Reviews October-December 2013
classic album Selection

Boomtown Rats - Classic Album Selection


Released: 21st October 2013


That history has not been kind to The Boomtown Rats is probably a little unfair. After all, the Dún Laoghaire six-piece were the first New Wave band to top the UK charts, the first Irish group ever to have a UK number one, and from August 1977 they sent nine straight singles into the top forty in the days when major labels ruled with a rod of iron. And most of those singles happened to be very good indeed. With four of the original six members reforming the band to tour this year, Mercury have taken the opportunity to commemorate the reunion by releasing a box set of the band's six albums, retailing at pretty affordable sixteen quid which works out at about £2.67 each. Housed in a simple slipcase, the albums are in gatefold cardboard sleeves capturing the original artwork, but that is it as far as it goes – there are no liner notes and no booklets, though for that price it is difficult to complain too hard.

The Boomtown Rats was released in September 1977 and, though erratic, in places captures perfectly the essence of the punk revolution with some sharp songs driven along by Garry Roberts' razor guitars and Bob Geldof's brash vocals. 'Lookin' After No.1' and 'Mary Of The Fourth Form' deservedly stormed the charts when released as singles and it was clear from the beginning that the Rats were more proficient at songwriting than many of their contemporaries, unafraid to use pianos and saxes, and stuffing their songs with those pleasing little extras that help lift them just a little above the norm: a handclap here, some effective backing vocals there; the little touches that seem to be the preserve of the 1970s and are sadly lacking from music today. June 1978's A Tonic For The Troops spent close on a year in the UK albums chart, peaking at number eight, and spawned three hit singles including the fabulously disjointed 'Like Clockwork', the storming 'She's So Modern' and the number one hit 'Rat Trap'. It's more of a complete statement than its predecessor, firmly in the New Wave mould, with a generally dark lyrical air lifted by its deft musicality and attention to detail. October 1979's The Fine Art Of Surfacing went one better in the albums chart despite its awful cover art, though it only remained there for twenty-six weeks. Again, it housed three hit singles, the excellent 'Someone's Looking At You', the fragrant 'Diamond Smiles' and the monster number one hit 'Don't Like Mondays' which remains an enduring classic. The album marked a maturing in the band's sound, with a less hectic approach and the nice use of keyboards which did not detract from the basic guitar foundations.

If there was ever a time not to spend over a year making your next album it was at this stage in the band's career and it was not until January 1981 that Mondo Bongo emerged, hitting a best ever number six in the charts, though only staying around for seven weeks. There was no doubt that the band's star was now beginning to wane as the New Wave gave way to New Romantic's keyboard driven pop while the true musical innovators dropped into the underground to live in their own separated indie sphere. Caught between a rock and hard place the Rats attempted to modify their sound, but never felt comfortable shifting their spiky pop foundations despite the recruitment of former David Bowie producer Tony Visconti to aid the process. The strangely compelling 'Banana Republic' became the band's third biggest ever hit, though it was to be the last time the Rats bothered the top ten, with its follow-up, the unsatisfying 'The Elephant's Graveyard', barely scraping into the top thirty. In truth Mondo Bongo is virtually unlistenable in places and it quickly led to the departure of guitarist Gerry Cott who was dismayed at the band's move away from their roots and his bandmates' increasing lack of desire to put in the work in the studio. A truncated five-piece produced March 1982's V Deep (Five Deep), with its nasty New Romantic cover art. It barely scraped the charts, reaching only number sixty-four, with single 'Never In A Million Years' just breaking the top thirty and 'House On Fire' reaching only sixty-two. This is quite a dense affair, dominated by keyboards and not sounding much the like the band who burst on to the scene five years earlier with 'Lookin' After Number One'. Geldof's voice sounds particulary strange tramelled up to fit the new model sound, though V Deep is probably an improvement on its predecessor. The last album from the band emerged in May 1984, the year Geldof began to shape the Band Aid project. In The Long Grass failed to make it into the charts, though 'Tonight', 'Drag Me Down', 'Dave' and 'A Hold Of Me' (the band's last ever release, in 1985) made very minor dents in the singles chart. The album saw another change in direction, back to a more straightforward rock sound, though still laced with plenty of keyboards. Pleasingly Geldof's vocals are less restrained and there is no doubt the album marked the band's best effort since their glory days, though it was probably too 'mature' for many of the band's early disciples.

The last three discs here fail to capture the running order of the vinyl albums which is annoying, but the set as a whole contains twenty-four bonus tracks, including b-sides, single edits, live numbers and the odd demo. A pretty comprehensive collection, then, from a band who played a huge part in the transformation of the British music scene in the late 1970s, recording some deservedly enduring singles. Perhaps it also serves as a lesson of how important it is to make the music you are driven to make and not the music you believe fits in with the times. It's fascinating to play through these in chronological order with a lot more memories flooding back than perhaps we would have cared to remember.

