It would appear that now is a great time to review Bent‘s compilation Best Of. Four albums in, and ten years into their career, they released this compilation pretty much exactly a decade ago, and after a disappointingly long break, they are finally Comin’ Back again. If you’ll pardon the pun.
It opens, appropriately, with Swollen, from debut album The Everlasting Blink – not their biggest hit, but their first foray on the UK charts, having hit number 87 in early 2001. As I imagine I’ve said here before, it’s an exceptional piece of music, thanks in large part to Zoë Johnston‘s moving vocal. Quite how this wasn’t in the Top 20 is a mystery to me.
Although honestly this is somewhat true for Magic Love too, a non-charting single from 2004’s second album The Everlasting Blink. Like all of Bent‘s more “magical” moments, it’s a sweet song which probably should have been a huge hit single. Then, from the next single, comes Beautiful Otherness, with the brilliant Jon Marsh on calm, collected, and deep vocal. Three tracks in, and we have here a quite exceptional collection of tracks.
To Be Loved follows, from 2006’s final album Intercept. If it’s a dip in quality, that means little when the bar is so high. From any other artist, this would probably be one of their best songs. From Bent, the calibre seems perhaps a little too high for this track to have its moment of glory.
Bent‘s chart performance was always a bit of a problem, and 2004’s exquisite Ariels provided just one minor hit single. More of that later, but for now, As You Fall is all we get from this album. It’s a lovely track, and does a good job here of representing Bent‘s softer and more melodic side.
Other album tracks follow, with Private Road taking us back to the 2000 debut Programmed to Love. Zoë Johnston makes a return to lead vocals, and while less moving on this track, the spirit remains. Then, with only four albums to choose from, we jump to 2004 again for the fun but poorly-titled The Handbrake. Even if you know Bent, you’re unlikely to remember which track this is, but it’s one of the better ones from Intercept. This is a perfect track for the midway point on this album, and frankly, if you don’t love this, you needn’t bother reading any further.
The first album was more sample-driven, and I Love My Man is a good example of this, a perfectly chilled out track, full of eclectic samples from goodness only knows where. It originally appeared on later editions of Programmed to Love. Then Comin’ Back follows, one of Bent‘s biggest hits, although that isn’t saying a huge amount – it hit number 89 in 2004. It’s a lovely song, with a sweet and powerful vocal. It’s a reminder, were it needed, that when Bent were good, they were very, very good.
The gentle and seductive Bewitched as I Am comes next, taken from their sneaky 2001 download-only album Downloaded for Love. It’s something of a special treat here, and a curiosity which will be known well by some, but not at all by others. Then from the first album comes the creepily titled instrumental Invisible Pedestrian.
But it’s Bent‘s full vocal songs that tend to hit the hardest. I Can’t Believe It’s Over appears here in its single version from 2004’s Flavour Country EP. Originally taken from the same year’s Ariels album, it was heavily reworked and turned from a fairly nondescript album track, albeit with a lovely vocal, into a dramatic and beautiful song, which should absolutely hold pride of place on the Best Of collection.
But there are, of course, many dimensions to Bent‘s music, and the jauntier tracks are another of their trademarks. Leavin’ Me takes another vintage sample and turns it into a disco track. It’s all a bit odd, and strangely brilliant. Trademark Bent.
The same is true of closing track Always, later murdered by Chicane. It’s another vintage vocal sample, but this time the arrangement that has been built around it is chilled out and beautiful. It was their second hit and their second biggest hit, peaking at number 84 in July 2001.
Which brings me to an interesting point – their biggest hit, and arguably their only true hit, having peaked at number 59 in mid-2003, was Stay the Same, which is notable in its absence here. Compilations always miss certain tracks off, and subjectively this is no major omission on this occasion – but surely it’s odd to miss your single biggest selling single from your Best Of compilation?
Either way, Best Of Bent is a good collection, and it’s nice that it was fairly restrained, with only fourteen tracks. There was a bonus disc of previously unreleased material too, for those who needed an extra nudge to buy it.
You can still find Bent‘s Best Of from all major retailers.