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Greatest Hits by Levellers

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Reviewed on 4th August 2014.

 
 

Greatest Hits

By Levellers

A 'greatest hits' compilation normally signifies a lull in a band or artist's output. At a time when said performer hasn't put out a record for a while, or their newest production has bombed, the record company will delve into the archives and cobble together their idea of the best (i.e.: biggest-selling) tunes from said artist's broom cupboard.

It is therefore a refreshing change when a band, in this case The Levellers, put out a best-of that has been chosen by them; a compilation that highlights what they think are the most creative and musically accomplished pieces from their own back catalogue.

Furthermore, no-one could currently accuse The Levellers of being in a lull.
Their most recent studio album, 2012's Static On The Airwaves, was some of their best work in years and in the autumn they will embark on an eleven date UK tour to support this Greatest Hits release. On top of that is the small matter of 'A Curious Life': a feature documentary about the band told by bassist Jeremy Cunningham and put together by ex-Chumbawamba lead man, Dunstan Bruce.

This clever three disk package, which will be released in September, also includes a dvd of all the bands' videos - watch them mime Beautiful Day to be reminded of Top Of The Pops in its heyday.

Those songs that band, record company and Levellers fans would all probably agree on are included on Disk One. Kicking off with Fifteen Years, Hope Street and What A Beautiful Day it segues through more modern offerings Burn America Burn and Cholera Well before the eighteen tracks are rounded off Beautiful Day and the hauntingly emotional Julie.

The oft-repeated trick of including remastered tracks on packages such as this one sees the opening three tracks of disk two: One Way, Make You Happy, This Garden all benefit from new production values. And then there's a second version of Julie which never fails to hit you with its lyrical emotion: "A hundred stairs to her new room, over glass and blackened spoons...
past the kids who gather there, pain masked by narcotic stares. But no one really cares"

I'm not sure who chose the running order on these disks, but to pull the listener out of the misery of drug addiction and replace it with the bounciness of a track that makes you want to dance is not an easy trick to pull off. Wild As Angels just about manages it.

Happy Birthday Revolution, sounding uncannily like a lost track from the Beatle's Sergeant Pepper album, is sandwiched between an excellent live version of Exodus and that wonderful song of comradeship: Carry Me.

When reviewing the aforementioned Static On The Airwaves (http://www.leedsmusicscene.net/article/17146/) I had this to say:
"You'd have to understand the Leveller's politics and where they come from to appreciate the irony of Mark Chadwick belting out the line "Over the mountains and over the sea, by Hercules transporter to fight the Afghani, with a rifle in my hand to set the country free." Suffice to say The Recruiting Sergeant is not a pro-war song."
But a brilliant song it is, and deserves to take a place on this collection. Still raging, still railing, never abandoning their principles; this album shows why The Levellers have endured.

Another benefit to being a band of many years standing, and generational torch-bearers, is that other artists are more than willing to collaborate; this compilation sees Billy Bragg lending his new vocal style to Hope Street, Frank Turner putting in a cameo on one version of that tale of drug-addled-misery Julie, and Imelda May bringing a new sound to Beautiful Day. All add something different - Imelda's vocals bringing the spectre of Amy Winehouse to bear on one of the group's most famous tracks. Band of the moment, Bellowhead, also put in an appearance - imparting their many talents on to a new version of drinking song Just The One.

Other great Levellers songs including The Boatman, Liberty Song and Battle Of The Beanfield all miss the cut, but 'Greatest Hits' are often a personal thing - and these are the songs that mean the most to Jeremy, Mark and the rest of the crew.

Levellers 'Greatest Hits' is released on September 29 with an accompanying tour throughout October and November. Dates include Nottingham's Rock City on November 11, London's Shepherds Bush on November 13 and a final date at Manchester Academy on November 22.

 

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