I’ve never been one for online streaming. I prefer the fidelity of CD and the joy of opening a physical asset and diving into deep content all while the music plays. These sets are fully immersive experiences, rich with liner notes, editorial and artwork to explore, bonus discs filled with exclusive content, and in a few cases, video too.
Dead or Alive • Sophisticated Boombox MMXVI
Just how many versions of ‘You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)’ does the world need? 28 it seems, at least that’s what I counted after ripping all 17 discs of Edsel’s mammoth Sophisticated Boom Box MMXVI into my iTunes. If the clock ticker on my iTunes is to be believed, that’s more than 11 hours of right round baby right round. Considering my total time count for ALL Dead or Alive songs in my iTunes is 21 hours, that underscores the single’s weight in the band’s canon. While this celebration of Pete Burns’ life was met with tragedy, he died right before it was released, we can take comfort in knowing it realized his complete vision. The liner notes alone are worth the price of admission, with Pete walking you though his career and catalog with the intimacy of a fireside chat or an afternoon tea in the garden.
The second blow came when a myriad of technical glitches affected half the discs, but Edsel should win an award for “emergency response”; they mailed corrected items to every purchaser and shipped fixed versions to all retailers. The version I bought in early January, 2017 had only one glitch: the DVD menu for the promotional videos only shows the first half, but they all play if you select the “play all” button. A minor inconvenience.
The true celebration here comes in the music, much of which is available in the UK (and to a lesser extent, the US) for the first time. Plus it gives plenty of center stage time to two of the band’s less appreciated, but thoroughly spectacular albums: Mad Bad and Dangerous to Know and Nude. Almost every track in the box comes with a remix or two.. or 28… except for torch song ‘Far Too Hard’ from Sophisticated Boom Boom which is one of rock and roll’s all time best vocal performances — you can’t improve upon perfect so why try?
Boombox goes down as one of the all-time great celebrations of a band whose curtain fell far too soon. The music was phenomenal, and for a closeted teenage trans woman like myself in the 80’s, the glamorous looks of Burns and drummer Steve Coy, helped inspire me to keep living and keep dancing.
Deee-Lite • World Clique (Deluxe Edition)
‘Groove is in the Heart’ should have been weaponized in 1990 because when that beat drops on a population, shit is going to get funky; people will be too busy making love to wanna make war. The resulting album, World Clique, is one of the most revolutionary albums of the decade, alongside de la soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising. de la’s essential remix album companion came out on CD a decade or so ago (and was released digitally for free a few years later). Now Clique gets its essential encore with the release of the 2-disc deluxe edition on Cherry Red.
Cherry Red is passionate about reissues (many of the titles in this roundup come from the label). While other labels are fine to just shove whatever they can license onto a disc and package it with a barebones inlay card, Cherry Red goes all in to make something worth collecting and keeping. The Deee-Lite set comes with a new interview with Lady Miss Kier conducted by Michael Silvester. The booklet is an explosion of color, featuring magazine covers, single covers, cartoons and photographs.
The original album on Disc 1 is remastered and crackles with electricity. In addition to ‘Groove’, the tracklist features the trippy ‘What is Love?’ which was an alternate rock staple on 89x FM in Canada whose majestic airwaves wafted down to Ohio (where I lived) on a good cloudy day. “Good Beat’ and ‘Power of Love’ were the other big singles, but the real treasure comes in the deep cuts.
Disc 2 plays like a DJ set that starts electric and never lets up. ‘Groove’, ‘Beat’ and ‘Love’ all make multiple appearances in different incarnations but they are spaced out and you’ll be ready for them each time they come back around. Glorious ‘Riding on Through’ is the sole new song while ‘How Do You Say…. Love?’ reinvents ‘What is Love?’ so dramatically it qualifies as a new song.
Pick up the World Clique deluxe edition on Amazon or direct from Cherry Red.
ABC • Skyscraping (Deluxe Edition)
Last year, Martin Fry (F-R-Y), revisited ABC’s blockbuster, The Lexicon of Love, with a truly lovely sequel that wound up being one of my favorite albums of the year. This inspired me to revisit some of the albums he released in the long gap between Lexicon II and his final albums with longtime musical partner, Mark White. I picked up the original Skyscraping as a pricey import in 1997; I gave it a few spins and promptly forgot about it.
