...a welcome opportunity to appraise the band’s work afresh.
Paul Sullivan 2007
The Levellers occupy a curious position in the British rock landscape. Written off by cynics as a fiddle-happy crusty band on one hand yet lauded by millions for their song-writing skills and blistering live performances on the other, it’s difficult to get an objective handle on the band’s almost 20-year legacy.
This set of re-issues from the band’s Warner years thus provides a welcome opportunity to appraise the band’s work afresh, or at least a significant portion of it.
By the time their Warner years had started, The Levellers had lost a lot of the punkish urgency that underscored albums like Whereas All The Free Commons of England, and had settled into the slightly gentler, orotund indie-rock they are known for today.
The five albums included in this package – all re-mastered, inflated with mostly solid b-sides, and boasting new artwork, packaging and liner notes – arguably represent much of the band’s best work. Certainly they contain many of the key moments that have helped make The Levellers name.
Early favourites like “One Way,” “Strains Of Far From Home” and “Battle Of The Beanfield” (from Levelling The Land) have not dated badly at all, sounding just as penetrative as they did over a decade ago. The same can be said of chart-topping tunes (surprising to think they’ve had 14 Top 40 hits to date) such as “Hope Street” and “Just The One” (from Zeitgeist) and “What A Beautiful Day” (from Mouth To Mouth), amongst others.
As well as reaffirming the band’s obvious highlights, the package also offers a number of additional enticements that will be of special interest to long-term fans. Levelling The Land and Zeitgeist for example, have been expanded via a selection of bonus tracks (“Dance Before The Storm”, “Plastic Jeezus” appear on the former, “Miles Away” and “Drinking For England” on the latter, among others), and the latter album now features a second disc featuring a recording of their now-legendary 1992 Glastonbury headlining set.
Perhaps best of all is the chance to get reacquainted with the band’s final Warner album, Hello Pig - the record that saw them undergo a surprising Sgt Peppers-style musical revolution and which, though not particularly adored by fans, earned them much critical acclaim. The album, produced by Mark Wallis (of Oasis fame), is certainly one of the highlights of the Levellers oeuvre - even if it did mean the end of their agreement with Warner Brothers.
The Levellers soldiered on though, emerging victorious through the ups and downs of label deals, the spats with the music press and the wear and tear of touring. Whatever the critics say, 20 years they are still going strong. They still manage themselves, run their own label, book their own tours and even organise their own annual festival (Beautiful Day) with no corporate sponsorship, no branding, and no media partners. They also still bang out great pop tunes, as their recent hit “What A Beautiful Day” testifies.
Love them or hate them: you just can’t help but admire them.