The Brit Box—UK Indie, Shoegaze and Brit-Pop Gems of the Last Millennium (Rhino)
This wittily packaged, four-disc, 78 band/song boxed set offers the most thorough document of 15 influential years (1984-99) of British-based indie guitar music this side of an Amoeba clerk’s iPod. The set navigates, in roughly chronological order, the original bastions of over-there indie-dom (The Smiths, Cure etc.), the rise of the baggy, bug-eyed “Madchester” sound (Happy Mondays, Stone Roses), introverted “Shoegaze” (Lush, Ride), swaggeringly laddish Brit-Pop (Oasis, Blur) and finally the tagless, end-of-the-Millennium thinking pop of Placebo, Gay Dad et al. Obvious song-choices (Echo And The Bunnymen’s “Lips Like Sugar”, Jesus And Mary Chain’s “April Skies”), mean that anyone interested in The Brit Box will probably already own the contributions from its big names (which also include The Verve and New Order). So it’s the also-rans, next-big-things (not) and sonic misfits that hold your ear across four-plus hours of music. Swervedriver’s single-minded, deliciously reckless “Duel” and Curve’s sultry “Coast Is Clear” immediately stand apart. Inspiral Carpets age surprisingly well with their sub-Jam “This Is How It Feels,” as do the franticly earnest Ned’s Atomic Dustbin (“Grey Cell Green”), and Smiths-lite chart fixtures The Wonder Stuff (“Unbearable”). There’s lots of glacial easy listening (the La’s, Sundays, Saint Etienne, Primitives); only a few forgettables (Trash Can Sinatras, Moose) and just one utter bomb (Spaceman 3’s amateurish drone, “Walkin’ With Jesus (Sound Of Confusion)”). If you’re hoping to hold a conversation in any East LA indie club for more than 10 minutes, The Brit Box is a must-have. (Paul Rogers)
The Devil Makes Three—The Devil Makes Three (Milan)
The Devil Makes Three scraps all petty-pop bullshit in favor of a rootsy acoustic ontological study on the nature of society’s hapless malcontents—the ones who ease the Atlas burden of post-modern existence in smoky bars and find philosophical respite in the dealings of sleazy denizens of their bleary late-night world. Yeah, like Bukowski with a western bolo tie. The trio, made up of two guitars and an upright bass, never intended to ride the gimmick wave of punky rootsicana music—these are real-life troubadours who sing the tribulations of the seamy underbelly of drunks and madmen with mirthful twang. A whole catalogue of finger-picked anthems languish both in drunken self-loathing and genuine, heartfelt empathy for the woebegone masses that inhabit their songs, which makes their eponymous album—a re-release of their 2002 disc with a few new tracks and updates—heavy, insightful and fresh despite being five years old and using that deceiving Everly Brothers country style. (Phil Fuller).
The Hives—The Black and White Album (A&M / Octone)
The Hives—who helped put Sweden on rock ‘n roll’s radar at the turn of the Millennium—suddenly seem torn: eager to shake-off the now mood-killing “garage-rock” tag, but scared of alienating their core audience with a radical departure. So they dabble. Half of The Black and White Album continues to ooze Stooges/MC5 adulation, yet with sufficient wry panache and scatterbrained dynamics to make the lack of identity (and Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist’s workmanlike pipes) bearable. The other half is an audible, sometimes awkward effort by these sharp-suited boys to stretch-out (and/or embrace current sub-genres): “Giddy Up”’s beat-box backbone and “My Sharona” shadow; the spare, ominous white funk of “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.”; the Scooby Doo fairground keys and Casio snare of “A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors.” The split-personality progression is welcome, but ultimately The Black and White Album is—like all Hives discs—merely mandatory preparation for their truly riotous live shows. (Paul Rogers)