Saturday, 31 August 2019

The Beat You Just Can't Beat It The Best Of The Beat



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The Beat existed in its original form for less than five years in the late 1970s and early '80s, long enough to release three albums (I Just Can't Stop It, Wha'ppen?, and Special Beat Service) and some one-off singles. So, a two-hour, 37-track, two-CD set like the discount-priced U.K. retrospective You Just Can't Beat It: The Best of the Beat covers most of the group's recordings, with only a handful of tracks (not including remixes and live versions) left out. The most significant omission is the British single "Hit It," which only got to number 70 in the charts. The big hits are all here in a roughly chronological sequencing that gives the listener a sense of the band's development from its ska revival beginnings to more of a dub/reggae style and finally something like a mainstream soul/R&B approach including keyboards. Throughout, lead singer Dave Wakeling sings huskily over the infectiously danceable rhythms, complemented by the toasting of Ranking Roger. By the end, the group doesn't sound remotely spent, but further musical developments had to be handled by Wakeling and Ranking Roger in General Public on the one hand and guitarist Andy Cox and bassist Dave Steele with Fine Young Cannibals on the other. (In her enthusiastic if sketchy liner notes, Rhoda Dakar reveals that Wakeling leads a version of the English Beat in the U.S., while Ranking Roger has the New English Beat in the U.K.)

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

The Specials The Best Of The Specials



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Released in the U.K. in 2008 but not appearing in the U.S. until 2014, the Best of the Specials is far and away the most generous Specials compilation ever assembled, weighing in at a hefty 20 tracks and, in its initial pressing at least, containing an accompanying 16-track DVD featuring music videos and live performance. The real meat of the collection is that CD of 20 hits and staples, the songs that made the Specials one of the most vital bands of the early '80s: all the early singles -- "Gangsters," "Ghost Town," "Message to You Rudy," "Nite Klub" -- but also "Rat Race," "Stereotypes," "What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend," "Racist Friend," and "Nelson Mandela." All these and more are here on a compilation that encompasses the entirety of their dynamic, sometimes chaotic, career and while their debut remains peerless, this is a good way to get a sense of the whole story.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Eurythmics Ultimate Collection



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Preceding the elaborate 2005 reissues of Eurythmics' eight proper albums by a month, The Ultimate Collection narrowly trumps 1991's Greatest Hits since it features remastered sound and a more extensive track list. While it does not contain "Don't Ask Me Again," opting to instead select a couple merely decent highlights from 1999's Peace, two new (unplanned) recordings add value for any kind of fan. Bookending the disc, "I've Got a Life" is powerful disco-pop with Annie Lennox strongly present over a bursting multi-tiered arrangement, while the relatively low-key "Was It Just Another Affair" has more in common with late-period Everything But the Girl. Both songs pleasingly sound the way Eurythmics should sound in 2005. The rest of the disc leans toward the duo's peak of popularity, 1985's Be Yourself Tonight and the following year's Revenge, while the remainder of the albums -- with the exception of the unrepresented In the Garden, the debut -- chime in with two or three songs each. A truly ultimate collection would contain two discs and dig deeper into some of the best album cuts, rather than rely on charting singles, but this disc will sufficiently satisfy the casual fans who just want the songs they know and love.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Suzanne Vega Retrospective The Best Of Suzanne Vega



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Retrospective: The Best of Suzanne Vega is essentially A&M's updated version of their 1999 issue, The Best of Suzanne Vega: Tried and True, adding "Tired of Sleeping" from Vega's Days of Open Hand, "Calypso" and "Solitude Standing" from Solitude Standing, "(I'll Never Be) Your Maggie May" and "Penitent" from the 2001 recording Songs in Red and Gray, and "Woman on the Tier (I'll See You Through)" from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack. Unfortunately, A&M chose to drop "Book and Cover" from the track listing, which was only previously available on The Best of Suzanne Vega: Tried and True, but the overall collection feels a little bit more hearty with a total of 21 tracks instead of 17. [The U.K. edition includes a bonus disc boasting six live tracks, a previously unreleased song titled "Anniversary", and the original version of "Tom's Diner"]

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Ultravox The Very Best Of



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With the departure of John Foxx and the arrival of his replacement Midge Ure, Ultravox underwent a seismic shift in emphasis, signaled by more than the mere loss of their moniker's exclamation point. Having flirted with lush and lavish synthesized sounds on their third album, Systems of Romance, the band threw itself whole-heartedly into the burgeoning New Romantic movement. Beginning in June 1980, Ultravox began releasing a series of seminal singles pooling around alienation and dislocation, taking them into the U.K. singles chart for the first time and keeping them there until their dissolution in 1987. The group's themes became ever more grandiose -- "Vienna"'s crumbling Hapsburg empire, "Reap the Wild Wind"'s horrors and heroism of war, "The Voice" examining the fearsome pull of fascism, "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes" spreading terror of nuclear annihilation. All are packed with images so vivid they remain engraved in the minds of anyone old enough to remember the '80s. But that's because one can't hear the songs today without their fabulous videos swirling into view. Best of Ultravox: Sight and Sound pairs a CD featuring all the Ure-led band's singles (along with a sole B-side, "White China") with a DVD of 14 of their hits and accompanying videos: "Vienna" defining the New Romantic genre and look, "Wild Wind" paying tribute to the RAF who saved Britain from the Nazi onslaught, and "Dancing" turning a three-minute warning into an epic homage of the life that mankind's leaders seemed set to destroy.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Nick Heyward & Haircut One Hundred The Greatest Hits


