Two British bands, both with “super” in their names, and both celebrating the more-or-less 20th or 25th anniversaries of one of their best releases. For SUPERGRASS, In It for the Money is nearly a quarter century old and comes in a remastered version bolstered by B-sides, demos and a live disc featuring most of the album’s tracks. SUPER FURRY ANIMALS’ Rings Around the World is twenty and also comes in remastered form with B-sides and demos, but instead of a live set we get an entire disc of remixes. Both releases are excellent, and at least on the CD versions, overflowing with Britpop goodness.
Supergrass’ sophomore effort was light years ahead of their debut, I Should Coco, which suffered from a clumsy name and a narrow breadth of music (loosely then-considered “punk” but not quite). In It for the Money was a blast when it came out, and I have to admit – though it pains me to do so – I didn’t like it at first. It was my first experience with ’Grass and I thought it sounded either a) derivative [of what, I don’t remember!] or b) everywhere at once. After repeated listenings, though, I came around. I guess I figured out what they were going for and its power/Brit pop vibe was both focused and all over the place… in a good way. Harder rockers like the title track, “Richard III,” “Tonight” and others sat alongside “Late in the Day” and “It’s Not Me” and altogether obliterated the probably derogatory punk designation that Supergrass initially earned. They could have collectively choked with such a hold around their necks, but the band cockily flipped off the critics and delivered a downright classic alternative rock record.
For Super Furry Animals, their first major label outing benefited from a much larger budget and near unlimited time in a big league studio. Rings Around the World was more expansive than anything they’d done before, a little more electronic and a little more pop simultaneously. The lengthy album came with power-poppy tunes like the title track, nu-pop/soul like “Juxtaposed With U,” and the ballad pop of “It’s Not the End of the World.” It may now seem like a pretty lengthy album (it was released when vinyl was nearly dead) but it’s all very good so it’s really a moot point. The major label budget gave the band a chance to not only record nearly three single LPs’ worth of material, but to actually produce a 5.1 surround mix of the entire album and videos to go with it. (Sadly, you don’t get a disc with that material in this set but they can be had via the internet.) They also had a host of remixes done and most of those are here. I wouldn’t say those remixes are must-haves but they do give a good idea of what kinds of ideas and sounds the Furries’ heads were swimming in at the time.
Both Supergrass and Super Furry Animals’ deluxe CD sets are loaded with great material, and both are also available on vinyl – and in various configurations including colored vinyl variants, versions with bonus discs, etc. I opted for the compact disc versions of these in order to get all the goodies (and I already have one of them on vinyl anyway) and maximize my expenditure, but you may want to go the wax route if you’re in it for the vinyl. Whichever way you go, you’ll be investing in releases that represent absolutely the best stuff both bands ever did. – Marshall Gooch
4/5 (Supergrass, BMG/Echo BMGCAT506CDX; Super Furry Animals, BMG BMGCAT510DCD; 2021)
When Blixa Sounds reissued Miami late last year, I thought to myself, “Now if they could just put out THE GUN CLUB’s Fire of Love, that would kick ass.” Well, they have and it does. Despite being very won over by their sophomore release upon re-release (my review is here), it was and is their 1981 debut that really cemented Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s place in the L.A. punk rock hall of fame – and on my own Desert Island Discs list. First released on Slash Records’ Ruby label, Fire of Love was a psychobilly/blues/punk hybrid that fit equally into all three of those subgenres and yet practically requires a category of its own. (Apparently some purists don’t think it belongs in “punk” at all, but I don’t know where else you’d put it.)
