Reviews: Soft-Hearted Scientists, Oi!, Rob Clarke & the Wooltones, Krautrock, Joe Jackson, Dub, the Beatles, The Boys, Doobie Brothers, Jah Wobble

Dave Thompson rounds up a raft of recent releases and reissues.
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1

Soft Hearted Scientists

The Continuing Escapades Of… (4 LPs)

(Regal Crabomophone)

Eight years on from the majestic Whatever Happened To The Soft Hearted Scientists round-up the best of the band’s first three albums, this new package casts an equally curatorial eye over the four since then… for those slowcoaches among you who actually missed them.

Long established among the key psych acts of recent days, even if it is four years since their last new album, the Scientists are the kind of band that you start listening to out of curiosity, then suddenly realize you’re totally hooked - which means, even if you do already own the catalog, you’re going to want this. First for the extended version of last year’s “Please Read Me,” a standalone single that was their first new release since 2016; and then for the two full albums worth of Scientist instrumentals, as seen through the ears of Astralasia’s Marc Swordfish.

His efforts are divided into just four side long tracks, sensibly titled “Astral Adventure one through four.” Do not be misled, however, Each effectively transforms catalog highlights into one long, gorgeous Stars on 45-style mix-up, which is probably not anything you ever expected from the Scientists, but there you go. Told ya you’re gonna want it.

As for the other two discs, eighteen tracks drift, dance and doodle through the unfolding years, all as great as you remember them, and all reminding us that while scientists might not get everything right, the soft-hearted ones are always spot on.

2

Various Artists

No Future: Complete Singles Collection - the Sound of UK 82 (four discs)

Oi! The Albums (six discs)

(Captain Oi!)

No Future was one of the key labels for what history recalls as the Oi movement; the Oi albums themselves were a series of gloriously named, and phenomenally popular compilation albums documenting the music’s existence, and ten discs spread across two box sets are all you need to know.

The No Future package rounds up the label’s entire 45rpm output, a glorious run that extended between 1980 and 1984 and served up… deep breath… Blitz, the Partisans, Blitzkrieg, the Violators, Hostile Youth, One Way System, Red Alert, the Cadaverous Clan… and more! The Oi box adds the Cockney Rejects, the 4-Skins, the Exploited, Cock Sparrer, the Angelic Upstarts, MaxSplodge, the Toy Dolls, the Business, Attila the Stockbroker and Angela Rippon’s Bum (among others).

And what a gloriously crunching, crashing. bellowed, bellicose racket it was, all shouty men and yowling guitars, the sound of disaffected youth being… well, very disaffected indeed. Arguably, most of these bands were a lot more exciting live than on record, but all these years later, there’s still a massive surge of adrenalin wrapped around the moment needle touches vinyl (or whatever CDs do… laser zaps plastic), and the Magnificent Gonads come pounding in.

Or the Blood, whose “Megalomania” remains one of the key sounds of its age… or Rose of Victory, battering Bowie’s “Suffragette City”… or the splendidly named Peter & the Test Tube Babies lamenting that they’ve been “Banned from the Pubs.”

You’re not going to win many friends among the neighbors if you play either of these collections loud on a Sunday morning. But, if you already don’t care about such suburban niceties, then they’re probably expecting to hear it anyway. So don’t disappoint them by being considerate. The future is no future, after all.

3

Morwell Unlimited/Prince Far I and the Arabs

A1 Dub/Cry Tough Dub Encounter Volume 4 (2 discs)

(Doctor Bird)

Two classic dub albums, a full disc of bonus tracks, and Prince Far I and the Arabs in absolutely superb form… this package marks the CD debut of almost every track in sight, leaving one to wonder how either A1 Dub or Cry Tough 4 have eluded the reissuers for so long. Because, when it comes to early eighties-era dub, this stuff still sounds cutting edge.

The Far I set is the real gem; recorded in 1981 in Jamaica, then mixed in the UK by Adrian Sherwood, it’s a dark, sparse sounding album, all the better to highlight Far I’s own contributions to the sound. The Morwells set from the previous year is punchier, but just as atmospheric, and the two together make for a terrific listen

Disc two, too astounds, nineteen tracks recorded during roughly the same era for the Attack label’s series of 12-inch dub mixes, by many of the same musicians who feature on the two full albums. A clutch of familiar tunes surface through the course of the disc, but it’s all quality stuff.

