Sunday, 23 November 2014
The November 2014 blogs feature a look at the classic debut LP by Badly Drawn Boy, and part 11 of my 'novel within a website', "How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting". To look at either of these blogs, click the relevant link to your right.
"You quiver like a candle on fire, I'm putting you out"
Sunday, 9 November 2014
It was Summer 2000, and I was watching some sort of late night MTV “alternative” rock show. On came a video by somebody called Badly Drawn Boy, for a song called “Another Pearl”. It was strange. It started off with the camera snaking up a staircase as the song slowly faded in - the intro had a shuffling drum beat, and an almost sinister guitar and organ riff over the top, and as it ended, and the singer started to sing, the camera was poking into a room where a man with a tea cosy on his head was sat playing at a piano. The vocal seemed to be live, echoing around the empty room, and as the camera entered the room and headed in the direction of the singer, he gave it an almost dismissive stare as it came past his head. It was almost as if you were peeking into something secretive, and really, he didn‘t want you there. He just carried on playing as the camera then focused on the street outside. It was, quite simply, a surreal start to what sounded, to these ears, like a left field masterpiece.
As the video continued, a constant roll call of circus characters came into the room, and the song continued in it’s astonishingly catchy, but equally downright subversive manner. At one point, following the middle eight, the video changed from daytime to night-time, and at one point, the camera viewpoint was from a man outside on the street - the room was full of sparkling lights, and the music could be heard only as a muffled rumble. From an outsider's perspective, the viewpoint was that a major rave was taking place. But inside, it was just a man in a tea cosy, sat at a piano, surrounded by clowns, as this strange, un-rave-like piece of minor key genius rang out around the room. The overall effect was staggering. It felt like I was watching something from another planet, a genuinely odd video sound tracked by a piece of “indie rock” that almost defied convention. Even watching that video now, nearly 15 years on, it seems ground breaking, slightly psychedelic, and simply mind altering.
All of which sums up the career of Badly Drawn Boy, really. Briefly repositioned into the mainstream after sound tracking “About A Boy” several years later, he has never really fitted in at all. His music has always had an air of left field-ism about it, but often combined with a mainstream tint. Several later singles were so catchy, so “pop”, it remained a mystery as to how he never quite became a superstar, but perhaps that was because there was this undercurrent of “alternative music” always sitting beneath the surface. In some respects, he was the UK equivalent of his hero Bruce Springsteen - creator of often straight ahead, anthemic rock music, but from somebody who didn’t quite fit the mould, and whose back catalogue revealed gems that maybe the mainstream didn’t get. You had “Born In The USA”, but it had been preceded by “Nebraska”. And before “About A Boy”, Badly Drawn Boy had released “The Hour Of Bewilderbeast”.
BDB’s debut album, issued in the fall of 2000, is probably still his best. Later releases smoothed down the rougher edges, and although none of them ever lost the melodic brilliance that runs through his music, “The Hour Of Bewilderbeast” still sounds alarming even now. It darts from one genre to another, veers between beauty and awkwardness, often within a single song, and is almost impossible to pigeonhole. It is one of the finest debut albums ever released, but seems to only get talked about as such in the darkest recesses of the internet - like here - with the accepted common conception being that the first Arctic Monkeys album is the best, or The Stone Roses one, and nothing else gets a look in. But as good as those albums are, neither really come close to the sheer bloody mindedness that runs through the first BDB long player.
Born as Damon Gough, and relocating to Manchester in his youth, BDB met Andy Votel and helped to create the Twisted Nerve record label. The first BDB release on the label was the impossible to find 7” EP, titled “EP1”, in 1997. A second EP, the obviously titled “EP2” appeared the next year, which spawned a musical box release - yes, really - when an excerpt of lead tune “I Love You All” was issued by the label as a promo release on this archaic format. Just 400 of these boxes exist.
For the next BDB release, a deal was struck with XL Recordings, who would assist in the distribution of releases on the label, and this also coincided with the first release by Gough on CD, when “EP3” appeared on both 7” and CD later on in 98, albeit with different track listings on each. A single was taken from this EP, of a sort, when a live version of “Road Movie”, featuring Doves, was issued as a 7” backed with “My Friend Cubilas” from the CD version of the EP.
Next up was the “It Came From The Ground” release, dubbed by some as a mini album, but actually more of a standard single release, albeit with some lengthy track listings on certain formats. Two different 10” singles were released, with different track listings and in different sleeves, and like all of the early BDB releases, are not easy to track down.
