Monday, 23 September 2013

September 2013

The September 2013 blogs feature a look at Blondie's "Plastic Letters", Costello from 89 to 97, and Stranglers compilation albums from 2000 until 2003. To look at any of these blogs, click the relevant link to your right.

"And the first commandment reads that human flesh and blood is sacred until there is no more food"

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Elvis Costello: 1989-1997

Earlier this year, I looked at Costello’s UK releases from the “early days” - the hit making period when he was signed to the likes of Stiff and Radar. As the eighties came to an end, Elvis signed to Warner Brothers, initially minus The Attractions, and proceeded to continue with a series of really rather excellent albums. The Warner Brothers years can have a tendency to be lost when looking at Costello’s career, as most attempts to have a hit single during this period actually resulted in a flop single instead - Costello managed just two top 40 singles in this period, despite releasing no less than 14 forty-fives.

Whilst the period saw Costello indulge in his soundtrack and orchestral fantasies, the main body of work from the period was five studio efforts, which midway through saw a reunion with The Attractions once again, resulting in 1994’s critically acclaimed “Brutal Youth”. In recent times, as part of their ongoing “Original Album Series” budget boxset releases, Warners have issued a Costello set which includes all five of these records, housed in simple vinyl-style card sleeves. Following the release of 1996’s “All This Useless Beauty”, Costello left the label, bowing out with a 1997 collection covering the period, “Extreme Honey”.

As such, this boxset quite neatly covers the period from start to finish, and is a perfect introduction to this slightly underrated period of the man’s career. In this article, each of the albums are looked at, detailing the various singles that surfaced at the same time, as well as a brief overview of some of the other albums that appeared during the same period.


If Costello’s last studio album before signing to Warners had been just as angry and spiky as his earlier ones (1986‘s “Blood And Chocolate“), then 1989’s “Spike” seemed like an almost deliberate move into a slightly more “pop” territory - but of course, being Costello, it wasn’t quite pop at all. The album, with his former cohorts now gone, thus sounded quite different to anything he had done before. Trying to describe it is difficult, it’s certainly not “new wave”, but a look at the instruments used on the record should give you a clue - fiddles, irish harps, trumpets, different types of saxophone, glockenspiel...this was a record that at times sounded like Costello was mining a bastardised sound of The Pogues (“Stalin Malone”, “Miss Macbeth”), The Stray Cats (“Pads Paws And Claws”) and The Byrds (“Veronica”) - and then some. The opening “This Town” had a crunching sound that harked back to his past, the politicised cry of “Tramp The Dirt Down” showed he had lost none of his bite, whilst “Baby Plays Around” was a beautiful torch song. “Last Boat Leaving” brought the album to a beautiful, harmony filled climax, finishing an album that jumped around genre wise in a way no other Elvis record had quite done before.

“Veronica” was issued as the first single from the LP, with a non album b-side in the form of “You’re No Good”. On the “extended play” formats, another non-album track was included called “The Room Nobody Lives In”, whilst “Coal-Train Robberies” completed the format, which was to be included on the CD edition of the forthcoming album but not the LP or Cassette versions. “Baby Plays Around” was issued as a 4-track EP no matter what format you bought it on, the 7” and 10” versions coming backed entirely with previously released material, but the remaining formats replaced “Poisoned Rose” (from “King Of America”) with the previously unreleased “Point Of No Return”.

In 2002, all of Costello’s Warner Bros albums were reissued as double disc releases (and are all now deleted), and all three of the new b-sides that adorned these single releases were included on the revamped version of the LP, alongside other rarities, most of them previously unreleased. Suffice to say, the version in the box set is the original single disc 15 track CD edition, and the 2002 edition is getting increasingly hard to find.

Veronica/You’re No Good (7”, Warner Bros W 7558)
Veronica/You’re No Good/The Room Nobody Lives In/Coal-Train Robberies (12”, Warner Bros W 7558 T, some with poster [W 7558 TW])
Veronica/You’re No Good/The Room Nobody Lives In/Coal-Train Robberies (CD, Warner Bros W 7558 CD, 3” or 5” editions exist)
Baby Plays Around/Poisoned Rose/Almost Blue/My Funny Valentine (7”, Warner Bros W 2949)
Baby Plays Around/Poisoned Rose/Almost Blue/My Funny Valentine (10”, Warner Bros W 2949 TE)
Baby Plays Around/Point Of No Return/Almost Blue/My Funny Valentine (12”, Warner Bros W 2949 T)
Baby Plays Around/Point Of No Return/Almost Blue/My Funny Valentine (Cassette, Warner Bros W 2949 C)
Baby Plays Around/Point Of No Return/Almost Blue/My Funny Valentine (3” CD, Warner Bros W 2949 CD)

Mighty Like A Rose

Now, it may well be that the power of persuasion got me here - “Q” magazine at the time asked “is this Costello’s greatest ever LP?” - but I absolutely love this record. Generally dismissed as a patchy affair ever since, “Mighty Like A Rose” - to these ears - scowls and sneers in a way “Spike” never quite did.

It’s not a complete throwback to the spikier early years (that would really occur on “Brutal Youth”), but at times, it sounds quite vicious, Costello later describing it as his “angry record”, inspired in part by his disbelief at the then recent Gulf War. So “Hurry Down Doomsday” stomps around in an itchy and irritated way, and “How To Be Dumb” features the glorious line “and beautiful people stampede to the doorway of the funniest fucker in the world”, which is delivered in such a snarling way, that I always hear it as an aggressive attack on one of his enemies - I could be wrong, but it really does jump out at you.

At other times, the record recalls the genre hopping approach that “Spike” tried - the Beach Boys pastiche of “The Other Side Of Summer”, the miraculous fairground waltz finale that is “Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No.4”, the pure pop of “Georgie And Her Rival”, the twangy croon of “So Like Candy”...I really, really love this album, even if nobody else does.

“Proper” B-sides were in relatively short supply - the only new studio recording to appear on any of the related 45‘s, “The Ugly Things”, actually dated from the “Spike” sessions, and indeed, is on the 2002 bonus disc of that album rather than this one. Ditto the “demo” version of “Veronica” that appeared on the “So Like Candy“ EP. The live recordings that made up the rest of that EP can now also be found on the expanded 2-disc version of the record...“Hurry Down Doomsday” was lifted from Costello’s 1991 “MTV Unplugged” show, and other selections from that gig are included on the bonus disc, along with numerous other odds and sods.