If there’s anything that demotes this album to less-than-essential (and that’s barely), it would probably be Pierce’s sometimes racist lyrics. I don’t think recounting the contexts in which he uses the “n word” would get him off the hook. And I’m not even sure you can make an argument like “it’s not Pierce, it’s the narrator who is racist,” since the singer/lyricist inhabits that role so solidly and uniquely that you can’t really separate him from him. So, forty years later, Fire of Love is still so goddamned good that I just try not to cringe too much when JLP goes down that road. Most of the time the lyrics and music are so good, so evocative of something very outside of and different from what you’d expect a middle class guy from Southern California to come up with, that it’s not hard to do. “Sex Beat,” “She’s Like Heroin to Me,” “For the Love of Ivy” – their punky gothic vibe comes through loud and clear. The band’s guitar, bass and drums form an incinerator that just burns, pushing Pierce’s vocals up into the air like a brushfire out of control. Whether you like your indie rock on the bluesy side, on the Cramps-y side, or sunny side down, The Gun Club’s Fire of Love does not disappoint.
Blixa Sounds’ new reissue is a 2CD or 2LP set that gives you the original 11-track album on one disc and an unreleased live show (recorded in ’81 at L.A.’s Club 88) on the other. There are also a dozen demos and alternate takes (which appear on disc one of the CD version and as downloads in the vinyl set), and they’re nearly as good as the album itself. In fact, you get the title track as an alternate take, since it didn’t actually make the album and was held over (in a different recording) for Miami in 1982. Sound-wise, this CD reissue sounds quite good, perhaps a bit meatier than Slash’s CD version. My vinyl copy is not an original on Ruby/Slash but Porterhouse’s 2014 “prime” cut (which is better than the previous copy I had on Spain’s Munster Records) (and may be better than the original Ruby vinyl I had once upon a time) – I don’t have the new vinyl to give you that score. But I can tell you this: you should own this album, whether on vinyl or CD (and why not both?!), so you oughta give Fire of Love a spin while it’s still fresh on your mind. Not that it will ever go stale, mind you… – Marshall Gooch
THE REPLACEMENTS’ Pleased to Meet Me isn’t celebrating an obvious anniversary. The 1987 release isn’t 30 or 40 – it’s 33 (and not even 33-1/3!) – so the release of this Deluxe Edition is a bit surprising. Housed in the now standard Warner Music/Rhino LP-sized “book” format (a la Ramones, The Doors, Love), the Minneapolis band’s (arguably) greatest album is now surrounded by a coupla CDs of demos, rough mixes, outtakes and alternate takes that tell a much more complete story about this record, (arguably) the first or second album that should’ve turned them into a major band. Whether that would’ve been a boon or a bitch for these rock ’n’ roll loudmouths isn’t that hard to figure out if you know The Replacements’ story and trajectory.
Without diving deep into all of that last bit – after all, if you’re reading this you probably know the basics of their back story – Pleased to Meet Me was a turning point for the band. The Replacements had already been touted as the college rock band of the moment and after 1983’s Let It Be they seemed destined to hit the big time. Their first major label release, Tim (1985) had some great material but somehow missed the mark and so a lot was riding on this one. What a great time for the band to have to fire their lead guitarist (bassist Tommy Stinson’s brother Bob), just as they were on the precipice of Rock Mountain, about to go into the studio with a solid satchel of songs that was sure to do the trick. Paul Westerberg, Tommy and Chris Mars got together with producer Jim Dickinson at Memphis’ famous Ardent Studios and – long story short (it’s all in the included book) – put together this amazing record.
At the time I remember seeing “digitally recorded” on the album cover and wondering if Pleased to Meet Me was the inevitable sell-out every band eventually makes when they sign a deal with the (major label) devil. And then I heard it! What a powerful record! It didn’t sound “clean” like digital was supposed to – it just sounded like a ballsy, blistering batch of Westerberg’s best stuff. Opening with “I.O.U.,” cruising into the brilliant “Alex Chilton,” careening into “I Don’t Know” and “Shooting Dirty Pool,” with breathers like “Nightclub Jitters” and “Skyway” along the way, Pleased to Meet Me was everything Tim should’ve been and even better than Let It Be. How could it be?! Well, it was, it is, and it forever shall be. Somehow Jim Dickinson and his assistants at Ardent got what they wanted out of the band, either by coaxing, cajoling or outright strong-arming – whatever. They got it.