It was at this point, mid 1999, that the pre-release promo for the album, in a round about way, started, with the release of the first single to later make it onto the LP, “Once Around The Block”. Complete with a catchy “wah wah” rhythm, and more shuffly drums, it was a glorious piece of left field pop, complete with semi comic video, in which Gough could be seen with a more regular piece of headgear - the tea cosy image came later. It gave him his biggest hit to date, just failing to dent the top 40, helped along somewhat by a bout of multi formatting by the label and minor MTV support. “Another Pearl” was then issued as the next single in June 2000, three weeks before the album was due for release. By now, the concept of issuing multiple formats, with a mix of B-sides and remixes, was par for the course and this helped this single chart higher than “Once Around The Block”, at number 41.
It is difficult to fully explain what “Bewilderbeast” sounds like. It’s the work of a singer songwriter, but seems to incorporate electronica, power pop, prog, baroque pop, piano pop and plenty more besides. It’s ambition is staggering, and although there is an argument that suggests Gough just threw everything in the mix and waited to see what worked, it’s impossible not to be charmed by the sheer originality that comes out of the speakers.
The opener, “The Shining”, which has become the most well known of the album tracks on the record, is a near perfect start. Opening with a beautiful, but utterly heartbreaking, string and brass section intro, it then shifts into a stunning Damon-plus-acoustic strum - but this is no dull “pared down” form of MTV Unplugged piece of acoustic work, but actually runs along at a fair old tempo, with some glorious key changes, with Damon’s vunerable vocals creating a piece of work that is tearful, mournful, but curiously uplifting at the same time. Why can’t everybody recording an ‘acoustic number’ create something as flawless and stunning as this?
Immediately, the sheer genius of this man kicks in on track 2, the brilliantly titled “Everybody’s Stalking”. Twangy guitars, crunching drum patterns, vocals that sound like they’ve been produced by a robot, it bears nothing in common at all with the opening track - a sure fire sign of a real talent, somebody who is happy to never record the same thing twice. And the key change into the chorus is another absolute killer. Two songs in, and already, the record sounds better than most things ever recorded.
The first of the album’s “mini” songs, “Bewilder”, follows next. 48 seconds of melodica, on any other album it might seem like a pointless throwaway. But here, it simply sets you up for the next piece of genre hopping, which is “Fall In A River” - as the echoing ending fades away, in comes another piece of weird sounding music. A drum machine that sounds like it has been taped on a faulty tape machine, with some clearer jingle jangle over the top, and Gough’s vocals again sounding slightly frazzled, as if they have been ripped straight from a 4 track demo and just glued on top. Then, just before it ends, a crash of water, and it sounds as though the final section has indeed been taped in an actual river. Total genius yet again.
“Camping Next To Water” is another stunner, a cross between Simon & Garfunkel and Kraftwerk, a beautiful acoustic strum with flashes of electric guitar, and a structured rhythmic strut, it builds and builds into something nearly Springsteen-esque in terms of it’s anthemic sound, whilst “Stone On The Water” is even better, a sort of flamenco style waltz, with some great guitar picking, glorious piano chords, and deft brushes on the drum kit. In the hands of somebody like James Morrison, this would be awful, but Gough’s talent elevates it to something of astonishing beauty.
Following the spaced out woozy vibe of “Another Pearl” is “Body Rap”. As the title suggests, it sounds like it has come straight from a Grandmaster Flash album. It struts, it grooves, and I simply cannot put into words how brilliant it is when it stops stone dead and the “wah wah” intro of “Once Around The Block” kicks in straight away. This is simply brilliant pop music of the highest order.
“This Song” is another tune subject to some odd “wobbly” vocal effects, with some lovely lyrics reminiscent of the George Harrison song of the same name and a really beautiful vibe - you want to just wrap your arms around it, and give it a big cuddle...”this song will heat you when you’re cold...blessed by this song and the gifts that it brings, beautiful song it has wings”. The words say it all.
“Bewilderbeast” is a “full band” reworking of the earlier “Bewilder”, and to my mind, just a bit prog, and thus always the sign of an album staking a claim for greatness. The choruses are great, a big booming roar of handclaps and guitar, this could have come straight off “The White Album”. “Magic In The Air” takes things down a peg, a pleasant thing of beauty, but the nearest the album comes to giving us a bit of throwaway piano pop. Still, being BDB, it‘s actually streets ahead of anyone else, and the harp solo near the end is really quite magical. It was originally the subject of a legal issue, where Gough was accused of “borrowing” a line or two from 1980s hit “Love Is Contagious”. Any copy of the album you buy now will not have those lyrics, but Gough continued to sing the offending lines in concert.
