Compilations, reboxings, lesser-discovereds and more besides, also starring Andy Williams, Can, The Waterboys and Cocteau Twins
January is currently into its 17th week and there’s seemingly no let up. Everyone is currently staring at the calendar and tearfully wondering ‘what is this bullshit’ as the New Year New You vague resolutions have long slid out of view and we’re all itching to wear less than five layers of clothing. Plus! Everything else is routinely terrible. Urgh. So, brush all that aside for a bit, grab a warming soup and have a read about some of the marvy albums coming up in the next few weeks.
First released in February 1993, Saint Etienne’s So Tough was one of those albums that screamed of the carefree and eclectic joy that was the early nineties. Pete, Bob and Sarah’s second long player was their first proper affair as a trio after the kaleidoscopic scrapbook of debut Foxbase Alpha, and pushed them into the big league – Top Of The Pops! Smash Hits! Single-figure chart positions! etc – and with songs such as Avenue, Hobart Paving, You’re In A Bad Way and Mario’s Café, elevated them as modern day greats and into the pantheon of their musical heroes.
Now So Tough is back. Back. BACK! in an expanded form as a box set, with the original album pressed as a 2LP 45rpm affair, a bonus album called Remains Of The Day collecting demos and rarities, a Hobart Paving 7-inch with mixes by Van Dyke Parks and Alan Tarney, plus a booklet, biog sheet and press release. If, like many Etienne nutters, you’ve already got the similar boxes for Foxbase Alpha and Tiger Bay, then this will be a no brainer. What a fucking album indeed.
Talking of Bob Stanley, his latest collection for Ace is, um, rather ace. Fantastic Voyage: New Sounds For The European Canon 1977-1981 is a companion album to the Café Exil collection from 2020, and was co-compiled with the BFI’s Jason Wood. Looking at the period before Bowie went all yellow suits and stadium-y, Fantastic Voyage hosts the sort of sounds that emerged from the anything goes era of post punk, where the futurists turn up to offer escape and vision, and were able to exist as an occasional viable art-pop aesthetic.
Simple Minds’ aheadness of Themes From Great Cities, Walker Brothers’ dimensional Nite Flights and Robert Fripp’s slinky take on funk Exposure are gathered together with Associates’ nuclear-fuelled White Car In Germany, Patrick Cowley’s Nightcrawler and the incredible Riot In Lagos by Ryuichi Sakamoto to paint a picture of an emergence and tension of a new decade, and all feasibly the sort of things that both influenced, and turns he influenced in return, that could only exist in a Bowie European-facing universe.
Rhino are issuing loads of represses across this year, kicking off with some coloured vinyl selections of much interest such as Velvet Underground’s Live At Max’s, Yes’ Yes, The Beat’s I Just Can’t Stop It, Stevie Nicks’ Trouble in Shangri-La and Street Angel plus Nuggets volumes 1 and 2. They’re all released across January, exclusive to actual shops and limited editions so step to it.
Cocteau Twins’ last two albums 1993’s Four Calendar Café and 1996’s Milk & Kisses arrive on vinyl after being unavailable for quite some time. Although not intended as such, these were the last two albums by the trio before it all went to shit, and a nice addition to the 4AD gear that has been reissued over recent years.
Photek news now, and the classic Modus Operandi from 1997 as a triple vinyl. It really is one of the greatest drum and bass albums from a period when the genre was in rude health, and has nice touches of jazz among on bangers such as Hidden Camera. It’s the start of Photek’s catalogue getting some overdue love and I’m very much here for it. And so should you be.
Last year I found myself deep-diving through the Andy Williams catalogue for gems for a playlist, and my word there was some gold to be found among the otherwise charity shop staples. Seriously, his version of My Sweet Lord is seismic, as well as his vocal take of Love’s Theme. Ask me nicely and I’ll send you a link. Now comes a rather tremendous collection, When You Fall in Love: Lost Columbia Masters 1977-1982 which collects together rare and mostly unreleased music from a period when Williams fell off the radar slightly. It’s worth it primarily for the 1979 Disco Version of Love Story (Where Do I Begin) which has to heard to be believed, and should be part of any self-respecting DJ’s arsenal.
Associated with being part of the German Easy Listening brigade – he took it in turns with James Last to release an album every other month – Bert Kaempfert was briefly connected to The Beatles as he actually signed them to his own Bert Kaempfert Produktion label, as well as authoring Spanish Eyes, Strangers In The Night and L.O.V.E. Now his career is celebrated with a whopping 24-CD set celebrating 100 years since his birth. You’ll know A Swingin’ Safari and it’s here among the vast repertoire of lushness. The Bert Kaempfert Decca Collection spans releases from 1959-1970 and is literally the tip of the iceberg, but if you’re going to go for it, then there’s no better place to start with this galaxy-sized box of a lost and gently swooning world.
