Chart for stowaways – 27 August 2016

Here’s the most recent album chart, with a welcome return at the top:

  1. Shit Robot – What Follows
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  3. Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  4. Wolfgang Flür – Eloquence
  5. I Monster – Bright Sparks
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Super
  7. New Order – Music Complete
  8. David Bowie – Blackstar
  9. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  10. David Bowie – Best Of Bowie

Anthology Season

Logically, I should probably own a few anthologies – I’m the kind of person who would. But, despite having listened to New Order‘s Retro a few times, I remain decidedly underwhelmed by the concept. So this year’s influx of anthologies in our line of music comes as something of a shock to the system, and it’s worth taking a moment to consider what’s actually in them.

Marc Almond – Trials of Eyeliner – The Anthology 1979-2016

Marc Almond announced his first, and it finally enters the shops on 4th November. Here are some quick statistics:

  • Number of discs: 10
  • Number of tracks: 189
  • Retail price: £120

Discs 1-4 are History, a collection of Marc’s favourite album tracks over his impressively long career.

Then Discs 5-7 are Singles, a complete collection of the Soft Cell, Marc and the Mambas, solo, and collaborative hits.

Discs 8-10 are Gems, a set of fanclub releases, collaborations, tracks from soundtracks, demos, and previously unreleased recordings.

You also get a 64-page hardcover book full of photos and images from Marc Almond‘s personal collection.

More details here.

The verdict, for me: you probably need to be a bigger fan than I am.

Erasure – From Moscow to Mars – An Erasure Anthology

Erasure are currently still busy celebrating their thirtieth birthday with some lovely vinyl editions, and also this, released on 21st October:

  • Number of discs: 13
  • Number of tracks: 200
  • Retail price: £80

Discs 1-3 are Erasure – The Singles, another collection of all the Erasure singles. Since we only got Total Pop! in 2009 and another collection just last year, this seems a bit unnecessary.

Discs 4-5 are Erasure by Vince Clarke and Andy Bell, with one disc compiled by each. There are some interesting inclusions, and it would definitely be worth hearing, but probably not one that even the most devoted fan would pick up too often.

Discs 6-7 are Erasure – The B-Sides, an incomplete selection of Erasure‘s b-sides. There are a lot of gems on here actually, and it’s good to see so many of them in the same place at once. Probably worth a listen.

Discs 8-9 are just called Remixes, and are yet another selection of new and old Erasure remixes. There are some interesting looking new ones, such as Little Boots taking on Blue Savannah, but I think you would need to be a completist for this.

Disc 10 has been done before as well – Erasure – Live! is another edited selection of live highlights throughout the years.

Disc 11 is Rarities, some of which haven’t actually been released before, so might be worth the odd listen now and then.

Disc 12 is a nice inclusion, an audio documentary called A Little Respect – 30 Years of Erasure, presented by Mark Goodier from off of the olden days, and with contributions from various contemporaries.

Finally Disc 13 is a DVD release of The Wild! Tour, previously only released on VHS, so probably a nice addition for completists.

Pre-orders also get six unreleased bonus downloads, although it’s difficult to believe there’s anything to write home about among them.

More details here.

The verdict: despite the bargain price, I can’t see a strong reason to buy this one except for the b-sides collection. Hopefully that will come out separately one day.

The Human League – A Very British Synthesizer Group 1977-2016

The smallest of all the anthologies, and probably the one with the oddest artwork (see link below). Released on 18th November, the vital statistics look like this:

  • Number of discs: 4
  • Number of tracks: 92
  • Retail price: £80

There are just four discs on this one, although you do get a 58-page book too. Discs 1 and 2 are the complete collected singles from 1978 to the present, collected for the first time without any omissions.

The rest of the tracks are really just bonus material on a glorified best of. Disc 3 contains early versions of a lot of tracks, although many of them aren’t singles, so this is probably one for fans only.

Disc 4 is a DVD, containing every single one of their promotional videos and a collection of their BBC appearances.

There’s also a triple LP and double CD version containing just the singles, and they’re also touring the whole thing this Autumn.

More details here and here.