Pleased to Meet Me was the last, great Replacements album so it’s natural that there’d be a version of it like this one. And yet, nowhere on this 12″ x 12″ package do they note “deluxe edition,” “33rd anniversary” or anything that announces why this, now. Regardless, what you get on this 3CD + LP set is a new master of the original album (on CD only), a slightly different tracklisting for the “rough mix” version – which appears on both one of the CDs and on the vinyl – and another disc of further versions. (The singles B-sides appear on the CD with the 2020 master of the original album.) Of the many, many mixes and demos, there are a few that are remarkable: “Awake Tonight” sounds like a Faces/Rod Stewart outtake, except with more of a Replacements swagger; “All He Wants to Do Is Fish” is drummer Mars’ lone songwriter/ lead singer credit and is quite good; and the bulk of the Blackberry Way (recording studio) demos. Though it’s clear that Westerberg had many of the songs basically ready to go once the band got all the way to Memphis, the lyrics changed considerably and multiple times between those first demos through to alternate takes and on to the rough mixes and final versions. There are plenty of demos here, too, that aren’t all that exciting, I have to admit. But in its entirety this Pleased to Meet Me, from the music to the illuminating (in words and pictures) book, is definitely a pleasure. – Marsh Gooch
PAUL McCARTNEY’s Archive Series is now ten years old. In 2010 he started releasing deluxe packages of his non-Beatles work with perhaps his greatest post-Fabs album, Band on the Run. Here we are in 2020 and Macca’s reissued Flaming Pie, the 1997 solo outing that was hailed as his best since 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt, which was hailed as his best since… probably Band on the Run. At the time of Flaming Pie’s release we were all glad that he’d put out something that surpassed his previous studio album, 1992’s so-so On the Ground, which wasn’t bad but not nearly as good as the aforementioned Flowers. As his Archive Series has matured, so has the way McCartney and his business associates have packaged the man’s legacy.
This time, the various formats of the campaign include the customary, flagship “deluxe” box set (usually a number of CDs, a DVD or two, and a handful of books, posters and other memorabilia recreations) – in this case, 5 CDs, 2 DVDs, some books and other stuff – followed by a 3LP box set (consisting of the original album spread across two records and a third LP with various demos), a standard 2LP release (just the album tracks), and a 2CD set featuring the original album on disc one and a generously populated (21 tracks) disc of demos, etc.* Because Flaming Pie came out in the mid ’90s and vinyl hadn’t yet begun its comeback, the 14-track, 54-minute album was primarily a CD release, though it came out in limited quantities in the UK and USA on single-record vinyl that was both rare and not of a very high-fidelity nature. (The more time per side of vinyl, the lesser the quality of the audio.) This time it was decided to spread it out over two records – a wise choice – and the half-speed mastering job is amazingly good. The 3LP box set features this 2LP album (in a gatefold cover) along with a single bonus LP (in a standard record cover, and pressed in standard fashion) both housed in a slipcase complete with Japanese-style “OBI” strip. The slipcase’s cover is very minimalist and is quite tasteful, allowing the actual album’s cover to carry the release’s identity as it originally had (albeit with the title written in bright red rather than black, as it is/was on the current 2LP/initial 1LP release). An almost-dozen tracks make up that bonus LP, being “home recordings” and demos of eleven of the album’s 14 tracks. They make up a nice “alt” version of the album.
If you go for the 2CD reissue of Flaming Pie, you’ll get a high-value set with 21 bonus tracks (comprising disc two) that’ll be great for your ears and your wallet. The tracks on the 3LP bonus record are all there, as are more slices of alternative Pie and some of the B-sides that were originally released with the album’s singles (“Young Boy,” “Beautiful Night” and “The World Tonight”). Being that this is a digitally mastered set, you might expect it to sound a little less warm compared to the vinyl and it probably does; I have always had a hard time A/B’ing formats due to having to switch back and forth between them and trying to compensate for the typical difference in volume between CD and vinyl. I think both the 3LP and 2CD sets sound surprisingly good and they both make me want to really savor Flaming Pie today the way I never really did back in ’97. Wanna get into the deluxe edition?