Nick Heyward & Haircut One Hundred The Greatest Hits

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Haircut 100 wasn't given the respect the band deserved in the early '80s. The group was -- and unfortunately still is -- often lumped in with the one-hit wonders from that period. It's not their fault that U.S. radio stations only concentrated on one track, the cuddly single "Love Plus One." They were far better than people give them credit for. This compilation mixes the band's U.K. chart favorites with the highlights of vocalist Nick Heyward's solo career. Although many best-of albums usually aren't comprehensive enough when reflecting the finest moments of an artist's discography, this is a welcome exception, the perfect introduction to Heyward and Haircut 100. It's hard to argue with the selections. "Favourite Shirts" should've been the smash that "Love Plus One" became. Recalling a young Aztec Camera with its infectiously jangling riff and positive vibes, "Favourite Shirts" has a sense of innocence that alternative rock in the '90s sadly lost. The summer-soaked gaiety of "Favourite Shirts" and "Fantastic Day" is exhilarating; listening to them is like inhaling fresh air. Although Haircut 100 wasn't the same without him, Heyward actually improved as a songwriter when he left the group. Solo cuts such as "Blue Hat for a Blue Day" and "Whistle Down the Wind" display his maturity, but his ear for toe-tapping melodies hasn't aged. "On a Sunday" and "Love All Day (And Night)" resurrect Haircut 100's untainted pop

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Blur The Best Of Blur



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It's boring to point out omissions on hits compilations, especially when a collection is as generous as the 18-track The Best of Blur, but let's do it anyway. The Best of Blur largely bypasses the group's key album, Modern Life Is Rubbish, the record that invented Brit-pop, skewing in favor of the self-consciously "experimental" 13, which, for all of its attributes, wasn't a singles album. Plus, the group continues to punish the British record-buying public by not including the brilliant "Pop Scene" (to beat a dead horse, the single that invented Brit-pop), since nobody bought it at the time. So, without "Pop Scene," "Chemical World," or "Sunday Sunday," a crucial chapter of Blur's history is missing from The Best of Blur -- the chapter where they essentially became Blur. It's to their immense credit that the album doesn't feel like it's missing anything, since these singles (plus one album track) are dazzling on their own. Of course, the trick is that the record isn't assembled chronologically. Instead, it flows like a set list, complete with the set closer "This Is a Low" followed by a two-song encore that ends with the new song (the good, not great, "Music Is My Radar"), which not only gives it a momentum of its own, but draws attention to the songs themselves. And "dazzling" isn't hyperbole -- based on these 18 songs, Blur aren't just the best pop band of the '90s, with greater range and depth than their peers; they rank among the best pop bands of all time. The Best of Blur illustrates that, even as it misses some of their best moments -- omissions that prevent it from being the flat-out classic it should be. Even so, it's pretty damn terrific, particularly for the unconverted.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Squeeze Big Squeeze The Very Best Of



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Over the course of Squeeze's 25-year career, an inexplicable number of greatest-hits compilations have surfaced (seven, to be specific), and nearly all of them have suffered from a serious flaw, whether it's the exclusion of important hit singles or the inclusion of mediocre album cuts and B-sides. The only two worthwhile compilations -- 1982's Singles 45's & Under and 1994's Greatest Hits -- both suffered somewhat by not covering the entirety of the band's career. Big Squeeze is the attempt to remedy this mess, as it is the first hits compilation that covers the band from 1977 to 1998, including most of the important singles along the way, as well as tacking on a bonus disc of B-sides. Granted, Squeeze released some great singles -- enough to substantiate a straight-up two-disc singles compilation, really -- but for a casual fan, this is truly the best introduction. Big Squeeze includes the entirety of Singles 45's & Under (save for the substitution of "Labelled with Love" for "If I Didn't Love You"), and then goes on to pluck their more important later-day singles, including their biggest U.S. chart hit, 1987's "Hourglass," and their 1995 Top 20 British comeback, "This Summer." The second disc is an interesting, if flawed, journey through Squeeze's B-sides catalog. The band has a treasure trove of nearly 100 non-album cuts available, so it's surprising that Big Squeeze wastes space on throwaways like "Suites from Five Strangers" and "Squabs on Forty Fab," but most of the rest of the tracks live up to the high standard of the band's singles and album cuts. There is also an insightful track-by-track commentary written by both Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, although it's poorly organized and inexplicably fails to identify who is speaking in each part of the liner notes. Qualms aside, the most significant feature of Big Squeeze is that unlike most of the other Squeeze compilations, this one makes sense as a retrospective. [Big Squeeze was also reissued in 2005 as Gold].