Nothing Good Gets Away

Bouts - Nothing Good Gets Away

Wonky Karousel

Released: 25th October 2013


Dublin appears to be blessed with a multitude of great bands at the present time and of them all, the one with the purest pop sensibility is undoubtedly Bouts, with the four-piece now following up their excellent 'Get Sick' single with their debut long player, Nothing Good Gets Away, available on CD and in a limited edition of 250 green vinyl records from their website. Running in at forty-three minutes, if you were ever looking for an irrepressible collection of songs to help lift your spirits then your search has finally come to an end, for Bouts are able to write tunes of such uplifting brightness that you cannot fail to take them to your heart, yet they infuse them with more than enough wildness and uncertainty to appease even your most devout indie diehard. What Bouts have in spades, then, is crossover appeal and it would come as no surprise if they went on to take the charts by storm some time soon like a shaft of light breaking into the eternal night. This is a nicely recorded album where every instrument is clearly definable as Bouts plot their course from the joyful whoop at the start of opener 'Novelty' to the last pluck at the bass on closer 'Moonraker' and it's pretty much fair winds all the way. The rhythm section of Niall Jackson and Daniel Flynn show intent and purpose in pushing guitarist Colin Boylan to ever new excesses, while singer (and second guitarist) Barry Bracken has a voice that can cope with anything thrown at it, easily smoothing over the shards Boylan leaves in his path. There are no end of highlights. 'Novelty' is a cultured, warping guitar romp that brings to mind the clever, twisted pop of The Boo Radleys, while the single '6.0' continues the meandering course with splendidly wayward guitars washing over you as the song ebbs and flows. The flickering 'Cutaways' has a darker edge, while bass and vocals dominate 'I Want', showing a willingness from Bouts to vary their approach which all helps to make Nothing Good Gets Away an intriguing listen. Side one finale 'Laugh Along' opens to a Kim Deal bassline and remains tautly hemmed in by its uncompromising guitars despite its dreamy vocal, while side two opens with the breathless pop of 'Atomisation' and the schizophrenic 'Jittery' which manages to sooth and stir at the same time. 'Pliable Me' wobbles and drives, 'Ruse' battles away engagingly with its great "Who-oh"s, and 'Moonraker' closes proceedings in a thoughtful mood, the closest thing to a ballad you will find here. There's no doubt that side one has the edge here, but there's nothing disposable on this record which is buoyant, thoughtful and well worth investigation.

Arcade Fire - Reflektor


Released: 28th October 2013


The danger of proclaiming bands to be the best thing since sliced bread is that they ultimately come to believe their own publicity. Arcade Fire may well be the most influential band of the last decade, but ceaselessly broadcasting the fact will only lead to the Canadian collective beginning the retreat up their own backsides – and when their new eighty-six minute double album is preceded by a guerrilla promotional campaign, a single released under a different name with a cameo by David Bowie, and early reviewers intimating a knowledge of Kierkegaard and Camus is essential to gain an understanding of the music, then things become very worrying indeed. There's no doubt that AF mainman Win Butler is one of the most literate musicians of recent years but to frame your music with such lofty parameters before its release is undoubtedly an invitation to be kicked in the teeth both firmly and repeatedly.

Fortunately, when Reflektor finally hits your eardrums the pretentiousness is difficult to comprehend, the whole coming across as more of a Caribbean night out than a weighty monologue on the curse of the abstract. Inspired by the street music of Haiti, the parental home of Butler's wife, multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne, Reflektor is co-produced by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy which not only helps reinforce its bow to the beat but gives the band enough stability to remain on their feet where previously they have always appeared to be one step away from plunging into the abyss. Not that this is a simple homage to carnival, but a nice adoption of new ideas into the band's personal outlook, Butler always looking to challenge the conservatism of rock music in finding new ways to approach his art. It dances with both feet then while keeping them firmly in the underground and it really succeeds on every level. Opener and single 'Reflektor' probably sets the tone for the whole, managing to sound both joyful and vaguely uncomfortable at the same time, and there are so many clever touches throughout it is difficult to listen to the whole without some degree of admiration. And the quality of tracks such as 'Normal People' and 'Joan Of Arc' has to be heard to be believed. It's rock and roll, but not as we know it – fusion in the real sense of the word. But why the Rodin? Did they look back as they carried the rara out of hiding? If so, the next album should be even more interesting.

Deep Sea Skiving

Bananarama - Deep Sea Skiving


Released: 28th October 2013


OK, no sniggering. When the Nanas first broke on to the scene in the early 1980s they weren't the appalling disco divas they eventually became, but had bucketloads of credibility. Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols was a mate and produced their first single; they supported Paul Weller on tour with The Jam frontman contributing a song to their debut album; and the Fun Boy Three were impressed enough to have the girls record backing vocals on their 'It Ain't What You Do' single, returning the compliment on the Nanas' 'Really Saying Something' release. Bananarama were punky, bright and shambolic in the do-it-yourself new wave style. Their debut single 'Aie A Mwana' was a cover of a French-Belgian composition recorded in the Swahili language by African group Black Blood. It didn't dent the charts, but served notice that Bananarama were not a group with a plan mapped out for them; they followed their own noses and went their own way. By the time Deep Sea Skiving was released in March 1983, they had crashed the UK top five on four occasions, twice in the company of the Fun Boy Three, and again with the 'Shy Boy' and 'Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye' singles. Their other release, the self penned 'Cheers Then' had been a relative failure, reaching only number forty-five – a shame for it was a decent enough effort, melancholic and thoughtful, but probably not capturing the mood of the festive season into which it was released. It many ways Deep Sea Skiving came across as a compilation on its release in January 1983 with five singles amongst its eleven tracks. The plus side was that they were all quality pop songs and though the girls never had voices that were going to rock your world, they used them in an effective way to maximise their effect and when that resulted in songs as good as 'Shy Boy', composed from a tune first written for Imagination by producers Tony Swain and Steve Jolley, then you would be hard man indeed to find fault. Six songs here were written by the band themselves, including 'Young At Heart', composed with Bobby Hodges, who later had a top ten hit with the song with his group The Bluebells.

Deep Sea Skiving, along with five other albums from the group, has now been released in a hardbound 2CD+DVD set showcasing the original album along with twenty-five bonus tracks, four promotional videos and four television appearances. There are notes on all of the songs by the three band members plus an essay by Tom Parker and song lyrics. The bonus tracks include twelve inch versions of the singles, b-sides, US mixes and a number of nice rarities including Japan-only single 'He's Got Tact' and the fabulous cover version of the Sex Pistols' 'No Feelings' taken from the Party Party film soundtrack. It's a nice thing, a slice of pleasing pop imperfection, all underlined by a gentle air of melancholy, and we wouldn't be without it. Hell, even Keith Richards expressed his admiration for this album, so why not treat yourself to a guilty pleasure?


