Chemical Brothers working out tracks on white-label before they debuted as major-label work.]
Tim Simenon's Bomb the Bass pet project pumped some of the best acid house straight into late-'80s dance clubs. Best known stateside for the seminal "Beat Dis," similarly groundbreaking slow-beat club groove, and the Burt Bacharach cover "Say a Little Prayer," Simenon's brand of acid-laced rap and snappy sampling kept sweat flowing coast to coast. Unfortunately, by the time the band's second album appeared in 1991, Bomb the Bass was all but forgotten in the beginnings of the grunge backlash. However, the sonics have continued to percolate, hence the welcome appearance of the U.K. compilation Beat Dis: The Very Best Of, which serves up a healthy hodgepodge of hits and a neat tweak for aging ravers' long-lost brain cells. In no particular order, Beat Dis unravels 1988 through 1991, commencing with the 12" version of "Beat Dis" and ending with the absurdly short "Megamix," while hitting all the important points in between. First-wave favorites include the aforementioned "Say a Little Prayer" and "Shake It," while the 1991 incarnation weighs in mightily with "Dune Buggy Attack" and the British hit "Winter in July." An extra welcome bonus is the inclusion of the nearly metaphysical and ever so slightly menacing "The Air You Breathe," which emerges remarkably undated in comparison to some of the servings on offer. And, while it's true that heavy house and its culture are now tossed off as just another shallow moment in the increasingly angst-ridden musical scape, Beat Dis: The Very Best Of remains a potent portent of where the climate is probably headed in the endless turning of reinvention anyway. Besides, there's nothing fallow in a few great grooves
It may seem like a slightly boastful title, but Swagger is anything but an attitude-laden in-your-face rip, and all the better for it as well. By the time the Aeroplanes decided to take a chance on major-label existence, their combination of poetic ramalama and neo-guitar jangle and shake had been well established, so Swagger was, if anything, merely a polishing of the group's form rather than any radical leap. Gil Norton's production definitely has a pitch towards sounding good on the radio, but Langley's poems are still generally dead set against easy singalong, no matter how much the music lends itself to just that. His delivery is nonetheless quite attractive, and on songs like the lead single "World View Blue," his ruminative approach slips alongside the low-key grooves and guitar strums just so. When they want to, the Aeroplanes can turn up the heat, avoiding full-on sludge for a combination of electric force and quick, liquid playing. The complex melody line on "And Stones" and the exultant rush of "Love Come Round" are two instances of many. Bruschini, Allen, and Lee come up with any number of lovely melodies and performances throughout the record; to cite one instance of many, the descending chords on "Weightless" add a perfect drama to Langley's depiction of future shock. Allen himself takes the singing lead on "Careful Boy," a nice mandolin-touched piece. The core rhythm section of McCreeth and John Langley goes about its business well, adding in brief touches of flair or flash when needed. Echoes of the group's inspirations perhaps inevitably crop up -- a musical quote of "Sweet Jane" here, hints of the Byrds there -- but the one open source of inspiration used is a smart one. "The Applicant" sets one of Sylvia Plath's poems to music, Langley delivering the sharp lyrics with bite while the music keeps up the album's electric rush with style.