“Cause A Rockslide” takes us back to the world of wobbly and wonky indie rock, more strutting drums, psychotic guitar licks, and warped vocal effects. Imagine the Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” being covered by Pink Floyd circa 1971, and you’re halfway there. Then, halfway through, it veers off into a completely freaked out sound collage, a sort of bastard mini son of “Revolution 9” before restarting as a piece played on a Monty Python style church organ, before changing tack again to end on a simple acoustic strum. All within 6 minutes. Suffice to say, it’s nothing short of brilliant.
“Pissing In The Wind” takes us into the world of country rock, segued into from “Rockslide”, and thus forming a sort of bridge between the chaotic madness of the preceding number, and the Neil Young style simplicity of this future hit single. From the ridiculous to the sublime, you could say. It’s really quite charming, potentially underwhelming when compared to the rest of the album, but it’s simply so beautiful, and when the Dylan-esque harmonica kicks in, it’s hard not to be moved by the sheer sadness that this song seems to conjure up, helped in part by Gough almost choking his way through the lyrics “just give me something...I’ll take nothing” as it builds and builds into something which, if you like that sort of thing, could be considered a “lighters aloft” moment.
After another semi electronic/semi acoustic mini song, “Blistered Heart”, we dive into the glory that is “Disillusion”. It is the most pop thing here, but is thus also, possibly the album highlight. After all the ramshackle lo-fi madness that has peppered the album so far, hearing Gough deliver a piece of mainstream music that is this flawlessly melodic, a piece of perfect, catchy, and quite faultless pop, is simply exhilarating. It bounces along with an infectious energy, and sounds like John Lennon, The Cars and Tom Petty jamming together. If it doesn’t make you smile when you hear it, you must officially be dead.
The ending section, another spooky piano run, which for some reason always makes me think I am sat in a haunted house when it plays, takes us into the chugging “Say It Again”. More left field oddness, it trundles along at a slow pace, a sort of waltz like piece of pop, building and building until the horn section is back again as it finally approaches the final straight, where they sound not unlike the funeral march in the opening scene of “Live And Let Die”. It feels like it is setting us up for a big finale.
And that‘s exactly what we get. “Epitaph” is astonishing. Incredibly lo-fi, sounding more like a 2-track demo let alone a 4-track, it’s a (near) duet between Gough and girlfriend Clare Hewitt. There are birds whistling outside, the acoustic guitar crackles into life, and Gough, sounding like he’s about to break down into tears, opens with the remarkable line “please don’t leave me wanting more, I hope you never die”. There is a whistling solo that could bring you to tears, it’s that stunning. When Hewitt joins in, you kind of get the impression she is not a professional singer - and that makes it all the more affecting. It really just sounds like a couple in love singing along to some battered old tape, with an aura of love in the air between them - what it lacks in vocal perfection or in sound quality, it makes up for in sheer beautiful exuberance.
“Disillusion” was issued as the next single after the album was released, complete with the now classic “Taxi” video, and “Bewilderbeast” was nominated, and deservedly won, the Mercury Music prize in the fall. In keeping with the earlier singles, multi formatting was used again on "Disillusion", and this helped to give BDB his first top 40 single. This was then followed by a reissue of “Once Around The Block”, using more or less the same artwork as the original release, but with new flipsides and remixes, whilst the promo for the album was concluded in 2001 with the release of “Pissing In The Wind” as a single, with a re-recorded (and retitled) version made for radio in the form of “Spitting In The Wind”. As something of a sign as to how big a star Gough was now becoming, Joan Collins appeared in the video.
Of course, BDB was never one to compromise, and he managed to confuse and delight his audience as his star started to grow. I was there at the now famous Royal Albert Hall gig in 2001, where his support act was the St Anne’s Bellringers playing his hits on, yes, bells, and the gig went way past the curfew as he seemingly played everything on the album, every B-side, and probably a lot more besides. It was slightly ramshackle, and there was the feeling that it could collapse at any minute, especially as he walked through the audience and handed out family photos to be passed around the crowd, but I guess that was part of the charm. By now, the tea cosy was in situ whenever he was in public, complete with a “Born to Run” badge attached, and Hollywood would soon come running after this un-Hollywood-like brit indie rocker. The year ended with the release of another hard-to-find stand alone Christmas single, “Donna And Bltizen” - thankfully, CD promo copies are easier to hunt down - which you almost think was done deliberately to baffle and bemuse his ever increasing fan base.