Well, I haven’t yet sprung for that. As it currently costs beyond $200, it’s outside of my budget for now. What I can tell you is that it is clearly a gluttonous serving of Flaming Pie, with: an oven-full (two CDs) of the aforementioned demos and home recordings; a CD with an item called “The Ballad of the Skeletons” featuring McCartney with Allen Ginsburg, Lenny Kaye and Philip Glass (what a trio!) and a more-or-less complete episode of Oobu Joobu (a syndicated radio series McCartney hosted in the ’90s); a CD with a tour of, and samples of the instruments Paul keeps at his Hog Hill Mill recording studio (including the mellotron The Beatles made massive use of back in the day); and two DVDs with a documentary of the making of the album (called In the World Tonight), videos for the album’s singles, a few EPKs (electronic press kits) and even an interview with David Frost. AND a bunch of bespoke books and other ingredients to pad out the box and the price of it. Phew! Sure, 200-ish bucks might not seem so much for all of this, but keep in mind: like most baked items, it’s highly unlikely you’ll want to enjoy all of this more than once, so you gotta really consider what kind of monetary outlay you’re willing to make for such a rare, probably-to-be-enjoyed-once treat.
And THAT’s where that * asterisk way up above in paragraph two comes in! Because: There is an even grander version of Flaming Pie available, the Collector’s Edition. Limited to 3,000 units worldwide, it contains everything in the Deluxe Edition plus the 3LP vinyl set, half a dozen art prints featuring the album cover and other Linda McCartney photos, a Flaming Pie plectrum (what we guitarists in the USA call a pick), even more printed ephemera, and the ability to download the album at 24-bit/96kHz HD resolution. (And probably some other stuff that I was unable to make out from the various editions’ ingredients lists!) This all comes in a box that is “.6 of a metre long by about half of a meter wide” (according to Paul Sinclair in his unboxing video over at my favorite music site, SuperDeluxeEdition) – don’t ask me what it weighs ’cause, not only can I definitely not afford this version, but there’s no weight info anywhere on the web that I can find! Apparently, though, this one’s gonna set you back a good $400+ (not including a highly likely hefty shipping price). If you’re salivating heavily right now, here’s some comfort for ya: it’s probably already sold out by now so if you didn’t already know about it and order it you’re not gonna get a taste of this one any time soon.
Did you wanna hear about the music? Well, as mentioned way back at the start of this review, Flaming Pie was a critically acclaimed release that many considered to be a collection of classic McCartney styles. From the rocking songs like the title track, “The World Tonight” and “Young Boy,” to the bluesy “Used to Be Bad” that he wrote and played with Steve Miller, to the poppy, slightly melancholy sounding “The Song We Were Singing,” and a number of other flavors that you expect from Paul, this one’s got songs to recommend to just about every kind of Macca fan. But, unlike on many of his other releases, nearly all of these songs sound like McCartney in top form. None of it sounds phoned in. So, musically, it’s definitely worth looking into, either for the first time or once again. Now, naturally, I have some minor issues with the release, but this time – you lucky devils! – there’s nothing worth bothering to bitch about. And that means you can go enjoy yourself some Flaming Pie without having to think about me while doing so. That’s my gift to you. Go ahead – have a slice. – Marsh Gooch
[This review was originally published 5/18/2010 on my old blog, Skratchdisc.]
Here’s a reissue I don’t mind picking up, if only because it’s one I haven’t already bought fifteen times in my life. A very rockin’ album by THE ROLLING STONES, Exile On Main Street was originally released in ’72 and is now out again in multiple formats. I just saw a guy at my local loaded up with all the versions they had in stock: 1CD, 2CD, 2LP and the Deluxe Edition that has 2CDs, 2LPs, a DVD, a book, and probably the deed to Keef’s French mansion. Well, it should, for $150!
