Gil Scott Heron/
The Boo Radleys
[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]
THE ESSENTIAL MICHAEL JACKSON
A MILLION IN PRIZES
THE GLASGOW SCHOOL
THE BOO RADLEYS
FIND THE WAY OUT
HIGH SUMMER, AND big name acts are either estivating, festivating or preparing for autumn/winter album releases. Time for the record companies to dig out the back catalogue. Which is the only feasible excuse for the otherwise breathtakingly cynical timing of The Essential Michael Jackson (“He's on every TV channel at once - get something in the shops, pronto.”)
That Jacko himself is at the mercy of both events and creditors may be the reason this best-of lives up to its billing. Ten years ago, he achieved the notable feat of turning a superstar's greatest hits album (HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1) into a vanity project. No such nonsense this time. Just two discs, spanning his career from Motown prodigy to misbegetter of the mistitled Invincible. Two hours of unimpeachably great pop music, and thirty minutes of whinging mediocrity, with a Thriller-era photo on the cover. Tellingly, few pictures in the packaging post-date the video for Smooth Criminal - the shining moment after which both his creative and personal lives plummeted. It's clear who's calling the shots now.
A similar thoroughness, and willingness to give the people what they want, marks the Iggy Pop collection A Million In Prizes. The first disc is a humdinger, creaming off the most memorable tracks from Iggy's Stooges years and the Seventies solo work abetted by David Bowie. Disc Two runs from 1979 to the current Stooges reunion, and the drop-off in quality after I'm Bored is abrupt as it is inevitable. Think of it as a bonus disc.
Orange Juice linger in the public memory thanks to their one big hit, Rip It Up. You won't find it on The Glasgow School, which is more archaeology than anthology. It contains their early recordings for the Postcard label, and serves to underline the strong influence Orange Juice (along with labelmates Josef K) exerted on both the burgeoning indie scene of the time, and today's post-punk revivalists - Franz Ferdinand in particular.
Although heavily influenced itself by the sharp, skeletal, literate art funk of Talking Heads, this music has an undimmed brightness all its own. An hour of it is too much for one sitting; but 25 years on, it still sounds far fresher and more self-confident than much of what it continues to inspire in Scotland and beyond.
Gil Scott-Heron also stands - indeed, towers - above his acolytes. As if jazz-funk were not frequently awful enough on its own, polemical jazz-funk is a particularly insufferable sub-genre. But Scott-Heron's Seventies heyday saw him combine a righteous, persuasively articulated anger with masterful music created in partnership with Brian Jackson.
Arista's Glory compendium remains the best option, if you can find a copy; but despite a fair bit of duplication, Anthology (Messages) makes a worthwhile companion piece or alternative. There's no The Revolution Will Not Be Televised or Whitey On The Moon. But that's made up for by lesser-known, if scarcely less brilliant tracks: It's Your World, Home Is Where The Hatred is. And classics The Bottle, Johannesburg, Winter In America and Angel Dust are to be found here too.
Like Orange Juice, The Boo Radleys are remembered for an unrepresentative hit. They were a curious, often frustrating, but occasionally wonderful band; and this is reflected in Find The Way Out. Written off as shoegazing mediocrities (their second album, 1992's Everything's Alright For Ever, was greeted by one review with the headline “Oh No It Isn't”), they seemed to pull themselves up through sheer force of will. At their best, they tapped into a vein of Beatlesque bittersweetness, nicely expressed through Martin Carr's songs and the slight, seraphic voice of Sice.
Amid rather too much chaff, those moments are all included here (except, alas, the lovely, heartsore Stuck On Amber); as are some fine, furious songs from their penultimate album, C'mon Kids, and a very good cover of Paul Williams' Bugsy Malone tune Tomorrow.
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