Tuesday, May 26, 2009

LEVEL 42: The Deluxe Reissues on Edsel Records/Review

Thanks to those fine folks over at Edsel Records, a pair of overlooked albums in the LEVEL 42 catalog have just been upgraded and are being released in DELUXE two CD sets:

Level 42, led by bassist/vocalist Mark King and keyboardist/vocalist Mike Lindup, had already achieved great success worldwide throughout the '80s with their unique blend of Jazz, Funk and Pop. By the time they scored a U.S. hit with "Something About You" in 1985, their sound had become instantly identifiable and the hits just kept coming.

But with success comes pressure and by 1987, the band's other two long-time members, brothers Phil and Boon Gould, had left the fold. King and Lindup carried on in a harder, slicker direction for the album Staring At The Sun (1988) but then cooled their heals and plotted their next move.

In 1991, with a new label (RCA) and a new confidence, King and Lindup (along with drummer Gary Husband and a few different guitarists including Alan Holdsworth and Dominic Miller) released Guaranteed, a mature and focused collection of songs that moved forward but also retained the Jazz/Funk feel of their hit '80s albums. The album was filled with stunning musicianship (everyone involved was at the top of their game) and gorgeous songwriting. The melodies of the album may not have been immediate at times, but would take root after a spin or two. The album's key tracks, "Guaranteed", "Overtime" and "My Father's Shoes", took the band to a new... er... level in terms of maturity and artistry. But as usual, when a band moves forward, their audience sometimes gets left behind in the confusion, which was the case with Guaranteed. All their audience wanted was another World Machine or Running In The Family but L42 were not content with living in the past. While the album was adored by the hardcore fan, the public at large were only mildly interested.

Nearly 20 years later, the album is now seen as a milestone in their career. With this double CD reissue, fans old and new can revisit a new and improved version complete with bonus tracks! Not only do you get every track from the original release (including the bonus cuts only available on cassette and CD versions) but you also get a bonus CD containing 16 single edits, 12" remixes, b-sides and live cuts! Personally, I'm a big fan of extended mixes like the ones included here, simple because you are able to hear musical elements of the song that may be buried or mixed down on an album or single version. And with Level 42, there is often so much going on in a song that you may understandably miss a little guitar line here or piano riff there. On these extended mixes, those wonderful moments are there for you to enjoy in all their splendor!

Not a moment is wasted in this package, which has been lovingly and respectfully compiled with the fan in mind. The package looks beautiful and includes lyrics, bio, photos and more. Totally ace!

(Review continues after this video break)

Three years later (which can be a lifetime in the world of Pop music unless you are Guns 'N' Roses), King and Lindup returned with Forever Now, one of the finest albums of their career. On Forever Now, Level 42 moves forward even further, incorporating then-current dance rhythms into some of their tracks while remaining true to their original Jazz/Funk/Pop fusion. Originally issued as an 11 track album, Forever Now featured career-defining tracks like "Love In A Peaceful World" and the title track alongside songs that have become firm fan favorites like "Billy's Gone", "The Sunbed Song" and "All Over You". The brief return of original member Phil Gould adds extra excitement to the proceedings as well.

The album was eventually reissued in 1996 with different artwork, a different running order and a handful of tracks replacing two that were dropped from the original release. As confusing as it was, this reworking of the album may have dropped the immediacy of the original release, but it added a new atmosphere and better musical understanding of the project as a whole.

This expanded reissue retains the original release's artwork but features the second edition's tracklist on Disc One. The bonus disc begins with the two tracks that were dropped from the initial release then adds 10 remixes and single edits, making this the ULTIMATE version of Forever Now! Once again, it's jam packed with great music, great liner notes and so much more.

So, there you have it: many great reasons to pull out a few bucks, slap 'em on the counter and yell "So, where are my LEVEL 42 Deluxe editions, mate??!!!"

GUARANTEED and FOREVER NOW: the Deluxe 2CD Editions available June 9th, 2009!

Your Level 42-lovin' buddy,

Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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