The verdict: very tempting, if the price decides to drop to something much more reasonable.

The best of the rest

Also coming out this Autumn are:

Sophisticated Boom Box MMXVI, an enormous 19-disc box set from Dead or Alive, including all the albums as two or three-disc sets, some of which have never actually been released in the UK before, as well as some DVDs and impressive packaging, all for just £118. Definitely one for bigger fans than me, but worth investigating if you’re into that kind of thing.

The Early Years 1965-1972, an astonishing 27-disc set from Pink Floyd, collecting albums, singles, unreleased tracks, singles, videos, and memorabilia from their early years, costing several months’ salary but possibly worth it if you’re an über-fan. More details here.

Depeche Mode take advantage of one of their many years off with a complete collection of videos, Video Singles Collection. This is a three-disc set containing the videos from 1981-2013, including a whole load of material that has never been released on DVD before, plus commentaries. Details here.

New Order – Brotherhood

This week sees the thirtieth anniversary of New Order‘s fourth album Brotherhood. The first side, famously the guitar-based half of the album, doesn’t include any singles, opening with Paradise (you would probably remember the sha-la-la-la-la chorus). It’s pretty good, although after Low-Life (1985) it might have come as a bit of a surprise.

Other tracks are less impressive – Weirdo is, bluntly, pretty awful, and As it is When it Was could probably have benefited from a little more work too. By the time Broken Promise comes on, your expectations will have dropped very low. Honestly, most of the tracks aren’t too bad – they’re just a lot more average than you might have come to expect from New Order.

So by the end of Way of Life, you find yourself halfway through a New Order album, but with very little to say about it. Hopefully the second side has something more to show for itself.

Well, of course it does. Opening this half of the album is the exquisite Bizarre Love Triangle. Is it the catchy chorus, with its brilliant vocoder line, or the huge eighties drums and pads? There’s just something about this that sounds entirely unique.

I suppose you can’t really criticise New Order for hiding this at the start of the second side rather than having it right at the top, as there’s nothing really wrong with that, but to have something this good after the last few tracks does make the whole thing seem a bit disjointed.

The next of the synth-based pieces is All Day Long, an understated song with some slightly daft lyrics about economics and a very long instrumental section. It’s pleasant – very pleasant, actually, but probably not worthy of being released as a single. The same is true for Angel Dust, for the most part a huge and masterful jam, which is entirely nice, but would have achieved little on its own.

The laughing vocal of Every Little Counts could have easily meant the whole track was a silly in-joke, but it actually works rather nicely, with its daft experimental instrumentation. Quite how they came up with this track is probably an article in itself, but somehow as a closer on a relatively mediocre album, this is actually rather good.

Some versions add State of the Nation on the end, even though it wasn’t there originally. Whether or not it belongs there is a matter of some debate which we’ll ignore for now. Ultimately, the verdict for Brotherhood has to be that New Order probably should have tried harder – the energy that went into Bizarre Love Triangle shines through, but the rest of the album struggles to make any sort of impact. Good, definitely, but perhaps not quite good enough.

As always with New Order‘s albums, it’s unclear which the right version to get is. I’d recommend the double CD reissue, but the original release suffered from dodgy mastering, so tread with care.

Chart for stowaways – 20 August 2016

These are the best singles this week, apparently. Nice to see Pet Shop Boys occupying the entire top three here.

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Inner Sanctum
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Twenty-Something
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre & Pet Shop Boys – Brick England
  4. Massive Attack – The Spoils / Come Near Me
  5. Shit Robot – End of the Trail
  6. Clarke Hartnoll – Better Have a Drink to Think
  7. I Monster – The Bradley Brothers realise…
  8. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – People on the High Line
  9. Wolfgang Flür – I Was a Robot
  10. Wolfgang Flür – Cover Girl

Peel Sessions – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, 14 April 1980

Just six months after their first session, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark returned to the John Peel show for another session, this time with another selection of songs from their debut eponymous album, released a couple of months before the session was recorded, plus a couple of hints of the second album, which wasn’t due to arrive for a while yet.

