23 Skidoo

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JUST LIKE EVERYBODY PART 2

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RONIN

As with ESG, 23 Skidoo are enjoying fresh reappraisal. Following on from last year’s album reissues, these compendiums will thrill aficionados and newcomers alike. The Gospel Comes To New Guinea zooms in on their industrial/improv strengths via the grisly tape loops of “Just Like Everybody” and floor-magnet “Coup” (appropriated by the Chemicals on “Block Rockin’ Beats”)

Just Like Everybody Part 2 features largely unreleased material from when 23 Skidoo evolved into production unit Ronin: blueprints for Ninja Tune-style jazzy hip hop.

West World

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This twin-disc survey, compiled by Uncut’s contributing editor Nigel Williamson, tells you everything you need to know about “Americana”, alt.country, or whatever else you’d call it. It highlights the strengths of this fairly elastic genre?its rootsiness, melodic qualities, indie-style rejection of studio airbrushing, and tolerance, or even encouragement of, idiosyncrasy?while also exposing what drives non-believers nuts. In the latter category come a certain saminess of tone and tempo, a reliance on a narrow template of instruments, and the absence of enough genuinely original talents working in this field. For example, if Josh Rouse or Thea Gilmore didn’t exist, how many people would actually notice? Is any adjective stronger than ‘agreeable’ really applicable to the Radar Brothers or Dan Bern? Does BR5-49’s version of “Hickory Wind” serve any purpose other than to drive listeners back to the Gram Parsons original?

At least it gives the real talents the space to shine, like Steve Earle with “John Walker’s Blues” and disc one’s opener, Bob Dylan’s “High Water”. Sounding older than the hills and more inexplicable than the universe itself, the Bard serves up an object lesson in the timeless mysteries of American folk and blues. Lambchop hit a fragile, soulful note with “I Can Hardly Spell My Name”, The Flaming Lips provide “Do You Realize??”, and Jeff Finlin underlines his simmering potential with “I Am The King”, a starkly melancholic affair containing more than a hint of the young Randy Newman. Warren Zevon’s darkly Leonard Cohen-ish “You’re A Whole Different Person When You’re Scared” isn’t his best-ever song, but at least it’s by Warren Zevon, while Silver Jews risk a tarring-and-feathering with “Horseleg Swastika”. Nice to see the criminally unsung Rodney Crowell in here with “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen”.

One encouraging aspect of this collection is the strong showing by the Brit contingent. Grand Drive’s “Track 40’s Gone” lights up disc two, hotly pursued by The Arlenes and the desolate “Lonely Won’t Leave Me Alone”. A tip of the hat, too, to The Vessels and their cunningly off-kilter “Don’t Waste Your Time”.

Food for thought.

To Helvetia And Back

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Nowhere is the line between genius and madness so thin and permeable in recent music than in the work of Miles Davis; nor is there any critical divide deeper in jazz than the line drawn by Bitches Brew in 1969. Opinion on the 22 years of music he continued to make thereafter is still fundamentally fissured on the issue of whether what Davis played in his long final period can be called music at all. This gigantic 20-disc boxed set, retailing at an amazing

Utopia – Bootleg Series Vol 2—Ksan 95FM Live 79

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Todd Rundgren’s ’70s heyday has been late in busting into the legit-bootleg CD reissue market, but this power-pack of prog-punk-pop does help to redress the balance. “Love Alone”, “Trapped” and “Last Of The New Wave Riders”, here, can only be described as the hybrid of an ecstatically damaged mind, one of rock’s tightest-ever bands and sheer live energy. Music to punch the air to.

Carole King

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MUSIC/FANTASY

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WRAP AROUND JOY/THOROUGHBRED

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HER GREATEST HITS

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ODE/EPIC

With her first husband, Gerry Goffin, Carole King wrote many distinguished songs for other artists during the early ’60s. After her break-up from Goffin, she embarked on a solo singer-songwriter career with Writer (1970), following it up with her multi-million-selling hit album Tapestry (1971).

Of the remainder of her records on Ode/Epic, only 1973’s Fantasy attained the same level of artistic and commercial success, although the rest of what she recorded rarely fell below her basic high standards. This two-albums-on-one-disc selection from her early ’70s work is complete but for Really Rosie (1975).

Sugarhill Gang – Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five

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Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five

THE MESSAGE

SUGARHILL

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“Rapper’s Delight” may have opened an extremely important floodgate, but God does it go on. Unexpectedly, but thankfully, three of the six tracks on the Sugarhill Gang’s 1980 debut album are exquisite post-Philly soul ballads (“Passion Play” is almost a “Moments In Love” prototype). Otherwise, the rapping has dated very badly.

On Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five’s 1982 debut, “Wheels Of Steel” and “The Message” remain astonishingly fresh, but too many gloopy ballads undermine the rest of the album. Only the brutal electro of “Scorpio” stands up. Neophytes should instead be directed to the excellent 1999 three-CD Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel compilation for a definitive Flash overview.

Jethro Tull

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MINSTREL IN THE GALLERY

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TOO OLD TO ROCK’N’ROLL… TOO YOUNG TO DIE!

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ALL EMI

This was Ian Anderson’s three-album atonement for his intemperate 1973 ‘retirement’ after press criticism. The sprightly War Child (1974) and the hauntedly excellent Minstrel In The Gallery (1975) bristle with ideas and a genuinely innovative flair for rethinking rock harmony, rhythm and texture (notwithstanding the former’s horrid string arrangements).

Too Old To Rock ‘N’ Roll… (1976), however, was a riposte too far; arid, self-regarding and mundane, it’s an unlikely prelude to the band’s 1977 masterpiece, Songs From The Wood.

Elton John – Greatest Hits 1970-2002

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Thirty-four songs spread over two CDs: an impressive record by anyone’s standards, even if some of the later ‘hits’ were comparatively minor ones. In addition, there are tracks (eg, “Tiny Dancer”, “Bennie And The Jets”) which weren’t hit singles but album favourites. Further selections?”Levon” from Madman Across The Water, “Pinball Wizard”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, “Border Song”, “True Love”, “I Don’t Want To Go On With You Like That” and others?appear on a limited-edition third disc.

Lee Hazlewood – These Boots Were Made For Walkin’—The Complete MGM Recordings

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In between helming an incredible nine Reprise albums for Nancy Sinatra (1966-69), Hazlewood’s dazzlingly brief MGM career fetched up three solo efforts. The Very Special World Of… and Lee Hazlewood-ism: Its Cause And Cure are both indelibly stamped with the man’s chocolate-deep tenor and arranger Billy Strange’s grandiose orchestral vistas.

The real treat is Something Special, shelved at the time to ease the return to Reprise and here making its digital debut. Pared down to acoustic guitar and piano, this is Hazlewood at once ruminative, playful and self-lacerating, not least on “Stone Cold Blues”: “Why do they call the steak Sinatral And the hamburger Hazlewood?” Essential cuisine nonetheless.

The Cowboy Junkies – The Best Of The Cowboy

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Since their home-produced Trinity Sessions scored big in 1988, delighting critics with their radical reworkings of “Blue Moon” and “Sweet Jane” (both included here), the Cowboy Junkies have recorded half a dozen studio albums and a couple of live sets. True, much of their material sounds samey, and even Margot Timmins’ haunting voice can grate after a while, but lyrically they travel amazing territory (see “A Horse In The Country”) and are capable of variety: “Southern Rain” is a “Day Tripper”-ish rocker, “To Live Is To Fly” is a hootenanny delight and Townes Van Zandt’s “Cowboy Junkies Lament” is positively jaunty. If you need a second Cowboy Junkies album, this is probably the one.

Robert Palmer – At His Very Best

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You might imagine a world awash with Bob Palmer’s bird-pulling confections, but this TV-advertised disc hits the dreaded Christmas market adding a remixed “Addicted To Love” to the usual “Some Guys”/”Every Kinda People” choices. Palmer’s New Orleans sojourn, which resulted in ’74’s Allen Toussaint-produced Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley, is where he came in as a solo artist, and his polished, gents’ club pop is brought up to date with a sneak preview from new disc Drive. Fancy the roof down?

Edwin Starr

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WAR & PEACE/INVOLVED

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BOTH MOTOWN

For diehard Northern Soulsters, the crowd-pleasing Edwin Starr remains the true essence of the Motown sound. Though perhaps now best known for the Norman Whitfieldproduced “War” (which he later performed with Bruce Springsteen), it’s the four-to-the-floor Starr-man of “S.O.S. [Stop Her On Sight]”, “Agent 00 Soul”, “Headline News” and “25 Miles” that sustains his cult following. Of these two-albums-on-one-CD packages, Soul Master/25 Miles will enthral ’60s purists while War & Peace/Involved is for those who prefer their soul psychedelic.

Sparks – This Album’s Big Enough… The Best Of

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A near-definitive Sparks compilation at last, with the early glam-opera hits (like the truly thrilling “Amateur Hour”) striding hand-in-hand with the Giorgio Moroder techno try-outs (the boiling “Beat The Clock”). Still madder than a helicopter full of marmalade (witness berserk new album Li’l Beethoven), Ron and Russ Mael were striking ’70s subversives (“Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth”) and effervescent ’80s visionaries (“Dance Godammit”). “Dada art-pop noir”, in fact, as Paul Lester’s sleevenotes surmise. Ahead of their time, then as now.