Bananarama - Bananarama


Released: 28th October 2013


The second album from Bananarama, self titled as if to announce that this is where the story really starts, saw the girls adopt a more serious approach and featured eight tracks out of nine penned by the band along with producers Swain and Jolley. With the subject matter dwelling on all manner of social problems, including gang culture and drug addiction, and the whole dedicated to a friend who had been killed in Belfast, this is by no means a light record but it stands head and shoulders above anything else Bananarama ever produced, containing some startlingly brilliant songs. The band's fifth top ten single, 'Cruel Summer' is out of the top drawer, also becoming a top ten hit in the States, and was the first song written together with Swain and Jolley, many attempts at refining it paying off as the finished result drips sadness despite its uplifting tempo. Undoubtedly one of the best songs the band ever recorded, it is run close here by the dark 'King Of The Jungle' with its gorgeous harmonies which clearly mark it out as one of the band's top vocal performances. Add the remarkably clever 'Robert De Niro's Waiting', which became Bananarama's biggest hit when it reached number three in March 1984, and you are talking high quality indeed. It was a shame the record label was so determined to cash in following Bananarama's appearance in April by releasing a further two singles that would inevitably spoil the band's great chart run. Not that they were poor tracks, but most fans already owned 'Rough Justice', which reached only number twenty-three, and the excellent 'Hotline To Heaven', which struggled to number fifty-eight despite being released with a jigsaw puzzle sleeve. Such prolific marketing only served to hint that Bananarama were little more than a limited run novelty; the truth couldn't have been further from the truth, but the pressure on the band to play up to their frivolous side was intense. Thankfully this album saw light of day before the cracks began to show.

Again, this new release features tons of extras, with twenty-five bonus tracks featuring a variety of b-sides, edits, extended versions, instrumentals and remixes, and the DVD including seven promotional videos (including the 1989 remake of 'Cruel Summer') and four television appearances. Listen out for top b-side 'Cairo' and 'The Wild Life', recorded for the film of the same name. If you ever buy one Bananarama album, this is the one to get. It really is a quality piece of work and deserves some respect.

True Confessions

Bananarama - True Confessions


Released: 28th October 2013


July 1986 saw the release of the last Bananarama album worth bothering about, True Confessions marking the fault line between the group's quality work with Tony Swain and Steve Jolley and the festering dross they put out under the Stock, Aitken & Waterman banner. With nine of the eleven tracks written with their established producers, the album also included the cover of 'Venus' that took them to number one in the Billboard singles chart, and 'More Than Physical' written in collaboration with their new producers which failed to go top forty when released as a single in the UK. Named True Confessions because each story told a particular story, the album is a dark one and considerably downbeat; its recording left Swain and Jolley mentally exhausted and the group not entirely at ease with the final result. Consequently, when their producers refused to work on a version of Shocking Blue's 'Venus' to spice up the collection, the band turned to Mike Stock, Matt Aitkin and Pete Waterman to produce the track, a decision that succeeded in giving True Confessions a lighter edge, but consequently changed the direction the band was taking, leading to the unsatisfying disco phase that wiped away the band's credibility and ultimately led to Siobhan Fahey's departure from the ranks. The highlights here are 'A Trick Of The Night', a tale of a provincial youth falling into desperate straits following a move to London, the rather gorgeous 'In A Perfect World', and the sauntering title track with its quality drum pattern. The album also spawned the lively single 'Do Not Disturb', the release of which the band opposed, and apparently rightfully so as it struggled to only number thirty-one in August 1985.

True Confessions is no Bananarama, but it has some inspired moments and some interesting additions. Nineteen extra songs are included, featuring the usual b-sides, remixes, extended versions and dub versions, but we also get the two tracks originally dropped from the album's running order to make way for the SAW tracks – 'Too Much Of a Good Thing' and 'Vicious Circle'. There's 'Riskin' A Romance' recorded for the The Secret Of My Success soundtrack and three tracks recorded with producers Phil Bishop and Patrick Seymour: 'Ghost', White Train' and 'Scarlett', probably wisely relegated to b-sides. The DVD includes six promo videos and three television appearances, including the band's feature on In At The Deep End which portrayed the making of the 'A Trick Of The Night' single and video. A band in transition, then, but this is worth the odd spin.


Throwing Muses - Purgatory/Paradise

Friday Project

Released: 29th October 2013


You have to feel for Throwing Muses who seem to have moved out of Limbo only to find themselves stuck halfway between Purgatory and Paradise. The names here may be referring to the roads which frame a favourite beach on their Rhode Island home where this new 32-track, 68-minute album was knocked into its distinct lack of shape, but it is an apt analogy for a band who were always driven to make music of startling quality and passion but which lacked enough of a commercial edge to satisfy a soulless industry geared to exploit any sordid angle in the cause of raking in the big bucks. Had they been British, Throwing Muses may well have prospered in the comforting folds of the indie underground, but finding themselves in the grasp of Warners in the USA, the pressure for them to bend to numbing commerciality was intense and, indeed, ultimately led to the band's breakdown. Throwing Muses decided that in future they would be their own masters, producing records as and when they could, funded entirely by those people who identified with what they were doing, those for whom the music resonated and those who couldn't give a toss for zany or cool or commerciality or hapless chart fodder. They stepped out of the glare of the corporate world into the comforting embrace of familiar surroundings: from Purgatory into a little Paradise of their own shaping...

The down side, of course, was the slowing down of releases. After Limbo appeared in 1996 (still a top forty hit in the UK charts), it was seven years before the magnificent and biting Throwing Muses saw light of day in 2003, and it has been a massive break of ten years between that album and this, with only the happy interlude of Anthology and its accompanying UK tour to help ease the wait. Some four years in recording, mixing and shaping, Purgatory/Paradise has been released by The Friday Project in a 64-page book format containing the full studio album on CD, photographs and artwork by drummer Dave Narcizo and singer-guitarist Kristin Hersh, lyrics for each song, stories and essays to accompany each track and instructions on how to download extra content, including an instrumental version of the album and commentaries. It's a nice thing, more of an event than a simple album release; it's just a shame it's such a rare event.

