Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Stranglers - Compilation LP’s Pt 5

So this is, certainly for now, my final blog about the Stranglers’ “authorised”-ish compilation releases. They cover a period from early 2010 until late 2013, and are pretty much all of the best of sets released during this period, the earlier flood of “Mark 2 only” releases during the noughties having by this point, more or less, dried up. But there are still probably more compilations from this period than anybody really needs in their lives, so let’s see why they were released.

Decades Apart
(2xCD, EMI 5099 945 603228)

If you only buy one Stranglers best of, then this 2010 release is the one. Not necessarily because it ticks all the boxes, but because it comes book ended with a pair of new Mark 4 recordings, making it the first hits set to include totally new material. But beyond that, it is still one of the top 5 compilations released by the band, mainly because it achieves something that none of the others have ever done.

And that is to include material from all four incarnations of the group. Not only that, but it is also the first Stranglers comp to include material from the China Records years, meaning that the likes of “Heaven Or Hell” are appearing on a best of set for the first time ever, despite being nearly 20 years old at the time of release.

One of the problems of how you balance a set like this, is whether you go for a split in terms of years or material - this one goes for the latter, so the first disc covers a period from albums one to eight, the second disc albums nine to sixteen. But what this does of course mean is that even after disc 2 is well underway, Hugh is still in situ. Fair enough, the group ultimately were more prolific when he was in the band. But the album comes in a sleeve showing the Mark 4 lineup quite proudly on it’s cover, which has the effect of almost reducing Hugh, Paul and John to mere sidemen in the band’s career, a situation made more bizarre when you consider that there are only four Mark 4 recordings on the entire record. If any Stranglers compilation should have come in a generic sleeve NOT showing band members on the front, then this should have been the one.

Each of those 16 albums are represented usually by the big hits from each one. The exception is “The Meninblack”, whereby the two singles released were both flops, so it is the band’s calling card “Waltzinblack” that gets the nod instead. Interesting, but given that other ‘flop’ singles crop up during the remainder of the album (“La Folie“, “Sugar Bullets“, etc) means that this is another situation where the record that is for some the band’s best LP, is being almost written out of the band’s official history. See also “Hits And Heroes” for another example of an airbrushing of the band’s career circa 1980/81.

For the single-less “Coup De Grace”, it is the title track which gets included, which still sounds gloriously raucous after all these years, even if the band did decide to drop it from the European leg of the 2014 tour, after it seemed to fall on deaf ears at the UK gigs. Elsewhere, there is a combination of non-LP 45’s (“Go Buddy Go”), singles that never were (the promo only “Golden Boy”, the cancelled “Unbroken”) and selected latter period album tracks, designed to show that the Mark 2 and Mark 3 lineups had some absolute corkers buried away (“Time To Die” and “Norfolk Coast”).

Of course, trying to cram 33 years worth of material into a pair of CD’s was always going to be a challenge, and you can probably create your own list of “why didn’t it include that”-type songs that are missing (I’ll start you off with “Straighten Out”). But as the only Stranglers comp to cover their career from start to finish, it is automatically more representative of their diversity than anything else on the market, and the two new songs make it an essential buy. Furthermore, it seemed to be issued as an almost budget style release when it was first issued, so hunt around and you might still pick it up for a fiver if you look in the right places. Bargain.

Tracklisting: Retro Rockets/Grip/Peaches/Go Buddy Go/Something Better Change/No More Heroes/5 Minutes/Nice N Sleazy/Walk On By/Duchess/Nuclear Device/Waltzinblack/Golden Brown/La Folie/Strange Little Girl/European Female/Skin Deep/No Mercy/Always The Sun (Sunny Side Up Mix)/Nice In Nice/All Day And All Of The Night (7” Mix)/96 Tears (Edit)/Heaven Or Hell/Time To Die/Sugar Bullets/Golden Boy/Lies And Deception/In Heaven She Walks/Coup De Grace/Norfolk Coast/Big Thing Coming/Long Black Veil/Unbroken/Spectre Of Love/I Don’t See The World Like You Do

(CD, EMI 5099 968 023324)

Every so often, a label such as EMI will issue a number of compilation albums by a variety of acts that have, or had, a link to the label at some point in their life, where the title is shared by each compilation. I have mentioned elsewhere on this site a number of best of sets issued by Universal under the banner of “Icon”. So in 2011, EMI issued a number of albums under the banner of “Essential” - alongside The Stranglers, there were releases by the likes of Talking Heads and Dr Hook. What we have here is a budget-esque release that covers, once more, the EMI period of the Mark 1 years. To be fair, there’s no denying the sheer punch of what is on offer here, indeed, you could call most of it essential (but I share Baz’s view that I could possibly not be too bothered if I never heard “Something Better Change” again).

