The commercially 'unlucky' Liverpudlians show us why we should have listened the first...
Chris White 2007
Whenever Shack are mentioned in print, invariably it’s not long before phrases like ‘criminally underrated’ and ‘lost classic’ raise their clichéd heads. Formed in 1988, the Liverpudlian four-piece have always been lavished with critical praise in inverse proportion to their meagre record sales, but perhaps the best way to summarise their career to date is ‘very unlucky’.
After an unremarkable first album, songwriter Michael Head and his band knew they had a potential hit on their hands with 1991’s Waterpistol. Falling somewhere between the classic Merseybeat of the Las and the fluid, Byrds-influenced melodies of the Stone Roses’ eponymous debut, it seemed perfectly placed to catapult Shack to stardom. But a series of disastrous events, including a studio fire that destroyed the master tapes, meant Waterpistol did not see the light of day until 1995, by which time the music scene had moved on. After a four-year split, 1999’s HMS Fable emerged boasting a host of Oasis-like big choruses, but they jumped on the Britpop bandwagon just as it was grinding to a halt and the charts remained untroubled.
Unperturbed, Head and his sidekicks have continued to release great music ever since. Time Machine is a fine retrospective of their significant talent, featuring some of the best tracks from their four albums from Waterpistol onwards as well as several rare and previously unreleased songs.
The highlights are many, but the delicious yearning harmonies of “Undecided” and “Neighbours” are probably the pick of Shack’s earlier work, while their evolution towards a more textured, orchestrated sound on 2003’s Here’s Tom With The Weather is emphatically captured on the epic “Meant To Be”, which employs scintillating mariachi brass and strings sections that would not be out of place on Love’s timeless masterpiece Forever Changes.
Although new tracks “Holiday Abroad” and “Wanda” are rather disappointing, the hitherto obscure “Al’s Vacation” stands out as one of their best compositions, a quirkily tuneful little jaunt bringing to mind the lazy psychedelic folk of Pink Floyd’s oft-overlooked post-Barrett, pre-Dark Side Of The Moon albums.
If you like Shack, you may already own much of what’s here and decide you don’t need this collection. But if you’re an admirer of intelligent, imaginatively arranged guitar pop that’s yet to discover their charms, then Time Machine is quite simply an essential purchase.