The other single listed here, “Jacksons Monk And Rowe”, was taken from Elvis’s 1993 orchestral collaboration with The Brodsky Quartet, “The Juliet Letters”. Although, being a non-pop outing, this record can therefore be sometimes ignored when looking at Costello’s career, several songs from the album were indeed later added onto career spanning compilation albums (including “Extreme Honey”) and it has also been the subject of an expanded 2-CD reissue as well, this time in 2006.

The Other Side Of Summer/Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No.4 (7”, Warner Bros W 0025)
The Other Side Of Summer/Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No.4 (Cassette, Warner Bros W 0025 C)
The Other Side Of Summer/Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No.4/The Ugly Things (12”, Warner Bros W 0025 T)
The Other Side Of Summer/Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No.4/The Ugly Things (CD, Warner Bros W 0025 CD)
So Like Candy/Veronica (Demo)/Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No.4 (Live)/Hurry Down Doomsday (Live) (7”, Warner Bros W 0068)
So Like Candy/Veronica (Demo)/Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No.4 (Live)/Hurry Down Doomsday (Live) (12”, Warner Bros W 0068 T)
So Like Candy/Veronica (Demo)/Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No.4 (Live)/Hurry Down Doomsday (Live) (Cassette, Warner Bros W 0068 C)
So Like Candy/Veronica (Demo)/Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No.4 (Live)/Hurry Down Doomsday (Live) (CD, Warner Bros W 0068 CD)
Jacksons Monk And Rowe/This Sad Burlesque/Interview (CD, Warner Bros W 0159 CDX)

Brutal Youth

So, the “comeback” album - sort of. Despite being credited as a solo album, and with various Attractions missing at times, 1994’s “Brutal Youth” is nonetheless seen as their reunion record. Indeed, for the tour that followed, Elvis was backed by the group and several singles were actually credited to “Elvis Costello And The Attractions” as well. The cover photo featured an image of Costello as a child, and the album had a fiery roar to it that recalled the energy of “This Years Model” or “Get Happy” - I know they say don’t look back, but by seemingly referencing his past, Costello came up with something completely contemporary and near flawless.

An edited “Sulky Girl” landed him his first proper hit for some five years. Its quiet/loud structure showcased the rest of the record perfectly, as there is a certain amount of light and shade inbetween the new wave rumbles of “13 Steps Lead Down” and “Pony Street”, such as the beautiful piano driven “You Tripped At Every Step”, or the anthemic-pop of “All The Rage” - but my favourite lyric still comes from one of the more punky numbers, 20% Amnesia - “this is all your glorious country thinks of your life” is spat out with such aggression, you could assume that Costello figured he needed the muscular sound of The Attractions to help carry off such words with sufficient anger behind them.

The flipsides of “Sulky Girl” are now on the 2002 expanded edition, but some of the other rarities from the period have gone AWOL. “Do You Know What I’m Saying?”, only issued on the 7” and Cassette editions of “13 Steps”, had originally been written for Wendy James several years before, and her version had been duly recorded for her 1993 album “Now Ain’t The Time For Your Tears”. The 3 b-sides from the CD edition of the same single were also written for the same album, but not one of these songs have appeared anywhere else since in the UK, most of the bonus disc on the expanded LP consisting of alternate versions or demos of songs on the main album. “London‘s Brilliant“, also written for James, is also still only available on the 12“ and Cassette versions of the original “London‘s Brilliant Parade“ single. I think Costello later admitted to being embarrassed by the whole collaboration with James, which may explain why these songs remain buried.

“You Tripped At Every Step” came backed with covers, including a pair of Lennon And McCartney numbers, and had been recorded for a BBC TV show - all are now on the expanded “Kojak Variety” 2CD. “London’s Brilliant Parade” was issued on multiple formats with variant tracklistings - two CD singles were issued with oldies as B-sides, with the first CD coming in an elaborate digipack sleeve, designed to hold the second disc from CD2. I seem to recall that the reason for including these oldies was to tie in with the ongoing reissue campaign of Costello’s pre-Warners albums that were in the process of being re-released in expanded form whilst the “Brutal Youth” promo campaign continued. A 12” consisting of brand new B-sides was also issued (but none of this helped get the single into the top 40), and the covers of “My Resistance Is Low” and “Congratulations” that appeared on this version of the single are again now also on the expanded “Kojak Variety”.

Sulky Girl (Single Version)/A Drunken Man’s Praise Of Sobriety (7”, Warner Bros W 0234)
Sulky Girl (Single Version)/A Drunken Man’s Praise Of Sobriety (Cassette, Warner Bros W 0234 C)
Sulky Girl (Single Version)/Idiophone/A Drunken Man’s Praise Of Sobriety/Sulky Girl (CD, Warner Bros W 0234 CD)
13 Steps Lead Down/Do You Know What I’m Saying? (7”, Warner Bros W 0245)
13 Steps Lead Down/Do You Know What I’m Saying? (Cassette, Warner Bros W 0245 C)
13 Steps Lead Down/Puppet Girl/Basement Kiss/We Despise You (CD, Warner Bros W 0245 CD)
You Tripped At Every Step/You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away (7”, Warner Bros W 0251)
You Tripped At Every Step/You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away (Cassette, Warner Bros W 0251 C)
You Tripped At Every Step/Step Inside Love/You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away/Sticks And Stones (CD, Warner Bros W 0251 CD)
London’s Brilliant Parade/Sweet Dreams/The Loved Ones/From Head To Toe (CD1, numbered blue sleeve, Warner Bros W 0270 CD1)
London’s Brilliant Parade/New Amsterdam/Beyond Belief/Shipbuilding (CD2, Warner Bros W 0270 CD2)
London’s Brilliant Parade/London’s Brilliant (Cassette, Warner Bros W 0270 C)
London’s Brilliant Parade/My Resistance Is Low/Congratulations/London’s Brilliant (12”, Warner Bros W 0270 T)

Kojak Variety

The odd one out in the boxset, “Kojak Variety” was a covers album, seemingly put together from numerous studio sessions from 1989/1990 up until 1995. The album closer, a cover of The Kinks’ “Days”, had appeared on a soundtrack album in 1991, whilst the likes of “Running Out Of Fools” had previously been recorded, in alternate form, for “Blood And Chocolate” but not used.

I haven’t listened to this one in years, but I have always thought that the idea of Costello doing a covers album seemed pointless. Given that he is such a gifted songwriter, surely covering songs by - sometimes - inferior artists is simply going to result in an album that sounds, well, inferior to his own?