But why does it exist? Well, apart from being another fan-fleecing exercise, it does seem as though it works on other levels - I think I bought my copy in a Tesco store for about six quid, so it is the sort of release that the label knows a supermarket will stock, and that it’s price will bring in the floating voter as they go shopping for their fruit and veg. And also, I guess, it could be seen as an introduction to the band for any newbies who might have discovered them in recent times. But apart from the edited “Walk On By” and 1989 re-jig of “Grip”, and the odd non-LP hit, it’s really nothing more than a rehash of stuff you all already know. Nice cover, nicked straight from the 1989 “Singles” set, but beyond that, one for the hardcore only.

Tracklisting: Peaches/Golden Brown/Strange Little Girl/No More Heroes/Straighten Out/Hanging Around/Walk On By (Edit)/La Folie/Something Better Change/Grip 89/Duchess/Nice N Sleazy/Bear Cage/5 Minutes/London Lady

All The Best
(2xCD, EMI 5099 972 183823)

Another thing I have mentioned here before is the now confusing world of what is or is not a UK release. And on the face of it, this 2012 job is a German import - after all, the EMI website plugged on the back is the German division of the company, But EMI releases did often have spaces on the back where different countries were listed, and if the album was due to be released in that territory, as opposed to be imported into, a ‘localised’ catalogue number would be printed. And, despite this one being made in Germany, copies were pressed with a UK catalogue number in situ on the sleeve as well! So, it makes the grade.

What have we got? Again, another one that seems to share it’s title with other one-time EMI stablemates, this is a sprawling double disc trawl through the Hugh-helmed EMI years once more, with an, at times, near random approach to what has made the set. It feels, at times, as though it has been designed to fit onto a triple vinyl set or something - five big hitters, then four reasonably big hitters, then some album tracks and flop singles - it sort of goes back and forth and all over the shop, throwing in the odd B-side (“Top Secret”) alongside tracks that seem to be making only their first, or maybe second, appearance on a Stranglers comp (“Peasant In The Big Shitty”).

It’s a curious release - anybody wanting a big overview of what went on between 77 and 82 may as well go the whole hog and go for the ’more or less complete’ “The Old Testament” boxset, whilst those of you fascinated by the flipsides will do better to go for the “no holds barred” round up on “The UA Years”. The inclusion of “You Hold The Key” is nice, as there is not one ESSENTIAL Stranglers release that has included it before, only interesting ones, but again, anybody who was alive in 1999 will have shelled out for “Hits And Heroes” already, and won’t need to flap about this one. Quite nice cover, and at times, so scattergun it’s entertaining to just look at it’s track listing (my copy is still sealed), but again, post-”Decades Apart”, a trifle pointless.

Tracklisting: Peaches (Edit)/Grip/Golden Brown/Strange Little Girl/Duchess/5 Minutes/Nuclear Device/Bear Cage/Something Better Change/Tomorrow Was The Hereafter/The Man They Love To Hate/Let Me Introduce You To The Family/Sometimes/Bring On The Nubiles/Choosey Susie/Sweden/Do You Wanna/Thrown Away/Outside Tokyo/La Folie (Edit)/No More Heroes (Edit)/Hanging Around/Straighten Out/Go Buddy Go/Bitching/You Hold The Key To My Love In Your Hands/Peasant In The Big Shitty/Nice N Sleazy/In The Shadows/N’Emmenes Pas Harry/Just Like Nothing On Earth/Top Secret/Tramp/Waiting For The Meninblack/I Feel Like A Wog/Dagenham Dave/Rok It To The Moon/The Raven/Shah Shah A Go Go/Waltzinblack

Sight And Sound
(CD+DVD, EMI 5099 963 606225)

Once more, another EMI release as part of a ‘series’ - I think there was a Human League “Sight And Sound” out at the same time. Now, the “Sight And Sound” tag had been used before - there is a near flawless Blondie release from the mid-noughties that had a CD packed to the brim, and a DVD with more promos than you could shake a stick at, but this series, dating again from 2012, took a more “measured” approach. So, the running time of the CD is well under the potential 79:59, whilst the accompanying DVD of promos is, ahem, ‘selective’.

The audio side is EMI era, but covering all line ups, so Mark’s 3 and 4 get a tune each. Of course, this does mean the “what happened between 1982 and 2004” question pops up again, to which the answer of course is “very interesting stuff - but not allowed here”. Bah humbug. The DVD is nice - the three big hitters are here (GB, “Peaches” from Battersea and the made-after-the-event clip for “Heroes”), whilst the remainder are basically edited highlights from 1982’s “The Video Collection” VHS, with the infamous strippers performance of “Nice N Sleazy” shoehorned in here simply because it HAD to be. Of course, there is no space for anything genuinely rare like the promo clip for “Sweden”, whilst “Straighten Out“ is omitted seemingly because it looks the same as the clip for “SBC“, which does get the nod. Yet again, the “Meninblack” LP is virtually written out of history once more, and the “Singles” photo is recycled one more time, and whilst it is a nice thing to own, especially at budget price, it feels more like a sampler, something to nibble on for a while before sinking your teeth into something a bit meatier.

