Dust of Time: 1969-2021
(Atomhenge - 6 CDs)
It’s hard to believe, but Hawkwind have never been granted a single career-spanning compilation. There’s always been one period or another left out, presumably for licensing reasons. But this time they get it… right?
Well, that depends upon which online forums you frequent. The “serious” fan, doubtless, will bemoan the attention given to the band’s 1970s, at the expense of the later decades - three CDs travel from Hawkwind’s earliest demos to 1979’s PXR5; three more are dedicated to the myriad albums that have appeared since then. Collectors will grumble at the absence of any true rarities, beyond the handful of single versions, and out-takes that have already seen the light of day elsewhere. And so forth.
But are packages like this even aimed at serious fans and collectors? Surely that’s who are targeted by the multi-disc everything-and-then-some boxes that weigh the equivalent of a small domestic appliance (and, increasingly, are priced similarly). No, this is for the regular box set brigade, who aren’t interested in accumulating a complete collection, but have interest enough to sit through a career. And, as such, it does a great job.
The contents are chronological, and it makes sense that the emphasis is on the first decade - Hawkwind were at the peak of their powers, and those first three discs are weighted down with familiar titles, from “Hurry on Sundown” to “Silver Machine,” from “Born to Go” to “Psychedelic Warlords,” from “Steppenwolf” to “Quark Strangeness and Charm.” Personal preferences might suggest a few fixes (“Reefer Madness” could have replaced “Chronoglide Skyway,” for example), but that’s about it.
Onto the later discs, individual albums receive a lot less attention, but key 45s are included, stellar performances, long-standing favorites. Maybe we can grumble that no less than four tracks are culled from the upcoming BBC box set; and it’s certainly to be regretted that the last 28 (!!!!) years are crushed into a single disc, but what would you leave out to make room for more? Besides, the 62 page book and poster are at least some consolation, and it’s not as if ownership of this set prevents anyone from buying the other albums.
So, an excellent compilation and, largely, a very fair one. And if its still too much Hawkwind for your purposes, look out for the condensed 2CD edition. Even if the chronological ratio is even more skewed.
1979 - Revolt Into Style
(Cherry Red - 3 CDs)
Continuing a series of annual breakdowns that commenced with a boxful of 1977, Revolt Into Style serves up the continuing story of punk rock, as it morphed, mutated and generally melted into a host of future pigeonholes.
As such, its 76 tracks deliver the most varied collection so far in the sequence, its contents spreading from the last gaps of power pop to the first stirrings of mod, the mainstream emergence of synthipop, the initial mumblings of the raincoat brigade, a few moments of exquisite daftness, a few more of art school artfulness… and the fact that great swathes of the 76 were either bona-fide chart hits or the precursors to same only emphasize just what a great year 1979 was for 45s. And for the people who bought them
Not that everybody necessarily felt that way at the time. Tribalism still reigned supreme, with the music press swift to attach labels to every new band, and readers equally swift to accept them. Rivalries were encouraged, mods still hated rockers, raincoats hated skinny ties, robots hated humans and punks continued to hate everything, and that includes the former heroes who had moved on to fresher pastures.
The box, however, just jumbles them up, and so we swing from Squeeze’s “Up the Junction” to the Clash’s “Groovy Times,” and onto the Records’ “Girls That Don’t Exist.” Even more jarringly, Public Image’s pounding “Memories” is sandwiched between offerings from the punky Outcasts and the novelty Monks, and the Ruts are isdjoined by the Cheetahs and the Teenbeats. Ha, and you thought your mp3 player had a eccentric shuffle function.
Best of the batch? It’s hard not to love the Regents’ “7Teen,” a quirky, dirty slab of eminently danceable teensleaze, present here sadly in its hit “censored” version, as opposed to the marginally muckier alternate. You couldn’t sing “erection” on the radio back then. Human League’s “Empire State Human” is an idiotically catchy slab of electro; XTC’s “Making Plans for Nigel” is that band’s greatest earworm; Jonnie & the Lubes’ “I Got Rabies” is fun through and through.
Unimpeachable classics from the Pretenders (“Kid”), Dexy’s (“Dance Stance”), Siouxsie (“The Staircase), Teardrop Explodes (“Bouncing Babies”) and the Jam (When You’re Young”) dance hand in hand with names that even their fans have probably forgotten, and while it would be the easiest thing in the world to compile an alternative to this box that didn’t duplicate a single track, that only emphasizes what a great collection this is. It’s brilliant, and it’s not even the year’s very best.
Bad Blood - The Mayan Albums 2002-2005
(HNE Recordings Ltd - 4 CDs)
There was a moment, around thirty years ago, where Ministry seriously threatened to become huge. No just big, not just popular, but super-sized mega-monstrous. From “Jesus Built My Hot Rod” to “Just One Fix,” and onto the still enthralling “New World Order,” Ministry might musically have been labelled an “industrial” band, but it was industry with guitars on stun, drums the size of Connecticut, and a cultural grip that was akin to a stranglehold.
