Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Various Artists, The Brit Box

In the early ’80s British rock and pop was stuck in a bad groove.  Punk was long over, new wave had degenerated into a glut of synth bands that were more about hairdressers than brit boxmusic and the record companies were pushing “stars” like Boy George, George Michael, and Phil Collins.  Nobody was playing guitars.  And then in 1984 The Smiths released their self-titled first album and all of a sudden guitars were cool again – at least in the new and not-yet-marketed indie scene.  Through the rest of the ’80s and ’90s, the UK produced an army of creative, interesting and exciting guitar-oriented bands.  “The Brit Box” chronicles these years of indie, shoegaze and Brit-pop music.

“The Brit Box” presents 78 tracks from 78 bands over 4 CDs.  It starts, appropriately, with The Smiths (“How Soon is Now?”) and ends with Gay Dad (“Oh Jim”).  Most of the A-list bands that attracted a lot of attention and had an enormous impact are here.  Along with the Smiths we get The Cure (“Just Like Heaven”), The Jesus and Mary Chain (“April Skies”), The Stone Roses (“She Bangs the Drum”), Primal Scream (“Loaded”), My Bloody Valeentine (“Only Shallow”), New Order (“Regret”), Blur (“Tracy Jacks”), and Oasis (“Live Forever”).  There are also  quite a few slightly less influential or well known bands that made music equally as good as the big-name bands.  Among my favorites are Teenage Fanclub (“Star Sign”), The Charlatans UK (“The Only One I Know”), Stereolab (“Wow & Flutter”), The Verve (“Lucky Man”), and Super Furry Animals (“Something 4 the Weekend”).

The lists above just barely scratch the surface.  In addition there are tracks from the Cocteau Twins (“Lorelei”), Echo & the Bunnymen (“Lips Like Sugar”), Happy Mondays (“Step On”), Inspiral Carpets (“This is How It Feels”), The La’s (“There She Goes”), “Ride (“Vapour Trail”), Manic Street Preachers (“Stay Beautiful”), Catherine Wheel (“I Want To Touch You”), Suede (“Metal Mickey”), Swervedriver (“Duel”), Supergrass (“Alright”) and more.  Much more.

Collections like “The Brit Box” set themselves a difficult task.  Fans who really know and love the music covered in the collection are almost never satisfied.  Well known bands get left out because rights to their songs couldn’t be acquired, less well know favorite groups don’t get included, or the track chosen for a known and loved band isn’t the one the fan would have chosen.  For the groups that I know well in this set it’s almost always the case that I would have chosen any one of a number of other tracks for the set, but so what?  The compilers like this track and I like that one.  It’s no big thing.  I find the “The Brit Box”much more useful as an introduction to bands I’m not very familiar with that made music in genres that I like than as a collection of tunes from groups I already know well.  Perhaps the best recommendation I can give the collection is that I expect I’ll be searching out old albums by some of these bands for quite some time.

“The Brit Box” comes with a thick booklet that includes a long and interesting essay by the compilers, a few brief and usually interesting sentences about each track, and complete track references.  There are also sidebars with interview bits from a number of the musicians whose music we hear, and three page-long Q&As with sound engineers and record producers (very interesting) and an academic (not interesting).  In addition there’s a two page article on US deejay Rodney Bingenheimer who was an early supporter of this music in the States.  The article is meant to give praise but Bingenheimer comes across as a self-inflated minor league player who’s trying to build himself up by name dropping famous bands.  Finally, there’s a brief note by Alan McGee the guy behind Creation Records, the label that broke The Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub, Primal Scream and Oasis among many others.  Unfortunately McGee seems to be more interested in McGee than the wonderful music he brought to us.

The bands on “The Brit Box” are rock and pop oriented guitar bands.  They have virtually no interest in either guitar-god heroics, blues jams, theatrical displays and pyrotechnics, or any of the forms of metal that were so popular in the US and some areas of mainland Europe.  Perhaps one of the distinguishing features of the music made by these UK bands was that no matter how much the guitars raged and roared, and The Mary Chain and MBV could put up a wall of sound that would flatten buildings, they never lost their fundamental grasp on melody and harmony.  If you like melodic guitar-driven rock and pop, you are almost guaranteed to find bands and songs you like on “The Brit Box”.  It’s a terrific gateway collection that can open your ears to all kinds of good music.

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01/12/2008 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews

2 Comments »

  1. […] #1 – Hurricane #1 One of the great benefits of themed box sets like Rhino’s The Brit Box released last year is that they give you a chance to get a taste of bands you may not have heard […]

    Pingback by Hurricane #1 - Hurricane #1 « Tuned In To Music | 01/30/2008 | Reply

  2. […] “Ferment” is a fine example of how useful a collection like Rhino’s “The Brit Box ” can be.  I’d seen many references to the band but not listened to their music until […]

    Pingback by Review: Catherine Wheel, Ferment « Tuned In To Music | 02/18/2008 | Reply


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