In the introduction of the accompanying book, Narcizo describes the album as "fractured" while Hersh opts for the less pre-meditated "shattered", but it's much of a muchness. There's no question Purgatory/Paradise is disjointed with six fully evolved songs surrounded by a dozen partially formed and a scattering of the ashes of about a dozen more. These range from the twenty-eight second instrumental snippet of 'Smoky Hands 2' appearing twenty-seven tracks after 'Smoky Hands' (not 1); two parts of the scraping 'Curtains' twelve tracks apart; and the second helping of 'Blurry' that is briefly resurrected four tracks on from the opening attempt, an offering that almost makes it into a song, slow-paced and entrancing with its Spanish guitar lilt and nice choral outro. And of course there's more. Where in the past the Muses would have tacked all the bits together and presented songs with a multitude of key and tempo changes, here the different sections are driven apart and left to fend for themselves. And why not? It's an assumption that when a band presents an album they are offering up a perfect whole, but there is no reason this has to be the case. True art mirrors true life and in life the thigh bone is not always connected to the knee bone; in life sometimes you just have to fucking limp. And if any band could emerge after ten years to deliver a broken album, that band could only be Throwing Muses. And Throwing Muses limping are still a much finer proposition than most bands strolling down the avenue.

Musically, Purgatory/Paradise borders on the gentle, mirroring the odd moments on albums past when the band slowed for contemplation. It is also probably the most shaped; surprisingly delicate arrangements giving a polish to even snippets of songs that help prevent the whole from becoming a monolithic whisper intermittently punctuated by bursts of passion and life. And punctuated it is, with the raking fire of 'Morning Birds 1', where the vocals neatly underline themselves, and the epic 'Slippershell' (4:47) where Hersh's voice breaks from the shadows as the song builds and rolls around on Bernard George's bassline to the accompaniment of some salient guitars. On the whole, though, the singer is fairly restrained. Her guitars speak as much as her vocals on 'Milan' and only on occasion does the voice grab the headlines, as in 'Freesia' where Hersh sounds wearily fantastic, the song weaving hypnotically around her, and on the pulsating 'Lazy Eye', both tracks underlining why this band is so very important. And of course a key element to their greatness is the work of Narcizo, who consistently manages to drum between the lines, anticipating destinations before journeys have begun, and the bass playing of Georges who can make himself completely invisible or utterly steal the show with the beauty of his work, as on the far too truncated 'Dripping Trees'.

At the back of the album's accompanying book is a list of the names of the people whose support allows Throwing Muses to continue to make music. It's an impressive list, but can always grow in numbers. In a world of lowest common denominators, we need to nuture our treasures and never bend to the will of those who would have us all wear the same shoes, tip the same hat and listen to the same soul-destroying dross. Throwing Muses are one such treasure and Purgatory/Paradise a rare victory, but it needn't be the last. Fight the good fight here, for a world without Throwing Muses would be a sad place indeed.

The Next Day Extra

David Bowie - The Next Day Extra


Released: 4th November 2013


With most Bowie followers probably having bought each of his albums three or four times over the years, in a variety of new formats, it's a little shocking to be asked to buy his new album again, barely eight months after it was first released. The reason, of course, is that Christmas is coming and Bowie fans, being relatively long in the tooth, have larger disposable incomes in which to tap to keep man and record company in funds over the next god-knows-how-many-years before he bothers to do any work again. What you get for your seventeen quid is a little box containing three discs, the first of which contains the album you already own, the second ten outtakes (which presumably weren't considered good enough to go on the album in the first place) and the third a DVD featuring the videos of the album's four single releases. There are also three booklets, one entitled 'You' which is completely blank allowing you to fill in the pages (best used to record your shrinking bank balance), one entitled 'Frame' featuring numerous rectangles and some clips from the videos, and one useful one entitled 'Language' which houses the credits and lyrics. The artwork again is all adapted from the Heroes album, nicely done, but annoying in that The Next Day in reality owes very little to the 1977 classic other than links in the singer's mind. Sonically it is not far removed from his other recent releases as we pointed out in our review here, so we'll pass over the disc entitled 'Tracks' and move on to 'Extra'. 'Atomica' is cod heavy rock which appears to be a stab at the ludicrous image of a rock star when considered from the viewpoint of an outsider looking in, 'Love Is Lost' is a remix of the album track by James Murphy which far better captures the cold isolation of Heroes than the original. The instrumental 'Plan' opens purposefully to some booming guitar before fading away before two minutes but, again, is closer to the spirit of the seventies album, while 'The Informer' has some nice slashing guitars and an impassioned vocal coming over as a contemplation on life and God following a health scare, "And I still don't know what we were looking for – but it wasn't you," Bowie sings almost regretfully. There's a 'Venetian Mix' of album track 'I'd Rather Be High', but before we get too impressed we are presented with a wordy jape through 'Like A Rocket Man', the silly 'Born In A UFO' (a take on 'Born in the USA'?) which adds very little to the whole, and a largely forgetful middle of the road saunter through 'I'll Take You There'. The closing two tracks, 'God Bless The Girl' and 'So She' are better, the former an uptempo parade and the latter slower and quirkier in Bowie's recognisable narrative style and fading out when he couldn't work out what else to do with it. The videos are decent enough, and interesting viewing, though no end of imagery can cover up weakness in a song, and it always begins and ends with the music for us. Yes, a nice package. Yes, some nice moments. No, it's not anywhere as near as good as the music he made in the 1970s. It's a terrifying fact that Bowie is no longer essential to the music world. But let's grow up and admit it. It is a fact.
Live At Clouds Hill

