By Various Artists
Apologies to the ace people at Cherry Red for taking so long to write this. Not for the first time I've been distracted by a book I was reading but in my defence it helped with the music. In "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" Andrew Collins recalls his journey into manhood as an art student living in 80's London. Striving for individuality and unwittingly searching for love in the time of grants, The Young Ones, dodgy haircuts and even dodgier fashion statements: it's a story of self-discovery through music, relationships, lyrics, leftie-leanings, poetry and demonstrations. It's the story of one indie-kid but it could be the story any indie-kid back then or now. The music on "Scared to Get Happy" has the same timeless quality. If the development of British indie music is something you think you'll relate to because of the music you listen to now or because it's what you listened to then, then you'll totally get it.
I'm steadily approaching forty and nostalgia is my increasingly frequent reflex to modern life. I find myself looking back to the music that started an obsession. Building my collection up is musical archaeology: digging the hole deeper and wider, slowly revealing links between different times and genres. I'm too young to know some songs on "Scared to Get Happy" from first time around but those songs have helped put the ones already ingrained in my mind into context. Hey, if I removed from my collection music that first appeared either before I was born or when I was too young to be aware of it I'd almost certainly be a different person. There'd be no Pixies, no Birthday Party, no Wedding Present, no The The, no Can, no Wire, no Fall, no Sonic Youth, no Smiths; it doesn't bear thinking about. Some of my favourite bands appear on this compilation and to hear them alongside lesser known contemporaries adds detail to the landscape of a golden time in indie. This era of British alternative music that evokes so many memories is something the indie-kid in me will always have an affinity with. That self-questioning, idealistic leftie and enlightened world view I once held, assuming that nobody had ever looked at things the way I did, is a part of me forever. There's a light that never goes out, et al.
If you like British indie and want to know where the sound comes from - or you remember these days - then you need to hear all 132 tracks on this compilation. That's the other reason it's taken a while to write about. 132 songs! That's like a dozen standard length albums or something! I should have thought about that before I embarked on a review. With so many to listen to no doubt there'll be ones you want to skip when you're onto your second listen and conversely there'll be others you need to play over and over until you realise you've forgotten to do something important. It's inevitable. There's probably only a dozen or so tracks I didn't like across all five discs which is a pretty decent strike rate. As big a fan as I am of the Nuggets length box sets and as proud a place as the likes of my Wedding Present: Complete Peel Sessions and Kat's Karavan occupy, there will always be songs that promote the skip button. Given that you're even reading reviews on this site I'll assume that you will know at least one band on "Scared to Get Happy" (James, Inspiral Carpets, Stone Roses, Wedding Present, Cud, Boo Radleys, The La's, House of Love, Wonder Stuff, Telescopes, Primitives, Darling Buds, Jesus and Mary Chain,... too many obvious choices to list them all here). Another thing I'll assume, nay guarantee, is that everyone will have a new favourite song and a new band added to their back-catalogue wish-list by the end of their first listen. For me this was immediate with opener "Revolutionary Spirit" by The Wild Swans.
You'll hear intrinsic links between these songs and what followed in the 90's, coupled with an articulate look back in the direction of 60's psychedelia throughout. Grab Grab The Haddock's "I'm used now" and The Chalotte's "Are you happy now?" sound like the musical aunty of Sleeper, Echobelly, Elastica and Kenickie as much as Wolfhound's "Cut the Cake" sounds like the raw and edgy older brother of Shed Seven. The Fire Engine's intro on "Candy Skin" sounds like a music lesson on intro's given to The Libertines. That respectful glance at the 60s is evident in The Pale Fountains' "(There's always) something on my mind" with its rich strings captures Scott Walker - a sound revisited years later by Messrs Turner and Kane in their Last Shadow Puppets guise. The Bachelor Pad's "The Albums of Jack" has a 13th Floor Elevators / Silver Apples vibe as much as Sea Urchins' "Solace" is in touch with early U.S. garage. More traditional homage from the likes of The Jasmine Minks on "Where the Traffic Goes" channels The Byrds, whereas Fantastic Something's "If she doesn't smile" recalls Simon and Garfunkel's "Cecilia" like nothing else. The Monochrome Set on "The Jet Set Jumbo" however manage to bridge the forty-odd year gap between Nuggets era psych and today's Django Django.
There are some sounds on here that epitomise British indie music. "Sad" by the BMX Bandits, Josef K's "The Missionary" and "Stop the Rain" by The Suede Crocodiles (a band seemingly taking their name from an indie-band generator that I imagine previously rejected the suggestion of The Walking Carpets, The White Pencils and The Dry Tears) are prime examples. There are a few songs scattered around that time has been less kind to, sounding dated compared to the rest; Lloyd Cole (drums), This Brilliant Evening (synths) and Scars (generally) are the first that spring to mind. There are so few negative points to "Scared to Get Happy" though so let's not dwell on them.
Buy this compilation. I know, it's not cheap and it will mean foregoing a few albums this month but it'll make you happy and you'll discover more new music this way. Buy the new album by a band you already know and have hammered the lead single by and you'll already have a pretty good idea what you're getting. Buy this on the other hand and there are limitless directions you'll find yourself heading. Go on, treat yourself. You're worth every song.