David Bowie – Best Of Bowie

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Well, it doesn’t get much better. When Judgement Day comes, most of you will rescue a Beatles album from the flames, but a healthy percentage of us will shove this in our pockets. Worn out that Changesbowie and The Singles Collection? This double gathers 39 steps to greatness: all the kinky glam (“Drive-In Saturday”: perfection? Discuss) and Berlin angst hits, plus the ’80s floor-fillers. It rushes through recent times, ignoring Hours… but perversely finding room for “Hallo Spaceboy”.

You don’t need me to spell genius for you, though you may need me to spout on about how sharply inventive “Blue Jean” is. Overall, not too shabby.

Carpenters – The Essential Collection 1965-97

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Richard Carpenter is one of the few composers/arrangers to understand properly, and develop, the innovations of Brian Wilson, and in his sister Karen he had the perfect voice to articulate his concept. The first two of these four CDs (covering 1965-73) are divine, faultless; Karen’s voice is apostolic in its compassion (“Superstar”) and stark in its vulnerability (“Goodbye To Love”). Sadly, from 1974 onwards their work was largely by-the-book MOR; but the real revelation here is the astonishing invention and sophistication of their early work: songs like “All I Can Do” and “Eve” are utopian and ethereal in their arrangements.

David Thomas – Monster

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As deadpan existential clowns in American post-punk go, Pere Ubu’s David Thomas was always more difficult, more abstract, but in many ways more rewarding than his skinnier counterpart David Byrne.

His ’80s albums, recorded with Richard Thompson and former members of Henry Cow as well as analogue synth genius Allen Ravenstine, skirt the edges of rock and performance art, a disorienting mosaic of old rhymes, shanties, traditional forms and avant garde which excite a nameless, quivering sense of fascination and dread.

His recent work with Two Pale Boys, included here, is among his very best.

Dreams Never End

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Conceived in the shadow of tragedy 22 years ago, New Order forged a new kind of soul music from the ashes of Joy Division. Working-class and irony-free, their savage humour straining to contain a burst dam of raw emotion, they burned with elemental passion without ever appearing to give a fuck. They were irreverent. They were inconsolable.

New Order annexed a new branch on pop’s family tree, defiantly shunning both American blues-based rock’n’roll ‘authenticity’ and the folk-tinged, music-hall heritage of post-Beatles Britain.

Avant-garde, progressive, they carried post-punk alienation to the top of the charts and chemical euphoria to the football terraces. They applied heroic punk amateurism to pristine disco dynamics, finding new melodic uses for Peter Hook’s highwire basslines, and deep wells of emotion in Stephen Morris’ and Gillian Gilbert’s primitive electronics. They also rocked like bastards.

Compiled by journalist and author Miranda Sawyer, the introductory disc in the Retro quartet, “Pop”, is essentially a greatest hits, sketching New Order’s drivetime surface story from “Ceremony” and “Confusion” to “Crystal” and “Brutal”. Nobody would argue with ’80s peaks like the devotional disco of “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Perfect Kiss”, nor the sublime desolation of “Regret”, scientifically provable as the finest British single ever recorded.

The inclusion of such epochal 45s as “Blue Monday” and “True Faith” can hardly be faulted, either. Even though some of us New Order bores would have lobbied for the more underrated “Run”, “World”, and the achingly lovely original of “1963”, the one on the B-side of “True Faith”, over Arthur Baker’s muted 1995 remix.

More engaging for diehards and converts alike is the second disc, “Fan”. Compiled by former Face reporter and DJ John McCready, it cherry-picks album tracks, B-sides and rarities from New Order’s back pages. Here is a shattered quartet feeling its way from despair to disco, absorbing and abusing technology with fertile recklessness, and road-testing a decade’s worth of designer drugs along the way.

Fashioned from the last lyrics of Joy Division vocalist Ian Curtis, “In A Lonely Place” is funereal and monumental, a snow-covered Soviet war grave produced by the legendary Factory producer Martin Hannett (it was originally the B-side to New Order’s debut single, “Ceremony”). The glacial symphonic glide of “Your Silent Face” was initially christened “KW1”, in homage to Kraftwerk, although Dusseldorf’s techno godfathers bury their emotions in music whereas Bernard Sumner seems to expose every raw nerve.

From “Let’s Go” (an instrumental from the soundtrack to 1988’s Salvation, given words and extra propulsion back in 1995) to “Cries And Whispers” (taken off 1981’s “Everything’s Gone Green” 12-inch), the singer plays the eternally bruised victim of a million betrayals. Which is all very well, but where’s “Thieves Like Us”? (Bizarrely, its B-side, “Lonesome Tonight”, IS on “Fan”).