My main memory of this record, was that Elvis decided to showcase it during a special radio broadcast gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London on 17th May 1995 - three days after it’s release. In order to get the recording levels right, the first three songs were not to be broadcast, and Elvis rattled through his cover of “Girls Talk” and a couple of unreleased new songs (“Complicated Shadows” and “God Give Me Strength”) solo. With the green light for the radio broadcast now on, Elvis promptly played more or less the whole of the new record and little else, the combination of covers and new material slowly starting to cause disgruntlement in the crowd - well, at least where I was. By the time he finally got round to playing “Alison”, eliciting huge cheers (of relief), it was too late. A quick “Pump It Up” later, and it was all over. I had seen Elvis play an incendiary show here the year before, but this one, by contrast, felt awkward and flat.

The album was reissued in expanded form in 2004, with the second disc also consisting entirely of covers. Aside from the aforementioned B-sides, this disc also includes a cover of Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise”, the b-side of 1996’s “It’s Time” single, lifted from our next album...

All This Useless Beauty

A sort of companion album, this magnificent 1996 outing started life as an album of songs Costello had written for other artists, some of whom recorded them, some of whom didn’t. As such, there is a lot of variety on here, as Costello tried to design songs that “sounded” like the performers he had in mind. So “You Bowed Down”, written for Roger McGuinn, sounded more like The Byrds than The Byrds did, “Complicated Shadows” was a country twang designed for Johnny Cash, and “The Other End Of The Telescope”, a co-write with Aimee Mann, was a beautiful piece of adult pop. The rest of the album recalled the genre hopping of “Mighty Like A Rose” and “Spike” - “It’s Time” seemed to be driven by a hip hop beat, “Why Can’t A Man Stand Alone” was Elvis in full crooner mode, and “I Want To Vanish” featured the Brodsky Quartet, bringing a classy baroque end to a varied, thrilling, and often beautiful sounding record. In my opinion, ignoring for a moment the covers records and “not proper” LP's, Costello had recorded four solid gold classics on the trot (six if you go back and include pre-Warners albums “King Of America” and “Blood And Chocolate”).

“Life Shrinks”, the b-side of “It’s Time”, had been recorded some years earlier, and thus now appears on the expanded “Brutal Youth”.

What was especially noticeable about this album, and the accompanying tour, was that Elvis then indulged in some fascinating promo style antics. He played at the Shepherds Bush Empire on four consecutive Fridays in July 1996, playing a fifth show in the capital at the Roundhouse the day after the final Empire gig on 27th July. He also released four singles, one per week, the same month - billed as a 4-part CD single set, each including the same “new” b-side (“Almost Ideal Eyes”), along with a strange mish mash of bonus tracks. “Little Atoms” included mono remixes of two live tracks that had appeared on the brilliant US only 5xEP CD Set “Costello & Nieve”. “The Other End Of The Telescope” featured a live version of the b-side “Basement Kiss” (never released again since) and a slightly edited version of “Complicated Shadows” - it was supposed to play a previously unheard demo mix, but all copies were mispressed, although later pressings made specifically for the German market (but with the same catalogue number) played the demo mix as planned. The superb "Elvis Costello Wiki" site goes into greater detail as to how to spot which one is which.

Then-current Britpop acts Lush and Sleeper recorded covers of two of the songs from the LP, issued as b-sides on “Distorted Angel” and “All This Useless Beauty” respectively (Costello’s own version of Sleeper’s “What Do I Do Now” was released on the “Volume 17” compilation), whilst remixes of “Little Atoms” and “Distorted Angel” padded out the third and fourth single releases. Only 5000 copies of each of the four singles were pressed, although a further 3000 of each were made for the German market at a later date. Despite this promo frenzy, none of the singles dented the top 40.

The expanded double disc version of the album includes “Almost Ideal Eyes”, along with the new songs that appeared on the “Extreme Honey” set (“The Bridge I Burned” and “My Dark Life”), and although the remix of “Distorted Angel” closes the set, the remixes of “Little Atoms” are missing, as are all the live recordings.

It’s Time (Single Version)/Life Shrinks (Cassette, Warner Bros W 0348 C)
It’s Time (Single Version)/Life Shrinks/Brilliant Disguise (CD, Warner Bros W 0348 CD)
Little Atoms/Almost Ideal Eyes/Just About Glad (Live)/Why Can’t A Man Stand Alone? (Live) (CD, Warner Bros W 0364 CD)
The Other End Of The Telescope/Almost Ideal Eyes/Basement Kiss (Live)/Complicated Shadows (Edit) (CD, Warner Bros W 0365 CD)
Distorted Angel/Almost Ideal Eyes/All This Useless Beauty (Performed by Lush)/Little Atoms (DJ Food Rinse)/(Polished Glass Mix) (CD, Warner Bros W 0366 CD)
All This Useless Beauty/Almost Ideal Eyes/The Other End Of The Telescope (Performed by Sleeper)/Distorted Angel (Tricky Remix) (CD, Warner Bros W 0367 CD)

Other Stuff

Whilst these five albums constitute the “standard” album output by Costello during his time on the label, there were a number of other UK albums (or mini albums) released aside from “The Juliet Letters”. There were two soundtrack album collaborations with Richard Harvey, 1991’s “GBH” and 1995’s “Jake’s Progress”, both issued on Demon Records. 1995 also saw the release, on Nonesuch, of the live mini album “Deep Dead Blue”, with Bill Frisell, taped at the (Costello curated) Meltdown Festival earlier that same year. There was, of course, the usual barrage of stuff in relation to the ongoing reissue campaign, including a pre-Warners best of in 1994 (mentioned in my last blog). Costello would sign with Mercury in 1998, not releasing his next “proper” pop album until 2002 (the near-perfect “When I Was Cruel”). I shall cover the later years in a future blog.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Classic Albums No.10: Plastic Letters

Generally, THE Blondie LP to name check is “Parallel Lines”. It spawned hits left right and centre in the UK, US and worldwide, and in “Heart Of Glass”, represented the fully realised transition of Blondie from CBGB’s inhabiting punk rockers, to Studio 54 style disco groovers. My wife has always stated a preference for it’s follow up, the band’s fourth LP “Eat To The Beat”, 1979’s hit filled New Wave classic, you know, the one with “Dreaming”, “Union City Blue” and “Atomic” on it.

But my favourite predates both of these. It’s not a cool one to admit liking, indeed, it’s been the subject of some indifferent reviews over the years, but I have listened to 1978’s “Plastic Letters” time and time again in the near-20 years I have had this record in my life. For me, it’s a crucial record, because it seems to reflect perfectly both the punky DIY aesthetic of the band’s early years, and the more streamlined, pop sounds that followed on “Parallel Lines”. I love it so much, words can’t really explain just HOW MUCH I worship at the altar of this LP.

