Today's Short Takes looks at some nice things we've missed over the past few months from Cherry Red!
Yorkshire-born singer-songwriter Tasmin Archer has only released three full-length studio albums in nearly thirty years, but there's no doubt that she has practiced "quality over quantity." The title of her first LP, 1992's Great Expectations, might have been tongue-in-cheek as Archer exceeded all expectations. The opening track and first single, the rhythmic ballad "Sleeping Satellite," went to No. 1 on the U.K. Singles Chart and reached the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100. It opens Cherry Pop's 3-CD compilation Sweet Little Truths: The EMI Recordings 1992-1996 collecting Archer's core discography save her 2006 "comeback" On. The set brings together expanded editions of Great Expectations and its 1996 follow-up Bloom; the 1994 EP Shipbuilding (featuring four songs written by Elvis Costello); and the bonus disc entitled One More... with a selection of extended versions, remixes, and live tracks. Among the rarities is a fine take on The Small Faces' "Itchycoo Park" first released in Japan. (Note that this set does not claim to be complete but includes a generous sampling of the various single versions and remixes released at the time.)
Great Expectations, primarily produced by Julian Mendelsohn (Pet Shop Boys) with longtime Paul McCartney sideman Paul "Wix" Wickens and Peter Kaye, introduced Archer's silken voice and dance-pop sensibility with cool electronics sitting comfortably alongside acoustic instrumentation. Lyrically, she and her collaborators John Beck and John Hughes tackled big subjects (child abuse, deindustrialization, church and state) in accessible productions that had both retro appeal and a slick, contemporary sound. Before her sophomore album, Archer revealed her interpretive powers on a compelling four-song EP of Elvis Costello compositions. So perhaps it wasn't a surprise when she enlisted a producer who had worked with Costello, Mitchell Froom, to helm Bloom. Recording in the U.S., Froom stripped down Bloom to focus on Archer's warm, inviting voice. Its sparse instrumentation suited its intimate songs (written by Archer and Hughes) focused on relationships. But Bloom failed to yield a major hit single ("One More Good Night with the Boys" came closest, reaching No. 45 in the U.K.), and a subsequent case of writer's block led Archer to retreat from the pop world for a decade. Both original albums have been supplemented here by alternate versions originally included on singles. Shipbuilding is included in its original four-song form on the Bloom disc; three of the four tracks appended to Shipbuilding for its U.S. release are reprised but the live version of "When It Comes Down to It" is curiously absent.
Sweet Little Truths: The EMI Recordings is housed in an eight-panel digipak containing a 16-page booklet. While Alan Connor's liner notes offer a fine overview of Archer's career, there's no detailed information - discographical or otherwise - about the bonus tracks. An illustrated discography pictures her albums and singles with catalogue numbers but doesn't include track listings for each title, and full-size artwork for the original LPs is also missing. Simon Murphy has remastered. Sweet Little Truths is a potent reminder of Archer's musical legacy but one wishes its presentation and annotation were a bit more comprehensive.
Time has finally caught up with Kevin Rowland's My Beauty. The Dexys Midnight Runners frontman released his first solo album, The Wanderer, in 1988 - three years after Dexys' third studio album (and final one for 27 years). But after The Wanderer, Rowland walked away from the music biz altogether. He returned in 1999 with My Beauty, but the record itself was overshadowed by its striking cover depicting a semi-disrobed Rowland in a dress, stockings, and makeup, with a feather boa slung over the dressing screen. Cherry Red has recently reissued My Beauty in a splendid new edition.
A casual fan would likely review the track listing and conclude that the album is a mere "covers" album; Most of its selections are from Rowland's coming of age in the 1960s - The Four Seasons' "Rag Doll," The Monkees' "Daydream Believer," Herb Alpert's "This Guy's in Love with You," The Marmalade's "Reflections of My Life," Mama Cass' "It's Getting Better." But Rowland wasn't content to simply interpret these classic compositions. Instead, he rewrote their lyrics in ways big and small to reflect his own personal journey through addiction and recovery, of self-discovery and ultimately self-affirmation. It's not that the songs were unrecognizable; Rowland even deployed an orchestra mainly arranged by Fiachra Trench to maintain fidelity to (most of) the composers' intentions. But rarely had these pop standards sounded so hauntingly personal.
In addition to the '60s staples, Rowland found new meaning in the Rodgers and Hammerstein anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone" (a 2020 U.K. No. 1 for Michael Ball, Capt. Tom Moore, and the Voices of Care Choir) and more recent material such as the Michael Masser/Linda Creed-penned hit for George Benson and Whitney Houston, "The Greatest Love of All." The result was an autobiographical concept album that initially confused many listeners and critics but today resonates as an artist's reckoning with both his personal life and the music that shaped him. While the lyrical changes are still jarring because the melodies are so familiar, that aspect brings the listener in closer to Rowland's world.