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Tears For Fears Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82-92) (Sound+Vision Deluxe)




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Capturing some of their chart-topping smashes and other key tracks, Tears for Fears marks a monumental career with their collection Tears Roll Down: Greatest Hits 82-92. Toward the end of the praise surrounding their third album, 1991's Seeds of Love, Curt Smith left the band. Roland Orzabal was left to sail the ship alone, and the strong success dwindled years later. However, this dozen-track compilation showcases some of the band's early tracks heavily dominated by pulsating bass drops and heavy synth beats. "Pale Shelter" and "Mad World" from their 1982 debut The Hurting moved toward the soul-defining musical maturation found on 1985's groundbreaking staple Songs From the Big Chair. The Top Ten hits are undoubtedly featured: "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," "Shout," and the more obscure "Mothers Talk." The luscious "Head Over Heels" cuts short of it's closing guitar work, a disappointment in the grand scheme of Tears for Fears' synth-dominated sound. Such layered riffs separated the rawness from the fluffy new wave aspect. "Sowing the Seeds of Love" marked the band's own branded progressive rock & roll, but "Woman in Chains," the gospel-tinged cut featuring guest vocals from Oleta Adams, was their most spiritual effort. Essentially, the dozen-track collection is a perfect look at what Tears for Fears did for music during the '80s until the mid-'90s. They made new wave sound cool and melodically beautiful.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

ABC Look Of Love The Very Best Of ABC (Sound + Vision Deluxe)



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With a deeper and broader track listing than most ABC compilations, Look of Love: The Very Best of ABC more or less lives up to its name. Concentrating on the band's glory days, the album covers the highlights of ABC's first five albums, including hits like the title track, "Poison Arrow," "When Smokey Sings," "Be Near Me," and "How to Be a Millionaire," as well as album tracks like "S.O.S.," "All of My Heart," and "The Night You Murdered Love." While some of the later inclusions, such as "The Real Thing," don't quite pack the punch of ABC's prime work, the 2001 track "Peace and Tranquility" fits in with the earlier material surprisingly well. Likewise, the somewhat random track listing might be somewhat annoying to anyone trying to track ABC's chronological development, but it does spotlight how consistent their brand of suave synth pop is. With a new song, a more diverse track listing, and no unnecessary remixes, Look of Love has a slight edge over Absolutely ABC: The Best of ABC as the group's definitive retrospective.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

The Housemartins /The Beautiful South Soup The Housemartins Condensed / Cream Of The Beautiful South



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Featuring a picture of can of soup on the cover, the top half titled "The Housemartins Condensed" and the bottom half "The Cream of the Beautiful South," the album known as Soup was rather biased toward the latter of Paul Heaton's groups with just seven of 22 tracks from only two of the Housemartins' albums, London 0 Hull 4 (named after the fact that there were four of them and they were from Hull) and The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death. That's not a lot, considering that during their brief existence, the Housemartins only achieved seven Top 40 hits, all of which are included here except their cover of "There Is Always Something There to Remind Me." The band was more influential than its chart success would have indicated. Both the Housemartins' other major hits were included, the bouncy, jolly "Happy Hour" and the a cappella cover of "Caravan of Love," along with lesser hits "Five Get Over Excited," "Me and the Farmer," and "Build." Fifteen of the 22 tracks here are devoted to Heaton's second and even more commercially successful band, the Beautiful South. With nine Top Ten albums behind them, the Beautiful South had achieved more radio-friendly hits and continued to enjoy play on easy listening stations long after their peak in the early '90s. Songs such as "Song for Whoever," "You Keep It All In," "A Little Time," "Rotterdam," "Don't Marry Her," and "Perfect 10" are all here, along with some lesser hits spread throughout their career from 1989 to 2003. The Housemartins have not been very well served by their highly visible greatest-hits campaigns, including the low-key release Best Of in 2004 and Now That's What I Call Quite Good! (a parody title of Now That's What I Call Music, the compilation series) in 1988. The Beautiful South, however, had enjoyed one of the biggest-selling albums of the '90s with Carry on Up the Charts, and Solid Bronze had also been a successful hits compilation, but Soup is the first time that both of Paul Heaton's bands' songs had been brought together.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Crowded House The Very Very Best Of Crowded House



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The second big-scale Crowded House compilation -- following the first, Recurring Dream, by 14 years, and the budget-line set Classic Masters by seven - 2010’s The Very Very Best of Crowded House (the second “very” distinguishing it from Recurring Dream, which was merely “The Very Best”) comes in two incarnations: a single CD running a tight 19 tracks, and a digital download that’s expanded to 32 songs. The CD version offers up much of Crowded House’s canon including “Weather with You,” “Something so Strong,” “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” “Four Seasons in One Day,” “It’s Only Natural,” “Better Be Home Soon” and “Mean to Me,” ultimately repeating 14 of Recurring Dream’s 19 songs while finding space for a pair of tunes from the 2007 reunion Time on Earth (“Don’t Stop Now,” “Pour Le Monde”). The three tunes left behind -- “World Where You Live,” “Into Temptation,” “When You Come” -- are all missed but they can be found on the digital edition, along with a clutch of other great songs that help make it the best Crowded House comp so far, verging on the definitive. Naturally, the single disc isn’t as thorough, but it does as good a job of offering the basics as Recurring Dream, and will surely satisfy listeners who don’t believe they need more than a disc of Crowded House.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Badly Drawn Boy The Hour Of Bewilderbeast


