What’s not to like about compilation albums? They’re like a load of presents crammed onto one or two pieces of vinyl, or they’re akin to a kind of melody buffet tempting to you to gorge on each one. This post runs the gamut of definitive compendiums on a theme (XTC) to compilations based on style (sunshine psychpop) to diverse collections serving other purposes altogether (the Wild Honey and Lame-O collections). Let’s dig in!
Kicking things off is a rather titanic offering, a truly ambitious labour of love that I’m happy to report is a stunning success: Futureman Records’ Garden of Earthly Delights: An XTC Celebration. XTC were a strikingly intelligent, musically adventurous, should-be hit machine. In some universe music creators as talented as the duo mostly responsible for XTC’s multi-decade output would be lauded with accolades and bags of cash. In this universe, by contrast, the eccentric, highly listenable genius of Partridge and Moulding produced 14 brilliant albums but mostly indifference from the record buying public, other than a small army of dedicated fans. Luckily, if this fabulous tribute album is anything to go by, just about every fan must have gone on to form a band! The collection draws from every period of the band’s catalogue with an amazing 49 cuts. And the quality is very high indeed.
Some of the covers here seem like spot-on recreations of the originals (e.g. Jim Laspesa and Rob Bonfiglio’s “Dear Madam Barnum”). Others take the songs in new directions, cast them in a different register, speed them up or slow them down, etc. (e.g. King Radio’s “Mayor of Simpleton”). Really, there something here for every kind of fan, from the band’s art rock/punk origins to their psychedelic Dukes’ records to the perfect poprock of their later period offerings and even some album deep cuts. I can’t possibly comment on them all so I’ll just single a few tracks that caught my ear. I love how the Kickstand Band kicks off “Life Begins at the Hop” in such a familiar way, but then bends and reinvents the melody a bit with their distinctive harmony vocals. Coke Belda and El Inquieta Roque elevate “Standing in for Joe” into classic-sounding poprock tune. You can hear the XTC-isms in Danny Wilkerson’s version of “Where Did the Ordinary People Go” but he also manages to highlight the song’s hookiness. The acoustic guitars in Gentle Hen’s take on “No Thugs in our House” lighten the mood and nicely accent the song’s melody without removing the dread that suffuses the tune. Glowbox add a nice bit of urgency to a great selection from XTC’s magisterial 1986 album, Skylarking. For XTC fans, or for those just discovering the band, Garden of Earthly Delights offers a unbeatable treasure trove of yet to-be-discovered treats.
The back story to the fabulous Kool Kat Records release of For the Record: A Tribute to John Wicks is nothing short of tragic. The legendary frontman for new wave indie darlings The Records had amassed an album full of superior tunes and got them half finished before sadly dying of cancer in 2018. But the happy ending is how co-songwriter and music blogger Richard Rossi, producer Jamie Hoover, and a cast of power pop luminaries finished the record. The album sounds amazing! The songwriting is so strong and the performances are stellar. Of course, with help from people like Peter Case, Paul Collins, Don Dixon, Bill Berry, Al Stewart and so many others, it’s hardly surprising that For the Record is such an enjoyable listen. Personally, I’m stumped picking out just a few faves. Love the “1-800-Colonoscopy” (lead vocal from REM’s Bill Berry), “Repo Man” (featuring Jamie Hoover), and Wick’s own turn at lead vocal on “She’s All I Need.” However, if I had to single out one tune it would be Paul Collin’s amazing take on “Glittering Gold,” apparently recorded live yet still hit-single-worthy. Buy this record, it’s worth it!
Our present state of corona virus upheaval has brought out the latent benefit record proclivities of both artists and record labels. We’re featuring two interesting contributions from Wild Honey and Lame-O Records, respectively. The Wild Honey release, The Benefit of Things to Come, has a great cover, mimicking the classic look of the California pop scene of the late 1960s. The Lame-O collection has a great name, Don’t Stand So Close To Me: A Lame-O Compilation For Self-Isolation – so apropos! The latter is mostly a lofi indie and rock and roll set but with a few sterling melodic contributions from U.S. Highball and Mike Bell and the Movies. The former is a bit more in our pop rock wheelhouse, with killer cuts from The Rubinoos, The Peawees, Doug Tuttle, MojoMatt, Peretta, and others. Our last featured collection is more about vibing on a style, this time perhaps drawing from some early Style Council plus light 1960s pop psychedelia on the fadeawayradiate records release, F.A.R. Out: A Sunshine Psychpop Compilation. It’s an eminently listenable collection, but make sure to check out the tracks from Night Heron, Young Scum, the Catherines and the Suncharms.
Compilations often give us a bit of what we know and a lot of what we might otherwise not check out. As such, there’s a real sense of adventure about the whole enterprise. And sometimes, as with the cases above, they’re also for a good cause. So click on the links and book your adventure to start now.