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.

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Chart for stowaways – 16 June 2018

These are the top albums this week:

  1. The Radiophonic Workshop – Burials in Several Earths
  2. The Human League – Secrets
  3. Sparks – Hippopotamus
  4. Tracey Thorn – Record
  5. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury
  6. Kylie Minogue – Golden
  7. Chvrches – Love Is Dead
  8. Jon Hopkins – Singularity
  9. Chicane – The Place You Can’t Remember, The Place You Can’t Forget
  10. Portishead – Portishead

Preview – Chicane

After a long period of silence at the very time when he would have had a lot of hits, it is good to see Chicane being so prolific in recent years, but it’s getting hard to keep up (hence the fact that I’m posting this about a month late) especially with the volume of slightly unnecessary cover versions. Anyway, this week’s new album is called The Place You Can’t Remember, The Place You Can’t Forget, and this track is called Serendipity:

Chicane – Far from the Maddening Crowds

Twenty years ago this week, Chicane released his debut album Far from the Maddening Crowds. It’s a great album, probably still the best of his career to date, so let’s give it a listen as a celebration.

It opens with Early, an ambient piece which sets the scene appropriately. Unlike many of his later works, this album is largely instrumental, and Early is full of gentle pads and swells. It mixes into the lovely Already There, which introduces gentle Spanish guitar sounds, but is otherwise another pleasant, spacious track, which carries us steadily onwards.

This album was the culmination of a couple of years’ worth of work, and so we get two different versions of Chicane‘s early hit single Offshore – first comes the Original Version, a beautiful mixture of beats, guitars, and gentle synth pads, with a plodding rhythmic synth that always sounds distinctly summery. The second version comes later on.

Then comes third single Lost You Somewhere, built around soft vocal samples but otherwise broadly similar to Offshore until it suddenly grows into an enormous trance piece, roughly halfway through. This fascinating mixture of gentle, laid back, banging trance music continues with From Blue to Green.

Then comes the second single, Sunstroke, remixed by Disco Citizens (in case you were wondering, that’s someone called Nick Bracegirdle, who also goes by the name Chicane). Again, this is broadly in a similar vein to Offshore, but it breaks out into a tirade of dance beats roughly halfway through, and it’s entirely catchy.

By the time Leaving Town mixes into the deep dance of Red Skies, you will have your hands in the air, and have long since forgotten about the relaxing opening of the album. But it’s been a gentle, gradual change of pace, and one that is executed exceedingly well.

The original version of Sunstroke turns up next, considerably more laid back than the remix that we heard earlier, and then we get Offshore ’97, a bumped-up version with more beats and a moderately annoying vocal about nothing in particular from Power Circle. It’s difficult to get too annoyed though, as most of the spirit of the original is still there, but it might have been nice if Bracegirdle had taken the time to record something new instead, especially as this reissued single actually performed less well on the charts than the original.

That’s pretty much it for this album – only the gentle-but-beatsy The Drive Home remains. If you pick up the 2007 version, you’ll get another remix of Offshore, which is fine, but you can probably live without it.

So Far from the Maddening Crowd is a great album, with plenty of promise, and like a lot of instrumental releases, it’s difficult to put into words sometimes. But this is definitely one that I’d heartily recommend.

The best version to go for is the 2007 reissue, although that appears to be out of print on physical formats, but you should still be able to find yourself a copy.

Random jukebox – Gloworm

Recently revived by Chicane for his new album, here’s an otherwise forgotten piece of electronic pop from the early 1990s, the exceptional voice of Gloworm, with the stirring Carry Me Home. There never was an album, and that’s a bit of a shame, as they were rather good.

Chart for stowaways – 13 August 2016

Here are this week’s biggest albums:

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