The band’s self titled debut LP from 1976 is generally considered a superior record - indeed, although “Plastic Letters” was issued on Chrysalis, material for the LP was being worked on whilst the band were still signed to the struggling Private Stock, and some claim the album was pieced together using “leftovers”. But for me, the debut LP doesn’t fully do justice to the sophisticated sound that Blondie turned to during the late 70’s and early 80’s - it’s a pretty good record, snarling perfectly on the likes of “Rip Her To Shreds”, and wearing it’s 60’s Girl Groups influences on it’s sleeve quite proudly on “In The Flesh”, but it all feels, for much of it’s duration, a bit lo-fi - not a criticism, but it’s just that “Plastic Letters” was the sign of a group starting to outgrow their origins.

I first heard “Plastic Letters” in 1994. I recall getting hold of CD editions of “Parallel Lines” and “ETTB” quite easily at the same time, they had been released on CD in the mid 80s, and were simply being repressed on occasions to meet demand. But “Plastic Letters”, as the unloved baby of the Blondie family, was not so easy to come by. My CD copy I bought that year was a US import, as the 1985 UK CD edition had been deleted (the expanded reissue turned up some months later), and I guess there was a feeling of personal triumph, at being able to get a record that seemed a bit more obscure because I had had to pay over the odds for it. Maybe I automatically wanted to love it that much more for that reason. I don’t know, but I do know that I fell head over heels in love with the record from the moment I first heard it.

It makes sense, before looking at the LP, to rewind a bit. Harry was originally a member of The Stilettos, who were joined at some point by guitarist Chris Stein. In 1974, Harry and Stein left to form their own group, eventually named after the shade of Harry’s hair colour at the time, Blondie. Various members came and went, but by 1975, the line up that would record their debut LP was in place - Harry and Stein joined by Jimmy Destri, Clem Burke and Gary Valentine.

They signed to Private Stock, a relatively small label whose most famous other signing in the UK would be “Starsky And Hutch” actor David Soul. Both “X Offender” and “In The Flesh” were planned to be singles in various territories, and promo videos were made for each. Blondie’s breakthrough came at different times in different countries, and much has been made of their Australian breakthrough, which occurred in 1977 when a TV show played the incorrect one of the two videos sent to them, and the general public fell in love with the sweet harmonies of “In The Flesh” as it appeared on screen.

In the USA, the far more energetic “X Offender” was issued as the band’s debut 45, with “In The Sun” on the flip. Both tracks would appear, in remixed form, on the first album. A UK release was also planned (catalogue number PVT 90), but for reasons that I have never fully understood, it was pulled from the release schedules and copies of this single can now sell for anywhere between £500 and £1000. Back in the States, the spring of 77 saw the release of “In The Flesh”, whilst Private Stock prepared a “new” UK debut single, when the pairing of “In The Flesh” and “X Offender” was issued as PVT 105 in May of that year.

Although some reports suggest Private Stock went bust the same year, this was not the case. Blondie, dissatisfied with how the label were handling them, bought back their contract and signed instead to Chrysalis. In the UK at least, this was almost a sideways move as Private Stock records were being distributed by EMI, who actually also owned Chrysalis. “Blondie” re-emerged in late 77 on Chrysalis, and was re-promoted by a single combining “Rip Her To Shreds”, “X Offender” and “In The Flesh”. The 2001 CD repressing includes both sides of the original PVT 90 release.

By this point, work on “Plastic Letters” had begun, but as recording commenced, Valentine decided to leave the band. Photoshoots conducted for the album thus featured a brief 4-piece line up, but Frank Infante joined in time for at least some of the recording sessions, and by the time the band toured later in 1978, the group had expanded to the classic six piece line up with the addition of Nigel Harrison. As mentioned in my previous Blondie blog, promo clips for the singles from this LP exist with all six band members in situ.

The album surfaced in the UK in February 78, and hit the top 10. It became the first Blondie album to chart in their native USA, but America was slow to catch up with Britain, and their real success in the US came much later, when “Parallel Lines” finally broke them just about everywhere else as well. “Plastic Letters” has long been dismissed by some as a patchy mess, whilst others claim it as the band’s masterpiece. I am firmly in the latter camp.

The opening “Fan Mail” does a good job of explaining why this is. On the one hand, it’s pop at it’s best - Harry’s vocals are beautiful, and the song is driven along by some vibrant and insistent keyboard work by Destri. There are no choruses as such, just a nice noisy keyboard solo, which sounds like it has come out of an old Space Invaders arcade game. Then in the middle it stops, and here you get the other side of the coin - as the song restarts with Destri bashing out a regal sounding “bah bah bah bah-bah bah bah-bah-bah-bah” pattern, it all feels slightly shambolic, like he’s hammering it out on one finger and the song feels like it’s on the verge of collapse. It isn’t, and it doesn’t, it just feels that way. But then a big “whoosh” of keyboard noise rushes past, and Stein emerges with a stunning guitar solo, and it suddenly feels near perfect and utterly faultless. By the end, Harry’s beautiful vocals have become more urgent, and she almost shouts the final few lines with an air of anguish and desperation. And all within two and a half perfect minutes.

“Denis”, a gender swapping cover of the old Randy And The Rainbows hit “Denise” follows, and the first signs of how glorious Blondie’s attempts at pure pop could be are heard for the first time. You know how good it is - all thumping drums, sky scraping key changes, Harry’s seductive - but untranslatable - French vocals in the final half, it sounds like a hybrid of The Ramones and The Ronettes, which was probably the point.

“Bermuda Triangle Blues” starts off as a simple sounding tune, but soon starts to soar, the beautiful guitar lines, the oddball time signature changes, more “to die for” keyboard flourishes as the song speeds up for the first chorus, it’s an absolute stunner, one of the all time Blondie gems. “Youth Nabbed As Sniper” opens by sounding like a menacing Bond Theme, then snarls and growls along, the punky energy of the first LP focused into something more compact, snappy, more controlled, but utterly thrilling. “Contact In Red Square”, once the Duane Eddy style guitar intro has ended, as the title suggests, sounds like a Russian dance band, all high kicking energy madness that seems to get faster and faster the longer it goes on.

