Friday, June 10, 2016

Everything's Groovy: My Review Of The New C87 Box Set On Cherry Red Records

The original C86 cassette, put out by the NME magazine 3 decades ago, gave birth to a rather limiting genre label even if the term ended up describing bands that sounded little like the bands on the actual tape. In an admirable attempt to break the shackles of that C86 label, Cherry Red Records has today released a 3-CD set called C87 that looks at the immediate aftermath of the C86 wave, as well as serves as a survey of a wildly disparate set of U.K. indie acts operating in the era when The Smiths were still together, and house -- as the liner notes by Neil Taylor mentions -- hadn't exerted any big influence on pop music. Yet.

The year 1987 could very well be one of those years when so many things -- both indie and mainstream -- really caught fire: The Smiths broke up; rap broke big; The Cure and Husker Du dropped monster double-albums; and nearly 100 U.K. indie acts recorded music that pushed the borders of what constituted indie even further away from the center...which is why Gaye Bikers on Acid, pictured up above, rub up against The Weather Prophets on this set. It seems, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see how wild the year 1987 was, and how ultimately liberating the era was for musicians in the U.K.

Of course, some of those acts from the original C86 tape are here and with songs that are more familiar to most listeners ("Anti-Midas Touch" from The Wolfhounds, pictured up there on top, and "Frans Hal" from McCarthy, pictured beneath). Additionally, there are a few acts here who'd break big in the U.K. in 1988, a year after this era: The Shamen, represented by the thudding "Young Till Yesterday"; the crunchy "It's Not True..." by The Wonder Stuff; and the rather rough "Real Animal" by The House of Love. What a listener can hear here -- especially on those 3 cuts I used as examples -- is the sound of an act finding itself. I wouldn't be stupid enough to say that those 3 cuts were perfectly representative of those acts but, like the majority of songs here from recognized acts, the cuts chosen for C87 are rather brave choices which illustrate the breadth of risk-taking happening in the U.K. scene in 1987.

To further a point I tried to make above, it's worth restating how rough and fresh some of these more well-known acts sound here: "Escape!" by Kitchens of Distinction sounds more like a bunch of early Joy Division riffs than the soaring U2-isms found on some of the band's later cuts; "Brighter" by The Railway Children is positively radiant and not as over-produced as some of the band's later tracks would seem (at least to this listener); and "Sweet Sweet Pie" by Pop Will Eat Itself sounds, frankly, more like The Wonder Stuff than the actual Wonder Stuff selection on this box as none of the band's eventual experimentation with rap and sampling is evident here.

There are, of course, some big indie staples here: "Paul McCartney" by Laugh; "I Could Be In Heaven" by The Flatmates (pictured below); and "My Favourite Dress" by The Wedding Present (also pictured below). These tracks, like so many here, feel like templates for everything good about U.K. indie that would come after; can you imagine a British alt-pop scene that didn't have Gedge's act -- or bands that cribbed from his playbook -- in it?

Of the less familiar stuff here, standouts include the sublime and buoyant "Grey Skies Blue" by The Submarines, or the buzzing "Big Rock Candy Mountain" by the unforunately-forgotten The Motorcycle Boy, or the delirious shredding of "Secret Goldfish" by Baby Lemonade which seems, with the benefit of hindsight, to have been the perfect precursor to what Maryland's own Black Tambourine would do not so long after 1987.

Elsewhere, it's nice to encounter a Bodines song that isn't "Therese" ("Clear"), or a rougher track ("Hang Ten!") from The Soup Dragons that makes one mourn again how much their sound changed when they went mainstream, or a Primitives number that's from the band's early years ("We Found A Way To The Sun") rather than from off of their slightly more polished albums on RCA.

Phil Wilson (pictured below) offers up the post-June Brides classic "10 Miles" which sounds now so much like a Forster-number from The Go-Betweens back catalog that one wants to pat Mr. Wilson on the back. Elsewhere, a pre-Heavenly Amelia Fletcher provides "Talulah Gosh" by the band of the same name, one of the rare examples of a song that's a band name too and which doesn't entirely suck. Fletcher's crew (pictured below Wilson) still seem a bit underappreciated but their inclusion here is one of the most significant nods to more traditional styles of U.K. indie that can be found on C87.

If casting such a wide net for that post-C86 wave of music makes this set nearly unwieldy, the curators at Cherry Red Records have accomplished something remarkable here amid the chaos: they've broken the shackles of such a narrow representation of U.K. indie of the era. I mean, for 3 decades writers have tagged stuff as being C86-like, or something similar, never recalling for a second how varied the music on that seminal tape was, or how enormous the range of styles was in the output of the generation that flourished in the year after, collected here on C87.

Unlike on their recent superb shoegaze box, Cherry Red Records has performed a more needed task than simply assembling pioneers of one genre: shining a light on one of the most fertile periods of sonic experimentation in U.K. music-making. There are bands here that sound absolutely nothing like one another, especially in the context of this C87 set. But that's fine 'cause, instead, the range of what constituted indie back in those days is shown more clearly. That fleeting moment in time, between the demise of The Smiths and rise of house, before Creation Records acts went mainstream, before grunge got exported to the U.K. amid the rise of shoegaze, and before The Stone Roses made Manchester the center of so much attention (again), U.K. indie was flourishing and producing dozens and dozens of bands who populated a broad spectrum of artists crafting clearly-outside-the-mainstream music. Bold, brash, noisy, and fuzzy, the tracks here on C87 share one similarity and that is they are each the product of an age where risk-taking was rewarded. If not every act here broke as big as, say, The House of Love, or The Shamen, they all seem equal in statute here, in the context of what made up U.K. indie in 1987.

This superb overview of the post-C86 wave, the 3-CD set called C87, is out today via Cherry Red Records.