4

Joe Jackson

Body and Soul 

(SACD/CD hybrid)

(Intervention Records)

Joe Jackson’s body-swerve from the Costello-esque singer songwriter of his first flurry of fame, into the jazzier realms that were obviously his preference remains one of the most unexpected musical twists of the late 1970s/early 1980s. Yes, Costello himself has scattered his muse across the spectrum over the course of his career. But he at least established himself first.

Jackson, on the other hand, seemingly swung from “It’s Different For Girls” to… well, to swing, without so much as a “by your leave,” and 1984’s Body and Soul is oft regarded as the apex of his defection, the crown jewels in his catalog and, if any Joe Jackson album screamed out for super sonics, this is the one.

There are no hits per se, but he wasn’t really chasing them at this point, bunkering down instead within his own chosen metier, and creating an album that is as careful as it is classic - everything here is immaculately recorded and produced, and Intervention’s hybrid SACD is as pristine as the album itself deserves.

5

Various Artists

Looking Through a Glass Onion: The Beatles’ Psychedelic Songbook 1966-72

(Grapefruit, 3 discs)

You don’t realize just how all-pervasive the Beatles were on the music of the late 1960s until you sit and look at how many people covered their songs, and how many of them stuck to the Beatles’ own blueprint.

Sometimes, of course, the reasoning was simple - something like “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” screamed out to be a single, and if the Beatles weren’t going to release it, then someone else had to. Marmalade had the hit, but this box picks the Spectrum’s version, and there’s a cause for celebration right there. Because things are about to get weird.

It’s difficult to pick fault with any of the choices here. Focusing on the psychedelic side of things, but not to the exception of the occasional musical outrider, we skip from Camel to Deep Purple to the Hollies, from Plastic Penny to Rainbow Ffolly to the Gods, from Tomorrow to Circus to Octopus.

Several songs appear several times; several artists, too, but the compilers are to be commended for not focussing wholly on the Beatles’ own psych output - not when there’s odds like the Shadows’ “Paperback Writer,” Andy Ellison’s “Help” and the Score’s “Please Please Me” to be exhumed. Meanwhile, Lol Coxhill’s “I Am the Walrus” and Yes’s “Every Little Thing” prove that nothing, not even the Fabs, is necessarily sacred.

With a great little booklet and superb sound, this is the kind of box that could make a Beatles fan out of the harshest non-believer, and that is probably the greatest compliment of all. And t’s lovely to see the late Dame Vera Lynn bid us adieu at the end of the disc three, with her version of “Goodnight.”

6

Jah Wobble

In Dub II (2 discs)

(30 Hertz)

Following through on last year’s Redux mega box set, the ultra-prolific Jah Wobble now assembles two discs worth of his dub output, looking back to his eighties output and forward to his new album - four tracks promise a collection at least as invigorating as the best of his previous work. A couple of otherwise unreleased tracks sweeten the package even further, while Wobble’s personal involvement in the set is given further emphasis by the inclusion of some of his artwork in the booklet.

It’s a thrilling journey, leaping back and forth across the time scale, but never losing sight of Wobble’s personal vision of dub - this is the music, after all, that he was listening to even before his Public Image adventure, and he knows its parameters like the back of his bass… making it that much easier for him to shatter them. Key cuts are impossible to isolate; even with 38 tracks, the sequence blends almost seamlessly, and the temptation to dig out the original albums is not one that can be easily shaken.

7

Various Artists

Head in the Clouds (2 LPs, 2 CDs)

(Strange Fish)

It’s been a long, long time since Fruits de Mer (Strange Fish’s parent) last took a serious look into the world of Krautrock, with the Head Music collection of thrills, spills and glorious covers. It’s also painfully out of print, so time to do it all again, only this time, the tribute is to the spirit of the music, not the songs

So nothing you’ll know, and only a few performers who’ll be familiar from elsewhere in your Fruity collection - Craig Padilla, Jack Ellister, Anton Barbeau, Jay Tausig and the seemingly irrepressible Lost Stoned Pandas are joined by… let’s see: Jah Buddha, Trace Imprint, MAC of BIOnighT, Sula Bassana… oh, and the ever-essential Vibravoid, whose “Im Zentrum Des Kosmos Ist Ein Auge Das Alles Sieht” has the kind of title you just know is going to be worth listening to. Which damns with faint praise, because the entire album is compulsive, a long night spent drifting through a myriad memories of old Brain, Ohr and Kosmische Musik labels as they spin in such an endless cycle that you completely lose track of what you’re hearing, long before you’ve lost interest in it.

