The Zombies – The BBC Sessions (Varese Vintage)


The Zombies were the first band to officially release material recorded at the BBC when the British broadcasters opened up their archives in 1985. They released these sessions again in 1998 as part of the Zombie Heaven boxset, and here they are once more, now a two-disc set with a few previously unreleased recordings. Like their peers, The Zombies’ BBC visits were a chance to plug their hits, and to play some exclusive material that hadn’t been released elsewhere. They recorded versions of their early hits “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No” (the latter at three different sessions), and a host of other effervescent Zombies originals that should have been hits, like “You Make Me Feel Good”, “If It Don’t Work Out” and “Just Out Of Reach”. Well-done covers of The Impressions, The Isley Brothers, The Supremes, Isaac Hayes, The Four Tops and Billy Stewart make a strong case for The Zombies as a great white soul band, and they’re also comfortable playing blues (“Wee Baby Blues”), rockabilly (“Rip It Up”) and pop (a stunning cover of “The Look Of Love”). Though The BBC Radio Sessions has an embarrassment of great songs and performances (and those goofy BBC interviews), some of the sessions were only available from secondary sources, so the sound is sometimes compromised (especially on their cover of “Sitting In The Park”). Also, there’s no material from the best Zombies album, Odessey and Oracle, though it’s nobody’s fault since the band broke up before it was released in 1968, and didn’t play it live until decades later. Even with those imperfections, The BBC Sessions has more than enough great stuff for me to recommend it.

The Hollywood Brats – Sick On You (Cherry Red)


I’ve already reviewed a previous version of this 1973 album over here, so I won’t repeat myself in detail. Sufficed to say it’s a lost classic, with influences from The British Invasion and Chess Records, combined with decadence and rebellion, to create something that fit with the glam scene, but also closely resembled punk three years before The Ramones, The Clash and Sex Pistols released their debut albums. The newest edition of this album is timed to coincide with the American release of singer Andrew Matheson’s book on The Hollywood Brats, also named Sick On You after their most electrifying song. One of the main selling points here is that the album has been remastered for the first time since its original CD release in 1994, giving it the “oomph” your ears expect in 2016. The other big news is the second disc which adds 15 bonus tracks to the original 11-track album. The majority are studio outtakes from 1973-’74 and it’s great to hear a few prime-era Brats originals (“Son Of The Wizard” especially), and a handful of covers (Kinks, Chuck Berry, blues numbers) given a proper high-energy rock’n’roll throttling. There’s also a few songs from an attempted 1980 Brats reunion (they were working on an album called Hung Like Horses – classy), but they’re sterilized by overproduction. The informative liner notes include track-by-track notes on the bonus material, excerpts from a 2012 interview with Andrew Matheson, top 10 lists from each band member, and great photos. My only complaint is that I miss the original album’s glammy cover photo. Sure their feather boas and teased hair made the band look like a junior division New York Dolls (accusations they’ve always had to refute) but, unlike the reissue’s cover, it was colorful and it had personality, which is pretty much the Hollywood Brats in a nutshell.

C87 (Cherry Red Records)


The folks at Cherry Red have been pumping out box-sets of 1980’s UK indie with factory-like regularity of late. There was Scared To Get Happy, Millions Like Us, Creation Artifact, C86, Another Splash Of Colour, and now this three-disc set answering the question “what if the NME reconvened one year after the C86 compilation to make a sequel, covering British indie from the following year (and a record label expanded it into a three disc box-set decades later).” It’s a solid idea to build a compilation from, and if you followed the UK indie singles scene at the time, you’re probably already swooning at the prospect of owning these songs – several of which are make their debut on CD. However, if you’re getting exposed to a majority of these songs for the first time in 2016, you may end up wondering what all the fuss is about.

The problem is, you show up expecting bands who, maybe for just these 3-5 minutes, could be as good as the best of UK indie in the ’80s (i.e. The Smiths, Jesus and Mary Chain, The Fall…etc.), and while some bands on C87 sound vaguely similar to their bigger and better contemporaries, the disparity in talent is tremendous. About 2/3 of the 74 songs are brought down by a combination of inexperienced songwriters, cheap recordings, vocalists with no range and lyrics without something to say (an inordinate number of songs feature wordless “ba-ba-ba-ba” type of choruses). Or, simply look at C87’s set-up logically, without even listening to it: can you reasonably expect there were 74 really good largely unknown U.K. indie bands active in a single year? No you can’t, and bearing that truth out over three lengthy discs is frustrating and even painful at times. This said, there’s about a single-disc’s worth of likeable songs, and I credit this set for including great songs by The Vaselines and House of Love (“Son Of A Gun” and “Real Animal”, respectively) and turning me on to cool tracks from The Shamen, Gol Gappas and Stitched Back Foot Airman that I probably wasn’t going to hear anywhere else. Maybe the lesson here is that the NME knew what they were doing when they made the original C86 a single album.

