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Various Artists Out Come the Freaks! An Island Post Punk Anthology Review

Compilation. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

A muddled, but occasionally magnificent, time capsule-style package.

Mike Diver 2009

Don’t let the title of this three-disc set mislead you: not everything contained within its inconsistent packaging (information varies from outer box to inner sleeves – bad form) can be classified, genre-wise, as post punk. Touching upon sounds from Brian Eno’s nasally squawk on 1974 single Baby’s On Fire to Portishead’s majestic We Carry On, from 2008’s Third, it’s a time capsule featuring the label in question’s more ‘out there’ artists.

Depending on your own definition of punk rock, which in turn determines when it first exploded forth from the underground, you could argue that acts like Roxy Music (Re-Make/Re-Model, from 1972’s eponymous debut) and Sparks (Barbecutie, from 74’s Kimono My House) preceded the movement still defined in the UK by safety pins and snotty noses.

Essex crew Eddie and the Hot Rods offer an insight into the punk sounds of the mid-70s – they played with the Pistols. But their approximation of what would embrace teenage audiences for another generation (and more, unquestionably) celebrates its speed and looseness while overlooking the requirement for a singular tune. Theirs for Teenage Depression rides a classic 12-bar blues progression.

As the ‘freaks’ of the title implies, many of the acts featured across these 46 tracks never troubled the mainstream, beyond the slightest success at the lower levels of the singles chart. Exceptions include The B-52’s' Rock Lobster, at the time (1978) the band’s highest entry on the Billboard 100 – its baritone guitar motif is as catchy today as it was 30 years ago – and Julian Cope’s World Shut Your Mouth, which gave the Teardrop Explodes man a top 20 hit in 1986.

Pulp – with their never-bettered Babies, the Sheffield band’s first real hit – rub shoulders with Bomb the Bass, Tone-Loc with largely forgotten synth-poppers Act, themselves an evolution from the equally overlooked today Propaganda, who were among the first signings to Trevor Horn’s ZTT label in the 1980s. The variety on offer is high, appealingly so; but such is the disparity in quality from track to track that patience can wane and attentions drift. It feels as if this set was more a pleasure to compile than it is to play.

But when it’s good, it’s very good indeed, and any collection with the decency to remind listeners of Tricky’s superb Public Enemy cover Black Steel is okay by these ears. Thorough liner notes complete a muddled, but occasionally magnificent, package.

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