Badly Drawn Boy The Hour Of Bewilderbeast

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What has the field of lo-fi slacker pop come to when faced by an LP as ambitious and entertaining as Badly Drawn Boy's The Hour of Bewilderbeast? Despite all attempts to sabotage his songwriting and production with innumerable experimental tidbits, songs within a song, and (seemingly) tossed-off arrangements, Damon Gough has to face the fact that he wrote and produced over a dozen excellent songs of baroque folk-pop for his album debut, and the many gems can't help but shine through all the self-indulgence. The sprightly orchestration for cello and trumpet (Gough's own) that begin the album are eventually taken over by the sparse guitar pickings and wistful folky sunshine of "The Shining," which veers into the skewed slide guitar and ominous tone of "Everybody's Stalking." Gough rarely pauses for breath (even when he's doing a ballad) or follows any traditional sense of album flow, but after a listen or two, The Hour of Bewilderbeast is revealed as a shambling masterpiece of a pop album. Most of these songs are Gough's entirely (he plays as many as eight instruments), with occasional help from friends like Twisted Nerve co-labelhead Andy Votel and assorted drummers for accompaniment. His songwriting is great, but Gough's twisted sense of humor helps the album shine as well, as on "Fall in a River," where the down-a-lazy-river feel carries through to the point where not just Gough but the entire production is submerged with a splash and attendant warping of the sound. The Hour of Bewilderbeast surely isn't a traditional pop album, but a continually beguiling trip through lo-fi postmodern folk that draws as much from Harry Nilsson as Beck

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Belle & Sebastian Dear Catastrophe Waitress


Belle & Sebastian Dear Catastrophe Waitress

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After the near-disaster of forced democracy on Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant and the stultifying holding pattern of the Storytelling soundtrack, where Todd Solondz brought out their worst tendencies, it seemed that Belle & Sebastian were disappearing into their own preciousness, but then something unexpected happened: they returned to form with 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress. This was unexpected not just because their last efforts suggested that B&S no longer could produce a consistently engaging work, but because their savior came in the guise of Trevor Horn, the man who successfully helped Yes turn new wave, the man best known for his synth-heavy productions of ABC and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the man who was last heard producing everybody's favorite Russian teen lesbian duo, Tatu. That diverse resumé suggests that Horn knows how to play to a band's strengths, and he certainly helps Belle & Sebastian regain their focus and vision, turning Dear Catastrophe Waitress into one of the group's best albums. One of the reasons that album works so well is that the notion that the band has no leader has been discarded, with Stuart Murdoch thankfully serving as the lead singer and songwriter throughout the record. Murdoch's songs are firmly within the patented Belle & Sebastian style, and while it may be true that he's not stretching himself much as a writer, that doesn't matter because he sounds assured and confident, turning out a set of songs that are finely crafted and tuneful. It's among his catchiest work, if not quite his cleverest, since the words occasionally offer an overdose of whimsy that leads to queasiness. And that's where Horn comes in -- by keeping the focus on the tunes and subtly varying the production, he's made Dear Catastrophe Waitress the richest musical offering yet from Belle & Sebastian. If it doesn't quite have the timeless feel of If You're Feeling Sinister, so be it, since this is their first record since that defining album to offer a similarly rich listen, and that's quite a comeback for a band that only an album ago seemed to peak too early.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Fatboy Silm You've Come A Long Way, Baby 10th Anniversary Edition



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Fatboy Slim's debut album, Better Living Through Chemistry, was one of the surprises of the big beat revolution of 1996 -- an eclectic blowout, all tracked to thunderous loops and masterminded by Norman Cook, a former member of the British pop band the Housemartins. It might not have been as startlingly fresh as the Chemical Brothers, but the hard-hitting beats and catchiness, not to mention consistency, of Better Living was a shock, and it raised expectations for Fatboy Slim's second album, You've Come a Long Way, Baby. And that record itself was something of a surprise, since it not only exceeded the expectations set by the debut, but came damn close to being the definitive big beat album, rivaling the Chemicals' second record, Dig Your Own Hole. The difference is, Cook is a record geek with extensive knowledge and eclectic tastes. His juxtapositions -- the album swings from hip-hop to reggae to jangle pop, and then all combines into one sound -- are wildly original, even if the music itself doesn't break through the confines of big beat. Then again, when a record is this forceful and catchy, it doesn't need to break new stylistic ground -- the pleasure is in hearing a master work. And there's no question that Cook is a master of sorts -- You've Come a Long Way, Baby is a seamless record, filled with great imagination, unexpected twists and turns, huge hooks, and great beats. It's the kind of record that gives big beat a good name.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Propellerheads Decksandrumsandrockandroll Japan



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Really, the title says it all -- Decksanddrumsandrockandroll is about as close to rock & roll as big-beat techno is going to get. Taking their cue from the Chemical Brothers, the Bath-based duo Propellerheads offer a set of pummeling, ultra-loud beats that may dabble in funk, house, hip-hop, soul, and rap, but which all come out sounding as aggressive as rock. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- at its best, big beat is as invigorating as any other music -- but Propellerheads don't have the finesse, innovation, or style of the Chemical Brothers, the leading proponents of big beat. When they shake the beat up, whether on the wah-wah-drenched "Velvet Pants" or the pair of John Barry/James Bond tributes (a reworking of their cover of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and "History Repeating"), it sounds like a tactical move, since they know they can't spend the entire album on thundering dance cuts like "Bang On!" and "Take California." That said, Decksanddrumsandrockandroll remains a strong big beat album, even if it ultimately doesn't reveal anything new, because the duo knows how to craft a hard-hitting, infectious rhythm track. And while that doesn't make them the next Chemical Brothers, it does make them the best in this style since the Chemicals.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Grant Lee Buffalo Mighty Joe Moon


