The Creation Records story usually focuses on their biggest acts from the 1990s (Oasis, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Teenage Fanclub, to name just a few), but the truth is it took years for Alan McGee’s visionary indie label to find success, having been active since 1983. Creation released a steady stream of music during those early years, most of which went unnoticed until this five disc box-set, which gives listeners an almost complete look at the label’s output from 1983-85. You probably know The Jesus and Mary Chain’s mind-blowing records from this era, but they were an outlier on Creation’s roster, with McGee making a habit of signing bands that burned with ambition to participate in their local scene (which centered in around McGee’s music venue The Living Room), but lacked the ability to make songs which lived up to their enthusiasm. Basically this box-set is the sound of young musicians, songwriters, label owners and producers all learning on the job.
The first two discs recap Creation’s singles from ’83-’85 (minus Slaughter Joe and Les Zarjaz, due to licensing issues). There’s over 50 songs on these discs, but only three are classics: The Jesus and Mary Chain’s apocalyptic “Upside Down”, Biff Bang Pow’s “The Must Be A Better Life” (essentially “Melt With You” for Orange Juice fans), and The Loft’s “Up The Hill And Down The Slope”. Among the rest are a few scattered signposts of the juggernaut Creation would become – The Pastels off-key melodies would inform My Bloody Valentine, Ride’s Byrds + effects pedals formula is taken for a test drive by Revolving Paint Dream, and Primal Scream’s jangle-pop debut single from 1985, “All Fall Down” is accounted for. There’s also a few detours that were intriguing, but ultimately discarded as Creation matured, like the X-Men’s take on garage rock which is fun but forgettable, and The Moodists, an Australian import similar to The Birthday Party and The Scientists. Most interesting of these is Meat Whiplash, who released a solitary single, which sounds exactly like Psychocandy-era Jesus and Mary Chain and was even recorded by the Reid brothers.
The first part of disc three is split between rarities and album tracks from the early Creation roster, including a pair of Mary Chain demos, anemic songs from McGee’s early band The Laughing Apple, and ’70s post-punk holdovers The Membranes. The back half of the disc is made up of live recordings from The Living Room, featuring a handful of Creation bands (The Legend!, The Loft and Jasmine Minks) alongside various punk-era oddballs who were still underground acts in the early-’80s (The Mekons, Alternative TV and The Television Personalities). The sound is pretty lousy though, and I can’t imagine anyone returning to it very often.
Disc four houses demos from bands that are by now familiar to box-set listeners (The Jasmine Minks, The Moodists, The X-Men, The Legend!…etc.). Again the sound isn’t great – a reminder of an era when demos were usually recorded on cassettes – but it’s nice to get additional looks at Meat Whiplash and The Moodists. Disc five comes from a half-dozen BBC sessions and gives you eight more tracks by The Loft (who had a nice New York proto-punk influence in their songs), interesting sessions from The Moodists and Meat Whiplash, as well as the lesser likes of The X-Men and The Bodines, the latter of which sound like an amateur Echo and The Bunnymen.
As has come to be expected, the remastering on Creation Artifact is great, and the liner notes are almost as crucial as the music, containing a history of Creation’s early years and band biographies. While the music is rarely great, the excitement and enthusiasm is constantly palpable. The only question left – and it’s one I can’t answer – is, are you willing to pay box-set prices to hear that?