As a contrast to the ‘Progressive Pop Sounds’ sets from Cherry Red Records subsidiary label, Grapefruit, the ongoing ‘Underground Sounds’ series from Esoteric opts for something far more rock oriented. Early collections covering 1968 and ’69 resulted in fine, but unadventurous sets of tunes, and as the series moves into the 70s, fans can expect a similarly accessible approach. Although the four disc delve into 1970 doesn’t necessary dig too deep for obscurities, it still plays very well as a compilation in its own right. In a little over four hours, it serves up nostalgia, unfamiliar curiosities and enough genuine classics to give a solid overview of the year’s prog-leaning and guitar heavy sounds.
The global pandemic of 2020 knocked everyone and everything for six. People found themselves working from home and only meeting their friends virtually across a connected network of webcams. Businesses closed – both temporarily and permanently – and some places became ghost towns. Seaside tourist industries suffered; restaurants and pubs wondered if we’d truly reached the end times, and the entertainment industry ground to a halt with gigs being endlessly postponed. For James Robert Morrison, this seemingly endless landscape of bleakness became something of an inspiration. As man who’d always centred his work around social commentary, current affairs and the state of things in his immediate surroundings, the seemingly broken world and the online anger and self-entitlement surrounding it resulted in a huge burst of creativity.
Like a lot of people, Pierce Frolic turned to music as an escape from the heavier aspects of life. It was something he truly needed, since he struggled through school and, in his own words, “crashed out of college”, survived an automobile accident, ended up hospitalised through other misadventures and found himself surrounded by death. With friends having committed suicide or having their lives cut short through accidents, a dark world got even darker. With all of that in mind, it’s no wonder his debut release ‘Zinnia’ is obsessed with mortality.
David Myhr’s second full length solo release (2018’s ‘Lucky Day’) presented a slightly more mature sound for the Swedish singer songwriter. The core of the record still showed off his power pop core – it was easily recognisable as the work of the man who gave the world the brilliant ‘Soundshine’ a couple of years earlier – but there were a couple of deviations into more acoustic-based material and a smoother sound. Despite being a little softer in places, the tunes worked just as well, showing a definite artistic growth as well as an influence from Josh Rouse producer Brad Jones.
The recording sessions were so fruitful that CD buyers were treated to a couple of uncredited bonus tracks. What’s more, a few other great songs were left on the shelf. The 2021 EP release ‘And Now This’ finally makes the remainder of the album sessions material available to all, and amazingly, all four tracks are every equal to the best bits of ‘Lucky Day’ itself.
After a run of synth pop hits, Howard Jones took a musical detour. All artists grow and change, but the bulk of the material on his fifth album ‘In The Running’ (originally released in 1992) presented Jones in a more introspective light. Its ten songs tackled heavyweight subjects like pent up aggression (‘Gun Turned On The World’), mental illness (the self-explanatory ‘The Voices Are Back’) and the need for forgiveness (‘One Last Try’). Musically, his trademark synth pop style was dropped in favour of more of an adult AOR sound, sometimes much closer to Bruce Hornsby, and unfortunately, the UK radio stations seemed less than convinced. The album didn’t yield any massive hits and it subsequently became overlooked by all but the biggest fans.
By the early 2000s, it was much easier to find a copy of ‘In The Running’ from a US cut out bin than anywhere in the UK. A 2012 reissue coupled the album with ‘One To One’ and ‘Cross That Line’ and associated extras, but aside from a cover of Donald Fagen’s ‘IGY’ (released as a single in ’93) it didn’t offer much by way of ‘Running’ era extras. With that in mind, a massive reissue coupling the original album with a wealth of extra period material was something of a necessity. This four disc set from Cherry Red (issued in April 2021) aims to be the last word for ‘In The Running’, since it features a truckload of remixes and extra goodies alongside a DVD where Howard reflects on a much underrated work.