Grant Lee Buffalo Mighty Joe Moon

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Grant Lee Phillips, as he would later be known as a solo artist, is primarily the sole songwriter for his group Grant Lee Buffalo as well. But unlike more subtle releases later in his career, there is a fire burning in him on this album, galvanizing in songs like the opening anthem Lone Star Song. Released in 1994, when grunge had a fairly good hold on what was king on the airwaves, comes an album, that takes that raw emotion and embraces it with a vocalist who can be just as abrasive as any hard rock artist and then tone it down, into an almost singer/songwriter tone that can evoke that beauty reminiscent of such artists as Gordon Lightfoot or even James Taylor. What makes this album an all time classic and yet keeps it safely under the radar, is the fact that it doesn't sound like anything else. There is really no one quite to compare it to. Not that Phillip's songwriting doesn't draw from many pools of inspiration, but when he does, he takes it and makes it own. Like the 'master's apprentice' analogy, Phillip's music is HIS music, and he never comes close to becoming a mere clone of his inspirations. Distorted guitars, mixed with mandolins, banjos, blaring harmonicas and Phillips ever commanding voice is held steady by a very subtle yet strong rhythm section. Lyrically he blazes through politics, love, the human spirit, and ends the album with a very chilling take on his own version of the old hymn Rock of Ages. There is no need to pick this album apart, song by song. Every song on here somehow perfectly meshes with its predecessor, yet holds a distinct vibe, always slightly different. From glaring electric guitars to hushed acoutics, each song on here has something to say, musically and lyrically, conveyed in such a manner that it can cut right to the heart of the listener, especially with tracks such as Happiness. Phillips has a way of getting his message across in a way that draws in his listeners, as he though he is not just singing to them, but for them, making many of these songs a very personal listen. This album is one of those very few that you don't find the need to skip a track. It works on so many levels and rises above much of what was being released in 1994 and even in 2019. If there was this kind of ingenuity, this kind of depth, put into the commercial market, music would be a lot healthier for it. To think that this was released on Geffen records now amazes me, because today, this album would probably end up on a lower tier independent label. They went on to record two more albums after this one, both good, but never reaching the heights acheived Mighty Joe Moon.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Screaming Trees Sweet Oblivion


Screaming Trees Sweet Oblivion

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The Screaming Trees one-upped their major-label debut, Uncle Anesthesia, with this solid, vastly underrated effort. Sweet Oblivion's lead single, the jumpy hard rocker "Nearly Lost You," proved itself a highlight on the hugely successful, Seattle-themed Singles soundtrack. But even though the Screaming Trees stacked up quite well against their more famous peers in that particular showcase, the exposure didn't make them stars. Perhaps it was because Sweet Oblivion had been released several months before Singles, and the band thus couldn't build a sense of anticipation for a new album release, the way Alice in Chains and Smashing Pumpkins did for Dirt and Siamese Dream, respectively; nor could they capitalize on the extra publicity that goes along with new releases. For whatever reason, Singles didn't push sales of Sweet Oblivion, as the latter only scraped the lower reaches of the Billboard charts. And that's a shame, because the record is quite good -- the best songs here are easily among the best in their catalog, and the songwriting was their most consistent yet. "Nearly Lost You" is a standout, of course, but "Dollar Bill," "Shadow of the Season," and "Butterfly" are nearly as impressive. Mark Lanegan's raspy voice conveys a weary wistfulness that adds an unexpected dimension to the group's otherwise macho garage-psych grunge. The Trees no longer sound all that punkish, trading in some of their early, noisy fury for a more '70s-indebted hard rock sound, but it's done with a graceful power that proves they were at least the equal of their more famous fellow scenesters. Unfortunately, the four-year hiatus between Sweet Oblivion and its follow-up, Dust, ensured that the band would be forever relegated to cult status.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Moose High Ball Me!



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What's more surprising? That London's Moose have finally secured a U.S. release for their fourth LP, High Ball Me!, after the first three were undeserved imports? (They were dropped by a hasty Virgin in 1992 after only one release, a cobbled-together, seven-song EP of their earliest, too-formative singles called Sonny and Sam, still the poorest intro to the group.) Or that Moose are still so damn sparkling after a decade, making them four-out-of-four terrific with wonderfully inspired LPs? Or that they're even still around at all, considering the obscurity they've suffered (and the five-year span since their last LP)? Again, nearly all their contemporaries from the 1989-1993 Camden dream pop scene have withered on the vine. But Moose, the group least reliant on that scene for its inspirations and sound (despite a longstanding friendship with Cocteau Twins, who brought Moose over as a support band on their final U.S. tour), have continued to prosper, at least musically. And what a thing of pacific beauty they remain! For High Ball Me! is another proud accomplishment from a group that's always made beguiling, sunny warm, expertly textured, well-conceived, and well-played LPs (think bossa nova ambience mixed with early Glen Campbell/Jimmy Webb pop gems, a little like Ivy), while covering Wire and Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talking." Each new album is like a group of songs to ice-skate to, so cool and menthol, so sweet and gliding, and High Ball Me! is yet another. One just falls for still-vintage Moose handiwork in "Keeping Up with You," "Pretend We Never Met," "The Only Man in Town" (previewed on Saltwater Records' teaser EP, Baby It's Over), like a secret schoolgirl crush. Ditto the sultry, snake-charming, violin-trimmed pop of the most unique offering, "Lily la Tigresse." Moose mainmen K.J. "Moose" McKillop and Russell Yates remain consummate stylists, infecting every selection with charm, and most of all, seductive hooks. When "Lily la Tigresse" asks, with luscious sexual entreaty, "Why can't we be as nature planned?," it sums up the grace of the LP as a whole. Few albums can match this one for sublime elegance