Most people know this album as the one with “Tumblin’ Dice,” “Happy” and “All Down the Line,” but don’t forget there are many other good ones here, including “Just Wanna See His Face,” “Stop Breaking Down,” and the one that wins my award for best song title, “Turd on the Run.” What’s great about this record is that it’s not as excessive as you’d expect – double albums can be awfully long – and there aren’t any real clunkers, from “Rocks Off” to “Soul Survivor.” The band takes on some different styles and really comes into their own, no longer copying everything The Beatles did, but doing their own thing. Now, I can’t vouch for the bonus tracks on the 2CD version (except “Plundered My Soul,” which I previewed when it came out on Record Store Day as a 7″), so you’re on your own there. Let your conscience (or wallet) be your guide. But I can say that I like this album in its original form quite a bit. Maybe not as much as Sticky Fingers, personally, but hey hey, what can you do?* BTW, the double vinyl sounds sweet but doesn’t come with the original postcards. — Marsh Gooch [*Wrong band, dude. That’s Zeppelin.]
What many of us are interested in most with THE BEATLES’ new Abbey Road Anniversary Edition is the unreleased material. These Sessions, as they’re being called, are the biggest excuse for shelling out mega bucks on an album that many of us know backwards and forwards and have probably bought more than once. With this 50th anniversary release there are two discs of demos, alternate takes, etc., and whether you buy the super deluxe edition (1 Blu-ray, 3 CDs) or vinyl box set (3 LPs), you get the same material. (There is also a 2 CD version, which gives you some of the Sessions, and the single CD or LP versions with just the 2019 stereo remix.)
The 3LP box set of Abbey Road comes in a high-gloss clam shell box, with the 2019 stereo mix on record one (and in its own album cover), followed by the two records of sessions in their own non-gatefold cover. (The Bluray/CD set comes in an LP-sized hard cover book within a high-gloss slipcase.) In all, the Sessions cuts amount to barely 90 minutes of material. Hardcore fans will have heard much of this material – The Beatles have been bootlegged more than just about any other rock artist in history – though it is nice to have it in a better sounding and official, annotated set. Many of us could never quite conjure up the necessary bucks to pay for those inferior boots and so even people like me are bound to find lots of music to be wowed by here. The fact that Abbey Road is one of the band’s most beloved releases means there’s a big, built-in audience for things like studio demos of “Something” (George singing along with just piano and guitar), Paul’s home demo of “Goodbye” (not recorded by the band but given to singer Mary Hopkin for a future Apple Records release) and his studio demo of “Come and Get It” (on which he played all the instruments, later instructing Badfinger to record just as he demoed it). The bulk of the rest of the cuts are in-studio early takes, trial mixes and edits of the songs you’d expect, including an instrumental version of “Because,” a strings-only track for “Something,” and a strings ’n’ brass one for “Golden Slumbers”/“Carry That Weight.” It’s great to finally hear alternate takes of “Come Together” and “I Want You (She’s so heavy)” complete with Billy Preston’s amazing organ that was all-but-obliterated by the white noise that builds up in the last half of the original side one closer. Interesting, too, is a trial edit and mix of “The Long One,” i.e., the side two medley that makes up the last third of the album. Here you hear “Her Majesty” in its original placement, smack dab in the middle of “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam.” It was wise of them to snip it out of there and move it elsewhere on the LP, as its stark acoustic guitar and voice completely destroys the momentum building up to “The End.” (And that’s not to mention how “ironic” it is to have “The End” at, ummmm, the end of the record – if only to be followed by the originally unlisted little ditty that eventually closed the album out.)
On the one hand, it feels like there’s not quite the bulk here you’d expect to celebrate The Beatles’ penultimate release and greatest success, but on the other, it’s nice to give Abbey Road a tight super deluxe edition to fête its 50th. Each year they’ve done these releases (since Sgt. Pepper in 2017) they’ve been honing in on just the right way to present them, and I can only hope they keep it up and don’t blow it with next year’s inevitable Let It Be extravaganza. — Marsh Gooch
It’s kind of wonderful, this worldwide wankfest over a 50 year old rock ’n’ roll album. All kinds of people, everywhere, getting all hot ’n’ bothered over THE BEATLES’ Abbey Road, the last album they recorded together but the penultimate release during their actual time together as The Fab Four. The cynical among us probably consider it another greedy cash grab, the romantic might think it’s a real sweet thing, and I’ve heard there are even those among us who don’t care! Whatever, I’m devoting some column inches to it (as they would’ve said in ’69), so I must care.