“Presence Dear” is the absolute stand out. It’s just so brilliant, words almost cannot describe. The Rickenbacker-esque sound that runs throughout the song, the moment when Harry delivers the classic line “when you play at cards you use an extra set”, only to follow it with the immortal whisper of “it’s really not cheating”’s enough to make you feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven. And then, once the middle eight is done and dusted, the song starts to pick up pace, and the final verse is delivered with near perfection - Burke’s complex pounding drum rhythms, Harry’s crystal clear voice, the glorious subtle key change when she sings the “levitating lovers in the secret stratosphere” line, and then the final section, with everyone playing at full pelt, she sings, in the most angelic voice, “I am still in touch with your presence dear, dear, dear, dear, dear...” - the song starts to slow down as it glides to a halt, and a single acoustic guitar chord brings it to a close. By far, one of the greatest singles of all time. Pure pop and utterly sublime.

Despite what you might think “I’m On E” is not a drug reference, but “E” as in “Empty” - you know, in a car where the gas tank shows “F” for full. It’s probably the most throwaway moment on the record, but it still cackles with a vitality and energy sorely lacking in so many other records. And so side 1 comes to an end.

Side 2 of the record sometimes struggles to match the genius of side 1, it’s less immediate overall, but there are still some moments of staggering brilliance. “I Didn’t Have The Nerve To Say No” sounds a bit like The Supremes covering The Doors, all double tracked vocals in the choruses, “no no, no no” refrains, and Destri’s keyboards a permanent feature throughout. It‘s catchy as hell - Harry‘s vocals again, are utterly beautiful at times, and gloriously ragged at others. Totally pop, then totally punk, I guess. “Love At The Pier” sounds like a cross between the 2-Tone strut of Madness and the girl group rush of The Crystals, before slowly down at the end in order to finish with a glorious, “Hey Big Spender”-style romp.

“No Imagination” is probably the one song on the record that struggles to get into the brain easily, but repeated listens reveal it to be no slouch. It’s one of the slower numbers, driven along by some lovely piano pieces, a “duh duh duh duh” rhythm, occasional (typically) manic drum rolls from Burke, whilst Harry’s voice again just glides over the top like fairy dust. Whenever I listen to it again, I always think - “christ, I remember this one now - and it is actually the work of pure genius”.

“Kidnapper” is a weird, sort of doo-wop style stab at new wave, with a harmonica piping away in the background, more girl group style “do do do” vocals, and Harry’s voice given a slightly echoey feel, giving the song a strange vibe, it sounds like it’s bouncing around your living room when you listen to it. “Detroit 442” is generally regarded as the biggest throwback to the band’s punk rock past - all hyper energy, ferocious guitars, and a slightly warped, frantic piece of new wave.

“Cautious Lip” is fascinating, because it’s probably the first sign of just how varied Blondie would become in later years. It starts off at a snails pace, with a Kraftwerk style keyboard intro, but slowly starts to build, helped along by - yep - slide guitars. Blondie go country, who’d have thought (although they did cover Cash’s “Ring Of Fire” at least once on stage in later years). During it’s final stages, it starts to gallop along, getting faster and faster, as it approaches the end of it’s four minutes - the longest song on the record, making it seem totally epic in comparison to everything that has preceded it. It’s the perfect album closer, as the sense of urgency that it conveys in the final stretch is absolutely stunning, probably the most ambitious Blondie song had recorded thus far.

In the UK, “Denis” and “I’m Always Touched By Your Presence Dear” were issued as singles, appearing as 3-track releases on both 7” and 12”. The former was housed in a red tinted sleeve featuring a stunning image of Ms Harry, later reissues changed the sleeve colour to blue. It came backed with two album tracks, “Contact In Red Square” and “Kung Fu Girls” from the first LP. “Presence Dear” included “Detroit 442” on the flip, for which a video was made even though it was never officially released as an A-side, and a non-album track called “Poets Problem”. In Italy, the image of Debbie from the front of the UK edition of “Presence Dear” (a picture of her holding her finger to her lips) was used on the front of their edition of the “Denis” 45.

Although numerous countries issued both of these singles, most used standard Chrysalis company bags to house the singles, rather than put them into picture sleeves. There were some notable exceptions. In Japan, the “Denis”/”No Imagination” single (WWR 20436) was issued in a unique sleeve featuring the newly created six piece version of the group, with Debbie decked out in red jumpsuit and Barbarella style kinky boots. In Germany, “Denis” came backed with “Bermuda Triangle Blues” (6155 213), and featured a quite stunning monochrome (but blue tinted) sleeve of Miss Harry, leather jacket hanging off of her shoulder, looking every inch the smouldering sex kitten. As was quite common with European releases at the time, the same basic image was used on the rear cover as well. Small reprints of both these 45’s are included in the booklet of the 2001 reissue of the LP.

The French edition of the single used an image that originally featured the whole band, but which had been cropped and zoomed in so nobody really apart from Debbie got a look in. It was one of several images from the shoot that were published, and a number of compilation albums in recent years have used similar images from the session as their front cover, with all of the band in shot as well, such as the relatively recent “Platinum Blondie” set. As I don’t own a copy of this single, I can only go by scans I have seen on the net, but the French 45 does look as though a bit of “retouching” has been done to it - it looks a bit more like a really good oil painting than an original photo, but that could just be my eyesight.

In Holland, both “Denis” and “Presence Dear” were issued in different sleeves. “Denis”/”In The Flesh” (11 821) came in another “Debbie only” sleeve, a picture of her wearing a sleeveless denim jacket, with the band name and title in red, top right. Some copies were printed with title spelt incorrectly as “Dennis”. “Presence Dear”, which featured the same B-sides as the UK edition (11 993) used the same logo as per “Denis”, again printed top right, and featured a close up image of Debbie smiling into the camera. Sales were brisk, so quite a few copies are in existence, and prices seem to vary from anything starting at a fiver each, up well into double figures, for any of these 45’s. Meanwhile, Japan was the only country to issue "Kidnapper" as a single, B/W "Cautious Lip" (WWR-20373), housed in a slightly bizarre sleeve of Debbie flashing open her fur coat to reveal her "monkey around" boxershorts!

Slightly outside of the remit of this article, but there were some later reissues. Holland again was the home of a 2-on-1 style reissue in the early 80’s which had “Denis” on one side, and “Presence Dear” on the other, whilst my last Blondie blog in Jan 2011 referred to the “Denis 88” remix single that was issued to coincide with the “Once More Into The Bleach” set.

Following the original 1978 release, the album started appearing on CD in the mid 1980’s. My US CD (F2 21166) does a fairly good job of replicating the original packaging - the original rear cover of the LP is faithfully represented on the rear of the CD, only tarnished by the usual “CD Era” style additions, such as a barcode and new catalogue numbers.