Let us blow the dust away, and give the NOW desk a once over with some Mr Sheen, for this month the Yearbook hits 1990! In fact the Yearbook has been hitting all different random years which has been an absolute delight, frustrating the mentalists who cry “WHAT ABOUT 1987???” as it cheerily winds its way from 1973 to 1992 to 1988 like a swaggering wonder. 1990 was an incredible year, as any crazed fool knows, with a new decade promising all sorts.
The indie lot (Happy Mondays, Primal Scream, Charlatans, The Farm) were down the rave-up, the rave-up itself welcomed the likes of fantastic new pop stars (Deee Lite, Adamski, KLF, Bassomatic, Betty Boo), and there were a series of brilliant, and dare I say iconic, singles (Nothing Compares 2 U, Praying For Time, Being Boring, Happening All Over Again, Hold On, Better The Devil You Know), some ’80s icons adjusting to the new pop world (Duran Duran, Human League, Adam Ant, a-ha, Jimmy Somerville) plus a host of radio playlist staples (Wilson Phillips, Alannah Myles, Maria McKee, Chris Isaak) along with weird and wonderful movie and TV tie-ins (Julee Cruise, Righteous Brothers, Bobby Vinton, Roxette, Partners In Kryme) and the best football-related single ever (ironically New Order’s worst single World In Motion). It’s a 79-track 4CD treat with a 3LP 44-track selection and reminds me of when I last had a fringe. Amazing.
As part of the ongoing The Spaceman Reissue Programme: Curated By J Spaceman series, comes Spiritualized’s 2003 album Amazing Grace. A somewhat stripped-back scene compared to the stuff that Spiritualized were known for – previous album Let It Come Down took four years to complete – it was made in a mere three weeks and recorded on the basis that the rest of the band would hear the songs for the first time on day of recording, and featured the single She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit). It’s a fantastic part of the ongoing voyage that is Spiritualized that doesn’t quite get the plaudits it deserves. Anyway, it’s out again and make this part of your life if you haven’t already.
Back when I was balls deep into Sonic Youth, and hoovering up absolutely anything and everything by them after a friend had given me his copy of Evol which he’d bought because he liked the cover but not the contents (the clot), Walls Have Ears was one of those hard-to-obtain bootlegs that someone like me in Ipswich could only dream about. Now, seeing as Sonic Youth have been quite into issuing their rare and unreleased stuff in the last couple of years – Live in Brooklyn, NY was one of the best releases of 2023 – they’ve decided to make Walls Have Ears properly available.
Which is quite good of them seeing as it was originally recorded at three 1985 shows without their consent, and featured drummer Bob Bert on two and then new boy Steve Shelley and the tracks are woven together with tape experiments and smashing old noise. It’s bloody marvellous. It’s on 2LP and cassette, and the coloured vinyl has already gone. Anyway, grab some history to enjoy loud when your noise-averse other half is out of the house.
Grapefruit’s ongoing exploration of the sounds of the ’70s hits 1974, with the tellingly titled Patterns On The Window: The British Progressive Pop Sounds of 1974. It’s 3CD 77-tracker compiling gems such as John Cale’s splendid The Man Who Couldn’t Afford To Orgy, Brian Protheroe’s Pinball, Fox’s Only You, Slade’s Far Far Away, Roxy Music’s A Really Good Time and Status Quo’s Break The Rules among others. It’s like a B-road through a splendid year that was otherwise full of post-glam debris and oncoming Rollermania. Properly groovesome.
East Village were one of those great nearly acts. They formed in High Wycombe in the mid-eighties, and fell in with the post-C86 jangle mafia, and issued their first two singles via Jeff Barret’s Sub Aqua label. They recorded their debut album Drop Out via assistance from Bob Stanley, and signed to Heavenly. Splitting onstage in 1991, their story seemed over, but after gentle demand issued Drop Out in 1993. It’s a splendid affair, slightly out of time with what was going on, but ultimately they found themselves with a timeless piece of work as word of mouth spread. Drop Out arrives as a 30ht(ish) anniversary vinyl edition with a 2CD compiling early singles and alternative versions. Give it a go, it’s an absolute treat.