It opens with Pretending to See the Future, the closing track on their first album, and having done most of the best songs on the previous session they were mainly left with second rate ones this time. So, while this is pretty good, it’s far from amazing.

Having said that, Enola Gay must have come as a bit of a surprise given that it wouldn’t be released for another six months or so. There was even a release of Messages in between, so some listeners must have wondered where on earth this fantastic song was hiding. It is good though – much more raw sounding than the final release, with a live bass line and many fewer synth parts, but you definitely get more than just a vague idea of how good this will sound when it’s finished.

Having got that out of the way, OMD present us with one of the ropiest tracks on the first album, the distinctly questionable Dancing, presented here with some extra avant garde warblings. There’s always an experimental side to the Peel Sessions, and I suspect that’s what they’re trying to explore here. But it still isn’t really any good.

Finally for this session, we get Motion and Heart, another unreleased track, which would later appear on the second album Organisation, and was considered as that album’s second single (before they decided not to bother at all). Here, it sounds raw and a bit empty, but you definitely get the idea that there’s a good song there. But unlike Enola Gay, you probably wouldn’t fight your way into the record shop to find out what you had heard and why on earth it wasn’t available yet.

We previously covered the first session, and we’ll cover the remaining two sessions in future articles. You can read more about OMD‘s relationship with John Peel‘s radio show here. This session is available on the CD Peel Sessions 1979-83, available here.

Heaven 17 – Bigger Than America

Poor Heaven 17. By 1996, nearly two decades into their careers, they really hadn’t produced anything new of note under that name in over a decade. After their fame subsided with the reasonable How Men Are album (1984), just two studio albums and a couple of compilations had followed, and so Bigger Than America was truly a comeback.

But Dive is brilliant. It starts with some subtle analogue warbles, and builds into something that’s every bit as good as Let Me Go. The line that mixes “hear” with “here” could easily be tacky and awful, but somehow it works perfectly here. What a great opening track!

First single Designing Heaven follows. Unsurprisingly when you hear it, it wasn’t an enormous hit, but it’s reasonably good, and probably deserved a place somewhere in the Top 40. If you’re ever bored, track down the single to hear the laughably bad German version Den Himmel Designen.

Second (and final) single We Blame Love comes next, actually perhaps a better choice of single than the first, but it didn’t get any attention outside of Germany, where all your favourite eighties acts went to die.

Another Big Idea is next, and is largely fantastic. It might have been a while since Heaven 17 were this good, but they definitely had the right idea. In fact, the first reminder that they had been lost in the wilderness for over a decade at this point is on track 5, the pointless Freak! It contains the lyric “You’re an X and I’m a Y / Just take a look into the sky”. Which is pretty much all you need to know.

Changes are definitely afoot at this point in the album. You might have been wondering what exactly the title was about, but it isn’t until the title track that you really get a clue. Bigger Than America seems to be an attempt to poke fun at the USA, but a fair proportion of the lyrics don’t really make sense unfortunately. The chorus is good, though (despite rhyming “car” with “Ameri-car”), and the analogue squawks are fully in attendance.

From here onwards, my memory was suggesting the tracks would all start to merge into one, but that isn’t really true. Unreal Everything is a nice track, if somewhat forgettable – the only thing you’ll really remember here is the pleasant theremin (or portamento?) line that makes it sound like something out of a 1950s science fiction film. The Big Dipper takes some more cracks at the USA, this time hitting harder and arguably hitting the target more accurately.

Do I Believe? is really brilliant – fueled primarily by enormous analogue noises, but there’s a great song in there as well. Resurrection Man is a bit misguided, but towards the end things become pleasantly mellow, with the sweet and gentle Maybe Forever and then the uplifting An Electronic Prayer. The electronic howl that closes the album is an exemplary way to finish matters.

So this was Heaven 17‘s contribution to the 1990s. It was good, but was largely irrelevant and went ignored by most people. What it does seem to have done is spurred them to start playing live for the first time in their career, and so, a decade or so later, they finally came to be seen as the legends they are. As long as they stick to playing tracks from their better albums, anyway.

The CD version of Bigger Than America has long since fallen out of print, but you can still find digital downloads and second hand copies in most places.