Gallon Drunk - Live At Clouds Hill

Clouds Hill

Released: 8th November 2013


Whilst Gallon Drunk are busy recording new album The Soul Of The Hour which is due to be released in March 2014, their German record label Clouds Hill have paved the way for Christmas by releasing a limited amount of ten-inch, white vinyl singles taken from last year's Vinylbox 3 - Live At Clouds Hill limited edition (100) box set. Amongst the delights are offerings by Faust and Bosnian Rainbows, whilst the Drunk's offering is collection of five tracks, three from 2012's magnificent The Road Gets Darker From Here album, and two dragged out of 1983, 'Arlington Road' and the single 'You Should be Ashamed'. It's always great to catch Gallon Drunk live; they are a band who never fail to put in a spellbinding performance without lessening the quality of the songs, and they are clearly on fire here although the recordings possibly don't capture their full ferocity. The sound is obviously sparser than on the studio versions with the drums dominating at times, but when you listen underneath them, plenty of bite still remains. 'Killing Time' makes you wonder if any band has utilised saxophones so well since the glory days of The Psychedelic Furs; 'You Should Be Ashamed' creeps along menacingly, dripping nasty guitars before being taken out and murdered by Terry Edwards; 'Arlington Road' is dirty blues; 'Hanging On' is rough and messy; while 'The Big Breakdown' is a jagged jazz breakdown. This is a great listen and will serve a purpose until you get to see the band live again, hopefully next year in support of the new album. And here's a hint ... play it at 33.
Bauhaus 5 Albums

Bauhaus - 5 Albums

Beggars Banquet

Released: 25th November 2013


One of the reasons there will always be a place for CDs is that they made possible the release of loads of previously lost material from numerous bands that came to light almost entirely due to the cheapness of their manufacture. One other reason is that they make possible box sets such as the 5 Albums series currently being released by Beggars Banquet. Here we have a nicely made, matt finished box with fold over lid containing five albums all housed in thin, but quality, cardboard sleeves along with a slim booklet outlining the tracks on each release. The four albums proper from Bauhaus are all included, along with an additional CD containing the band's singles and b-sides. And retailing at around fifteen pounds, there really isn't much to complain about at three quid apiece. Indeed, it is good to see albums produced that stand on their own without a welter of bonus tracks tacked on to the end of them. It's always good to get extras, but even better when these are included on a separate disc so you can enjoy the simple pleasure of an album as it was originally intended.

Bauhaus always walked the thin line between art and ludicrosity, but generally walked it so well they were very seldom dismissed as pretentious clowns, rather being hailed as the dangerous, electric heirs of Lord Byron. Furiously introspective and jagged, their music was a scintillating fusion of punk, glam, dub and art rock which at its very best carried danger signs and left the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. So such was 'Nerves', the closing track on debut album, In The Flat Field (4AD, October 1980), which is a monstrous thing and utterly spellbinding. It's the stand out moment in a mesmerising collection, and though the album received poor reviews from an unsuspecting and confused media, it is pretty much a classic, broadening horizons and stretching the boundaries of exactly what could be achieved in a mere forty minutes of song. Moving on to Beggars Banquet for their second album, Mask (October 1981), Bauhaus even began to develop a commercial edge to their sound without abandoning any of its stark blackness. The 'Kick In The Eye' single saw them bother the lower regions of the charts for the first time, a feat emulated with follow up 'The Passion Of Lovers'. Like all of their albums, Mask is a solid piece of work, though possibly not quite as spectacular a whole as their debut. October 1982 saw the release of the band's biggest selling album, The Sky's Gone Out, which shot to number four in the charts and included the brilliant single 'Spirit' as well as such classics as the band's cover of Brian Eno's 'Third Uncle' and the aching 'All We Ever Wanted Was Everything'. It was to be their peak of success as fourth album Burning From The Inside (July 1983) sounded a little disjointed given the fact much of it was recorded wthout the input of singer Peter Murphy who was suffering from pneumonia at the time. Why it had to be pushed out so soon is unknown (couldn't they have left it until October to match all the other releases?), but without the grim magic of his voice, some of the songs just don't sound like Bauhaus. The album made it to number thirteen in the charts though it was to prove the band's swansong as they split shortly afterwards.

The final disc here features the band's singles and b-sides that were not included on albums and there are plenty of them. None of the three 4AD singles made it on to In The Flat Field (oh, those were the days), so we have 'Dark Entries', 'Terror Couple Kill Colonel' and 'Telegram Sam' along with magical b-sides 'Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores' and 'Crowds'. Also included are later releases such as 'Ziggy Stardust', 'Lagartija Nick', the single edit of 'She's In Parties', and even the 'Tomb Raider' mix of what would have been the only notable omission from the collection, the original Small Wonder single 'Bela Lugosi's Dead'. Of course amongst the quality is the refuse such as the experimental 'Scopes' and 'Earwax' but with Bauhaus it is always OK to take the rough with the smooth as, quite frankly, there was so very little that didn't work. If you don't know the music of Bauhaus, then you should, so buy this collection. If you don't have all the albums then this is a good way of getting everything together along with all the disparate single tracks. It's a quality thing.

Fields of the Nephilim 5 Albums

Fields of the Nephilim - 5 Albums

Beggars Banquet

Released: 25th November 2013


Matching closely the Bauhaus collection in format and quality, this second box set from Beggars (a third features Gene Loves Jezebel) includes the classic line-up of Field of the Nephilim's three studio albums (each presented with bonus single tracks), along with live album Earth Inferno and a fifth disc capturing the band's various remixes and b-sides.

If Bauhaus owed their dark edge to the world of art, Fields of the Nephilim owed theirs to the world of the spaghetti western, absorbing their look and early musical themes from the films of Sergio Leone. Musically the band were not innovative, preferring to use the bludgeon rather than the razor cuts of their labelmates, with singer Carl McCoy coming over as a particularly gruff Andrew Eldritch. The not very well produced Dawnrazor (Situation Two, May 1987) is quite an oppressive collection: heavy, growly and unyielding, but it is not without its moments and succeeds well in capturing an edge of menace that ties it in nicely with the samples of Ennio Morricone's music stolen from the brilliant Once Upon A Time In The West picture. Songs such as 'Dust' and 'Reanimator' manage to emerge from the morass, but it is the inclusion of the far better (and better recorded) singles 'Power', 'Preacher Man' and 'Blue Water' and their accompanying b-sides that really lifts the disc. By the release of The Nephilim (Situation Two, September 1988) the band had shifted their focus away from the wild west towards the mystical east and were producing more intricately woven music that marked out its own territory and gave the Nephilim a distinct sound of their own. It's still a weighty record but manages to be far more accessible than its predecessor and it produced the great single 'Moonchild' which broke the top thirty despite its obvious lack of commercial appeal. It was two years before the band's third album appeared, Elyzium (Beggars Banquet, September 1990) making it to number twenty-two in the charts. Featuring a 1920 recording of mystic Aleister Crowley reading an excerpt from his poem 'At Sea', the album continued the themes first heard on The Nephilim, with the band's artwork now more 4AD than Leone. Probably the most accomplished Nephilim album, it sadly became their last studio release with McCoy quitting the following year amid much acrimony.