Live In Paris 1973 is the latest in the series of Can, um, live albums. This time recorded in, er, Paris. That kinda sums it all up really, doesn’t it? It was overseen by founding member Irmin Schmidt and producer/engineer René Tinner, and is the first of the live series to feature Damo Suzuki on what would be one his final performances with the group, captured between their general ‘being on fire’ period between Ege Bamyasi and Future Days. It is, as has been proven by the releases so far, extremely very good and essential.
Jon Savage is a man who knows his onions as regards all this pop lark is concerned, and his latest compilation for Ace is a case in point. Jon Savage’s 1983-1985 – Welcome To Techno City collects 30 tracks from both the mainstream and underground during a period when post-punk had pretty much done all it wanted to with the NewPop explosion, and was gravitating to a more sophisticated dimension. The scrappy hand-drawn sleeves giving way to glossier presentation but still with a nod to what was going on in the streets as the past and present were all jostling for attention.
Political dancing with Bronski Beat’s Why, Malcolm X’s No Sell Out and Special AKA’s Bright Lights; the literal beat of the street with Rocksteady Crew and Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel; the wild west of sampling technology; frazzled psych with The Jesus & Mary Chain and Julian Cope, and hints of the way ahead with Shalamar’s Disappearing Act, Cybotron’s Techno City and Pet Shop Boys’ In The Night. A Sav compilation is, as always, a marker of exquisite taste and updates the series nicely.
There was no band more seemingly out of step with their surroundings than The Dream Academy in 1985. The trio of Nick Laird-Clowes (or Loud-Clothes as Smash Hits renamed him), Gilbert Gabriel and Kate St. John beguiled with their gentle folky, widescreen big pop across three albums – The Dream Academy (1985), Remembrance Days (1987) and A Different Kind of Weather (1990) – and a handful of hits such as Life In A Northern Town and their cover of The Smiths’ Please Please Please Let Get What I Want.
Befriending David Gilmour was a fortuitous move with him playing guitar and co-producing much of their debut, Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham producing the follow-up and there’s contributions from R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and seasoned sessioneers Dave Mattacks, Guy Pratt and Pino Palladino. Now, Loud-Clothes has collected together those albums alongside two extra discs of B-sides and rarities for a five-disc box set called Religion, Revolution & Railways (The Complete Recordings). It’s an elegant and exhaustive reminder of a very singular and unique outfit.
Speaking of 1985 (sort of), 1985 is the title taken for The Waterboys’ latest box set detailing the genesis of their landmark album This Is The Sea. Across six CDs of 95 tracks – a whopping 64 of them unreleased – there are home recordings, demos, live sessions and TV and radio versions as well as the album itself. Phew. It’s pretty much all the This Is The Sea you could wish for. Along with a big ol’ 220-page book, it’s understandable that there’s only 3000 copies available worldwide. If that’s a bit too much This Is The Sea, then a more readily available remastered version of the album itself will be available as a clear vinyl. You can literally hear the whole of the moon* (*This Is The Sea).
You’d have thought ‘being Paul McCartney’ has been a non-stop wild ride of being enormously famous and fab, but in the early ’70s that wasn’t quite the case. While his previous colleagues had all set about solo careers with huge success and general post-Beatles haze, McCartney hadn’t quite got into his groove at that point. He’d established himself as a family man, moving out to a farm to smoke weed and raise kids, but his critical stock had taken a slight battering. That was until the release of Band On The Run in November 1973. The making of the album wasn’t without palavers for the Wings group – they’d lost two members of the band ahead of going to Lagos to record, and while there were robbed at gunpoint, found themselves recording in a bit of a shithole studio and were met with suspicion by the area’s musicians. Quite stressful, eh readers?
However, with a couple of standout bangers in the form of Jet and the title track, it re-established McCartney as a master craftsman of pop once more. Aside from the headline tracks, there’s also the amazing Let Me Roll It which I once had an E epiphany to, but the full story of that is not for here. So, obviously as it’s (just over) 50 years since the release, Band On The Run is now back out in an expanded form on 2LP and 2CD versions, both featuring the ‘Underdubbed Mixes’ which were compiled ahead of the album’s original release, and are basically the songs without the bells and whistles of strings and the like, plus with the addition of Helen Wheels in the tracklisting mirroring the US release. If you’re unfaffed by that, here’s also the original album remastered as a standalone vinyl.
Right well that’s about it for this first proper column of 2024. Until next time. Not sure what I’ll write about next month. It’s definitely looking like Orbital, Girls Aloud and Electribe 101 will be involved. Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll turn this column into a deep dive on crisps instead. Toodle pip!