The 1994 edition (CDCHR 6085) added two bonus tracks, the one proper B-side from the period - “Poets Problem” - and an alternate take of “Denis”. Although you might have assumed the former was making it’s debut on CD, it was not, as it had appeared the year before on the “hits and rarities” set, “Blonde And Beyond”. Strangely, it was only the three ugly ducklings of the Blondie LP family (this, along with “The Hunter” and “Autoamerican”) that appeared in expanded form that year.

With the reformed four piece line up in situ again in 1998, Blondie’s entire back catalogue was reissued in newly expanded form in 2001 (although “The Hunter” mirrored it’s 1994 track listing note for note). The 2001 edition of “Plastic Letters“ (533 5982) used an altered rear cover - whilst the original back cover now adorned the back of the CD booklet only, the rear cover featured the interim five piece line up that actually recorded most of the LP - the original back cover had, like the front cover, just featured the Harry/Stein/Destri/Burke line up. “Poets Problem” was still here as a bonus track, as was one of numerous early versions of “Heart Of Glass” that had surfaced in the intervening years, along with another rarity from the period, “Scenery”, previously only available on “Blonde And Beyond”. The big selling point was a previously unreleased live version of “Detroit 442”, taped at the same 1978 show that was sourced for the 1997 “Picture This Live” US album. The alternate “Denis” was now missing, a strange decision, given that it is - AFAIK - unavailable anywhere else other than on the (now deleted) 1994 version of this LP.

There have been several reissues since - usually in the form of “2 in 1” releases, coupling (mostly) the 2001 version of the record with either the debut or “Parallel Lines”, either with the two discs coupled in a single case, or reissues of the records in their original cases housed inside a boxset. Unless I am very much mistaken, no such reissues have used the 1994 version of the LP, unless you know otherwise.

So why do I love this record so much? I sometimes find it difficult to put things like this into words. It’s sometimes difficult to describe how a song like “Presence Dear” has the ability to bring me to tears, how the sheer thrill of the keyboards in “Fan Mail” causes me to listen in sheer wonderment at how they committed something so gloriously upbeat on vinyl, or how the big roaring finish in “Love At The Pier” never ceases to amaze in the way it just pulls the song in a completely different direction, and at a completely different pace.

In many respects, it’s simply that the whole LP is so damn catchy. The songs seem to pull their influences from different sources, but each song manages to convey either a real feeling of boundless energy, or one of pure heartbreaking beauty, whilst still sounding unlike anything else on the LP. At times, the band are really allowed to come to the fore - there are some magnificent guitar solos on here and plenty of anthemic, glowing keyboard runs - as good as later records like “Heart Of Glass” or “Rapture” were, they sounded like the work of a different band. A good thing to do, in terms of keeping it fresh, but it’s nice to listen to a band sounding like they did on stage without all the studio trickery. And “Plastic Letters” really captures the band’s early period spirit in a quite brilliant way.

I really don’t care that the Allmusic review linked to on Wikipedia dismisses it as second rate. I just love this record so much. It never ceases to thrill, the fast, upbeat feel combined with Harry’s faultless voice creating something that sounds so beautiful and magical, even when it’s channelling that punky CBGB’s vibe to excess. “Parallel Lines”, technically, is probably better, but it lacks the slightly unhinged madness that lurks throughout this record. “Parallel Lines” was the sound of a punk band subverting the mainstream, but “Plastic Letters” was the sound of a punk band simply hitting it’s slightly raggedy stride with both an air of wanton abandon and an air of sheer pop nous. 35 years on, and it is still as heart stoppingly glorious as ever. Probably 1978’s finest album, and possibly Blondie’s finest (half) hour.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The Stranglers - Compilation LP's Pt 3

Come the millennium, and The Stranglers Mark 2 became The Stranglers Mark 3, following the departure of guitarist John Ellis and his replacement by Barry “Baz” Warne. From an outsiders point of view, this change did not seem to have much of an impact - for many, this was still a Cornwell-less version of the band, and a change of guitarist wasn’t going to mean much to them.

Indeed, at first, the band still seemed like very much a cult concern. Following the release of 1998’s “Coup De Grace”, the band were now label-less, and the Mark 3 line up made their debut via a live album on the German SPV label, “5 Live 01” - to be fair, The Who did a similar thing a year or so later. It was then followed by an album of acoustic re-workings, “Laid Black”, issued as a mail order only release - which was either the sound of a band giving something special back “to the fans”, or a group thinking to themselves, “we have no chance of getting somebody to release this for us, we’ll have to do it ourselves”. But by 2004, the band were back in the public eye - they were resigned to EMI, had a critically acclaimed LP out in the form of “Norfolk Coast” and even managed to get back into the singles charts with a top 40 hit in the form of “Big Thing Coming”, which by charting at number 31, was thus a bigger hit - at least statistics wise - than the likes of “Who Wants The World” or “Big In America”.

In the years between Ellis’s departure, and the release of “Norfolk Coast”, various labels continued to mine the band’s back catalogue. You can’t help but think that this was possibly a bad thing, it almost gave you the impression that the “old stuff was the best” and that these releases were possibly damaging the reputation of the group. Indeed, some of these releases were woeful in terms of their design, even if the music was actually good, and it didn’t really help that the band’s history was being slightly dented by shabby unauthorised jobs like “Out Of The Black” or “Gold”.

This article looks at most of the comps issued in that inbetween period from 2000 to 2003. As ever, anything with the band logo on is included, but anything that does not and seems not to have been released on a label affiliated with any of the band’s former labels are not listed. Maybe another time. Boxsets are excluded, we are really dealing with single or double albums concerning themselves with previously available material.

The Stranglers
(CD, Armoury ARMCD 053)

Before we look at this 2001 collection, it makes sense just to cover briefly the Mark 2 years as regards recording contracts.

After Cornwell’s departure, the band’s deal with Epic came to an end. It seems that nobody was interested in signing a Hugh-less version of the group, and so the band formed their own Psycho Records imprint. They inked a distribution deal with China Records, and their eleventh studio album, “Stranglers In The Night” appeared in the late summer of 1992, although it had been completed many months earlier.

Although the album went top 40, none of the singles did, and it was considered that the failure of these 45’s was due to a lack of marketing and other faults at China, and the band jumped ship. In 1995, they were signed to Castle Communications, a label primarily associated with video and reissue releases, but they had created a new imprint, When Records, and The Stranglers would see their new material being issued on this label. Their twelfth studio album, “About Time”, became the first release on When, and 1997’s “Written In Red” also appeared on this imprint.