When Gough played in Birmingham at the Town Hall in 2010, it wasn’t sold out. He commented “not a bad turn out for a Monday night”, an acknowledgement that even after “About A Boy”, he did not quite turn into a superstar. And maybe that’s because the music he makes is a lot more complex, and left field, than some might think. Perhaps Gough is simply TOO GOOD to be a festival headlining, unit shifting act. He is not Example. He is certainly not Calvin Harris. And over a decade after it’s release, “The Hour Of Bewilderbeast” kind of proves it. It’s a magnificent record, one that is not afraid to wander off all over the place. It reminds me, in parts, of “The White Album” - it has a scattergun, wildcard approach to each song, and isn’t afraid to act in such a manner. Despite being less than an hour long, there are 18 songs here, which simply screams “epic”, and it certainly does feel, by the time “Epitaph” comes to a close, that you have listened to something quite special, as though you have been on a real musical journey. This is not an album to listen to whilst you are making a cup of tea, this a record to immerse yourself in, and marvel at it’s sheer staggering genius. It recalls the “reach for the sky” style approach of classic rock acts, I guess it is his own “The River” - with added prog flourishes.
Gough was never able to make anything quite as varied as this ever again, instead offering a slightly more mainstream, but still magnificently clever, sound on the likes of “Have You Fed The Fish” and “Born In The UK”. But this album is where it all started. I simply can’t recommend this record enough - it has a glorious “devil may care” attitude throughout, it’s almost as if Gough decided to try and do, in one LP, what Bowie did for nine years between 71 and 80. And he doesn’t come far off from succeeding. The melodic pull of the record, the inventiveness on each and every song, and the sheer genre hopping insanity that runs through those 18 songs, are something to cherish. One of the finest albums ever made, and possibly the best debut LP by anybody, ever.
Listed below are the original UK pressings of the album, along with a selected fancy import that I own, which if you can find it, is my choice of format. Also listed are the singles, on each format, from 1997-2001. Many of these include exclusive tracks, but look closely, and you will see one or two “pointless” releases (such as the CD1 edition of “Spitting In The Wind“), simply included here for completeness. Later BDB releases will be covered in a future blog.
The Hour Of Bewilderbeast (LP, Twisted Nerve TNXLLP 133)
The Hour Of Bewilderbeast (Cassette, Twisted Nerve TNXLMC 133)
The Hour Of Bewilderbeast (CD, Twisted Nerve TNXLCD 133)
The Hour Of Bewilderbeast (French 2xCD, XL Recordings 7243 8504482 3, with free CD-Rom which plays the “Disillusion“ video and a TV documentary)
EP1: Riding With Gabriel Greenberg/Shake The Rollercoaster/No Point In Living/Sugarstealer/No Point In Living (Reprise) (7”, Twisted Nerve TN 001)
EP2: I Love You All/The Treeclimber/I Love You All (I Loop You All)/Thinking Of You (7”, Twisted Nerve TN 002)
EP3: Spooky Driver 2/I Need A Sign/Meet On The Horizon/Road Movie (7”, XL Recordings TNXL 001T)
EP3: My Friend Cubilas/I Need A Sign/Interlude/Meet On The Horizon/Road Movie/Kerplunk By Candlelight (CD, XL Recordings TNXL 001CD)
Road Movie (Live)/My Friend Cubilas (7”, XL Recordings TNXL 001R)
It Came From The Ground (Andy Votel Remix)/Whirlpool (10”, XL Recordings TNXL 002R)
It Came From The Ground/Walkman Demo 1/Outside Is A Light 1/Outside Is A Light 2/Walkman Demo 2 (10”, XL Recordings TNXL 002T)
It Came From The Ground/Walkman Demo 1/Outside Is A Light 1/Outside Is A Light 2/Walkman Demo 2/It Came From The Ground (Andy Votel Remix) (CD, XL Recordings TNXL 002CD)
Once Around The Block/Soul Attitude (7”, XL Recordings TNXL 003S)
Once Around The Block (Andy Votel Mix)/Another Pearl (2nd 7”, XL Recordings TNXL 003R, different p/s)
Once Around The Block/Soul Attitude/Once Around The Block (Radio Luxembourg Live Broadcast) (CD, XL Recordings TNXL 003CD)
Another Pearl (LP Mix)/(The Broadcast Remix)/Chaos Theory (10”, XL Recordings TNXL 004T)
Another Pearl/Distant Town/Chaos Theory (CD1, XL Recordings TNXL 004CD)
Another Pearl (LP Mix)/(The Broadcast Remix)/(The Fridge Remix) (CD2, XL Recordings TNXL 004CD2)
Disillusion (Single Mix)/Wrecking The Stage/Disillusion (Mr Scruff Remix) (10”, XL Recordings TNXL 005T)
Disillusion (Single Mix)/Bottle Of Tears/Wrecking The Stage (CD1, XL Recordings TNXL 005CD)
Disillusion (Single Mix)/(Blue States Remix)/(Black Lodge Remix) (CD2, XL Recordings TNXL 005CD2, unique p/s)