Once Giles Martin and his boys remixed Sgt. Pepper for its fifty year anniversary, all of us in Pepperland and beyond looked forward to the day when The Beatles’ other top-ranker would get its turn. Martin and co-conspirator Sam Okell have taken the highly lauded long player dad George Martin produced and given us another way to listen to Abbey Road. It was the last recording of the band’s career and the first in the modern multitrack era – you know, on a big whopping EIGHT TRACKS! – but was mixed the way they did back then, with exaggerated panning seemingly employed to prove it was in stereo. This time, the pans are much more nuanced, making more sense to our ears, and many of the instruments have been brought out in the mix. You can hear much more detail in the guitars (like on “Here Comes the Sun”), the organs (Billy Preston’s on “I Want You (She’s so heavy)”) and even the drums (listen for the actual hit of the snare or kick drum) in many of the songs. The vocals, especially the harmonies, are much sweeter, too. I’m not as impressed by any differences to the sound or prominence of the bass guitar, and as a matter of fact, find that sometimes McCartney’s playing (on “Something,” for instance) sounds more ad-libbed than is comfortable to me.
In terms of formats, well of course there are more than you can shake a stick at. You can get Abbey Road on single LP, double LP, picture disc LP, single CD (which is what I’m basing this post on), double CD, or the 3 LP and 3 CD/1 Bluray box sets (coming in the mail later this week!). As I’ve said in the past, what’s gonna work for you is largely a function of how big a fan you are. Take the guy on the left in the photo at left: he’s probably not going to get any of these, but was nice enough to play John Lennon to my McCartney (I couldn’t be bothered to take my shoes off, though) when we entered a Seattle area record store yesterday to pay our respects. But (his sister) Shirley there must be an edition that will work for you, so I suggest you get on down to Abbey Road at your earliest convenience and see what son Giles has done to dad George’s recording of The Beatles’s first or second greatest moment. — Marsh Gooch
I’ll be diving into the bonus tracks (called Sessions on the discs) next time… Right here.
There have been many 30, 40 and 50th year anniversary reissues in the last decade, despite physical media being given its theoretical death sentence some time ago. The record companies, though, realize that the kids may go for downloads and streaming but us older fans must have something to hold onto. The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society is 50 years old now and THE KINKS’ “record label” has regaled us with an over-the-top box that can barely be held with two hands, and it’s worth whatever backache you may incur upon its arrival.
You wanna talk about a sleeper of an album? Village Green Preservation Society (from here on out VGPS) died a quick death when it was released in late 1968 (January ’69 here in the US). Maybe it was The Beatles’ heralded White Album that kept people from realizing VGPS’s greatness, maybe it was that The Kinks hadn’t exactly been hot on the charts at the moment. Hell: Maybe it was all the turmoil in the world. After all, ’68 wasn’t exactly the most peaceful year of the decade. And maybe it’s that Ray Davies’s “rock opera” (before Tommy even!) was of such a pastoral, low-key nature that the pop press and record label PR types had no idea how to whip up a frenzy around its release. Or maybe it was just an album that – like The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle – needed time to incubate in the zeitgeist before it could be truly appreciated. Whatever the reason, VGPS gets more and more of the spotlight every year, and deservedly so.
