Various Artists - C89 - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Various Artists - C89

by Jeff Penczak Rating:7 Release Date:2018-07-27
Various Artists - C89
Various Artists - C89

I’m sat here somewhat despondent over the news that ex-NME editor, freakbeat artist (The Executive’s classic ‘Tracy Took A Trip’), author/musicologist of the much-loved Illustrated Record series of band discographies (Beatles, Stones, Bowie,, and creator of the influential Cnn series of cassettes Roy Carr has passed from a heart attack at 73. Cherry Red has continued his series, which presumably culminates in this latest 3-disc set which focuses (for the most part – nearly two dozen tracks are from 1988 and 1990!) on the end-of-decade transition from indies to majors, as many artists eschewed their principals for cold hard cash, better distribution (the indie Cartel’s demise spelled the end of Red Rhino, with flagship indies Rough Trade and Factory to follow), and fame and recognition for all their hard work. As such, you get the formative early releases of bands that went on to bigger and better things, but the barrel also runs dry with too many acts who are just as unknown today as when their initial salvos failed to attract attention 25+ years ago. You also get a quick history lesson in the inherent frustrations built in to a life in the music biz, as many, if not most of these artists seemed to jump ship after each release to try their luck at another label.

Still, that’s not to say the set is worthless dross, as the pot is sweetened with a few “previously unreleased” gems, and just because you’ve never heard of about 2/3rds of these acts or songs doesn’t necessarily awaken the bullshit detector in all of us. Compiler John Reed and annotator Neil Taylor have opted for the lesser-known tracks to represent many of the artists, so prepare for numerous B-sides and tracks lifted off obscure, long out-of-print EPs, both of which will attract collectors and punters with long memories. We’re not going to pull the typical whining and bemoaning the track selection act, except to question in-house label hero Felt’s absence (surely anything from their career swansong Me And A Monkey On The Moon deserved to elbow out one of the weaker tracks?) as well as the too-numerous instances wherein Reed and Taylor exceeded their remit by inserting leftovers from their C88 box which obviously have no place on a C89 comp. So, away we go.

Eschewing the LA’s brilliant but overcomped ‘There She Goes’, Reed flips it over for the blatant Ian Dury rip off ‘Come In Come Out’ which could have been omitted entirely or highlighted on C88 where it (chronologically) belongs! The nascent punky scrapings of Stoke Newington’s Family Cat belie future chart champions like ‘Wonderful Excuse’, with ‘Tom Verlaine’ having about as much to do with the Television frontman as Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Gene Clark’ does with the Byrds’ prince of Beatlesque pop hooks! Lancashire’s Milltown Brothers jingle jangle their way into power pop hearts all over with their strident Elliott Murphy-sounding ‘Which Way Should I Jump’. Sadly, a slew of EPs and albums failed to find a public looking ahead to Britpop, but their back catalogue is worth investigating. Anyone turned on by the dreamy druggy new album from The Telescopes would be cautioned about checking out their earlier noisefests, represented here by the typically nihilistic ‘Nothing’ from 1989’s “7th # Disaster” EP. Shoegazers and fans of the earsplitting racket of Loop and Spacemen 3 may fare better. One of the few bands on the comp who are still active 30 years on.

Sarah Records were still championing dreamy twee melancholia and one of their flagships projects were the sublime trio Brighter, whose ‘Inside Out’ is the dictionary definition of “pastoral pop”. (Love the XTC lyrical nod, too!) Korova Milk Bar’s ‘Do It Again’ amply illustrates their “Brummie New Order” tag, while The Sun and The Moon disappoint considerably, considering their pedigree (The Chameleons’ rhythm section). They also give compiler Taylor fits, misnaming their eponymous album title and wrongly placing a guitar in bassist Mark Burgess’ hands!)

The Ogdens are new to me (and their gorgeous 1988 debut single ‘It’s A Beautiful Day’ technically doesn’t belong here), but based on the strength of this perfect slice of nostalgic whimsy I think I have some investigating to do. 2009’s Mad Rush compilation just made my shopping list. Another track technically too early for this comp, The Seers’ aggressive 1988 pop psych single ‘Freedom Trip’ should please Julian Cope/Teardrop Explodes fans (and wait for the Stones’ medley they sneak in at the end!) And fans of Lou Reed/Velvet Undergrounds melodic pop side may enjoy The Candy Darlings’ ‘That’s Where Caroline Lives'.