Once Around The Block/Tumbleweed/The Shining (The Avalanches “Good Word For The Weekend Remix") (7”, XL Recordings TNXL 009S)
Once Around The Block/The Shining (The Avalanches “Good Word For The Weekend Remix")/(Capitol K Remix) (CD1, XL Recordings TNXL 009CD, blue p/s)
Once Around The Block (LP Version)/(Andy Votel Remix)/(Nick Faber Remix) (CD2, XL Recordings TNXL 009CD2, “keyboard” p/s)
Pissing In The Wind (Lemon Jelly Remix)/The Shining (Minotaur Shock Remix)/Spitting In The Wind (10”, XL Recordings TNXL 010)
Spitting In The Wind/Pissing In The Wind/The Shining (Minotaur Shock Remix) (CD1, XL Recordings TNXL 010CD)
Spitting In The Wind/Magic In The Air (Live)/Everybody’s Stalking (Live) (CD2, XL Recordings TNXL 010CD2, unique p/s)
Donna And Blitzen (Promo CD, Twisted Nerve TNXL 011 CDP)
Saturday, 8 November 2014
In the summer of 2010, my wife and I got into a debate about David Bowie’s cover of “Wild Is The Wind”. At some point, I dropped the bombshell that I did not own the album it appeared on, “Station To Station”, on CD. Somebody in the Shergold household had bought it in the seventies on vinyl, whilst I bought the 1991 expanded reissue on Cassette, after deleted US Rykodisc copies turned up in WH Smiths in Romford at a fiver a pop a few months after it‘s original (re)release.
We had a look online to see how much a CD copy would cost. The bonus-track-less 1999 edition was on there, also down to about a fiver, but we also saw a September 2010 release date for a new “Super Deluxe Edition” version of the album. The price tag? About £80. Ouch. A lot of money for something I had bought on Tape for £5.
This wasn’t the first time I had seen a ridiculous price tag being attached to a “normal” album (see Dylan’s “Tell Tale Signs” boxset, the vinyl repressing of Neil Young’s “Greendale”), but it was the first time I had seen a boxset version of a normal album I already owned, whereby the price seemed to be hitched up mostly due to the extra non musical bumpf that was due to appear inside. Aside from the album, and it’s free “bonus” live double record, there were other bits and pieces that were due to be included - reprints of old Bowie fan club memorabilia, vinyl pressings of the album and the live album, a DVD featuring extra mixes of the album, etc, etc. It really didn’t seem like it was offering anything approaching ’value for money’, although it did, in total, have about 9 “discs” in one form of another, but I had to admit, it looked fascinating. Christmas was coming, and so my wife offered to buy it for me as a present.
It is a thing of beauty. The strange “padded cell” imagery on the cover was replicated on the underside of the lid of the box, with squishy bits of foam sticking out from underneath, and the extra bumpf, whilst ultimately pointless, was quite fun to play with. We played, at random, one of the alternate mixes of the album that was on the DVD and nearly fell off the sofa when a monumentally altered version of “WITW” came out of the speakers. OK, there was no getting around the fact that this was, really, nothing more than a triple album being heavily over priced, but hey, this was Bowie - the greatest rock artist of all time, and it was a one off. Nobody else was going to do something as OTT and as mad as this - were they?
There was one glaring omission. CD3 in the set was called “Singles Versions”. When the LP had originally been released, different divisions of RCA around the world tried different promotional tricks. Of the six songs on the record, five were edited for single release (either as an A-side or a promo mix), and this CD handily included all five. But here’s where the missed opportunity is. The one song not edited in 1976 was “Wild Is The Wind”. But when Bowie issued the “ChangesTwoBowie” comp in 1981, the track was included on the LP and then released as a single, in edited form. This meant that by the time he left the label, shortened versions of EVERYTHING on “Station To Station” had been created. Wouldn’t it have been brilliant if the CD had included all six edits, you know, a 50 minute album condensed into about half an hour?
But no. The “rules” were that it all had to represent what Bowie was doing in 1976, so the edit of “WITW” was AWOL. You had got a lot of bumpf for your £80, but not quite the full monty. And that, unfortunately, set the precedence for virtually all future Super Deluxe Edition releases. “Station To Station” was not, in the end, a one off - but was actually the start of a strange, and usually baffling and expensive, new format that - along with the “official bootleg” live album releases everyone was doing by now - finally made record collecting, as a hobby, impossible to “do” properly.