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

The Telescopes The Telescopes


The Telescopes The Telescopes

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The Telescopes began as a run-of-the-mill British shoegazer band fully under the thrall of noise and My Bloody Valentine, perhaps a little angrier than most of that ilk but pretty unmemorable. At some point, however, they discovered subtlety and songcraft. They traded in most of their noise pedals for some that make the guitars go all spacy and phased-out. They also wrote a batch of songs with melodies and hooks reminiscent of Love or The Notorious Byrd Brothers-era Byrds. The songs on The Telescopes are built on acoustic guitars, then the aforementioned tricked-out electric guitars are laid on top and garnished with bongos, organs, pianos, and all sorts of classic instruments. Stephen Lawrie's vocals are restrained and semi-emotional and female backing vocals add a touch of sweetness that might otherwise be missing from the record, as the overall atmosphere is very moody and introspective. A large chunk of the credit should be given to producer Guy Fixsen, who also helmed some great records with Moose and Rollerskate Skinny and was a member of Laika. Sadly, the Telescopes split soon after this album came out, but the classic sound they came up with here lives on in bands like Mojave 3 and the Verve.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

EMF Epsom Mad Funkers The Best Of



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Regrettably, England's EMF had been seared with the curse of premature victory, sometimes belting out "Unbelievable" two or three times per show, and many assumed they'd be forever damned to run from their own success until the day they took off their long shorts and cut their hair. But Epsom Mad Funkers, an emphatic and touching tribute with new songs and a second disc of remixes, proves that what saved them from disaster was an anarchic instinct for just how to nail together the flotsam and jetsam of late-20th century chart music without sounding totally contrived. One moment you could get "Girl of an Age," the great, cherubic baggy anthem that never was, the next you'd be swimming about in megalomaniac, brain-rammed funk ("Perfect Day," "They're Here") or even a sort of facetious revelry, such as the live classic "EMF," which would rather stack up stylistic Lego blocks and smash them to pieces than try to mimic the picture on the box. For better or worse, nobody else sounded like this

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Jesus Jones Never Enough The Best Of Jesus Jones



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In 2001, shortly after a new album and a new tour of England and America, EMI announced plans to release Never Enough: The Best of Jesus Jones. Although the label had released Greatest in Japan in 1999, the collection had many holes -- most notably, the complete lack of material from Already. Building on Greatest, Never Enough adds classics like "Move Mountains" and "All the Answers" from Liquidizer; the hidden gem "Blissed" from Doubt; and the electro-rock shaker "Idiot Stare" from Perverse. Making a strong showing from Already are the singles "The Next Big Thing" and "Chemical #1," the poppy "They're Out There," and the haunting "February." Closing out the first disc is "Come On Home," a new track that bridges Jesus Jones' signature sound of the past with their garage rock influence of the present. Disc two offers rare B-sides and a generous helping of remixes by the Prodigy, Aphex Twin, Ben Chapman, Phil Harding, and Martyn Phillips. A true catch-all of both the group's popular and more obscure material, Never Enough serves as the ultimate companion for hardcore Jesus Jones fans, and an eye-opener to more casual listeners who may only be familiar with hits like "Right Here, Right Now" and "Real, Real, Real."

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Ultravox Vienna Definitive Edition



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With the departure of vocalist John Foxx and guitarist Robin Simon behind them, Vienna kicked off Ultravox's second phase with former Rich Kids vocalist Midge Ure at the helm. Trading Foxx's glam rock stance for Ure's aristocratic delivery, Vienna recasts the band as a melodramatic synth pop chamber ensemble with most of the group doubling on traditional string quartet instruments and the synthesizers often serving to emulate an orchestra. It was a bold move that took awhile to pay off (the first two singles, "Sleepwalk" and "Passing Strangers," went unnoticed), but when the monolithic title track was released, the Ure lineup became the band's most identifiable one almost overnight. The simple and instantly recognizable drumbeat of "Vienna" proved infectious, taking the single to the top of the charts in the U.K. and making an impression in a new wave-apprehensive America. Bassist Chris Cross' monotone narration on "Mr X" and the frantic ride that is "Western Promise" give the album just enough diversity and showcased the rest of the group on an Ure-heavy album. There are plenty of pretentious and pompous moments at which Foxx-era purists cringe, but taken as a snooty rebellion against the guitar-heavy climate of the late '70s, they're ignorable. Returning producer Conny Plank's style adapted well to the new group, pitting the stark and the lush against one another. Add Anton Corbijn's photography and Peter Saville's smart cover design, and all the ingredients for an early-'80s classic are there. A few albums later, it would all seem like a fluke, but on Vienna, all the pieces come together. [This edition of the album contains a bonus disc of live tracks and alternate takes.]

