Sunday, February 4, 2018

Give Me Your Youth: A Review Of Both The New Monochrome Set Album And The New Box Set

This Friday should be a joyous day for fans of The Monochrome Set as the band is set to drop not only a new album, but also a 6-CD or 6-LP box-set of their complete recordings from the first 6 years of their existence. Maiseworld is, as you would expect, another fine example of this act's powers going into the future, while 1979-1985: Complete Recordings is, as you can tell from the title, a collection of everything that the band released in those years in the title. Both releases are coming out on the Tapete Records label and both releases are every bit as essential as most of the albums from this group have been in the past.

1979-1985: Complete Recordings takes a rather straightforward approach, offering up the band's first 4 records on the first 4 discs/records here, with the final 2 discs/records being given over to the band's singles from the era. The early numbers from The Monochrome Set -- ones like "Love Goes Down The Drain" and "Martians Go Home" -- indicate the arrival of a new, arty approach to British post-punk. And one can only imagine how odd some of Strange Boutique would have seemed back in 1980. Released in the same year, the band's second record, Love Zombies, saw the rougher edges of the band's attack smoothed, with numbers here ("Adeste Fideles" and the title cut) serving as New Wave-y nods in the direction of British styles from earlier decades. If one can detect a faint trace of British music hall, and even glam rock, in the style of early Bowie, here, it's probably intentional. The Monochrome Set were always nothing if not out of place, and listening to these early records released in the years that acts like The Clash were hitting a peak only confirms that feeling. It's not that fans of Strummer and his gang couldn't appreciate something like "The Man With The Black Mustache", but that it was asking a lot.

Eligible Bachelors from 1982 is one of the real highlights here, with familiar numbers from the band ("Jet Set Junta" and "The Midas Touch") making appearances on this one. If the music sounds more robust here, it's largely in service of tunes that seem bigger than the band's earlier numbers. "I'll Scry Instead" and "The Devil Rides Out" are both more robust and thought-out than selections on the group's first 2 records, and yet they contain every bit as much of the wit and brains as listeners would expect from Bid and his boys. The final studio album here, 1985's The Lost Weekend, reveals a band that should have been far more successful in terms of sales and notice back in those years. Lead singer Bid was poised to try a solo career in this era, but tunes here like the big "Jacob's Ladder" place this band's work firmly in place as a possible point of inspiration for both The Smiths and all those C86-era acts. There's a real brainy vibe here even as the offerings reveal a truly varied approach from the act, from the twich-y "The Twitch" to the more cerebral "Letter From Viola", an easy dip into chamber pop. The subsequent 2 discs after this provide a nice overview of the Monochrome Set's approach by giving us a bunch of their best singles all in a row. And for every repeat here that's a number from albums 1 to 4, there's something fresh like "He's Frank" that reveals just how nimble and sharp this lot were then.

That sharpness -- a refinement of wit coupled with real pop chops -- is still there as the new album, Maiseworld, from The Monochrome Set clearly shows. From the bright bounce of "Give Me Your Youth", and on to the rollicking "I Feel Fine (Really)", the cuts here are nearly as vibrant as those on those early records. Elsewhere, "Silence Is Rusty" is a jaunty romp, while the more propulsive "Oh Yes, I'm Going To Be In Your Dreams Tonight" ebbs and swells in a manner that suggests nothing so much as the sort of thing that The Smiths would have once penned even as they owed such a huge debt to this lot while doing it. Lots of Maisieworld is suitably skewed pop of the sort that once ruled British indie charts in the past, which is not to say that the approach here is quaint but, rather, that it's a return to the sort of classic songwriting the lads in The Monochrome Set have always championed.

There are, frankly, not many bands who could drop a career-spanning set on the same day that a new album is released without one of the offerings suffering by comparison, but The Monochrome Set is that sort of band. So much of the greatness of what's here is down to the presence of constant front-man Bid. Under his leadership, this outfit has succeeded through various line-ups without a flagging of creativity being exhibited once. Maiseworld and 1979-1985: Complete Recordings are both out on Friday via Tapete Records.

More details on The Monochrome Set via the band's official website.

[Photo: Uncredited band photo from label]