The Earth Inferno live album is a mix of three live performances on the 1990 'Sumerland' tour, recorded in Wolverhampton, Brixton and Hamburg. Lasting some seventy-eight minutes, the album was released by Beggars Banquet in April 1991 and just scraped into the top forty. It's a pretty decent live 'best of' collection with the band sounding far lighter than they actually do on record which always comes as a bit of a surprise. The final disc here contains a mixture of b-sides and the alternative takes of the band's songs that appeared on various twelve-inch single releases. The Nephilim's singles all tended to be pretty decent and it's another good compilation. Not as essential as the Bauhaus collection but if you like things a little darker and a little heavier then there's some pretty good stuff here. And, again, it is easily affordable.

John's Children - A Strange Affair

John's Children - A Strange Affair


Released: 25th November 2013


John's Children are one of those fabulous bands who moved out of obscurity straight into legend, not the least for counting a youthful Marc Bolan among their ranks for a brief period of time. The outrageous mod/psych outfit released six singles and one album in their short two years of life, none of which was very successful, but in many ways they can be regarded as an influence on both glam and punk and they unquestionably take the prize for being the greatest band ever to emerge from Great Bookham. Taken under the wing of The Yardbirds' manager Simon Napier-Bell (who thought they were the worst band he had ever seen), the Surrey four-piece were dressed in white suits, told to behave badly and named after bassist John Hewlett purely because Napier-Bell thought he was so awful. Urged on by their manager, who signed them to Columbia, John's Children would fight each other on stage and regularly trash their instruments, working audiences into a frenzy. They also often posed naked for the press, with flowers covering their genitals and were thrown off a tour supporting The Who for causing a riot with their on-stage antics.

Napier-Bell didn't let the band (other than singer Andy Ellison) anywhere near the studio for the band's early recordings with first single 'The Love I Thought I'd Found' (December 1966), written by Napier-Bell and Hewlett, amazingly breaking into the Billboard Hot 100 in America. Described as one of the first ever psychedelic singles it was a real curiosity, embracing a whole mishmash of styles. Second single 'Just What You Want' was a band composition released in February 1967, pleasingly stuttering and rough, and again was recorded by session musicians with Jeff Beck playing a guitar solo on b-side 'But She's Mine'. Moving to Track Records (home of The Who) when Columbia refused to release their third single, the band recorded an album at the behest of their American label which was overdubbed with applause from The Beatles' Hard Day's Night soundtrack, to make it appear as if it had been recorded live. The album's title, Orgasm, proved to be a problem with the record remaining unreleased. It was at this stage that Napier-Bell replaced guitarist Geoff McClelland with Marc Bolan who composed and sang on the band's next single 'Desdemona' (once covered by The Jam) which was consequently banned by the BBC for the line "lift up your skirt and fly". It's b-side was a song about a Surrey psychopath who kept heads in hat boxes! Bolan left the group in June 1967, after only four months, following disagreements with the way Napier-Bell was producing the band's next single, 'A Midsummer Night's Scene' which was never released and the follow up 'Come And Play With Me In The Garden' was a re-recording of the b-side of 'Desdemona'. Drummer Chris Townson switched to guitar with former roadie Chris Colville taking over on drums for the band's final single 'Go Go Girl' which was a Bolan compisition and later recorded by the man for Tyrannosaurus Rex as 'Mustang Ford'. The band released an Ellison solo single, 'It's Been a Long Time' before finally spitting up midway through a tour of Germany in 1968.

This new 2CD compilation from Grapefruit includes all of the band's singles and b-sides, including those that were never released, in addition to the Orgasm album, Andy Ellison's solo singles and recordings by pre-John's Children collective The Silence. It also features sixteen alternative mixes among its fifty-two tracks making it a thoroughly comprehensive compilation of the band's work and one well worth getting hold of. This is great listening from one of those precious bands who were so awful they were actually quite brilliant. A must.


The Fauns - Lights


Released: 2nd December 2013


Generally not many new albums get issued in December as the countdown to Christmas begins, but The Fauns' chosen release date for their second album Lights was not as big a surprise as the record's sheer dazzling brilliance. Back in the early eighties you could walk into a record shop and pick up albums with a degree of certainty that what you were buying would be infused with quality, style, innovation, beauty and power. Listening to Lights is like taking a trip back in time. Not that The Fauns are especially retro, but they have captured the magic of those days by creating an album of such inner beauty and strength, such variety of invention and intent, that it absolutely takes your breath away. This is so beautifully done, it hurts. Alison Garner has a voice that enthrals and delights, sensual and beguiling, while the guitars of Elliot Guise and Lee Woods reach heights those 4AD bands could only dream of, without ever over-complicating things. There is a rare depth to the collection with nine songs and two instrumentals offering drastically different approaches yet merely reflecting different shades of light from the many facets of an untouchable whole, thirty-eight minutes of complete joy. This is magical. Tom Adams' drums cascade like showers while Michael Savage's bass gently guides the songs safely through impossible mazes until they finally emerge into the light. Some of these songs are so delicate they could fracture with a stern look, others urge you to charge with reckless abandon towards the distant horizon just for the thrill of the chase. It's impossible to pick out individual songs here; listen to this album once and you'll probably play it for the rest of your life. It is somehow fitting that such a colossal year has ended on such a colossal high and make no mistake, this is as good as it gets. Utterly, utterly bewitching.
Stop The World

Ghost Dance - Stop The World

Cherry Red

Released: 2nd December 2013


Formed in 1985, Ghost Dance were a goth supergroup of sorts put together by guitarist Gary Marx of The Sisters Of Mercy and vocalist Anne-Marie Hurst of Skeletal Family as both were leaving their respective bands. Sticking to the trusted template, Ghost Dance recruited a bassist and a drum machine with a name (Pandora) for their original recordings on Karbon Records, where they released four well received singles before being snapped up by Chrysalis Records. By now up to a five-piece with a proper drummer and two guitarists, two singles and the album Stop The World were released by the major in 1989, though internal tensions within the band were too intense to cope with the commercial pressures placed upon them and Ghost Dance split in December of that year. Now Cherry Red has produced a definite collection of the band's Chrysalis recordings in a 2CD set with a remastered version of the original album accompanied by a disc of bonus tracks which includes b-sides and the six live tracks that were orginally issued on a twelve-inch given away with early copies of the album.