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Heaven 17 The Luxury Gap Deluxe Version



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After creating a marvelous electronic debut, Glenn Gregory, Ian Marsh, and Martyn Ware decided to tamper with their winning formula a bit on Heaven 17's 1983 follow-up to Penthouse and Pavement. The result, which added piano, strings, and Earth, Wind, & Fire's horn section to the band's cool synthesizer pulse, was even better, and The Luxury Gap became one of the seminal albums of the British new wave. The best-known track remains "Let Me Go," a club hit that features Gregory's moody, dramatic lead above a percolating vocal and synth arrangement. But even better is the mechanized Motown of "Temptation," a deservedly huge British smash that got a shot of genuine soul from R&B singer Carol Kenyon. Nearly every song ends up a winner, though, as the album displays undreamed-of range. If beat-heavy techno anthems like "Crushed By the Wheels of Industry" were expected of Heaven 17, the melodic sophistication of "The Best Kept Secret" and "Lady Ice and Mr. Hex" -- both of which sound almost like show tunes -- wasn't. If there's a flaw, it's that while the band's leftist messages were more subtle and humorous than most of their time, they still seem rather naïve. But the music, which showed just how warm electro-pop's usually chilly grooves could be, is another matter entirely. [Note to collectors: there were differences in the original British and American pressings of the album. The 1997 reissue by Caroline follows the order of the British pressing, adding some extended remixes.]

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Pet Shop Boys PopArt Limited Edition


Pet Shop Boys PopArt Limited Edition

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Looking back at the 35 years since Neil Tennant left England's Smash Hits magazine to form the Pet Shop Boys with Chris Lowe, the two-CD Popart opens itself up for arguments while surpassing 1991's Discography as the ready-to-wear selection. All the growing up and becoming more emotionally focused the duo did post-Discography could have yielded a dour hits collection, but putting new tracks like the plaintive "I Get Along" between the slick chestnuts "West End Girls" and "So Hard" works to the listener's advantage. The tropical and wistful "Single-Bilingual" and the clever and melancholy "You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk" add more latter-day treasures that Discography couldn't include, and the only thing left to do besides submit is argue about the details. One disc is full of "Pop" moments and the other "Art," but just try and figure out the criteria. The two new songs (the austere electro of "Miracles" and the fair "Flamboyant") are nice enough but they're not as fully formed as their surroundings, making them obvious late additions. A little bit of text and history in the liner notes would have helped, and fans should be aware most of the tracks here appear in album versions rather than single mixes. Of course, compilers need to make decisions and bookending the collection with the ultracamp and semiflippant covers of "Go West" and "Somewhere" could be seen as a comment on how listeners shouldn't worry so much and just enjoy. Regardless of omissions and decisions, Popart is an excellent, hang-together listen and a better representation of the duo's career than Discography. [Upon Popart's release, a limited edition was available with an extra disc of remixes from Moby, Sasha, Danny Tenaglia, and others.]

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Happy Mondays Bummed Collector's Edition



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Only a year after the intermittently thrilling Squirrel and G-Man, Happy Mondays snapped into focus on its sophomore album, 1988's Bummed. "Focus" is an odd word for the persistently addled, violently hedonistic Mondays, yet Bummed has its own peculiar drug logic, loping into view with the two-stepping "Country Song," a cut so twisted it goes far beyond irony, then settling into the dense groove of "Moving In With," its hook buzzing and circling, causing a cacophony. Such vivid, concrete textures are a hallmark of producer Martin Hannett, the Mancunian legend who has been brought on board to give the Happy Mondays direction by doing the opposite of what he did with Joy Division. His production for Unknown Pleasures was stark, austere, but Bummed is all smeared colors and harsh edges, a fistful of razors and menace cutting viciously into the subconscious. This is nasty, nightmarish music delivered with a lascivious leer by Shaun Ryder, a hallucinatory accidental poet portrayed on the album's garish cover as some kind of harlot put out to pasture. Decadence has rarely sounded as dangerous as it did in the hands of the Mondays and this is where they reveled in that debauchery, pumping out stiff psychedelic funk as Ryder spat out rhymes of luck, lazyitis and fat lady wrestlers. Hannett's bright, brittle production amplifies everything, creating a swirling hyper-reality that's almost a sonic black hole sucking everything into its vortex -- slide guitars, sound clips from "Performance," maniacally looped drum machines, Beatles melodies, drums that are pushed to the front of the mix so it all is a relentless assault, from the ears down to the loins. As jagged and lacerating as all this is, there's a sense of evil glee, that the Mondays want to drag you down to their level, but there's no sense of seduction here; you're either with them or not, as Bummed is music for after you've already succumbed to the dark side.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Various Artists Mersey Boys & Liverpool Girls



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Subtitled - The Sounds of the Mersey 1978-2001. UK compilation featuring 21 acts with origins in post-Beatles Liverpool. Tracks include, Ian McNabb ' Liverpool Girl', Cast 'Sandstorm', Echo and the Bunnymen 'The Back of Love', The LA's 'Feelin' and more

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

The Future Sound Of London Teachings From The Electronic Brain (The Best of FSOL)



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One of the first of the blissed-out rave acts to storm the charts, and also one of the longest lasting, the Future Sound of London deserved a good singles compilation, and fortunately they get one with the Virgin retrospective Teachings from the Electronic Brain. Their highest moments were virtually always their singles, and short-form tracks offer a much easier path to understanding the music of Brian Dougans and Garry Cobain than their occasionally bloated LPs. Teachings from the Electronic Brain neglects nothing of real value, beginning with their first chart hit ("Papua New Guinea") and grabbing the best tracks from their albums Accelerator ("Expander"), Lifeforms (the title track), the live-in-the-studio ISDN ("Far-Out Son of Lung and the Ramblings of a Madman," "Smokin' Japanese Babe"), and Dead Cities ("We Have Explosive").