The rhythms got sleeker and tougher, although even as early as the Hooky-sung “Dreams Never End” (from their debut album Movement) New Order were using traditional instruments to approximate the sequenced throb of primitive electro (even if Curtis had lived, Joy Division might have ‘gone dance’ anyway?he was getting into Giorgio Moroder before his death). Unsung second single “Procession” relocated Studio 54 to east Berlin, while “Sooner Than You Think” yanked a magnificent hi-NRG hangover from a drunken bust-up with roadies in Ramsgate. Who says romance is dead? Meanwhile, New Order built Britain’s first superclub years ahead of schedule, and almost went bankrupt waiting for acid house to catch up with them.

Of course, rave culture finally repaid New Order with elder statesman kudos and chart-topping singles. And yet, ironically, they have rarely been well served by remixers. The diluted purity has generally proved their first instincts to be right, reversing the alchemy of their studio blueprints. That said, Mike Pickering’s remix anthology, “Club”, the third CD here, is ripe with parallel pop narratives, although tellingly it includes the faultless original versions of Valhalla-bound disco-metal projectile “Touched By The Hand Of God” and the psychedelic electro of “Everything’s Gone Green”. They should be on “Pop”, of course, but who’s complaining?

Some mixes feel stranded in time, like Shep Pettibone’s extended “Bizarre Love Triangle” and John Robie’s cluttered “Shellshock”, all rigid ’80s superstructure and boxy bonus beats. Chicago house godfather Steve “Silk” Hurley fashions a safe but palatable disco-party-megamix of “Fine Time”, but it is often the radical digressions which complement New Order’s inherent sense of fuck-off irreverence: Jam & Spoon’s ticklish happy-hardcore trance-lation of “Blue Monday”, for example, or Sabres Of Paradise’s plaintive dubtronic reconstruction of “Regret”.

Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie initially culled the live disc, the fourth and final part of Retro?titled, with dour Mancunian logic, “Live”?from ancient history, necessitating a last-minute intervention by the band themselves. Perhaps Gillespie believes true soul and magic lurk only in runic relics, but New Order disprove such glib mythologising. Having personally witnessed many of the later shows extracted here, it is clear that their electric anti-charisma remains erratic but undimmed. “In A Lonely Place” is the earliest recording, snatched from New Order’s notorious Glastonbury debut in 1981, where Sumner drank himself horizontal. The clenched-teeth versions of “Regret” and “As It Is When It Was” from their poignant Reading Festival set in 1993, when the band despised each other and seemed unlikely ever to share a stage again, are full-bodied and charged with drama.

Purists and trend-surfers will tell you New Order are a spent force in 2002 after last year’s commercially successful but musically conservative return to guitar rock, Get Ready. But the tracks on Retro from their 1986 album Brotherhood, which married acoustic textures to sequencers, show a clear continuity at work. And Billy Corgan’s exquisitely woozy duet with Bernard on “Turn My Way” from last year’s Liverpool comeback, the first New Order show in 20 years without Gilbert, now sounds less like the end of an era than the start of a fresh chapter.

Indeed, everything on this four-disc retrospective sounds fresher and more innovative than the current crop of transient twentysomething guitar-torchers with their piffling pastiches of older men’s glory. They might not acknowledge it, but their musical legacy is beyond reach: untouchable, unimpeachable, immortal.

Dancing In The Dark

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Fate decided it should be the sound of The Eagles which travelled around the world and defined the popular clich

Various Artists – Elec-Trax

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With hindsight, the synthesizer has sins aplenty to atone for, but as the ’80s dawned it was embraced as the future of all things shiny and cool. Young men with shocking haircuts stood behind it, swearing allegiance to Aryan aesthetics and red leather blousons. Among these: Spandau cutting long stories short, Gary Numan and Ultravox. Soft Cell’s “Torch” remembered to incorporate emotion; Japan’s “Quiet Life” raised the bar, nudged the sublime. Cred-again (who’d have thought?) Tears For Fears warned us it was a mad world. From the mouths of knob-twiddlers…

Isaac Hayes – Groove-A-Thon

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Told often enough that his sex-tastic rhythms and lavish strings had inspired this new-fangled “disco” thang, a confused Hayes hurled his gleaming frame into that movement with this overlooked ’76 opus, which is nothing if not accurately titled. Written and recorded in eight sleepless days (in tandem with instrumental LP Disco Connection), a financially-motivated Hayes doesn’t scale his own peaks here, but his so-so funk shudders are mightier than the meatiest of most. And the ballads?”Wish You Were Here”, “Make A Little Love”?burn.