This modestly-priced three-disc set is Australian singer-songwriter Ed Kuepper’s personal summation of his solo career since 1990. Hold on – you need some gaps filling?
In the mid-to-late �70s, Ed played guitar with The Saints, belting out the adrenalin-charged (I’m) Stranded, a debut album with attitude in spades. It stole a march on the still-learning British punk era bands, and saw the band appear briefly on Top Of The Pops with This Perfect Day. Ultimately feeling compromised, Ed quit the band to form Laughing Clowns, to further his interests in writing and particularly the horn arrangements that had forced their way into much of The Saints‘ more ambitious work.
Laughing Clowns’music, neither rock nor jazz, threw the rule book aside, songs with difficult time signatures and wildly imaginative structures, but songs that were always ridiculously strong on melody. They boasted a drummer with more ideas in a single fill than most trap-beaters can manage in a career, and a revolving door of horn players who allied discipline to their naturally wilder tendencies.
They fell apart a few years later, critical acclaim at their backs, but internal strife and the poverty of living in London – the undoing of many Antipodean bands who try to break out – in the end were all too much. It’s all been recently compiled by Hot in the last-word three-disc Cruel But Fair set.
Ed’s solo career has continued to take bold and unpredictable turns. In the 1990s he was seemingly chucking out an album every few months – the acoustic sets, the full-on blistering rock albums, soundtracks and instrumentals, mail-order only affairs, and euphoric pop – with or without Moby-influenced techno bearings. His gift for a great tune rarely was absent, despite the relentlessly prolific output. Arguably the sheer volume of material worked to his detriment in the wider world.
This is the Magic Mile picks up after his first three solo albums (which have been compiled before) and offers a scattershot selection of the artist’s choices from 1990’s Today Wonder through to 2000’s Smile…Pacific (incidentally both are flawless sets). The nature of the compilation will frustrate and annoy fans – while two-thirds comprises essential Ed, the rest is the kind of material that, whilst certainly not without merit, will cause much debate.
Nonetheless, for the uninitiated it’s an excellent primer, including as it does the mock gospel of Sleepy Head, the almost Booker T and the MGs-like Real Wild Life, the understated lament-turned-majestic brass band parade of Here to Get My Baby From Jail and the all-out classic Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You. The latter in the hands of a mainstream balladeer would surely take the charts by storm. In a musical world less concerned with flavours of the month, any of the other songs would today be household names.
It’s difficult to emphasise enough the variety in the repertoire featured here. The 49 tracks lead off in so many directions that the Kuepper virgin may well be bewildered by its expanse. Good advice would be to follow what grabs you and then follow up on the original albums, most of which are well worth a punt.
Ed Kuepper’s last new studio album was in 2000. Since then he’s been quiet, though musically active. This is the Magic Mile draws a line under the past, and will have you counting the days to the next album, which rumour has it is just around the corner.