I first learned about this great lost Kinks album in the early ’90s thanks to two local bands who were already tuned in. The Young Fresh Fellows covered VGPS’s “Picture Book” and Flop did “Big Sky,” both excellent covers by great Seattle groups. (If you don’t already know the Fellows or Flop, stop right now and look ’em up. I’ll wait…) Being the intrepid music fan I am, I found a copy of VGPS (not easy back then, actually) and was instantly transformed into not just a kasual Kinks fan, but a full-fledged one. What wasn’t to like about it? Those two songs, “Do You Remember Walter?” “Last of the Steam Powered Trains,” “Animal Farm,” “People Take Pictures of Each Other”… Every track a good one, full of Ray Davies’ unique viewpoint on life in his England home, and every track soaked in the band’s first great incarnation’s particular, spectacular arrangements. In hindsight, twenty five years after I discovered it, the only thing that is a possible negative is the slightly shoddy recording quality of the record. Though that ding definitely stands out on this new edition, it’s of little consequence because the album itself is so damn good. It’s not as gimmicky as Sgt. Pepper, not all over the place like The Who Sell Out (both albums that I absolutely adore), and not as lofty. And that’s the point! Davies wasn’t going for lofty — he was going for little. As in, small-screen vignettes about the people and places that then populated his life. I wonder how Ray feels now about that vanished Britain.
This big deal VGPS box obliviates the album’s quaintness, what with three LPs, three 7″ singles, five CDs, a nice book full of photos of era memorabilia, and a packet of reprints of posters, sheet music and more. (Initial orders through The Kinks web site got you a fourth 45!) And yet, if any great album deserves such a gala presentation, this one does. I can tell you, being the huge Beatles fan I am, that I was looking forward to this even more than the White Album box that comes out later this week.
The lowdown goes like this. Vinyl-wise, you get two LPs of the original UK mono and stereo mixes (in their then Davies-sanctioned 15 track configuration), an LP with the 12 track version sent to Europe and Down Under without Ray’s permission (some months before the 15 track iteration), and three 7″ singles from the era in replica sleeves. (The one that, errrr, reprises the US Reprise 45 is kinda lame – they don’t use the record company logo or fonts or anything, so it looks like someone forgot to include the actual artwork!) As for CDs, the first two are of the mono and stereo mixes (15 track version) along with period singles*, single mixes, B-sides, etc.; a disc of sessions recordings (early versions, work versions and demos, including a killer instrumental called “Mick Avory’s Underpants”!); a disc called Village Green at the BBC (guess); and a final CD of demos, sessions and live versions. Then there’s all the replicated memorabilia. And a big ol’ (picture) book. It all comes in a nice, substantial box that I only very slightly damaged trying to open. (I’ll get over that in time. Maybe.) All of it is good – if not great –and there’s more than enough here for dozens of listenings over the rest of your life.
After all this, all I can say is: God Save the Village Green Preservation Society; Long Live The Kinks!
* Here’s where I add that one of the singles here, “Days,” is included in numerous versions and never outstays its welcome. That’s because it might just be the most poignant, perfect song of all time. Listen to the words and the arrangement and tell me there’s not someone who was once in your life (a mom, a brother, for instance) who fulfills the role of the person in this song who is longed for, memorized, cherished. This paragraph – “Days” – is for Nel Blurton and Dana Gooch, my mom and my brother. Thank you for the days.
Two more masterly remastered and expanded reissues from MADNESS, and once again, their new parent label Salvo does a fantastic job. Absolutely and 7 were the sophomore and junior (third) efforts from Camden Town’s Nutty Boys, and instead of proving the rule that the second outing is usually nowhere near as good as the first, they disproved it by a landslide. (Quite possibly the worst mixed metaphor I’ve ever committed to paper… Oops, there I go again!)
Absolutely, released in late 1980, featured the singles “Baggy Trousers,” “Embarrassment” (one of my top Madness tunes) and “The Return of the Los Palmas 7,” and continued the band’s chart reign. Bubbly, fun melodies were still to the fore, but beginning to get noticed was the melancholy subject matter. Sure, they didn’t say directly that the girl got knocked up and made her family look bad in “Embarrassment,” but that’s clearly the story. “In the Rain,” a different recording than the one that appeared prior as a B-side (though both are here), also isn’t exactly chipper. Whatever—Madness still had it goin’ on.