The Super Deluxe Edition was, to be honest, a typical “Mojo” style format. It was usually pitched at old fogies, people who “in their youth”, had wanted to fight the powers that be, smash the system, and bought Bob Dylan records for political reasons - but all of whom were now sell out managing directors of unethical global companies and all of whom had money to burn. The idea was that you would have enough disposable income to buy, at a highly inflated price, a record you already owned - only with added bells and whistles. The concept was about as far removed from punk rock as it was humanly possible to get. The record label may just as well have come round your house, and asked for your credit card details at gunpoint, such was the sheer money making cheek of the format. OK, so usually, the choice of album getting the treatment was often worthy, but sometimes, the choice of album was a record whose reputation was that it was a classic, when really, it was weaker than lesser known gems from the artist’s back catalogue (“So” and “The Wall”, to name but two).
You were being reeled in by the “bonus material”. Not the coasters and scarves in the Pink Floyd ones, but the extra CD of unreleased material, the DVD of “previously unseen” gig footage. Whenever somebody announced a new SDE release, you knew there was going to be something never-before-available in there somewhere.
At first, I did wonder if I could get all of the ones I wanted by getting people to buy me them as presents, and several more were indeed acquired. I couldn’t resist the “Dark Side Of The Moon” one, with it’s 1972 gig footage, and it’s second CD of “the whole album played live on stage“. But I did scratch my head over the packaging, as the discs seemed to be designed to slot into a bit of cardboard at the back, but which seemed to become dislodged every time you picked it up. I also couldn’t resist “Live At Leeds”, which included not only a 7” repressing of the period “Summertime Blues” single (required for my Who 45 collection), but also the (in)famous Hull City Hall gig as bonuses on discs 3 and 4. But I remember playing those discs, and feeling completely underwhelmed - it sounded like a band on autopilot, and a crowd seemingly half asleep. But hey, this was all “previously unreleased” material so you needed to own it, right?
Here’s where I started to lose interest. The second Floyd SDE release was “Wish You Were Here”, out in 2011, which as you all know, is the band’s defining masterpiece. A 2-CD set, cleverly replicating the original “double sleeved” LP record, was to include a second disc of alternate material. The multi disc SDE boxset edition was obviously going to include this as well. There were also loads of other discs, including a DVD and Blu Ray, which boasted the inclusion of “1975 Concert Films”. What this meant was, the original films shown on stage above the band when they had toured the record in 1975. Not film of the actual BAND playing in 1975. So, what extra proper “new” audio and visual material of the Floyd did you get by paying eight times as much for this one as opposed to the double CD pressing? Er, none.
When it came out, online reviewers on the Amazon site tore it to shreds. Hardcore geeks were pleased that the Quad mix was in there, whilst anybody who had seen the band play in 75 would presumably have got a twinge of nostalgia watching the concert films, but £80 was a lot of money to pay for something that just seemed to be...inconsequential. The band got knocked for including those coasters and marbles, whilst the Blu Ray disc seemed to duplicate what was on the DVD, and so questions were asked as to why so many discs had been included “pointlessly”, and whether or not the price would have been less had the scarf been excluded. There were also issues about the actual pressing of one the discs itself, as quality was “dubious” I am told. Questions were being asked about how much VFM people were really getting from these sorts of releases.
The problem with the Super Deluxe Edition, aside from the cost grounds, was what should or should not be included. “Live At Leeds” was perfect, as there was simply nothing else from that period that could be included - but when Gabriel’s “So” box was released, he got slated for refusing to include any B-sides from the period, whilst including some new previously unavailable stuff on a 12”. People grumbled about these new songs “not being in digital form”. I am sorry people, but if you are a supposed record collector, not owning a turntable is the equivalent of being a fan of Formula 1, and then moaning when somebody buys you an old Formula 1 car because “it’s too fast to drive on the motorway”.
Anyway, I digress. Gabriel’s view was that the sort of people buying the boxset were going to be the hardcore, the people who already had - or had a desire to own - the original singles from the period, and thus, all the flipsides. Fair comment. But at £80 a throw, shouldn’t a boxset celebrating a SINGLE album therefore tell the complete history of that album? When the concert DVD included later got released independently as well, people wanted his head on a stake.
