The folks at Cherry Red have been pumping out box-sets of 1980s U.K. 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 made a sequel to the C86 compilation, 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, and if you followed the U.K. indie singles scene at the time, you’re probably already swooning at the prospect of owning these songs – several of which are making their debut on CD. However, if you’re hearing a majority of these songs for the first time in 2016, you may wonder what all the fuss is about.
The problem is, you show up expecting bands who, maybe for just 3-5 minutes, could be as good as the best of ’80s U.K. indie (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 seventy-four songs are brought down by a combination of inexperienced songwriters, cheap recordings, vocalists with no range, and bad lyrics (many 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 that there were seventy-four good, but 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. This said, there’s about a single-disc’s worth of keepers, and credit the compilers 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.