The Boots – Beat! The Complete Telefunken Years (RPM)


The Boots were a Berlin band whose place in garage/psych history was cemented when two of their songs (“Gaby” and “But You Never Do It Babe”) were featured on Rhino’s Nuggets II compilation. They’re excellent songs, but don’t tell the full Boots story, leaving that job to this double-disc compilation of their mid-’60s output. Disc one is dominated by their 1965 debut album, Here Are The Boots, wherein the sharply-suited quartet go covers crazy. An album leaning so heavily on oft-covered chestnuts like “Gloria”, “Baby, Please Don’t Go” and “Got Love If You Want It” won’t win any points for originality, but it’s not boring either, as the band attack the rather standard material with a high-energy approach typified by the Phil May-like vocals of Werner Krabbe and their Yardbirds-style instrumental rave ups. This isn’t the kind of stuff that will blow your mind, but if you like the tough UK r&b style of Them, The Pretty Things, The Animals and the like, then The Boots should do the trick.

The Boots, sensing the winds of change around them, knew they had to do more than beat covers or else they’d get left behind in the wake of progress. Unfortunately the choices they and their label made from this point on were uniformly misguided, and the results of these bad choices are heard all over the second disc. Their first mistake was adopting a cheesy pop-soul affectation, which drove singer Krabbe from the band. He was replaced by Jacques Eckhard, an odd choice for a singer of a German band considering he was the drummer in a Dutch band called The Soulband. For their next mistake, The Boots let their label talk them into recording songs from a writer on their roster named Sanford Alexander. In itself this wasn’t such a bad thing – especially considering that the band was lacking in original material –  except their next album, 1967’s Beat With The Boots, was credited to The Boots and The Sanford Alexander Beat, even though Alexander only played on one track and wrote four others. The band members weren’t happy with the material being forced upon them, nor did they like the resulting album, with guitarist Jorg Schulte-Eckel sitting out the sessions in protest. Listening to it now, they were absolutely right to be mad. The Sanford Alexander material was weak, but The Boots are also completely out of their league covering of American soul giants Wilson Pickett, Booker T. & The MGs, and James Brown. They never recovered from the Beat With The Boots debacle and, after a few unsuccessful attempts at reversing their fortunes, called it a day in 1970.

In addition to the two albums, Beat! features non-album singles, four live tracks recorded in 1965, sharply remastered sound and informative, if sometimes grammatically challenged, liner notes.

 

Another Splash Of Colour: New Psychedelia in Britain 1980-1985 (RPM)


Another Splash of Color expands 1982’s similarly-titled single-album compilation A Splash Of Colour into a three-disc set featuring a selection of acts from the U.K. psychedelic revival from 1980-1985. These were mostly groups who turned their backs on what was cutting edge (namely post-punk, goth and hardcore) and retreated to the comforts of the 1960s. Like the Paisley Underground in America, their self-conscious embrace of the past at a time when there were plenty of bands breaking new ground feels like an act of retreat, which it was, but there were enough interesting sub-factions and genuinely weird individuals working in the scene’s margins to make it palatable in 2016.

Among the musical flavors explored here are the Mod Revival (including The Purple Hearts and The Vandells), the early sound of Creation Records (Revolving Paint Dream, Biff! Bang! Pow! and The Jasmine Minks), your classic English surrealists/nutters (Julian Cope, Robyn Hitchcock, Cleaners From Venus and Nick Nicely) and a handful of punks trading in their spikes for paisley (Charlie Harper from the U.K. Subs; The Damned performing as Naz Nomad and The Nightmares, Captain Sensible; and Knox from The Vibrators who does an excellent cover of Syd Barrett “Gigolo Aunt”). Even an Elvis Costello-less Attractions get in on the fun.

With sixty-four songs in total, there’s some truly wonderful highlights to choose from. The Soft Boys and Robyn Hitchcock are always great fun, and their respective entries, “Only The Stones Remain” and the hyper-surreal “It’s A Mystic Trip” are typically well-crafted. The Blue Orchids (featuring Martin Bramah of The Fall on vocals) manage a strong Bunnymen/Doors vibe on “Work”. Creation head-honcho Alan McGee’s band Biff! Bang! Pow! squeeze so many guitar effects onto “A Day Out With Jeremy Chester” (it’s hard to imagine a song title more squarely aimed at recapturing the essence of 1967 than that one) that you wonder if he slipped their tapes to the members of Ride early on. Londoner Nick Nicely’s two songs (“49 Cigars” and “Hilly Fields”) are perhaps the set’s most notable, with an excellent blend of timeless 1960s song-writing and decidedly 1980s sounds.