At around about this time, a number of Castle employees split off to form their own company, Eagle Rock Entertainment. Like Castle, Eagle Rock would become quite well known for their video output, but an audio imprint was to be created, Eagle Music. Similar to when Bowie moved from Philips to Mercury in 1970, the band were shifted sideways from When to Eagle, and their next LP, a live record called “Friday The 13th”, appeared on Eagle. The Castle material then fell under the ownership of Eagle Music. 1998’s “Coup De Grace” was the only new Stranglers studio album to be issued by Eagle.

Armoury were a sister label to Eagle, and this originally titled comp was, to be fair, an interesting release, as it showcased what the Mark 2 lineup got up to during the second half of the 90’s. I would like to think that it’s lack of a title was a nod to the fact that “Rattus Norvegicus” famously only had it’s title printed on the spine and rear cover, but I doubt it. But the slight problem is that because the China material was missing - a combination of licensing issues, and I guess, the fact that several Mark 1 comps sometimes offered only EMI or Epic material, so you get a similar story here - it’s only telling you part of the story. Nice, although the track listing seems a bit random (why isn’t “Valley Of The Birds” at the start, like it was on “WIR”?), but the trouble was, this was the start of an onslaught of China-less Mark 2 releases, none of which really did anything that this one didn’t already achieve.

It is also worth mentioning that, for reasons never fully explained, The Stranglers recorded two completely different songs with the same title on both “Written In Red” and “Coup De Grace”, a track called “Miss You”. Most of the Mark 2 comps that followed usually included one or the other, and the relevant version is listed where necessary.

Tracklisting: Money/Golden Brown (Live)/Still Life/Paradise Row/No More Heroes (Live)/Lies And Deception/God Is Good/And The Boat Sails By/The Light/Joy De Viva/In A While/Miss You (“WIR” version)/In The End/Blue Sky/Valley Of The Birds

Lies And Deception
(2xCD, Snapper SMDCD 373)

Aside from simply putting all of the Eagle material into one big box, which one label did at one point in the Noughties, the only other way you could argue for the need for another comp from this period would be either for one to include the B-sides from the period (which none bothered to do), or to issue a double CD’s worth of material. This 2002 one goes down the latter route.

It comes in quite a nice cover, and is split into live and studio material. CD1 includes the entire “Friday The 13th” set (at least, as regards the original CD release - the VHS included extra tracks), whilst the second CD is a random trawl through the three studio albums, including both the Mark 2 singles that Castle issued during that period. It also includes the other version of “Miss You”, and ends with “Summer In The City”, which had been a Stranglers set closer in 1997. This really should have been the final word on post 1994 Mark 2 material, but really, it was only the beginning.

Tracklisting: Waltzinblack (Live)/Valley Of The Birds (Live)/Skin Deep (Live)/Always The Sun (Live)/Face (Live)/Daddy’s Riding The Range (Live)/Strange Little Girl (Live)/Still Life (Live)/Let Me Down Easy (Live)/Golden Brown (Live)/Lies And Deception (Live)/European Female (Live)/All Day And All Of The Night (Live)/Duchess (Live)/Down In The Sewer (Live)/5 Minutes (Live)/No More Heroes (Live)/Face/Coup De Grace/Blue Sky/Valley Of The Birds/God Is Good/Lies And Deception/Known Only Unto God/Golden Boy/In Heaven She Walks/In The End/Still Life/Miss You (“Coup De Grace” version)/Sinister/Summer In The City

Peaches: The Very Best Of
(CD, EMI 7243 540 2022 3)

In 2001, EMI had reissued all of the United Artists/Liberty albums again, having previously reissued them in the late 80’s before deleting them in the 90’s. The following year, this best of appeared, I guess, as a sort of companion release, although it actually covered the full Mark 1 period from 1977 right through to 1990.

Again, I kind of like this one. It’s got an impressive cover, it reminds me of the Mexican “Sticky Fingers” cover, and although the running order is a bit random, you could almost imagine hearing the band play these songs in this order on stage, and it sort of runs in chronological order - it starts with “Peaches” and ends with “96 Tears”.

OK, so there’s nothing massively rare, but there are a few nice things - “Straighten Out”, my favourite Stranglers 45, the radio edit of “Walk On By”, the 1989 remix of “Grip” and the 1990 short remix of “Always The Sun”. It is biased towards the UA years, as you might expect, but at least the really big hitters from the Epic years are here. Of course, given that 1996’s “The Hit Men” had covered the same ground, and in greater detail, it does sort of make this one a bit defunct, but it still has something.

Tracklisting: Peaches/Golden Brown/Walk On By (Radio Edit)/No More Heroes/Skin Deep/Hanging Around/All Day And All Of The Night (7” Mix)/Straighten Out/Nice N Sleazy/Strange Little Girl/Who Wants The World/Something Better Change/Always The Sun (Sunny Side Up Mix)/European Female/Grip 89/Duchess/5 Minutes/Don’t Bring Harry/La Folie/96 Tears (Edit)

The Rarities
(CD, EMI 7243 541 0792 4)

When the UA/Liberty years albums were reissued in the late 80s, selected rarities from the period were tagged onto most of the reissues (although “Rattus” got none). The majority of the band’s B-sides et al were then put together on the rather excellent “Rarities” set from 1988, although the vinyl edition featured a shorter track listing.

To coincide with EMI‘s revamped reissue campaign of the early noughties, the decision was taken to issue a new companion rarities set. Given that most of the stuff on the 1988 job was now on the reissued LP’s, this 2002 edition - complete with totally new cover - went down a far more obscure route. Basically, anything that had been issued somewhere before but had not been tagged onto the reissues, was shoved onto this one instead.

As such, it’s quite eclectic. What do you get? Both sides of the “Tomorrow Was the Hereafter” fan club 7”, the two foreign language 45’s from the 70’s, the edits of “Walk On By”, “Heroes” and “Peaches”, “You Hold The Key” from the now deleted “Hits And Heroes” set (although it did also make the running order of the reissued “La Folie”), the Celia & The Mutations single, and everything else from the “Strangled” CD from 1993, including the “non Stranglers“ solo material. The slightly odd thing is, whilst the reissues obviously just covered the EMI years (77-82), this one included “The Beast” (from 1984) and “Mr Big” (a Mark 2 outing from 1991). Strange but true. No radio edit of “La Folie” by the way, but as it was included on an EMI singles boxset issued round about the same time, that might explain that omission.

