What does it sound like?:
CD1 kicks off with The Rezillos (including future Human League Jo Callis) and features mainly late-70s three-chord one-off singles from short-lived punk bands. Of historical note are P.V.C. 2 (featuring Midge Ure); Johnny & The Self Abusers, who split into Cuban Heels and (whatever happened to them?) Simple Minds; the first Skids single; Mike Scott’s debut as Another Pretty Face. Things really get going with Simple Minds’ Chelsea Girl, which is the first song to actually have some structure, a keyboard, and production beyond “get it down on tape as quickly as possible” and the excellent The Shape Of Things To Come by The Headboys, a lost power-pop twin of Skids’ Into The Valley, featuring future The Blue Nile producer Calum Malcolm on keys. The last track on CD1, Stay With Me Tonight by Alex Fergusson (no, not that one) sounds like a helium-voiced rip-off of early Depeche Mode, until you discover producer Larry Least was actually Mute’s own Daniel Miller.
CD2 goes post-punk from the first track – Altered Images’ Dead Pop Stars (produced by, and sounding like, a Banshee). The Delmontes sound like a cross between Stereolab and The B-52’s. Cuban Heels sound like a Glaswegian Talking Heads. Associates stand out due to Billy MacKenzie’s extraordinary vocals. Josef K and The Fire Engines tick the scratchy post-punk box (Haircut 100 must have been listening south of the border). Nick Currie, later to become Momus makes an early appearance with The Happy Family. The influence of both Joy Division and A Certain Ratio-style punk-funk cover most of the remainder. Paul Haig’s keyboard-driven cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s Running Away remains outstanding. Final track by The Laughing Apple features Alan McGee (whatever happened to him?) and Andrew Innes, later of Primal Scream.
CD3 starts with The Cocteau Twins’ early, gloomy, Feather Oar Blades and then goes pop – The Bluebells’ Cath; The Waterboys’ A Girl Called Johnny, which I remember sent of jolt of electricity through me when I first heard it on the school bus; Friends Again (who split into The Bathers and Love and Money); Strawberry Switchblade; The Suede Crocodiles (featuring Kevin McDermott on vocals); Aztec Camera (odd choice of a track from the Mark Knopfler-produced second album); ex-Fire Engine Davy Henderson’s Win; five early singles on Alan McGee’s Creation Records including The Jesus And Mary Chain’s squalling Upside Down; and Fini Tribe sounding exactly like ACR.
CD4 documents the Smiths-influenced C86 years – more Creation label singles including Primal Scream’s All Fall Down; early Del Amitri; Momus; The Soup Dragons; BMX Bandits; Close Lobsters; Shop Assistants; The Motorcycle Boy. The Primevals’ pile-driving Living In Hell provides a welcome kick up the arse. Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie’s The Rattler gives no indication of what might happen to their backing vocalist; Kevin McDermott plays an acoustic guitar for some relief from the jingle-jangle; Edwyn Collins’ excellent solo debut Don’t Shilly Shally gives no indication of being produced by Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie.
CD5 begins with psyche-pop of pre-Acid House model The Shamen. Primitive sampling and early drum machines spice up the post-C86 jangle elsewhere. Final track, Cindytalk’s The Beginning Of Wisdom is a 7-minute avant-garde rumble which points the way towards Gordon Sharp’s later work with This Mortal Coil.
What does it all *mean*?
Overall, it’s a very good but not great compilation. Many of the tracks on CD1 are notable only for historical value, I don’t think I’d choose to play them again for their musical worth – Mike Scott chose the right Another Pretty Face track to include on his Secret History of the Waterboys compilation.
There’s nothing from the two Scottish labels with the biggest lasting legacy or influence, namely FAST Product and Postcard Records. I assume licensing fees and/or legal issues – Bob Last has an industry reputation and Alan Horne is now dismissive of Postcard.
There isn’t the variety or progression of, for example, the 5CD Manchester box. Perhaps five CDs are too many for quite insular musical scene? Although, as ever, the accompanying booklet is excellent.
I’ll be buying it, if only for the first appearance on CD of the outstanding The Headboys track.
Goes well with…
The other Cherry Red 5CD compilations
Might suit people who like…
C86 as a genre, power-pop, tracks of mainly historical, not musical, interest