However, many struggled to maneuver through the sounds of the ’60s during the time of mullets and gated reverb, with duds from Miles Over Matter, The Chicaynes and, literally, a few dozen others to sift through. Start at the beginning of Disc One and you’ll soon realize there were only a few folks in this scene with songwriting talent, a developed sense of musicianship or a flair for the unique. For the most part, the bands whose names are familiar are the ones you want to hear – after all, there’s a reason they haven’t been forgotten 30+ years on.

The Yardbirds – Roger The Engineer: 50th Anniversary Edition (Repertoire)


Although the Yardbirds are better known groundbreaking singles than albums, Roger the Engineer was the best full-length from their original 1960s run. Like other albums released by major British bands in 1966 – Revolver, Aftermath,  Face To Face and A Quick One – Roger The Engineer was the sound of a band moving past the blues and r&b covers of their early years, drunk on experimentation and ready to dive into unchartered territories. Songs like “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” and “Ever Since the World Began” were so progressive and advanced, they simply couldn’t have existed just twelve months earlier. Leading the Yardbirds into this era was guitarist Jeff Beck, who was at the top of his game on Roger the Engineer, adding excitement to “Lost Woman” and the tough-as-nails blues numbers “Jeff’s Blues” and “The Nazz Are Blue”, the latter of which he also sings. Elsewhere, “Hot House of Omagarashid” is every bit as wacky as its title, and “He’s Always There” is a bad-ass garage rock classic.

The 50th anniversary edition presents the album in both mono and stereo versions, with wonderfully remastered sound. The mono version is the familiar one, and the hard panning of the stereo mix is a little jarring for those who are used to the mono. That said, the separation of the instruments on the stereo version lets youhear the contributions of the individual musicians a little better. There’s bonus tracks of course, including non-album recordings from the tail-end of the Roger the Engineer era when Jeff Beck was joined on guitar by Jimmy Page (who was the band’s first choice to replace Eric Clapton, but declined, recommending Beck instead) for a guitar geek’s wet dream. There’s only three songs from this line-up, but the way the band attacks “Stroll On”, “Psycho Daisies” and “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” make them early prototypes of hard rock and heavy metal. Also included are a pair of Keith Relf solo singles from 1966, and though these songs are poppier than the Yardbirds’ material, they’re well-executed pop.

If you like this album, The Yardbirds, or 1960’s rock/mod/psych, this reissue is essential.

 

Still In A Dream: A Story Of Shoegaze 1988-1995 (Cherry Red)


I was practically rabid with anticipation for this boxset, having been a shoegaze fan for most of the 2000s. The prospect of five-discs, heavy on deep cuts, was tantalizing. Would it turn me on to a bunch of bands who were as good as Ride, Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine but, for one reason or another, never got much attention? Would I be spending the next few months tracking down music from all the great bands the boxset introduced me to?

Well, no. As much I was hoping for a big winner, Still In A Dream is a mess, with negatives far outweighing the positives. First, let’s deal with the elephant in the room: they couldn’t get permission to use any My Bloody Valentine songs. While it’s strange to have a shoegaze boxset without the band most synonymous with the genre (especially when its title comes from a My Bloody Valentine song) I’m actually OK with this. It reminds me of a decade ago, when Rhino put out an excellent punk rock boxset without any Sex Pistols songs. Besides, it’s a pretty safe bet that anyone shelling out $40-50 for this already has the important My Bloody Valentine albums.

Next up are the obligatory complaints over who did and didn’t make the tracklisting. A few bands probably should have made the cut, but didn’t, such as Teenage Filmstars, For Against, Sugar, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Springhouse (whose drummer – and Big Takeover publlisher – Jack Rabid contributed liner notes). But more glaring is the long list of bands who got the nod but don’t belong here. The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, Luna, Spectrum and Sonic Boom explored shoegaze-friendly sounds during this period, but they were never called shoegaze. By including them, you might as well include Primal Scream, Dinosaur Jr or The Verve.

Now, here’s the real problem: With 87 songs from 87 bands, the compilers dug too deep into what’s essentially a sub-genre. This means a ridiculous amount of time spent sifting through weak material from bands like Curve or Swirl to find an occasional gold nugget I’d never heard before (Loop, Kitchens Of Distinction, Whipping Boy, and Seefeel all impressed).

Here’s how it could have been better:

*Include multiple tracks from the better bands. What would ne better, a second song from a brilliant band like Ride or “Godlike” from the rightfully forgotten band The Dylans (who weren’t shoegaze anyway)?

*Open up the set beyond 1995. There’s been some great shoegaze since 1995 to choose from, and by including those songs you weed out the lesser ’88-95 songs, making a more consistent listen.

or……

*Stick with the ’88-95 motif and cut it down to a lean three-discs. All killer, no filler.

By leaving the fat untrimmed, Still In A Daydream grows more difficult to enjoy as it goes on, and the genre it’s meant to champion comes off looking bad.