Ghost Dance were prime candidates for major label treatment; their gently gothic rock music offered wide crossover appeal and it had been clearly demonstrated by the successes of The Mission, The Sisters of Mercy and All About Eve that the market was interested in such a sound. Chrysalis pushed to make the band sound more commercial. Hurst had a clean, emotive rock voice which fitted the bill nicely, while Marx's trademark guitar patterns were set aside by the band's new producer in favour of second guitarist Richard Steel's more classic rock sound, complete with traditional solos. The band's choice of single 'Walk In My Shadow' was disregarded as Chrysalis opted for 'Down To The Wire' and 'Celebrate', all three featured here and, in truth, all excellent songs with some bite and singalong appeal. Stop The World may not have been all the band had wanted it to be, but it remains a decent listen with some nice off-centre touches that obviously escaped the censors, and some pretty decent guitar work. It's not the spiky menace it could have been, but it will certainly get your head shaking and shouldn't be disregarded.

Join The Dots

Toy - Join The Dots


Released: 9th December 2013


Almost since they first emerged from the ashes of The Jing Jang Jong, Toy have very much been our long term favourites for forging a mighty and prosperous career; there is something appealingly assured and impressive about their music. They may sound like they are hurtling through underground tunnels with a resigned acceptance they will never catch more than fleeting glimpses of the world as it flies by, yet there is a spark there that infuses their sound with a small degree of magic, hinting that while Toy are not quite flying from Kether to Malkuth, they are not stuck on the Circle line either. It's earthly but fascinating, at times mundane, but always with a hint that something wild may be lurking just around the corner. Toy are an interesting band making interesting music. Just over year since the release of their impressive debut album, Toy now follow it up with a double, Join The Dots, which shows the band are in a confident mood, offering up eleven tracks coming in at just over a hour, all of which move from A to A leaving myriad vowels and consonants in their wake. Opening to hymn-like refrains, the terrific seven-minute instrumental 'Conductor', is lifted off by a big bass and growling synths and it teases you into thinking the ride is coming to an end before callously ploughing on again in a heady spiral, lost on a never-ending journey, finally disappearing down another tunnel allowing 'You Won't Be The Same' to take up the story. We then glide slowly past interminable flat landscapes with a weariness only emphasised by almost mocking backing vocals and a bright guitar solo that splutters away into sadder, unbending synths. It's splendid stuff and a template for the album which again suffocates in its monomania, yet entices at the same time. Title track 'Join The Dots' is filled with everything that makes Toy great: Panda's relentless bass, Tom Dougall's resigned vocals, Alejandra Diez's fizzing synths, Dom O'Dair's shredding guitars and Charlie Salvidge's metronomic beat; it's eight minutes of near-perfection, though there's plenty else here to entice. There's a startling musical interlude in 'To A Death Unknown' which even ends like a real pop song, a lovely guitar conclusion to 'Left To Wander, a gentle pyschedlic edge to 'Too Far Gone To Know', and a warping joy to ten-minute closer 'Fall Out Of Love' which appears to have been carried straight out of the sixties. All on a double album coming with a free CD and a poster. The way things used to be. Proper. And classy.
North South Divide

Various Artists - Six Singles

359 Music

Released: 30th September - 28th October 2013


It's You
Serial Monkey
Rolling Stone
Needle Aside
It has been a while now since it was announced that former Creation boss Alan McGee had set up a new label, 359 Music, and over the past couple of months the first releases have been made available. So far the label has accounted for six singles and six albums, one each by the label's first six signings, with the singles available physically solely as seven-inch vinyl releases in generic die-cut sleeves which are limited in number to 359 copies of each. This makes them rarer than the original Creation releases for all you collectors! It was always going to be fascinating seeing what exactly McGee was going to come up with and it seems he has his head firmly around the soft rock and Americana that has been the darling of the glossy monthlies over the past couple of years and which is now being blown out of the water by the new wave of new wave which is brusquely sweeping the nation. A little bit behind the times, then? Well, it shouldn't come as any surprise for the man has not been involved in music for some time and hasn't been keeping his finger on the pulse. We wait with fascination to see which way the label develops over the next year or two.

359S1 - John Lennon McCullagh - North South Divide
Fifteen-year-old John Lennon McCullagh (apparently his real name) became the first artist to feature on 359 Music with the single 'North South Divide' preceding his debut album of the same name. Having been playing music for three years, the Doncaster singer is accompanied here only by his acoustic guitar and harmonica, the song a mildly political one that thankfully acknowledges that things are tough across the board and the real divide in our land lies between those who look after their own in power and those who are left to fend for themselves. The single features the exclusive b-side ‘Masters Of War’, a pretty decent cover of the Bob Dylan song, and the influence of the folk legend is apparent in McCullagh's style, phrasing and intonation throughout. Having opened Creation with the political songs of The Legend!, perhaps it is fitting that 359 Music opens in a similar vein, though McCullagh's songs are way, way better than Jerry Thackray's.

