What does it sound like?:
The fourth release in Cherry Red’s retooling of the Be Bop Deluxe back catalogue. This time it’s the debut album from 1974. It follows the format of the previous sets – 3cd’s and a DVD in the box set, and a more modestly priced 2cd version comprising of the original version and the new remix versions of the album.
This album was recorded with the original lineup, Bill Nelson joined by rhythm guitarist Ian Parkin, bassist Robert Bryan and drummer Nick Dew. They had formed in August 1972 and played their first gig in that hotbed of rock North Ferriby, Hull the following month.
The new mix is as sparkly clean as the previous albums, with more echo on the vocals and (unsurprisingly) sharper guitar tones. When you play it next to the original album, it just shows how disgracefully muddy the original release was – this is understandable when you take into account producer Ian McLintock’s apparent substance abuse during the recording.
The new clarity does, however, reveal the limitations of the band – especially the drumming. Maybe it was the equipment, but the drums sound leaden and dragging. Nelson’s vocals sound weedy, and when you hear the new mix of “Rocket Cathedrals” the vocals are again very thin. And for some reason there is an extra 2 minutes plus of guitar noodling on “Jets At Dawn”, which was already 7 minutes plus, and gains little for it.
As for the additional material, once again there are versions which have appeared on other compilations like Tramcar To Tomorrow. The tracks we’ve all been waiting for are the Decca demos, and these are sadly disappointing. They show a songwriter and a band still searching for an identity, knocking out regular 70’s guitar rock. Nelson said a while ago that EMI pressured him to ditch the original line-up for more capable musicians, and on this evidence they were right on the money.
Here’s a thought: re-order the playing sequence so that it it goes Decca demos, then BBC ’73 session, then BBC ’74 session. Then you can see how the band and Nelson developed in confidence and professionalism – especially if you put Teenage Archangel on beforehand.
What does it all *mean*?
I suppose the appeal of albums like this isn’t always the intrinsic quality of the music, but as a historical exercise which uses the benefit of hindsight to spot themes or ideas which crop up later in a career. Certainly this album is of its time, and it’s not one that I play regularly. Still, it’s good to have it as a starting point, especially when you see the huge leaps in ambition and quality which followed: Drastic Plastic was only four years away.
The big question is, of course, is it worth the money? No, definitely not £50. Maybe the two-disc set is the best bet.
Goes well with…
A sense of a starting point, hesitantly moving forward for the long term.
Might suit people who like…
Plotting the development of a quality, single minded musician through a career which carries on consistently to the present.