What does it sound like?:
Any overview of ACR’s 4-year career has to cover several phases and, potentially, hundreds of tracks.
This 4-CD box set collects up the singles left off last year’s single-CD “best of”, ACR:Set, and their reissued albums, along with selected b-sides, and demo recordings. There are enough previously-released tracks and mixes in the can for another four CDs.
The majority of the tracks on the first two CDs have been previously released on CD reissues from the LTM and Soul Jazz labels, but all here have been freshly remastered by the band from master tapes at Abbey Road for enhanced sound. Given Factory’s financial problems and closure, possibly not from original master tapes.
Their most famous releases were on Manchester’s Factory Records, the label run by their manager Tony Wilson. Their first single was Factory’s first single-artist release, after the Factory Sample split 7″, and before labelmates Joy Division’s more famous debut album.
The tracklisting is chronological, so begins with debut single All Night Party b/w The Thin Boys – droney dirges which do sound like Joy Division out-takes. Within months, funky drummer Donald Johnson had joined and things really took off.
Both tracks from next single (typically Factory, only released in Belgium), Shack Up / And Then Again were on Set, so track 3 is ‘Blown Away’, a two-note latin percussion workout which sounds nothing like serious young men in grey overcoats and points the way ahead (or one, path, anyway). Track 4 is rare US-only ‘Son and Heir’ and, despite the presence of DoJo’s drums, the shadow of JD still looms large.
The Sextet and I’d Like To See You Again-era 12″ singles are present, all slap bass and congas, as are the 12″ dub tracks released under the psuedomym Sir Horatio. Guess Who 12″ is a funk monster with a massive Mico-Moog bass riff, a rework of the ILTSYA album track.
Both sides of non-album 12″ I Need Someone Tonight / (Stevie Wonder cover) Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing, as are Life’s A Scream / There’s Only This – possibly the best of the mid-period singles, the point at which ACR really being to take flight (pun intended), are followed by the Touch Cassette version of set-closing Latin workout ‘Si Fermi O Grido’ (mastered from cassette by the sounds of it), rare 12″ ‘Brazilia’ (never released outside the original 12″ single), the proto-electro and clarinet of Wild Party 12″ b-side ‘Sounds Like Something Dirty’.
All four tracks of the rare Force-era Italian live-in-the-studio Greetings Four 12″ are a real bonus, including super-rare track ‘The Runner’ and ‘Inside’ (Mickey Way and Si Firmi O Grido were both on ‘Set’ and, to avoid duplication, the b-side version of Inside is left off from Box).
There’s nothing previously released from the A&M era, probably down to licensing issues. Three A&M tracks appeared on ‘Set’.
The band invested their A&M advance in buidling their own Soundstation studios and released stuff through New Order manager Rob’s Records. Both sides of Loosen Up Your Mind / The Planet are here,
27 Forever was on ‘Set’, as was Loosen Up Your Mind remix ‘Wonder Y’. Jon Dasilva’s Testimonial mix of Forever and Turn Me On (with lead vocals by Denise Johnson) don’t sound so far from the M-People or Simply Red club mixes around at the time.
Nothing else from the Rob’s era is present, which is probably no great loss. All these tracks use a basic doof-doof elctronic house sound and seem like pioneers ACR are playing catchup with those pesky Acid House youngsters. When yu have a DoJo in the band, which use an 808?
The early-90s electronic mix of Shack Up really doesn’t add anything, and loses a lot, compared to the scratchy funk of the original.
CD3 (demos) starts with ACR’s demo for Grace Jones’ cover of Talking Heads’ ‘Houses In Motion’ using Jez’s guide vocal. It’s a cracking track and worth the entry for any ACR fan. A shame Miss Jones didn’t ever complete or release the track.
An early instrumental version of And Then Again, rare Peel session track Piu Lento, Force-era Latin workout Nostromo A Go Go, unused album title track ‘Force’.
The demo versions of the A&M era tracks really don’t sound too far off the finished article so, whatever the motivation behind them, the production was not wholly to blame.
CD4 is largely unfinished Rob’s-era electro tracks, topped off with W.S.L.U., a stripped-down guitar and orchestral strings rework of Won’t Stop Loving You. It’s a lovely song and a shame it wasn’t a hit, but does it gain anything by an attempt to go upmarket? I’m not so sure.
What does it all *mean*?
Joy Division had the better songs, but ACR developed an interest in funk, jazz and South American music which has provided them with longevity.
Over the space of two CDs, they sound like three or four different bands – singers and band members came and went so, in a way, they were.
Goes well with…
Grey raincoats, khaki green shorts, football whistles, cowbells, 40th anniversaries
Might suit people who like…
Joy Division, New Order, early Level 42, Factory label acts, Latin percussion workouts