Before the arrival of grunge, the US was awash with sleazy bands sporting huge hairstyles and huge attitudes. Guns N’ Roses would go on to achieve world domination, and MTV made huge stars out of many others, including Ratt, Motley Crue and Poison. For every band that hit the big time, of course, there were many that didn’t achieve quite the same levels of success. Kik Tracee, Tuff, and Jetboy were bands that very much fell into this category, along with LA’s Faster Pussycat, but even these “also rans” gained more than their fifteen minutes of fame at the height of the music television boom.
Over the years, the market has been flooded with Hawkwind compilations, reissues and retrospectives. From the comprehensive and brilliant (‘This Is Your Captain’, a huge set pulling together the United Artists albums), to the interesting (box sets of Flicknife and Emergency Broadcast era albums aimed more at the completist), to the perfunctory (various cheap “best of” type sets, thrown together by budget labels with no thought), it seems as if no stone has been left unturned in terms of anthologies celebrating the legendary space lords.
Beginning with their massive box set celebrating ‘Human’s Lib’ issued in November 2019, Cherry Red Records have really gone the extra mile with their Howard Jones reissues. Each release has been afforded a wealth of extras, including bonus DVDs featuring archive live footage and TV appearances where available, and the addition of demos and alternate takes accompanying the main albums has been a fan’s dream. It was especially pleasing to see some love for Howard’s 1992 release ‘In The Running’, an album which saw him transition from 80s synth pop hero to a slicker, older singer-songwriter. Although overlooked by many at the time, it now stands proudly as one of the most enduring albums in the artist’s catalogue.
Complimenting the vastly expanded studio albums, this five disc box set of live materials allows for a different kind of exploration of HoJo’s past, but in hearing performances recorded between 1983-87 it really brings home the fact that he was, arguably, the greatest synth pop performer of the era.
During the first half of their career, Corrosion of Conformity went through a lot of changes to find their sound. Their early thrash metal releases create a confident noise, but didn’t always utilise the best of COC’s combined talents. 1991’s ‘Blind’ blended thrash with a more melodic stoner feel and brought them to a wider audience due to some great reviews, but was still a hit and miss slab of metal. It wasn’t until the release of 1994’s ‘Deliverance’ that the band unleashed something genuinely classic. Part of the greatness came from a shift into even more melodic territory – the COC sound was now dominated by huge stoner vibes and a very retro groove – but just as important was guitarist Pepper Keenan’s decision to take on the lead vocalist’s role. The fourth person to step behind the COC mic, Keenan’s melodic drawl was perfect for the new sound and on tracks like ‘Clean My Wounds’, when dropping Thin Lizzy-esque riffs into a very desert rock scenario, they finally sounded natural in a way they never had before. The follow up album, 1996’s ‘Wiseblood’, gained even more commercial attention due to an appearance of James Hetfield, but 2000’s ‘America’s Volume Dealer’ absolutely knocked that out of the park performance-wise, even if sales were not quite as impressive. With the new millennium, COC finally gave into their natural instincts and became one of the greatest stoner metal bands on the face of the planet.
When thinking of the rock sounds to emerge from Birmingham and surrounding areas, it’s all too easy to think of Slade and their chart topping stompers, of Roy Wood and his flamboyant take on glam rock, and of heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. All of those bands really helped to put the Midlands on the map – that could never be disputed – but Brum and its surrounding neighbourhoods offered British music so much more throughout the sixties and seventies. ‘Once Upon A Time In The Midlands’ brings together various heroes, forgotten gems, period rarities, and even the occasional hit in a brilliantly compiled 3CD package that’ll educate as much as entertain.
Although the three discs aren’t in a strict chronological order, this collection has a definite flow, moving through psych and beat groups, into a world of seventies rock and finally ending up with the glam-ish sounds of Blackfoot Sue and an early tune from Judas Priest. As always with these sets, though, ‘Bostin’ Sounds’ works best when approached as a curate’s egg, with the listener dropping in at random on a couple of old favourites and discovering something old – yet new – along the way.