My Beauty, produced by Jimmy Paterson, Kevin Rowland, and Pete Schwier, turned out to be the final album released on Alan McGee's famed Creation label; McGee was one of the few at the time to champion Rowland's attire and recognize it as a "punk rock" statement. Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" was slated to appear on the LP (and was included on initial promo pressings) but it turned out that Creation had failed to secure permission from Springsteen to alter its words. At last, the rewritten "Thunder Road" has been reinstated to the album with The Boss' permission.
The CD features two additional bonus tracks from the original "Concrete and Clay" single: the instrumental versions of "Concrete and Clay" and "I Can't Tell the Bottom from the Top." My Beauty has been remastered by original co-producer Pete Schwier and Marco Migliari. Q Magazine editor Ted Kessler has interviewed Rowland for the liner notes, and his illuminating and candid comments help put this album unlike any other into proper perspective.
Both titles are available now from Cherry Red at the links below.
CD 1: Great Expectations: Expanded Edition (EMI 0777 7 80134, 1992 (U.K.))
- Sleeping Satellite
- Lords of the New Church
- When It Comes Down to It
- Steel Town
- The Higher You Climb
- In Your Care
- Somebody's Daughter
- Ripped Inside
- Halfway to Heaven
- Man at the Window (previously included on B-Sides and More, SBK DPRO-04550, 1993)
- Sea of Rest (previously included on B-Sides and More, SBK DPRO-04550, 1993)
- Strings of Desire (previously included on B-Sides and More, SBK DPRO-04550, 1993)
- Real Oh So Real (from EMI single CDEM260, 1993)
- Sleeping Satellite (Acoustic Version) (from EMI CDEM233, 1992)
- In Your Care (U.S. Radio Edit) (source TBD)
- Lords of the New Church (Radio Edit) (from SBK CD DPRO-04527, 1993)
- Arienne (Radio Edit) (source TBD)
- Somebody's Daughter (Radio Edit) (from EMI Germany CD 7243 8 80640 2 6, 1993)
CD 2: Bloom: Expanded Edition
- Sweet Little Truth
- After Hell
- One More Good Night with the Boys
- Rain Falling
- I Like It So
- Breaking My Back
- I Would Love to Be Right
- You Made a Fool of Me
- Give In with Grace
- In Your Garden
- Guilty (from EMI single CDEMS401, 1996)
- Itchycoo Park (from Bloom, EMI Japan TOCP-8759, 1996)
- Tumbling Tumbleweeds (from Bloom, EMI Japan TOCP-8759, 1996)
- Obeah Wedding (Live) (from EMI single CDEM433, 1996)
- Shipbuilding (from Shipbuilding, EMI EP EM302, 1993)
- Deep Dark Truthful Mirror (from Shipbuilding, EMI EP EM302, 1993)
- All Grown Up (from Shipbuilding, EMI EP EM302, 1993)
- New Amsterdam (from Shipbuilding, EMI EP EM302, 1993)
CD 3: One More...
- Sleeping Satellite (Extended Version) (from EMI CDEM233, 1992)
- Lords of the New Church (Remix) (from EMI CDEMS 266, 1993)
- Ripped Inside (12-Inch Mix) (included on The Best of Tasmin Archer, EMI Gold 50999 9 68069 2 0, 2009)
- The Higher You Climb (Remix) (from EMI single CDEM266, 1993)
- When It Comes Down to It (12-Inch Version) (included on The Best of Tasmin Archer, EMI Gold 50999 9 68069 2 0, 2009)
- Ripped Inside (Ben Chapman Mix) (from EMI single CDEMS260, 1992)
- Sleeping Satellite (Fitz Mix) (from EMI single CDEM260, 1992)
- In Your Care (Live) (from EMI single CDEM275, 1993)
- Lords of the New Church (Live) (from Shipbuilding (U.S.), SBK K2-28707, 1994)
- Steel Town (Live) (from Shipbuilding (U.S.), SBK K2-28707, 1994)
- Man at the Window (Live) (from EMI single CDEM275, 1993)
- After Hell (Live) (from EMI single CDEM433, 1996)
- Rain Falling (Live) (from EMI single CDEM433, 1996)
- Sleeping Satellite (Alternative Rock Version) (from SBK single DPRO-04683, 1993)
- Greatest Love of All (George Benson)
- Rag Doll (The Four Seasons)
- Concrete and Clay (Unit 4+2)
- Daydream Believer (The Monkees)
- This Guy's in Love with You (Herb Alpert)
- The Long and Winding Road (The Beatles)
- It's Getting Better (Mama Cass)
- I Can't Tell the Bottom from the Top (The Hollies)
- Labelled with Love (I'll Stay with My Dreams) (Squeeze)
- Reflections of My Life (Marmalade)
- Thunder Road (Bruce Springsteen) (previously unissued commercially)
- You'll Never Walk Alone (Carousel)
- Concrete and Clay (Instrumental) (*) (from Creation CRESCD322, 1999)
- I Can't Tell the Bottom from the Top (Instrumental) (*) (from Creation CRESCD322, 1999)
(*) CD-only bonus track