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Queens Of The Stone Age Rated R Deluxe Edition


Queens Of The Stone Age Rated R Deluxe Edition

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The second Queens of the Stone Age album, Rated R (as in the movie rating; its title was changed from II at the last minute before release), makes its stoner rock affiliations clear right from the opening track. The lyrics of "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" consist entirely of a one-line list of recreational drugs that Josh Homme rattles off over and over, a gag that gets pretty tiresome by the end of the song (and certainly doesn't need the reprise that follows "In the Fade"). Fortunately, the rest of the material is up to snuff. R is mellower, trippier, and more arranged than its predecessor, making its point through warm fuzz-guitar tones, ethereal harmonies, vibraphones, horns, and even the odd steel drum. That might alienate listeners who have come to expect a crunchier guitar attack, but even though it's not really aggro, R is still far heavier than the garage punk and grunge that inform much of the record. It's still got the vaunted California-desert vibes of Kyuss, but it evokes a more relaxed, spacious, twilight feel, as opposed to a high-noon meltdown. Mark Lanegan and Barrett Martin of the Screaming Trees both appear on multiple tracks, and their band's psychedelic grunge -- in its warmer, less noisy moments -- is actually not a bad point of comparison. Longtime Kyuss fans might be disappointed at the relative lack of heaviness, but R's direction was hinted at on the first QOTSA album, and Homme's experimentation really opens up the band's sound, pointing to exciting new directions for heavy guitar rock in the new millennium. [For its tenth anniversary, Rated R receives a deluxe double-disc reissue that tweaks the cover color from blue to red and adds a bonus disc rounding up all the B-sides from the album’s accompanying singles and a brutal live set from the 2000 Reading Festival. The B-sides maintain the high quality of Rated R -- the stomping “Ode to Clarissa” should have made the cut on the proper album and deservedly was part of the Reading live set, “Born to Hula” points toward Songs for the Deaf, “You’re So Vague” cleverly spins Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” while the band offers strong covers of Romeo Void’s “Never Say Never” and the Kinks’ “Who’ll Be the Next in Line” -- but the real treat is the storming live set that pairs selections from the QOTSA debut with Rated R material, swapping studio precision for brutal force and adding a sneak peak of Songs’ “Millionaire” for good measure. It’s the band at its best and reason enough for any fan to buy this excellent album again.]

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Foo Fighters Foo Fighters Japan Edition



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Essentially a collection of solo home recordings by Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters' eponymous debut is a modest triumph. Driven by big pop melodies and distorted guitars, Foo Fighters do strongly recall Nirvana, only with a decidedly lighter approach. If Kurt Cobain's writing occasionally recalled John Lennon, Dave Grohl's songs are reminiscent of Paul McCartney -- they're driven by large, instantly memorable melodies, whether it's the joyous outburst of "This Is a Call" or the gentle pop of "Big Me." That doesn't mean Grohl shies away from noise; toward the end of the record, he piles on several thrashers that make more sense as pure aggressive sound than as songs. Since he recorded the album by himself, they aren't as powerful as most band's primal sonic workouts, but the results are damn impressive for a solo musician. Nevertheless, they aren't as strong as his fully formed pop songs, and that's where the true heart of the album lies. Foo Fighters has a handful of punk-pop gems that show, given the right musicians and songwriters, the genre had not entirely become a cliché by the middle of the '90s

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Felt The Strange Idols Pattern And Other Short Stories



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After establishing their sparse, dramatic sound with two albums and a handful of singles, Felt exploded into brilliance on their third album, 1984's The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories. Working with producer John Leckie for the first time, the band made a purposeful leap into the world of hi-fi recording: the arrangements are full and layered, Lawrence's vocals pop with confidence and vigor, and Felt have a limber swing to them that they'd never exhibited before. As usual, the record was split between Maurice Deebank's intricate instrumentals and Lawrence's songs, but for the first time Deebank's guitar explorations and Lawrence's tightly wound inner journeys sound like the work of two different visionaries instead of a united front. To that end, the instrumentals are limited to only three this time. Lawrence's songs are too good to be shunted aside; almost every track here could be considered one of his best. The hooks are undeniable, the melodies are crystalline, Lawrence's vocals have jumped about five steps ahead of where they were and his words have taken on deeper meanings and feelings, and Deebank's guitarwork is perfectly integrated into the jangling whole. Felt hinted at being able to make music as immediate and catchy as "Spanish House" and "Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow"; they came close to recording songs as achingly pretty as "Vasco da Gama" and "Crystal Ball"; but this is where it all comes together and they deliver their first masterpiece. Songs like "Dismantled King Is Off the Throne" and "Roman Litter" rank with the best poppy post-punk of the early '80s; they have all the emotional power of the Smiths, all the guitar overload of the Church, all the drama of Echo & the Bunnymen, and more than enough elevated songcraft and laser-sharp vision to make them sound totally unique. The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories may not have the cachet or reputation of albums by the "big-name" bands of the era, but it has the songs and that's what counts the most. This is Lawrence and Felt at their absolute classic best, not to be overlooked or missed for any reason.
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