By now, 2012-ish, the Super Deluxe Edition boxset was fast becoming established as an accepted format. Even new albums started to get issued with price tags seemingly aimed to entice people on Premier League footballer wages, no longer did you have to be re-releasing an accepted classic to justify inflated price tags. I have already mentioned in passing on an earlier blog the “Special Edition” boxset releases, at the £35 mark, of things like the third Cheryl Cole album, or the Lana Del Rey debut, but new hits albums like the Stones’ “Grrr!” were turning up as multi disc releases, with extra slabs of vinyl, and big hardback books, at SDE prices. They seemed to be appearing at an alarming rate, at least when you factored in the cost implications of what you would need to spend if you wanted to buy them all. And there, in a nutshell, was how I learned to hate record collecting. The good old days, when all you needed to do to own everything by your favourite band, was buy each single and album until they split up, was long gone. Now, you were being asked to rebuy, in an expensive boxset, something you already owned, just to get a discs worth of “lo fi demos”. Soon, even the quality aspect of the records being subjected to “super deluxe” repressings started to get questionable - I kind of like it myself, but when Dylan announced a SDE revamp of the much maligned 1970 effort “Self Portrait”, some people wondered if it was a massive joke by a Columbia Records exec. Dylan’s latest SDE release is a “complete” release of “The Basement Tapes” - yep, £110 for a boxset full of songs that, back in 1968, even Dylan didn’t think were worth releasing.
As these releases continued to come out, it became increasing difficult to justify buying any of them, as they all seemed to have “flaws” - the famous “Quadrophenia” boxset, with it’s “not quite finished” surround sound mix of (part of) the (concept!) album on one disc. The SDE release of “Tommy”, a decade after the “Deluxe” release, with several tracks from that one now missing in action, replaced instead by some slightly superfluous “live in 1969” recordings and “Townshend only“ demos already available on bootleg since the year dot. The Elvis Costello “Songbook” release that, when he heard how much the label were asking for it, was dismissed by the man himself as “obviously being a typing error”.
I did get “The Wall”, and was both fascinated - and horrified - by the Roger Waters home demos that were included. There were lots here, which was nice, but all had been deliberately edited - meaning that for your £80, you were only getting to hear extracts of what was actually in the vaults. U2’s “Achtung Baby” (also available in a ridiculous “Uber Deluxe” edition at about £200, where I think, for that price, The Edge personally delivered it to your house) was good, 10 discs, but still “incomplete” - material from the fan club only “Melon” CD made it onto here, but not all of it. Designed, obviously, to placate those who had it already, but could it not have at least been included somehow?
These things just don’t stop coming. Suede have released a 20th anniversary edition boxset of “Dog Man Star”, only a couple of years after a supposed “definitive” 3 disc release of the very same record by Edsel. Some will tell you it’s not even their best album. And don’t get me started on the basic concept of a SDE release of Primal Scream‘s “Screamadelica”, released by a band who have always been left field politically, who you would have thought would have been the first to stand up to their record label over an overpriced reissue of an old LP, but whom now seemed to be happy for them to take £80 off the fans for a record that, back in 1991, was a statement for the working classes, a record recognising the plight of the underdog that was resolved through hedonistic partying. A record that acknowledged the misery of being a slave to the wage, that wanted to rise up against “The Man”. I guess a lot of those poor students who originally bought it for under a tenner on Tape are now deemed rich enough, post-Masters Degree, to be able to pay over the odds to relive their youth, especially as some of them probably became “The Man“ they were originally railing against, just like all those old punks who are now all bank managers. Still, the irony of it is difficult to come to terms with. Even more morally suspect is the SDE reissue of “Never Mind The Bollocks”. Even Lydon has disowned that one. And, seriously, does anybody really want a 20th anniversary edition of the Floyd’s “Division Bell”? It’s a decent enough record, but £100 for something that is arguably no better than “Obscured By Clouds”? And getting the nod in front of something like “Meddle”?
When rock and roll was the new kid on the block, it was part of youth culture. Now, I am not here going to start talking about how great it is that Radio 1 refuses to play anything by anybody who has released more than two albums, or the way in which the BBC’s “kids” channel, BBC Three, one time failed to acknowledge during one of their festival coverage shows, that Kraftwerk - who had invented everybody on the bill that day - had even played at the very same festival, because these are obviously stupid approaches to take towards music. Shame on you, BBC. Again, I digress. But, yes, when Elvis invented rock and roll, music was viewed as being part of youth culture. When Scott Walker’s fifth solo record tanked, it was partially because it was his third record in a year, and the consensus was, his fan base simply didn’t have the financial clout to keep up.
