Bent – Best Of

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.

Retro chart for stowaways – 16 Apr 2005

These were the top ten albums fourteen years ago this week!

  1. New Order – Waiting for the Sirens’ Call
  2. Moby – Hotel
  3. Basement Jaxx – The Singles
  4. Mylo – Destroy Rock & Roll
  5. Everything But The Girl – Adapt or Die – Ten Years of Remixes
  6. Client – City
  7. Daft Punk – Human After All
  8. Bent – Ariels
  9. Depeche Mode – Remixes 81-04
  10. Télépopmusik – Angel Milk

Retro chart for stowaways – 5 March 2005

These were the top ten singles on the chart for stowaways, an amazing fourteen years ago this week!

  1. Kings of Convenience – Know-How
  2. Girls Aloud – Wake Me Up
  3. Moby – Lift Me Up
  4. The Chemical Brothers – Galvanize
  5. Client – Pornography
  6. Erasure – Breathe
  7. Tears for Fears – The Closest
  8. Duran Duran – What Happens
  9. Bent – Comin’ Back
  10. Mylo – Destroy Rock & Roll

Retro chart for stowaways – 9 October 2004

Sorry for the delay today! Here’s a retro chart again, as the technical issues causing problems for the chart continue.

  1. Client – City
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre – Aero
  3. Delerium – The Best of Delerium
  4. Groove Armada – The Best of
  5. Air – Talkie Walkie
  6. Faithless – No Roots
  7. Client – Client
  8. Delerium – Chimera
  9. Bent – Ariels
  10. Pet Shop Boys – PopArt

Chart for stowaways – 24 February 2018

These are the top albums this week:

  1. Sparks – Hippopotamus
  2. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury
  3. David Bowie – Legacy
  4. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
  5. Bent – The Everlasting Blink
  6. Mgmt – Little Dark Age
  7. Liza Minnelli – Results
  8. David Bowie – A Reality Tour
  9. Above & Beyond – Common Ground
  10. Air – Talkie Walkie

Bent – The Everlasting Blink

Fifteen years ago this week, the brilliant Bent released their second proper album The Everlasting Blink, which took the charts by gentle nudge in early 2003. Since they’re definitely one of your favourite Nottingham-based chillout electronica acts, this seems a worthwhile anniversary to celebrate.

It had been a couple of years since the minor success of debut Programmed to Love, but relatively little seemed to have changed in Bent‘s world, and they were still able to craft beautiful, elegant chillout music, as the lovely opening track King Wisp ably demonstrates. But nothing is ever quite what it seems, as Mozart makes an appearance in this track.

Next is the adorable An Ordinary Day, full of analogue chirps and built around a vocal by Lena Martell, it’s really rather brilliant. This was, of course, the same year that Röyksopp‘s Melody AM broke the charts, and there are definitely certain commonalities between the two albums. This one did not, unfortunately, sell quite as well, but it’s every bit as accomplished.

Next is a Nana Mouskouri sample for the equally adorable Strictly Bongo, which carries the album gently onwards. But track four is the big surprise, and as I recall this was the reason I started listening to Bent in the first place. I was in a little independent record shop (remember them?) just browsing, and suddenly I heard the voice of one of my favourite singers, Jon Marsh of The Beloved. Knowing that they hadn’t released anything new for several years, I was intrigued. I asked the shop assistant what it was, and bought the album then and there.

The thing with Beautiful Otherness isn’t that it was Jon Marsh‘s first vocal performance for a number of years, though – it’s that it’s absolutely fantastic. The rippling piano, drifting lyrics, and generally perfect mood are what set this track apart. I never realised until researching this that Stephen Hague had a hand in it too, which of course helps. It deserved to be a huge hit single, but that was never to be.

After that, anything was going to be a bit anticlimactic, and sure enough, there isn’t really anything wrong with Moonbeams – it’s very pleasant, in fact, with its pedal steel guitar work – but it does suffer by not quite being Beautiful OthernessToo Long Without You gets closer, as it cleverly samples two different songs by Billie Jo Spears, and works very nicely indeed.

