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The Sound - BBC Recordings review (The Mick issue no.4 2004)

date: Oct 5, 2004



Radio sessions are usually a hit and mix affair but feed the fan in you, recapturing the past when least expected. During the Peel era of Punk, and immediately thereafter, you’d do what you could to make reasonable recordings, and they usually turned out be rubbish, but there was healthy market for tape sellers down Portobello and outside gigs, so you’d always have that extra chance to catch up. That seemed to die out mid- 80’s, and the releasing of BBC session by Strange Fruit was always such a disastrously patchy affair you never thought you’d find anything good in your perceptive net again. It’s only recently, now that everyone and their pet flea is into licensing and ferreting and discovering lost gold, we’re being reintroduced to material, so it’s logical that among all the Sounds’ re-releases an album of BBC material comes to light.

The earliest radio sessions are brittle, with the Mike Read session sporting a jabbing, sparky ‘Heartland, strikingly smooth ‘Unwritten Law’ where the powerful vocals glide above the keyboard drone, and a pleasantly lopsided twang rises through ‘Jeopardy’ but, what the fuck?!!! I mean, the Mike Read show and ‘I Can’t Escape Myself’? That’s like Des O’Connor inviting Hole onto his show. But there we have it, History is a minx. The Peel session is typically sober, solid and as grim as ‘Fatal Flaw’ is. ‘Skeletons’ darts and chimes, ‘Hothouse’ is one step removed from insipid indie twinkling but the brackish ‘New Dark Age’ makes up for it despite the florid keyboard sound. 

In Concert naturally brings out the best in them, because there’s a live audience, and I’d forgotten how silly the show sounded, with a small BBC theatre full of friends egging their mates on. Usually you’d be off to gig, as I seem to recall it went out at something like 7.30 on a weekend, so I certainly never heard these before. The sound does ricochet around a bit and there are some lapses where Borland’s voice wafts backwards, but these are bristling tunes still, with ‘Unwritten Law’, ‘Skeletons’ and ‘Fatal Flaw’ immediately harder than the earlier sessions, and Borland sounds in great voice. ‘Winning’ envelops you, as the voice really starts to grip and the bass turns metallic. ’Sense Of Purpose’ starts by jarring, and the guitar gets buried, ‘Heartland’ is impatient and snappy, while ‘New Dark Age’ is remorselessly taut.

Fast-forward four years and they’ve got their problems, because while the astringent Borland delivery is rampant, and dour, with musical pleasantries tacked on, including acrobatic sax. ‘Golden Soldiers’ sounds like waffle, close to sour pop, and ‘Under You’ seems over-arty, but as ‘Total Recall’ uncoils Borland’s performance is amazing, only to be let down by identikit watchful fare with ‘Burning Part Of Me’ which simply doesn’t click like the two wonderful songs which follow straight on. ‘Whirlpool’ is almost mad, despite the vocals getting a bit lost, and then ‘Missiles’ is scalding. What else would you expect? Radio is radio and everything veers and soars and drowns and blisters, but the real joy is just hearing it and noting how vigorous and bold it is; a snapshot of former glories and new memories to treasure. 

2004 - Mick Mercer - The Mick issue no.4 

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