And then they didn’t. Smirking observers blame the band’s utterly misjudged cover of “Lay Lady Lay,” and they might be right. More serious-minded folk point to the rise of Nine Inch Nails and a clutch of others who might not even have existed were it not for Ministry steamrolling the way. And for sure the rumor mill has its own suggestions.
Whatever, by the early 2000s, even old-time die-hards had lost track of the band, which casts this four CD collection less as a history lesson, more as a reintroduction - and what a way to start ,with the 2002 Sphinctour live album, recorded on the tour of the same name in 1996, and the hosting venues alone speaking to the enormity of the band: the Congesscenter in Stuttgart, the Mercer Arena in Seattle, the Jesolo Beach Festival in Venice, the Brixton Academy in London.
It’s a tremendous album, reminding us how powerful the previous year’s Filth Pig had been, despite the inclusion of the Dylan cover. But the real meat is in the earlier material, from the opening “Psalm 69” on. If anything, in fact, the 1996 version of “Thieves” exceeds even the storming version of the same song on the band’s last live album, six years earlier.
Having relaunched their career with the past, Ministry stormed straight into the future with the following year’s Animositisomnia, the first new album in four years, and one that wasn’t quite certain what was expected of it. A great cover of Magazine’s “The Light Pours Out of Me,” however, stands proud and the closing “Leper” is a true Ministry classic.
Likewise 2004’s Houses of the Molé (great title!) emerged an enjoyable outing without being truly excellent, and for anyone who nurses find memories of Ministry at its peak, there’ll be no disappointments whatsoever. And we end with Rantology, a rarities and extras collection that matches remixes, alternates and live material, but loses marks with the inclusion of three tracks from Sphinctour. One of them, however, is that terrific take on “Thieves,” and you can never have too many copies of that.
Oi! The Albums Volume 2: The Link Records Years
(Captain Oi! - 7CDs)
By the mid-1980s, the seething fireball that the UK press had christened “oi!” half a decade before was certainly well past its sell-by date. Not in the eyes of its exponents, of course - the Cockney Rejects were still at large, the 4 Skins, Cock Sparrer, the Angelic Upstarts. But a host of new bands had arisen that didn’t catch the media eye; and while their kingdom was certainly constricting, still the audience remained desperately loyal, hardcore supporters who still wanted some agro with their evenings out, even if it was largely confined to loud guitars and shouting.
Link Records was there for them, and the seven discs here chart the label’s annual survey of the scene. Released between 1987-1993, Oi! The Resurrection, The Sound of Oi!, Oi! Glorious Oi!, Oi! That’s What I Call Music, Pop Oi!, Oi! Oi! Oi! And The Joys of Oi! between them deliver every significant name on the scene, a clutch of doughty survivors, the occasional reunion (Sham 69, Slaughter & the Dogs) and comeback (Judge Dread), an awful lot of good humor, and a mass of bludgeoning, too.
And while it’s safe to say that if you didn’t enjoy Oi! In its earliest flowering, you’re not going to think much of this, the fact is - the music did advance, did develop, did remain fresh. It also remained current, maintaining a far keener eye on the state of British politics and society than is usually acknowledged, and it’s depressing to realise that, while the passage of time has rendered specific concerns ancient history, the complaints themselves remain largely unchanged. WE still need our Oi!
Once Upon a Time in the West Midlands: The Bostin’ Sounds of Brumrock, 1966-1974
(Grapefruit, 3 CDs)
Despite its status as England’s “second city,” Birmingham has never truly impacted upon the consciousness as a major hub of rock’n’roll. Not when compared with Manchester, Liverpool and maybe even Sheffield.
The big names are the obvious ons: the Moody Blues, the Move, Idle Race, Traffic, Steve Gibbons, which means you need to move into the environs and beyond to start picking up on others… Slade hailed from Wolverhampton, 17 miles away, Chicken Shack took flight from Stourbridge, 20 miles further than that.
But it was to Birmingham that they flocked when they sought the big lights, and so Brumrock was forged not in the metropolis itself, but all around as well. And it was a magnificent sound.
Once Upon a Time in the West Midlands is a magnificent, muscular collection, soaked in urban R&B, and determined to rock even when it doesn’t. The Move family tree, embracing Roy Wood, Ace Kefford, the Idle Race and ELO, might have added sundry esoteric ingredients to the brew, ditto the Moody Blues.
But even there, you are rarely more than a song or two away from the likes of the pre-Slade N Betweens, the Rockin’ Berries, the Spencer Davis Group, The Locomotive, Trapeze, the Climax Blues Band and, later, Bedlam and Judas Priest. And that’s just the names you’ve probably heard of.
There’s a wealth of what we could call local obscurities at play here, too; Dave Pegg and the Ugly’s, Magnum’s Bob Catley with Paradox, Clifford T Ward with Simon’s Secrets. Sadly there’s nothing from the prehistory of Led Zeppelin (Robert Plant and John Bonham were both active on the Birmingham scene), but there’s plenty of unreleased treasures by others. And while the booklet certainly signposts the incestuous nature of the scene,“that was really good… I wonder who they were” becomes a constant mantra as the three discs/69 tracks play through.