Picture the scene: the twentieth century is in its death throes. Britpop is over. Most of the Seattle bands have stopped being headline news. Nu-metal is a thing. Eminem has proven that Beastie Boys don’t have the monopoly on saleable white rap. The Red Hot Chili Peppers have parted company with Dave Navarro, welcomed back John Frusciante and begun a slow journey into mediocrity. For the first time in a few years, the musical landscape doesn’t seem to have a dominant force.
In some ways, Tasmin Archer’s work seems like an odd choice to be given the priority box set treatment. For many years, her best selling debut ‘Great Expectations’ was somewhat of a charity shop staple and, indeed, the original album has often obtainable for little more than a few copper coins on the internet’s second hand market. In addition, Archer’s time at the top seemed so brief when compared to some of the other pop heroines of the age. Then again, perhaps Archer’s fleeting moment of genuine stardom makes her the ideal candidate for such a reissue package. For most, she’s only really known as the lady who sang ‘Sleeping Satellite’ – a soul-pop #1 hit that seemed to take on an omnipresent annoyance – but as this set shows, she wrote and recorded better songs during her first few years of stardom. Much stronger and more interesting material than her once hugely popular hit would have you believe.
In the 90s, Semisonic scored a few massive radio hits on both sides of the Atlantic. Best remembered for ‘Secret Smile’ (an okay pop-rocker that seemed to take on an almost omnipresent status for a time) and the superior ‘Closing Time’, they had more than their share of fans, but much like the similarly adult oriented Dishwalla and Tonic, it seemed hard to imagine them as anyone’s all time favourite band.
Although best remembered for massive hits ‘Magic’ and ‘January’, there was always far more to Pilot’s career in the 1970s. The Scottish pop-rockers released four albums between 1974 and 1977 containing well crafted pop and rock elements which, at their best, should’ve placed the band high on a pantheon of pop alongside 10cc and Andrew Gold. Instead, they’re sometimes remembered – somewhat unfairly – as part of the decade’s pop pin-up fare. Just take one listen to the giant fanfare that heralds the arrival of #1 hit ‘January’, with its multi-tracked guitars and enduringly jubilant vocal performance, or David Paton’s complex bass runs that cut through the heart of ‘Magic’, and it’s obvious there was far more to Pilot than generic pop.
The obviously titled ‘The Albums’ brings together all four of the band’s four major releases for the first time, including the first ever UK CD release for their ‘Two’s A Crowd’ LP from 1977. As those who’ve treasured their vinyl copies of the first two albums will suspect, this is a collection that features a fair amount of great material, but shows how Pilot weren’t always the most consistent among the decade’s pop-rockers.
The box sets released by Grapefruit Records covering the second half of the 60s managed to bring together a lot of interesting material under the loose umbrella of psychedelia. The four box sets – featuring music from 1966-69 respectively – also took in bits of pop, freakbeat and folk, but with so many phased guitars, recurring themes of teatime and other whimsy dictated by a general soft drugs haze, they often felt like coherent packages. Once the yearly exploriations move the into the 70s, there isn’t quite such a focus; with the first wave of psychedelia in its death throes, as well the rise of hard rock and singer-songwriters, the early 70s paint from much broader musical palate.
A stylistic indecision hasn’t stopped Grapefruit from digging deep and turning up loads of interesting things to fill ‘Peephole In My Brain: The British Progressive Pop sounds of 1971’, of course, and its three discs are brimming with obscurities, flop singles, half remembered gems and deep album cuts. With the vaults of Harvest, Vertigo, Ember and various other labels truly raided, it’s a set that’s quite quirky in its own way – and a reminder that there was far more going on at the time than the Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Yes and Tull-loving rock historians would have you believe.