Exercise 3 is joyful and fun, if a little silly, and then we get the first of the two singles, Stay the Same, which was actually Bent‘s biggest hit, peaking at number 59 in July 2003, although unfortunately with a vastly inferior single version. It’s a beautiful song, drawing heavily on a David Essex song from 1974, but rather than sticking to his original slightly naff country delivery, it’s been stripped, re-timed, and turned into a great pop vocal. Clever stuff.

Magic Love was the second single, another beautiful track built around something much older, and then we get the gentle title track The Everlasting Blink, with a bit more pedal steel guitar on it. Then the last track is the short Thick Ear, closing the album sweetly and softly.

Except that isn’t the end – here, Bent bring us not one, not two, but three bonus tracks – 12 Bar Fire BluesWendy, and Day-Care Partyline, none of which were ever going to completely  change your world, but it’s nice to have them on here anyway to round things out.

The Everlasting Blink is a great second album, with a number of exquisite songs – but what happened next was better still – the follow-up, Aerials, which appeared the following year, is by far Bent‘s finest hour.

You can still find The Everlasting Blink at all major music retailers.

Retro chart for stowaways – 13 November 2004

Just for a bit of variety, let’s take a look at the albums chart from thirteen years ago this week!

  1. Depeche Mode – Remixes 81-04
  2. Client – City
  3. Dirty Vegas – One
  4. Delerium – The Best of Delerium
  5. Bent – Ariels
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Aero
  7. Groove Armada – The Best of
  8. Air – Talkie Walkie
  9. Client – Client
  10. Duran Duran – Astronaut

Retro chart for stowaways – 15 May 2004

I’m off on my holidays at the moment, so here’s the album chart from twelve years ago this week!

  1. Air – Talkie Walkie
  2. Pet Shop Boys – PopArt
  3. Goldfrapp – Black Cherry
  4. Dido – Life for Rent
  5. Erlend Øye – Erlend Øye – DJ-Kicks
  6. Zero 7 – When It Falls
  7. Sugababes – Three
  8. Dubstar – Stars – The Best of Dubstar
  9. Bent – Programmed to Love
  10. Sparks – Lil’ Beethoven

Bent – Intercept!

Laid back duo Bent‘s fourth and, to date, final studio album Intercept! came out a decade ago this week. As one of the most interesting and ingenious acts of their genre, that would seem to be a good excuse to give it a listen.

It begins with Exercise 7, completing a series of experimental instrumental pieces which go right back to some of their earliest releases. This one is a chirpy piece which begins with a sample asking “what would you do if you knew you only had three days to live?” and seems to take the choice of spending those last few days enjoying itself.

The one single from this album was the delightful To Be Loved, which builds gradually from a quirky introduction to a glorious chorus. It was never really going to make much of an impact on the charts, but it’s pretty good nonetheless.

Bent have, or perhaps had, a talent for gentle but catchy pop songs, with a bit of an eccentric touch here and there – and Stay Out All Night is a fine example of this. The lyrics are strange, perhaps even a little silly, but the delivery consists of an adorable vocal performance and some very sweet synth work, so it’s difficult not to like.

The instrumental Breakfast at 80,000 ft comes next, and then Tired of the Show, a curious piece which sounds from its vocal as though it ought to be a hard rock track, but the backing is a mixture of Bent‘s traditional soft sounds with a few grimey synth additions. It’s a strange mix, but it works rather well.

After the short instrumental piece Wendy, Darling, we get a less remarkable piece Waiting for You, catchier but somehow a lot less special than some of its neighbours, and then the lovely choral interlude of As Seen from Space.

If Bent‘s traditional brilliance had been lacking at all on the tracks up to this point, The Handbrake is definitely every bit as good as anything else they ever released. It’s a great song, with just a hint of early 1980s synth and bass work in amongst the gentle strumming guitar.

It was probably inevitable that they would leave us on a high. Leavin’ Me is a beautiful piece, apparently sampling Canadian country singer Anne Murray and adding a whole load of soft synth sounds and chimes. This is every bit as good as anything from Programmed to Love.

Right at the end comes the lovely After All the Love, another country-styled song, which appears to be largely accompanied by frogs chirping. Any criticisms this album may have received seem very unfair when you listen to this. Fans at the time seem to have struggled with Intercept!, and I think I understand why, but it’s a good album – just maybe not the best place to start your journey with the mysterious and wonderful Bent.

You can still find Intercept! at all major retailers. Don’t bother reading the reviews.