Now, we are at the other end of the spectrum. The consensus being that these people now have the disposable income needed to shell out whatever the labels want them to pay, without question. Records being pointlessly reissued to coincide with some sort of anniversary, and with price tags to make you baulk. New albums being available on standard CD for the plebs, or with extra tracks on a “ten disc multi experience boxset” even though the album itself is a bit crap, for the hardcore. Years ago, unreleased material was left unreleased for a reason, and when some of it was deemed OK to release, you’d either get a rarities album for 11 quid, or it would be shoehorned into a career spanning boxset, for about £40 a time, where it would nestle alongside 7” edits and long lost b-sides. Now? £80, shoved into a boxset reissue of a record you already own. Where, prey tell, has the concept of “value for money” actually gone?
Of course, I am as guilty as the next man. Yep, I own a couple of those Smashing Pumpkins “super deluxe” boxsets from a few years back, mainly because I wanted to get them on CD to stick on my iPod, and I figured if I was going to rebuy them, I may as well get them with all the bells and whistles intact. But it just feels like there is no end in sight. As if no label is prepared to reissue an old album in a simple style, like when EMI had their Fame imprint, but feels it HAS to be revamped into some form of mega expensive, and expansive, multi disc release, irrelevant of how good (or bad) it might be. Hell, even the guy who runs the Super Deluxe Edition website occasionally adds his own comments to some of the news items he posts, and can sometimes be less than complimentary about what he sees. When the editor of a website which celebrates SDE’s is actually complaining about the product he is mentioning, you know something somewhere has gone wrong.
It’s a format that is here to stay. Any album that hasn’t already appeared as an 8-disc £80 boxset is thus fair game, hence the pointless, and rather underwhelming, current Led Zepp reissue campaign which is being dragged out for months on end, decades after these things first turned up on CD, with a scant choice of bonus tracks being issued as part of the process. And with plenty of potential “classic rock” artists to choose from, this sort of nonsense is going to go on forever. Christ, there are even “deluxe” reissues of PWL-era Kylie albums being knocked out at wallet emptying prices, a sign that nothing within the music industry is considered out of bounds. What next? A 6-CD repressing of Black Lace’s “Going To A Party”?
Why is this happening? Well, it may be that the labels are scared that downloading has killed the physical format concept, maybe they are worried that too many people are downloading individual tracks, that perhaps there is a struggle to get new artists to “sell” units. So, the way around it? Stick out Elvis’ “That’s The Way It Is” again, this time as a 4-LP boxset and - hey presto! More money from the obsessives' bank accounts going direct to the RCA coffers. There is something about this relentlessly retro, “looking back” approach that slightly saddens me. New albums by heritage acts, no problem. But another reissue on CD, at £80 a pop, for a Who album that has already been reissued two or three times? Where will it all end? Given by the comments I see on SDE, where somebody will put “not a great album, not much in the way of bonus material...but I love [insert band name here] so I have just ordered it from Amazon straight away without hesitation”, then why would the labels NOT carry on? Money for old rope, extracted from compulsive collectors, who need to have everything, irrelevant of how awful the material might be, and how much it might cost them.
So, I just gave up. The “Grrr!” boxset filled up the last space we had on that particular shelf in our front room, so that technically prevented me from buying anymore. I go on that SDE website every day, and am amazed at how there seems to be a new boxset being released by somebody EVERY SINGLE DAY. The record companies knew that record collectors were fair game, and so decided to “create” collectible records to get them to shell out more of their hard earned cash. With several acts releasing download only EP’s, which in my view, “don’t count” in terms of record collecting, I was already in a position where I was no longer thus purchasing everything by my favourite bands. So what would it matter if I turned down a boxset of Dylan outtakes? I did not die when I bought the single disc version of “Tell Tale Signs” for £100 less than the 3 disc one, the world did not stop turning when I decided against rebuying “Greendale” again. Some might say I shouldn’t have bought it originally in the first place. And so, I became a bit of a lapsed record collector. Somebody who bought this, didn’t buy that, and realised that by not trying to complete my collection of coloured vinyl, and to just be happy with the ones I had, I would make a saving of about £2000. Record collecting had finally beat me, and I accepted defeat. I hated it for what it had done, but I accepted it. The pressure was now off. I could buy each album on “any format”, each single on “one format only, of my choice”, and others were optional. There was no way I was going to be able to buy every one of those Pearl Jam official bootleg releases - I had four or five, why bother with the other hundred or so they had put out? Know your limits, and know when it is time to call it a day. Although, that can sometimes be easier said than done. When you love music, you can feel a bit guilty about leaving things on the shelf. But the record companies made it hard not to do so. In the final instalment next month, we shall look at how the dying physical format single finally joined the Super Deluxe boxset in the world of overpriced insanity, a world where us working class kids kept wondering if rock and roll had abandoned us for the champagne and caviar crowd.