Tracklisting: Grip/Peaches/Go Buddy Go/Something Better Change/No More Heroes/5 Minutes/Nice N Sleazy/Walk On By/Duchess/Nuclear Device/Waltzinblack/Golden Brown/Strange Little Girl/Big Thing Coming/Spectre Of Love/Grip (Promo Video)/Something Better Change (Promo Video)/Peaches (Live, Battersea Park - Video)/Hanging Around (Live, Battersea Park - Video)/5 Minutes (Promo Video)/No More Heroes (1982 Video)/Nice N Sleazy (Live, Battersea Park - Video)/Duchess (Promo Video)/Golden Brown (Promo Video)/Strange Little Girl (Promo Video)

Skin Deep
(2xCD, Music Club Deluxe MCDLX 189)

Back in 1994, Blondie - yes, them again - issued a glorious double CD set called “The Platinum Collection”. Playing on the fact that the band seemed to be more popular in the UK than their native US, it featured the A-side and B-side of every UK 7” the band had released during their original incarnation(s) from 1976 to 1982. In order to pad the set out, where a single had also been issued in the USA but with a different flipside, then this track was added as a bonus. Blondie didn’t really do that many B-sides, and so at times, it was almost a “best of the album tracks set”, but it ran in chronological order, and did at least showcase the changing face of the band during that period.

Blondie issued quite a few 12 inches in their time, but only issued a handful of 12”-only flipsides. These, of course, were missing from “The Platinum Collection”, but it didn’t matter - because the most important ones had already been hoovered up by an earlier set, the 1993 odds and sods collection “Blonde And Beyond”. Thus, between then, “TPC” and “BAB” offered up, more or less, every A-side and B-side that the band had issued in the UK - it was just the old alternate remix that got lost along the way.

“Skin Deep”, in a way, is The Stranglers’ “Platinum Collection”. Issued in late 2013, it was the first attempt anybody had had at trying to get the band’s Epic-era flipsides into one place. Epic had toyed with the idea after Hugh had left the band, but the project didn’t really get off the ground, and apart from the odd one that resurfaced here and there, the only time any of them had gotten a second lease of life was really when they were shoe-horned as bonus tracks onto the 2001 expanded reissues of the band’s Epic-era albums.

So, what you get here is the a-side of a single, then it’s B-side, then another a-side and so on and so forth. According to internet sources, radio edits may or may not be included where they should be (again, my one is sealed, so I can’t comment). But here’s where it goes wrong. As soon as we get to single number 3, the band had gone into the world of the 12”-only b-side, meaning that whilst “Pawsher“ is here, “Permission” is missing. Then “Hot Club” goes AWOL. And so on, and so forth.

It gets a bit odder on disc 2. “Golden Brown” was famously issued by Epic in 1991, seemingly without the band’s say so, and is included here - but being an EMI owned recording, means that not only is it dumped randomly at the start of the disc, but it’s the 1987 recording as found on the Epic-released “All Live And All Of The Night”. And furthermore, the flipside of said 45, “You”, taped in the mid-to-late 80’s and thus a genuine Epic era recording, is completely missing, despite having appeared on the 7” edition of the single, and thus being eligible for this release. Instead, you get the 1990 7” mix of “Always The Sun” (on top of the 1986 edit), but you do also get the charmingly genteel finale that is it’s relevant flip, “Burnham Beeches”, so it’s not all bad.

Now, if you simply fancy owning SOME of the band’s b-sides from the period on CD, then fill your boots. But I can’t help but think that this is a fairly niche likelihood, and that whilst the album itself is an interesting attempt to show the band’s “pop” period in an alternative light, the fact that so many 12” and CD only bonus tracks from the time are missing, makes it a slightly wasted exercise. Not to add the fact that the front cover seems to date from pre-”European Female” days as well. Suffice to say, it was left to the band themselves to sort this mess out, and within six months, the band issued the complete B-sides set “Here And There”, firstly on the merch stall on their 2014 tour, before giving it a full blown commercial release towards the end of the year. This release was talked about in greater detail on my "Stranglers on SIS" blog last year.

Tracklisting: European Female/Savage Breast/Midnight Summer Dream (Edit)/Vladimir And Olga/Paradise/Pawsher/Skin Deep/Here And There/No Mercy/In One Door/Let Me Down Easy (Edit)/Achilles Heel/Nice In Nice/Since You Went Away/Golden Brown (Live)/Always The Sun (Edit)/Norman Normal/Big In America/Dry Day/Shakin’ Like A Leaf/Hitman/All Day And All Of The Night (7” Mix)/Viva Vlad/96 Tears (Edit)/Instead Of This/Sweet Smell Of Success (Edit)/Motorbike/Always The Sun (Sunny Side Up Mix)/Burnham Beeches