Cherry Red gave the album a well-deserved second look and makeover with a deluxe edition that came out a few years ago. In the reissue’s deep liner notes, Fry recounts the initial sessions, solo and with Heaven 17’s Glenn Gregory, that resulted in the album. Perhaps it would have fared better with the new duo taking on an original name and jettisoning the ABC baggage, but Fry’s ageless voice (then and now) is forever entwined with the ABC brand, so why not?
Fresh listening, to the album, and the second disc filled with remixes and rarities, helps one better appreciate its place in the world of ABC. The tracks have a laid back groove, the arrangements breathe with a fresh mix of acoustics and electronics all to set sail to Fry’s soulful croon. As Fry says in the interview conducted for the reissue, “It was the least ambitious of all my records, and as a result it was a lot of fun.”
Tammy Wynette • D-I-V-O-R-C-E/Stand By Your Man
Kid you not — I ordered this disc when I was a happily married man, and when it came in the mail a few weeks later, I found myself in the first stages of divorce. Hug me Tammy! Ms. Wynette, if you’re classy, wrapped her enchanting, aching vocals around me to guide me through the dark days and lonely nights that lay ahead. But that was months ago — hence the lag time it took me to get this round-up written and posted. Today, there is pep in my step once again allowing me to fully appreciate this set in all of it’s glory.
This two-albums/1CD set is Morello Recordings’ third in the Tammy Wynette series. A fourth disc pairs two duet albums by Wynette and short-lived husband George Jones. In the liner notes, Tony Byworth tells a white knuckle tale of how Wynette lived several Lifetime movies worth of drama in her too-short lifetime. The pristine mastering of the 22 songs in this series is a far cry from the original cassettes I had as a child — back when Wynette and Clearly Love–era Olivia Newton John were my top crushes.
The real treat here is going beyond the iconic songs to hear Wynette take on some of the best songwriting from the Nashville machine.
Pick it up direct from Cherry Red.
Radio Stars • Thinking Inside The Box
Rarely comes a band that’s up my musical alley — 70’s punk rock — that has enough material to warrant an entire box set, that I’ve NEVER, ever heard of. Such is the case with Radio Stars. Blink twice at the packaging for their new anthology, Thinking Inside The Box, and you’d think it was a K-Tel Records type collection of 50’s and 60’s hits plucked from a discount bin at Woolworths. But crack open the clamshell and you’re treated to dozens of crackling pop punk classics that made a bigger minor ripple in the UK than it did here in the States.
The band emerged from the ashes of Jet (no, not defunct, Pitchfork-loathing Australian band with that really huge single), the UK Jet was a one-and-done glam band that appeared on CBS records in 1975. Other members came from John’s Children, a band that once featured Marc Bolan. The rotating cast of drummers included Steve Parry (no, not that one) and Paul Simon (no, not THAT one, unless you’re talking about the one who played with Neo, not to be confused with Nico).
The band jumped on the punk bandwagon by speeding up their songs and falling right into the fuck-all attitude of the day. A recording engineer walked out of the session for ‘Elvis is Dead (Boring)’ because it was too soon after the King left the building; the band changed it to “Arthur” for the album but kept singing “Elvis” in concert. Oh behave! ‘Nervous Wreck’ was their big single. Throw in some ill-fated tours and a follow-up record and the band was done.
In their wake, they left a crate-load of smashing singles. Perfect listening for people love stoopid punk songs but smart enough to know Blink 182, 5 Seconds of Summer and everything in their wake isn’t real punk.
Pick up Thinking Inside the Box direct from Cherry Red.