359S2 - Chris Grant - It's You
Single number two sees more acoustic balladeering from Liverpudlian Chris Grant, though this time accompanied by strings in the background to help give the song more depth. McGee describes Grant's music as "soulful escapism that eschews the hard man approach to songwriting" and this is a pretty enough piece of work though not one that is going to blow you out of the water. The track features on the album It's Not About War!, the label's albums being available on CD only and numbered in the sequence 359CD1, 359CD2, etc. The b-sides to these singles seem genuinely exclusive and don't appear even on Spotify, the one on offer here being the aching ‘Ringing In The Wind’, sung to the accompaniment of piano and strings and again it's a very pretty thing, if suspiciously transient.

359S3 - Mineral - Serial Monkey
As if to confirm that he still has his finger on the dance pulse, the third offering from McGee is from Franco-Irish electro pop outfit Mineral, led by Craig Walker formerly of Irish indie rockers Power Of Dreams and trip-hop act Archive. It seems capable enough, bopping along at a decent pace with some nice vocal touches, but it's not really the stuff our dreams are made of. The Talking Heads influence is crystal clear, however, and other more leftfield influences can be heard on the exclusive b-side ‘When You Sleep’, a cover of the My Bloody Valentine track which featured on the Loveless album. Lacking the thirteen layers of vocals that graced the original, this is an interesting piece of work and well worth a listen.

359S4 - Pete MacLeod - Rolling Stone
Number four and the third solo act, though this time the singer is accompanied by a full band including Hammond organ. 'Rolling Stone', the same title as MacLeod's debut album, is a pleasant enough soft rocker and certainly extremely accomplished, coming over like a fusion of The Byrds and Teenage Fanclub at their most benign. The Glasgow singer is no novice at this game, though, having been recording and touring extensively since the nineties, and he's careful to leave no loose ends or frayed edges to his compositions. It's a little middle of the road for our palettes, though it has plenty of commercial appeal, MacLeod's voice smooth and certainly radio-friendly. The exclusive b-side is an acoustic demo of 'Lost And Found' which is ... nice.

359S5 - Gun Club Cemetery - Needle Aside
The first 'rock' band to feature on the label, Gun Club Cemetery are a three-piece fronted by Alex Lowe, the singer in Creation band Hurricane #1 in the late 1990s, who released their self-produced first EP, Take Me Down Again, in 2012. That was a country-tinged collection carrying obvious Stones and Faces influences and their first work for 359 Music is little different, 'Needle Aside' played out to some Stonesy piano and dragging itself just over the two minute mark. The exclusive b-side 'Yellow Painted Buses' is pure country, with banjo, which does it for us not one jot, but Lowe has a terrific voice and it is good to see him back. The eponymous debut album is also out now.

359S6 - Tess Parks - Somedays
If we are ever to fall in love with 359 Music, this may well be the starting point. Canadian singer Tess Parks, 23, describes her work as "lo-fi alternative drones with a hypnotic vibe" and they are certainly bewitching. Opening to a thudding drum beat, 'Somedays' gently builds through the tension, though the singer never bothers to break out of first gear even when the air becomes filled with peaking guitars and crashing metal. The whole thing concludes with Parks gently applauding herself for making it through to the end before falling asleep. This is like a nastier Mazzy Star with dirtier guitars infused with pain instead of ennui. Parks has a haunting voice, slightly broken at the edges, which fits in nicely with the downbeat mood of b-side 'Let’s Sing This Song', which she again barely manages to do. The album, just out, is Blood Hot and we shall certainly be investigating.


Don't You Wanna Be Mine
Join The Dots
Fall From Grace
History Of Apple Pie - Don't You Wanna Be Mine?
This limited edition (300) clear vinyl seven-inch from Marshall Teller marks the first new work from The History Of Apple Pie since the release of February's terrific debut album Out Of View. It's a measured, gently spiralling, space pop adventure that grows in stature with every listen and is accompanied by a Dreamtrak Remix on the b-side which is a nice piece of dub insanity. No fears here that the Pies are going dance and certainly worth a peep.

Toy - Join The Dots
Ludicrously limited (250) initial taster for the new Toy album which probably left most of the band's true fans scrabbling around on eBay trying to get hold of a copy. Toy remain our favourites to forge a serious career in this industry – they certainly have the talent and the gravitas to make it big time – and they are putting in the right amount of effort, seemingly eternally on the road across the world. Housed in an individually hand-stamped sleeve, 'Join The Dots' opens with pulsating keyboards before setting off on a helter-skelter subway ride to oblivion while singer Tom Dougall sounds as though he hasn't bothered to get out of bed. It's great.

Joanna Gruesome - Sugarcrush
Another limited (250) seven-inch from Fortuna Pop in cream vinyl with a jukebox hole (useful) highlighting one of the most crash-bang tracks from JG's scintillating debut album, Weird Sister. Full of MBV references, this won't fail to capitivate and it is joined here by a nicely fuzzy cover of Galaxie 500's 'Tugboat' which we are liking an awful lot and probably marks the slowest song the band have ever taken on. Look out for Joanna Gruesome touring with Speedy Ortiz in the new year. We are already wetting ourselves for that.

Babyshambles - Fall From Grace
Having released probably the best straight-out single of the year in 'Nothing Comes To Nothing', it may have been a good idea for Babyshambles to leave it there, but Parlophone have followed it up with the gentle 'Fall From Grace' with its country overtones which is remarkable only for Pete Doherty's distinctive vocal delivery which manages to tell the tale stylishly and with no little boyish charm. Released in a limited edition blue vinyl, there's no doubt this will be another future rarity, but despite being a decent song, it is never going to be a great single. The b-side 'Bundles' is an exclusive that stretches just over two minutes and employs a pleasing guitar-organ break that may be better than the song itself.

Wolf Alice - Blush
A limited, four-track, ten-inch EP courtesy of Chess Club Records on which Wolf Alice continue to demonstrate their diversity and quality. The pleading title track sees singer Ellie Rowsell scrutinised under the spotlight; 'She' sways from gentility into riotous abandon; 'Nose Dive' breezes along with a bubbling bass and infectious pop fever; while '90 Mile Beach' closes the door with a gently double-tracked ballad that ends in a cutting swathe of psychedelic abandon. Nice.
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