The liners cite Tangerine Dream, Popol Vuh and Ash Ra Tempel among the album key inspirations, and that’s probably true. But so many lesser names percolate alongside, and they all merge into the vision of the artists themselves, to produce what is quite possibly the most authentic Krautrock album since the days when “authenticity” itself was still being designed from the bottom up.

No need to warn you to jump on this one quickly - just do it.

8

Rob Clarke and the Wooltones

Putting the L into Wooltones (1 disc)

(Kool Kat Music)

Words cannot express how much fun this album is. Or rather, they can, but why waste time telling you why you need to hear this, when you can just hop onto Bandcamp and sample it for yourself?

Suffice to say, from the moment “Big Big Bad Bad John” rides in on a riff that was surely borrowed from Mott the Hoople’s “Whiskey Women” (or perhaps it was the other way round…), this is one of those albums that you just know you bought back in 1969, only to lose it when your room mate sold half your possessions to finance his donkey sanctuary.

The mood is straightforward moody psych blues, knowingly nailed into exactly the time and place you want it to be (“Love and Haight”), and unself- conscious enough that the entire thing feels shrouded in everything you want to remember about the era, regardless of whether or not you’d been born back then.

“Adrian Henri,” lovingly dedicated to the Liverpool Scene poet of the same name; “Statue at the Pier Head,” with its “don’t tell me, I’ve got it” rhythm and a spoken word section that will turn your nostalgia centers inside out; and a “Two Lane Black Top” that would certainly have made the movie of the same name more tolerable, all these things pile up into an album which…. Oh, come on. You know what comes next.

9

The Boys

…On Safari (5 discs)

(Captain Oi)

For a band who only released four albums throughout their life time, two of which aren’t included here, this is a remarkably well-stacked box. And so it should be. Arguably, the Boys that waved goodbye to the 1970s by going to Hell (a small town in Norway) were on the very edge of reaching their peak, and the ensuing LP, To Hell With The Boys, emerged as one of the key statements of punk’s shift into power pop and beyond.

It opens with a fabulous take on “Sabre Dance,” effortlessly following the Love Sculpture blueprint, then kicks into “Rue Morgue,” which is unbeatable sassy bounce and flounce, and boasts a very, very rude expression for a chorus. The fact that it’s in French just makes it funnier.

The single “Terminal Love,” the glorious “Kamikaze,” the closing “Independent Girl”… this is the Boys at their best, and the album sensibly dominates this box. Disc five captures a 1980 BBC live concert, promoting the album but also looking back at past Boys gems “First Time” and “Brickfield Guitars” (and more - their version of “You Better Move On” is one of the song’s best ever work outs); disc three, devoted to Rarities, includes preparatory demos, singles mixes, and a couple of original mixes from the To Hell sessions. (It’s a shame, though, that it is just a couple; the full album was released in Norway back in 1990, and hasn’t been seen since.)

The rarities disc also moves into the making of the band’s fourth LP, Boys Only, a set that certainly deserved more applause than it received at the time, even if it is the weakest of their core albums . The finished record consumes disc two, however, and when you let it play through, it’s a lot of fun. The opening “Weekend” in particular.

Finally, The Yobs Christmas Album is the Boys going all punky festive under an utterly unconvincing pseudonym, and will be a welcome addition to the December playlist.

A booklet featuring Matt Dangerfield’s recollections and thoughts on every song is a very welcome adornment, and the whole thing is packaged in a tight little clamshell box. A box of Boys. You know you want it.

11

Doobie Brothers

Quadio (4 discs)

(Rhino)

The slow drip of 1970s vintage quadraphonic masters onto CD remains a cause for celebration, even if it is taking way too long to get around to the real jewels in the crown. We’ll leave you to decide what they might be, but in the meantime, here’s the Doobies on blu-ray, four ears translated to however many your surround system requires, and in high res stereo too.

Four albums get the treatment, Toulouse Street, The Captain & Me, What Were Once Vices are now Habits and Stampede, and while the jury’s out on whether anyone could possibly want to hear “Listen to the Music” (from their debut) again, at least without doing themselves bodily harm amidships, still it has to be said that when the Doobies were on song… well, “Long Train Running” (from Captain…) and “Black Water” (Vices) are here, too, so that’s three toe-tapping smash hits for your money, and there’s probably more, as well.

No, Spin Cycle is not a Doobies fan, but a lot of people are and, judged purely on sound quality, Quadio takes an awful lot of beating. Even without a speaker in every corner of the room, the sound is fabulous, and again, there’s that sense of getting one over on all those decades we spent hearing people say quad was the daftest idea ever. No it wasn’t. It was just 30-plus years ahead of its time.

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