The Orchids - Who Needs Tomorrow... A 30 Year Retrospective - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Orchids - Who Needs Tomorrow... A 30 Year Retrospective

by Jeff Penczak Rating:9 Release Date:2017-09-29

Not to be confused with Kim Fowley’s post-Runaways attempt at reviving Phil Spector’s girl group sound or the contemporary Fall offshoot Blue Orchids, these are the Glaswegian Orchids of Sarah fame. For Disc One’s “Best Of” set, the members themselves cherry (red) picked some of their favourite tracks from their 30-year career (technically 20, since they took a decade off in the mid-90s). A second disc of “Rarities”, mostly culled from unreleased demos completes the retrospective. The package seems to be aimed at fans who’ve recently discovered the band since their 2007 comeback on Siesta (Good To Be A Stranger), since nearly half the “Best Of” selections and two-thirds of the “Rarities” are from the reunion years. As such, early fans may want to hunt down Sarah’s own collection of highlights from their early years, Epicurean.

     Introductions aside, there’s still a lot to enjoy here, beginning with ‘Apology’ off their debut EP (and Sarah’s second release overall) “I’ve Got A Habit” (1988), which set the blueprint for their jingly-jangly pop and launched a cottage industry that still melts hearts at a thousand paces. James Hackett’s yearning, boy-next-door vocals and the band’s three-guitar attack (Hackett on acoustic, accompanied by lead guitarist John Scally and rhythm guitarist Matthew Drummond) created a wall of feathers floating around infectious melodies and puppy love lyrics that placed the band at the forefront of the twee movement that rattled windows and resonated throughout dorm (and bed) rooms around the world. [Completists and curiosity seekers will be thrilled that their debut release, the 1987 flexi ‘From This Day’ leads off the “Rarities” disc, and even the tinny quality of the recording can’t disguise the brilliant ideas and swarming melody that lie within and signal Big Things ahead!]

     ‘Defy The Law’ from their second EP could have appeared on any of Felt’s early albums, as could ‘Bemused, Confused and Bedraggled’ from the 1991 “Penetration” EP and ‘It’s Only Obvious’ from their (and Sarah’s) first album, Lyceum. [In fact, Felt fans will find a lot to like throughout The Orchids’ catalogue. ‘Obsession #1’, for example, is practically a rewrite of ‘Hours of Darkness Have Changed My Mind’.] Nearly 30 years on, ‘It’s Only Obvious’ still tugs at the heartstrings with its fatalistic refrain, “Who needs tomorrow/When all I needed was you”. ‘Something for The Longing’ sees the band stretching out past the five-minute mark to explore life outside the typical jingly/jangly twee environments, and score with a rousing singalong that feels like it should have graced one of John Hughes’ “brat back” soundtracks (Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles). Fans of Haircut 100 and Nick Heyward’s subsequent solo efforts will also enjoy.

     The Unholy Soul album is represented by the dreamy, story song ’Long Drawn Sunday Night’, an introspective weeper that encourages handholding and snuggling up with a loved one. It also introduces us to the charming, radio-friendly ear candy of second vocalist Pauline Hynds. By the time of 1991’s exquisite ‘Thaumaturgy’, a slight Style Council groove has drifted into the tunes, although The Orchids were never a dance band, so thankfully that was a short-lived experiment. (Not sure if that had anything with the band’s dissolution after their subsequent dance-friendly, electronic album tanked.) But I did like the jazzy softshoe shuffle of the snappy little heartstopper, ‘A Kind of Eden’ from their final Sarah album Striving For The Lazy Perfection, and “perfection” it is, with Hynds’ irresistible, multi-tracked vocals just this side of the heavenly warbling of Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell. That this, or the rest of their Sarah catalogue weren’t million-selling chart toppers is one of the great crimes of the British music industry in the early 90s. A true “critics band”, all of their releases were extremely well reviewed, but those raves sadly didn’t result in sales and they disbanded around 1995.

