The Bolshoi - 5CD Boxset

by Rob Taylor Rating:7 Release Date:2015-11-27

The Bolshoi are an English band from the 1980s whose musical compass navigated them around that decade without ever really having a defined sound. Not content with stagnation, or becoming musical ephemera, they restlessly experimented with form.

Throughout this box-set, The Bolshoi’s astonishing but somewhat frustrating diversity means they can be compared to musicians as disparate as The Divine Comedy (‘Amsterdam’ from Giants); Lloyd Cole and the Commotions (‘West of London Town’); The Human League (‘Aunty Jean’ from Lindy’s Party); Big Country (‘Boy From the Nursery World’ from Country Life); Robben Ford (the guitar on ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie’ from the odds and ends collection, Voyage of Peculiarities); Robert Palmer (‘Too Late’ from Country Life’); Magazine (Happy Boy’ from Giants), and Belle & Sebastian (Strawberries and Cream).

While typical of an 1980s post punk and big beat sound, The Bolshoi are atypical in their inconstancy and artistic whimsy, and this is both a blessing and a curse. There’s a fine line between the dynamic and the capricious.  

The Bolshoi were however a very talented band, and their debut EP Giants was a blast of gothic punk with just enough fire and menace to buffer what was essentially an early Britpop sound. As their sound developed they experimented with jazzy and slightly discordant instrumentals like ‘Boss’ from Friends, and ‘I’m Depressed’ from Lindy’s Party. On the latter song, the bass has a build-up similar to a Pixies track, and shows an early appreciation of the quiet/loud diametric which defined the indie sound of the late 1980s and early 1990s. ‘Barrowlands’ from Lindy’s Party is like a Tom Waits or Divine Comedy vaudeville confection, and like Waits it has a beastly embodiment. On Billy-Jean/Take Me To The River’ The Bolshoi tackle Michael Jackson/Al Green with something not quite a medley, more a punk rock mash-up. 

For every experimental flourish though, The Bolshoi could settle into conventional pop harmonies, and the acoustic ‘A Funny Thing’ from Friends is reminiscent of The Jayhawks, or ‘She Don’t Know’ from Lindy’s Party, which is like early Creation sound, with shades of The House of Love.

While its understandable that the band are finally getting the attention they deserve, I wonder about the quantity aspect of presenting 80 tracks over 5 discs in clam-shell, rather than a carefully curated 15 track retrospective with say, an extensive essay. That would probably yield a five star package, and personally I don’t think it does the band any favours presenting so much, so quickly. 

Wonderful and confounding craft.

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