Another newbie (to me), PO! create stark, guitar-driven pop, with Ruth (PO!) Miller’s in-your-ear vocals making you sit up and take notice. It’s worth the attention, as ‘Confidence’ is rather brilliant in a poppy, Primitives vein, and her/their hefty self-released (on Rutland) discography also makes my shortlist for my next record shop trip. I also like The Bardots’ dreamy tearjerker ‘Sad Anne’. Their albums may also merit a listen to hear if they can match this winner.

The Ammonites’ ‘Days In The Sun’ is another nostalgic lookback to better days and leaves a lump in the throat in a “been there, done that” sort of way. Taylor suggests a Sarah Records influence, but they’re a little too aggressive to my ear to wear that label. Still, I’ll be playing this one a lot this summer. How Many Beans Make 5 is a terrible band name, but it’s in keeping with their playful, Jonathan Richman/Violent Femmes-styled quirky syncopated pop as evidenced by debut split flexi (both for them and the La-Di-Da imprint) ‘Another Friendly Face’. Mickey Rourke’s Fridge may be one of the best label names ever, and Irish jangle poppers Hey Paulette put it to good use with the heartwrenching ‘Commonplace’. Another anachronism from 1988, but good for a spin or three nevertheless. Kit‘s vocalist sounds a little too much like Chrissie Hynde to escape Pretenders comparisons, but ‘Cheatin’ My Heart’’s inclusion won my heart with its giggly, cowpoke storytelling. Finally, CD 1 ends on a bum note with Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine’s dreadfully annoying rap attack, ‘Sheriff Fatman’ and here’s another example of an overcomped track that I wish Reed gave the boot to as he did with the LA’s should’ve-been-disc-opener, ‘There She Goes’.

Disc 2 delivers a killer collection of kickass tracks. One masterpiece after another trickles out of your speakers, from the Stone Roses B-side ‘Going Down’ that’s better than most acts’ A-sides to the utterly brilliant Popguns, whose classic tale of yearning angst and loss, ‘Waiting For The Winter’ just sneaked in under the comp’s remit (November ’89) and is one of my favourite tracks of the entire decade. Mancunians The Mock Turtles distanced themselves from the baggy-trousered Britpop scene by becoming the champions of the tribute album (Hendrix, Barrett, Velvets, Kinks, Captain Beefheart). Early single ‘Wicker Man’ was a tribute to the film and isn’t representative of their funky dance career highlight, ‘91’s ‘Can You Dig It?’, but that’s for another Cnn series!

Sarah Records was hitting their stride in ’89 and one of the label’s flagship acts, Glaswegians The Orchids delivered consistently memorable tunes, represented here by the brisk Velvets-meets-Television ‘What Will We Do Next?’ Back to Manchester for The Man From Delmonte’s peppy ‘My Love Is Like A Gift You Can’t Return’, which taken the wrong way could’ve been an evil, sick joke, but in their hands it’s a jaunty hop along dancefloor magnet. The Revolving Paint Dream’s ‘Green Sea Blue’ is another track that’s too early for this comp (1988), but Christine Wanless’ breathy, fresh air vocals and the song’s Northern Soul stomp aid in overlooking that fact! Reed really should check his calendar, as the Welsh wunderkinds Pooh Sticks’ too hip by half mouthful ‘I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Alan McGee Quite Well’ also stems from the year before this comp’s remit. The fact that they released about a half dozen singles throughout ’89 and that the chosen track is essentially a rewrite of TV Personalities ‘I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives’ makes its inclusion doubly dubious and disappointing.