In 1981 they released 7, their third longplayer and another successful outing. More big singles here, including “Cardiac Arrest” and “Shut Up” (a lot like “Embarrassment” and another Marsh-certified goodie), kept Madness in the NME and other papers, and paved the way for eventual US success (“Our House” from the following album). They hadn’t changed the formula yet, and since these two albums followed in such quick succession, nobody seemed to notice. Original label Stiff could barely keep up with these guys, nor could those of us over here who’d already discovered them despite little or no promotion from American label Sire.
Salvo’s treatment of the band’s catalog so far has been great… all the videos are on the corresponding CDs, bonus tracks are in abundance (Absolutely features seven bonus cuts plus a 21-song live show from London), the notes and photos of ephemera are also plentiful, and the mastering is superb. No qualms here at all! Can’t wait to hear and see what they do with The Rise and Fall.
Late Christmas gift or early birthday present to myself? Who cares. It finally arrived, just seven weeks after they shipped it from the UK… and I’ve been listening to it practically non-stop ever since. XTC’s Black Sea is the 1980 album by these British heroes of the new wave, and it was an amazing slab of wax: muscular power pop, thinking man’s rock, whatever you wanted to call it, it was an album like no other in their catalogue, past or present.
This November 2017 reissue of Black Sea is the latest in a series of surround sound spectaculars released by XTC’s Andy Partridge’s Ape House label. With new 5.1 and stereo mixes of the album by celebrated remixer Steven Wilson (he’d already done the same thing to Drums and Wires, Skylarking, Oranges & Lemons and Nonsuch), along with a big ol’ bucket of bonus tracks (single mixes, soundtrack tunes, demos, instrumentals), this Blu-ray/CD set is a big deal for us XTC fans. Wilson’s new mixes add additional in your face sonics to what was already a big, brash production by Steve Lillywhite (with Hugh Padgham), at least in their stereo guise. [Once again, like with last year’s Skylarking, my surround system’s not set up so I can’t speak for the 5.1 mixes.] I’m sure Wilson’s lost none of his understanding of what makes a good production or mix, so the surround mixes are likely to be just as mesmerizing. And when I say that, I mean, songs like “No Language in Our Lungs” and “Travels in Nihilon,” both extended grooves that build and build, stand out as so much better than they did in 1980. Perhaps that’s a bit of my maturity speaking; I was naturally drawn to singles “Respectable Street,” “Generals and Majors,” “Towers of London” and “Sgt. Rock” as a young man. Those songs still excite me — I never get tired of ’em! — but the side enders “Language” and “Travels” are pure pummel now, with both their lyrics and their gargantuan grooves coming through loud and clear!
What is also crystal is that Black Sea stands as the first great XTC album, bridging the gap between their own youthful material and the mature stuff that followed: English Settlement, Skylarking, etc. It spawned four great singles (noted above), was presented in a nice green bag (my US copy pictured at right), and showcased two songwriters (Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding) who could write with equal amounts of humor and politically savvy satire. Whether it’s the comic book hero/mentor in “Sgt. Rock,” the imagined nostalgia for simpler, more grateful times (“Towers of London”), or the silly warmongering of “Generals and Majors,” Partridge and Moulding, with XTC guitarist Dave Gregory and drummer Terry Chambers, crafted an album that at the time could’ve been considered New Wave’s Sgt. Pepper. That is, until 1986 when they gave us the magnificent Skylarking.
For the price (less than $30 USD), this combo Blu-ray/CD package is an excellent presentation of XTC’s fourth album. Sure, they could go all 12″x12″ and give us a deluxe book, super lengthy liner notes, a vinyl pressing and more – and charge sixty or seventy bucks for it – but you get so much Black Sea in this lil’ treasure chest (including some fun videos), I can find no fault here. I’m sure we’ll get a nice vinyl reissue one of these days [c’mon, Andy, you know you should!], so for now this high value XTC package is a superb way to wade into Black Sea.