     But you can’t keep talent under wraps for too long, and most of the band regrouped a decade later for the Good To Be A Stranger album on Spanish imprint, Siesta. ‘Another Saturday Night’ has a bit of a Squeeze vibe running through it (naught wrong with that) – even the melody has a familiar ring to it (comments below if you can figure it out). A move to Pebble Records a few years later yielded the peppy, poppy ‘She’s My Girl’ single, their best since reforming (and apparently the label’s debut release: catalogue # PEBBLE 001). Pebble’s second release was the The Lost Star album, featuring the smooth as silk, Bryan Ferry-esque, string-drenched ‘The Girl and The Soldier’. Unfortunately, it’s at least a minute too long, but, hey, there’s not a jangly guitar in sight, so marks for expanding the musical palette.

     The title ‘The Way That You Move’ alone should be a warning that we might be treading back into dangerous disco territory, so we’ll move on to the first of three tracks from their most recent (2014) album Beatitude #9, ‘Hey! Sometimes’, which finds Hackett continuing to veer into what I’ll call his “Bryan Ferry/Scott Engel/Stuart Staples crooner phase”. ‘Something’s Going On’ titptoes back into bubbly pop, but still retains that ‘90s sheen that endeared us to them all those many years ago (Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Simply Red, et. al.)

     As mentioned earlier, the Rarities disc may appease the newer “comeback” fans (old timers should seek out the LTM reissues of the Sarah albums, which are chock full of contemporary rarities). Following on from the aforementioned ‘From This Day’ flexi, the previously unreleased 1986 demo for ‘My Sacred Hour’ is mostly Lorna Duncan’s sax-driven instro, but tentative, hushed vocals and a soothing, romantic melody again recall vintage Felt. And the practice rehearsal of ‘It’s Only Obvious’ gets at the meat of the melody with Hackett almost sounding like he’s afraid to raise his voice above a whisper.

     The ‘Whitley Bay’ demo lets us trace how the band develops their material, as it later morphed into ‘A Place Called Home’ on their Lyceum debut a year later, and you can also enjoy the demo for ‘And When I Wake Up’, an unreleased track only performed on a Peel Session. The final “rarity” from their first phase is an unreleased acoustic version of ‘Welcome To My Curious Heart’ (from their Striving For The Lazy Perfection finale), and it’s a dreamy affair with an interesting Stones-meets-Tindersticks vibe, wrapped up in a Pauline Hynds vocal that completes this tasty little morsel of goodness.

     The remainder of the rarities stem from their reunion sessions in the last decade. You can hear a  slight rasp slip into Hackett’s vocals, perhaps a few too many fags or whiskies coating the tonsils. But it’s aged well, more Black than Red Label. And just as important, the melodies and the yearning, emotional delivery is still there. Just check out their two tribute contributions, ‘Magic In Here’ from the tribute to the late Go-Betweens’ singer Grant McLennan (Love Goes On, Rare Victory 2007) and ‘The Lost Star’ from the tribute to the late Keith Girdler from Sarah labelmates, Blueboy.

     A lovely piano permeates the teardrops that trickle down the cheek courtesy the nostalgic ‘Placa San Sebastián’, and its tingly, goosebump-inducing partner on ‘The Way You Move’ EP (‘I Just Don’t Care’) also gets a CD debut. And the headshaking magnificence of the previously unreleased ‘And I Paint A Picture’ demonstrates beyond  shadow of a doubt that The Orchids’ unreleased stuff is a damn sight better than half the stuff passing for “chart hits” these days.

     Despite the occasional synth burp, ‘One Last Cigarette’ is the kind of tender love ballad we lined up to purchase every time the weeklies announced a new Orchids’ album, yet this was omitted from their most recent album, 2014’s Beatitude #9. So settle back and let these 38 tracks explain once again why The Orchids always were (and always will be) one of the music world’s dearest, most beloved treasures. If their picture is next to “Cult Band” in the dictionary, so be it. You know that these bands have a special place in your heart that is even extra special when it seems like only you and your closest friends know who they are. It’s like you’ve stumbled on to your personal pot of gold that you can take out, shine up, and cherish every once in a while when you need cheering up. Who Needs Tomorrow is kinda like that feeling.

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