Sarah return with Harvey Williams (aka Another Sunny Day)’s mope pop classic ‘You Should All Be Murdered’, which may be the only song that makes death threats, er, sunny! I’m surprised Morrissey hasn’t covered it yet! 1989 continued the twee dominance of previous years, mostly dominated by Sarah, but also reflected in tender, boy-next-door confessions like Treebound Story’s ‘Swimming In The Heart of Jane’. Choo Choo Train deliver another leftover from the C88 comp in the paisley pop sunshine fluff title track from their ‘Briar Rose’ EP and the charming men in Holidaymakers offer their take on the Smiths’ jangly pop on their final single ‘Skyrider’. Fallover 24 offer the first of the comp’s aforementioned “previously unissued” tracks, the sweet toetapper ‘It’s Up To You’, more evidence that the criticism that they were “too polished” was simultaneously accurate and mean-spirited and certainly no reason for the wankers who hurled these insults public to avoid their records. Now if you wanted to avoid something, run fast and far away from Thrilled Skinny’s utterly annoying headache-inducer, ‘Biscuits In A Tin’, one of many tracks that should have been jettisoned (along with the preponderance of C88 leftovers) to make room for more deserving tracts/acts.

Irish bedsitters Brian (a band, not a bloke) whisper sweet somethings throughout the tearjerking ‘A Million Miles’ and warrant further investigation (one of the benefits and possible intentions behind these series of comps), and Andrea Reid’s melodic power punk act The Wilderness Children bring smiles throughout ‘Plastic Bag From Tescos’. Anthemic fistpumpers and lighter-wavers were few and far between in 1989, but The Moss Poles rousing singalong ’10,000 Miles’ deserved to be heard and championed by all comers, so we’re glad Reed dug up this unreleased gem, their planned third single that never materialised. Altogether: “It’s a long way back from China…” It’s one of my Top 5 of all the tracks included herein. I think I’ll rewind and play it again! We also loved The Haywains’ hoedown ‘Fisherman’s Friend’ and King of The Slums’ kick up yer heels pogotastic ‘Bombs Away On Harpurhey’, which sounds like Pogues-meet-Clash, all aflutter with violins and buzzsaw guitars!

Unlike Disc 2 (and much of Disc 1), most of the artists on Disc 3 fall into the anonymous category. Surely only the most trainspotting fanatic will recognize the likes of Claim, Avo-8, Magnificent Lkage [sic], Said Liquidator, Men of Westenesse, Jactars, et. al. The tracks are also unremarkable, save the gloriously shambolic lo-fi exuberance of Daisycutters’ ‘Friends’ (an ’88 track that doesn’t belong here), The Cherry Orchard’s jangly ‘This Big Love’, the aforementioned Avo-8’s invigorating chiming guitarfest ‘Big Car’ (think Motorcycle Boy), The Becketts’ rising storm anthem ‘The Most Beautiful Girl In The World’, Newsflash’s Jam-y unreleased demo ‘Wherever I Go’, the enigmatically-named Ruth Ellis Swing Band’s Teardrop Explodes soundalike ‘Burn Your Books & Join My Life’, and Sarah’s heaviest band, the JAMC-inspired Christine’s Cat (like their heroes, fuzz-fried Glaswegians). ‘Your Love Is…’ sounds like a Suicide outtake, a true Sarah anomaly. Jane From Occupied Europe (the band, not the Swell Maps’ album!) may raise a few eyebrows with the monotonic delivery, wah-wah fuzz guitars, and lo-fi TV Personalities production (Dan Treacy probably loved these guys), Big Red Bus deliver the melancholic Morrisseyesque ‘Sun Still Shines’, and Men of Westenesse chime their way through their House Of Love-styled ‘The Coldest Water’ (hold on for that familiar lyric tribute at the end).

Taylor’s liners are helpful, but a little sleuthing suggests much has been Wiki-sourced! This, and Reed’s frustrating habit of including leftovers from his C88 comp detract from an otherwise fine decade wrapup. It’s a shame so many acts were omitted to make room for tracks that don’t belong here. But it’s a pleasure to relive the outpurings of so many other bands whose stars briefly shone across a single, EP, or album before crashlanding into the proverbial dustbins of couldabeens. The melancholic nature of a lot of Taylor’s annotations about the band in question’s imminent demise shortly after releasing the track at hand reiterates the vagaries and minefields awaiting entrants into the music biz and makes for disheartening reading.

Jingly-jangly magnificence from C89 stars Popguns.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet
Related Articles