Tracklisting: You Hold The Key To My Love In Your Hands/Bring On The Nubiles (Cocktail Version)/Tomorrow Was The Hereafter/N’Emmenes Pas Harry/Sverige/Walk On By (Edit)/Mean To Me (“Celia And The Mutations” version)/Mony Mony/No More Heroes (Edit)/Peaches (Edit)/My Young Dreams/Goebbels Mosley God And Ingrams/Waiting For The Trees To Grow/Gone Are Those Days/The Beast/New Day Today/Mr Big/I’ll Be Seeing You

Sweet Smell Of Success - The Best Of The Epic Years
(CD, Epic 5099 750 982624)

Not to be confused with the earlier “The Best Of The Epic Years”, this 2003 release is a curious addition to the catalogue. Given that the earlier 1997 Epic Years set featured all the singles, in order, plus more, you do have to wonder what else you could do with the songs from this period. Well, what this one does is firstly put the 13 singles from the period in reverse release date order, and the leftover space is then taken up by some live material, taped during the band’s time on the label.

This allowed the label to shoe horn on material originally recorded during the band’s tenure on United Artists, so several big hitters from that period - “Peaches”, “No More Heroes”, “Golden Brown” - are thus, rather cheekily, able to squeeze onto this release. The version of “Peaches” is a version that was taped in France during the band's time on Epic, and previously only appeared on the 2001 expanded edition of “All Live And All Of The Night”, whilst the other live tracks are sourced from the same album, either being songs on the original 1988 release or bonus tracks from the 2001 edition that had previously appeared as B-sides whilst the band were still on Epic. Although one of my earlier blogs referred to this version of "Peaches" as being from the 1990 tour, it may actually date from 1985 - on that particular tour, Cornwell used to alter the line "is she trying to get out of that clitoris" with a reference to a type of car, which he does as well on this version, and given that several French shows from April 1985 were officially recorded by the band, a 1985 recording date seems more likely.

Tracklisting: Sweet Smell Of Success (Edit)/96 Tears/All Day And All Of The Night/Shakin’ Like A Leaf/Big In America/Always The Sun (Edit)/Nice In Nice/Let Me Down Easy/No Mercy/Skin Deep/Paradise/Midnight Summer Dream (Edit)/European Female/Strange Little Girl (Live, Reading Festival 1987)/Golden Brown (Live, 1987)/Who Wants The World (Live, Reading Festival 1987)/Nuclear Device (Live, Alexandra Palace 1990)/Nice N Sleazy (Live, 1987)/No More Heroes (Live, 1987)/Peaches (Live In France)

Live N Sleazy
(2xCD, Music Club MCCD 533)

Hmmm. Whilst I have to admit the title is quite clever, it’s difficult to know what this 2003 set is trying to do that “Lies And Deception” didn’t. Disc 1 is, again, the “Friday The 13th” set, albeit with one song missing, for some reason. Disc 2 is another slightly random trawl through the post-”Stranglers In The Night” Mark 2 days, although the songs do appear chronologically, which is a nice touch.

But what is a bit strange, is that neither the two 45’s from the period appear in studio form, so this is a full blown ‘best of the album tracks’ trundle. Can I just say that I really like some of this stuff (“Face”, “Joy De Viva”, “Coup De Grace”), but it’s still a slightly pointless release.

Tracklisting: Waltzinblack (Live)/Valley Of The Birds (Live)/Skin Deep (Live)/Always The Sun (Live)/Daddy’s Riding The Range (Live)/Strange Little Girl (Live)/Still Life (Live)/Let Me Down Easy (Live)/Golden Brown (Live)/Lies And Deception (Live)/European Female (Live)/All Day And All Of The Night (Live)/Duchess (Live)/Down In The Sewer (Live)/5 Minutes (Live)/No More Heroes (Live)/Paradise Row/Sinister/Face/Golden Boy/Money/And The Boat Sails By/Lucky Finger/Summer In The City/Joy De Viva/Miss You (“WIR” version)/Wonderful Land/Coup De Grace/No Reason/The Light

Miss You
(CD, Membran Music 220779-205)

There are some that will tell you this is technically a German only import, but it’s always been difficult to tell what the difference is between a European release, and a record pressed in Europe for release in the UK and beyond. But I like the cover again, so here it is.

It’s another 1994-1999 Mark 2 job, released in 2003. Coming on the back of several double disc sets, it’s automatically going to fail because it’s a single disc job. So you get a few “Mark 2 do Mark 1 at the Albert Hall” cuts again, one Mark 2 single, some random album stuff seemingly in a random order, and that’s it. Not much more to say really.

Tracklisting: Silver Into Blue/No More Heroes (Live)/Blue Sky/Joy De Viva/Coup De Grace/God Is Good/No Reason/Miss You (“Coup De Grace” version)/Little Blue Lies/Golden Brown (Live)/Valley Of The Birds/Lucky Finger/Strange Little Girl (Live)/Always The Sun (Live)/Summer In The City/Lies And Deception

(2xCD, Deja Vu Retro R2CD42-57)

Now, of all the Mark 2 comps, this one is famously the most controversial. Issued in 2003, it comes in quite an impressive looking front cover, and is a double-CD set in a thick double jewel case, inside a slipcase. So it all looks quite posh. Then flip it over...wait a minute, isn’t that Hugh? Yes it is. A Mark 2 comp, featuring nothing but photos of the Mark 1 lineup throughout! So either somebody putting this together had no knowledge of the band, or they thought they could somehow dupe somebody into buying this on the basis that it was a load of unreleased songs from 1978, that all just happened to share their titles with Mark 2 songs. Bizarre.

That said, listen to it from start to finish, and it’s quite enjoyable. A certain amount of thought seems to have gone into the track listing - “Waltzinblack”/”Valley Of The Birds” opens proceedings, “All Day” ends disc 1, “God Is Good” opens disc 2, “Down In The Sewer” appears near the end, but quite whether you need this record in your life is another question.

Of note, and this may apply to some of the other best ofs that have only selected live tracks from the RAH gig, is that the intro to “Always The Sun” on this one fades in, thus creating a mini rarity.

Tracklisting: Waltzinblack (Live)/Valley Of The Birds (Live)/Strange Little Girl (Live)/Summer In The City/Lies And Deception (Live)/Here/Tonight/Miss You (“WIR” Version)/Always The Sun (Live)/Known Only Unto God/Wonderful Land/Let Me Down Easy (Live)/Joy De Viva/All Day And All Of The Night (Live)/God Is Good/No Reason/5 Minutes (Live)/No More Heroes (Live)/In Heaven She Walks/The Light/Blue Sky/Golden Brown (Live)/Down In The Sewer (Live)/Jump Over My Shadow/Coup De Grace