The Vibrators • The Epic Years
The Vibrators fall into the same “how the hell do they get a box set” category with one exception — I’ve heard of them. ‘Baby Baby’ and ‘Automatic Lover’ were staples in nearly every punk compilation that has ever come out. They probably even handed out those 7-inches alongside free shaving cream samples to college kids in the late 70’s. Equally shocking, the band was signed to a major label and released a few albums. The Epic Years is exactly that, an epic run thorough the band’s major label catalog. Their debut, Pure Mania, includes ‘Baby Baby’ and ‘Stiff Little Fingers’ the track that inspired the name of an equally great punk act. V2 is expanded with two b-sides and an single version of ‘Automatic Lover’. Disc three includes the band’s Peel sessions and their appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test. Disc 4 is the full 19-track raw mixing desk version of their live set at the Marquee in 1977 (as opposed to the truncated, overdubbed version that was also released). If you’re like me and listen to punk compilations on repeat as your own, snotty Spotify, The Epic Years is a worthwhile deep dive into an epic catalog.
Pick up The Epic Years direct from Cherry Red.
R.E.M. • Out of Time (Deluxe Edition)
Do you remember when R.E.M. was the biggest band on the planet? For that matter, do you remember when there were bands whose new music held the interest and attention of a sizable group of people? In today’s splintered musical landscape, where most critics’ year end list have barely any crossover, the 25th Anniversary Edition of the R.E.M. classic feels like a time capsule from a million years ago, let alone the waning days of the last century.
Before we even talk about the music, let’s talk about the expansive, full color booklet. POPDOSE’s very own Annie Zaleski (who also writes for small rags like Rolling Stone, Spin, Billboard, Alternative Press, The Village Voice, Los Angeles Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer, New York Journal News, Boston Herald, Salon, the AV Club….) interviewed the band and producer Scott Litt; her liner notes provide a captivating oral history of the album and deep reflections from the participants now a quarter century removed from it.
For starters, you get the full album remastered on Disc 1. Disc 2 features the demo sessions recorded and mixed by John Keane at his studios in Athens, GA. Here you hear the album seeds take root and blossom into the songs we know today. The instrumentals are especially delightful, they make for the perfect soundtrack when you have friends over for brunch. Disc Three: Live at Mountain Stage is a laid back and playful set that includes appearances by Billy Bragg and Robyn Hitchcock. And then there are the videos. Oh MTV, how I once loved thee…
Pick it up on Amazon.
A Flock of Seagulls • Remixes and Rarities (2017)
This 2-disc compilation is Cherry Red’s fourth reissue from the vault of A Flock of Seagulls. Their expanded editions of A Flock of Seagulls (1982), Listen (1983) and Story of a Young Heart (1984) include all the sought-after b-sides. Remixes and Rarities is exactly that, a collection of the 7-inch and 12-inch mixes, some live cuts and full length versions of treasures like ‘The Flight of Yuri Gagarin’ and ‘Rosenmontag’. A personal favorite, ‘The More You Live, The More You Love (Full Moon Mix)’ is finally on CD; my friend had the vinyl back in the day, which I dubbed onto cassette for all these years — this remix completely reinvents the song (hear it below).
Liner notes include a comprehensive discography complete with single artwork, selected lyrics and editorial.
This superb set clearly debunks several myths about A Flock of Seagulls:
- Myth: A Flock of Seagulls were a synth band. Truth: Yes and No. While Mike Score’s mirror-room rocking of the keyboard in the ‘I Ran’ video is the quintessential image of the band, it was actually Paul Reynolds’ magnificent guitar work that defined the band early on, from the ominous seagull guitar squall that kicks off ‘I Ran’ — not to mention the giant guitar solo in that song — all the way though his contributions to their third album before he jettisoned the band. Fun fact, he’s still gigging as a jazz musician today.
- Myth: They were a one hit wonder. Truth: In their heyday (1982-84), they released a ton of solid singles and the album deep cuts were on par with the best New Order and Cure songs of the day. Lesser known parentheses-driven singles, ‘Who’s That Girl (She’s Got It)’ and ‘Never Again (The Dancer)’ are among the band’s best.
- Myth: They were a hair band. Truth: While Score was a hairdresser pre-fame AND his downward ‘do was iconic during their MTV heyday, he’s been soldiering on without it for a third of a century while looking and sounding fab as ever.
Pick up Remixes and Rarities on Amazon or direct from Cherry Red.