Tuesday, December 30, 2014

SPAZ reviews expanded CD reissues by THE SPORTS!


(Expanded 2CD Edition)


(Expanded 2CD Edition)

I love it when labels do a proper reissue job.

In The Sports’ case, these may be the second time they’ve been issued on CD, but I count them as the first proper reissue.  The first CD versions weren’t remastered – they were straight reissues from the album masters as far as I could tell and the label (Mushroom) didn’t pay much attention to them.  There were loads of CD versions of classic Mushroom albums that came out in the early ‘90s (or was it late ‘80s?) with cheap artwork but at least they were on CD, right?

Finally, after waiting decades for updated versions,  the first two – of four – Sports albums have received the love and attention they deserve, and I can assure you that they are worth whatever you pay for them.  Not only is the sound absolutely stunning (and I’ve heard both albums hundreds of times so I know what I’m hearing is the best representation of these classics) but each album is stuffed with bonus material. Yeah, there are some live recordings here but most of the tracks are non-album cuts, demos, unreleased tracks and more. If I were to use two words to describe these reissues, they’d be “fucking” and “amazing”.

The Sports came out of the club and pub scene of the mid ‘70s in Australia.  With roots that lead straight back to Rockabilly and early Rock ‘n’ Roll, the boys in the band (which included lead vocalist Stephen Cummings) put their own spin on their influences and ended up sounding entirely unique. Yes, they had that ‘Australian’ sound that I’ve always been fond of (the perfect blend of American and British influences), but there were bits and bobs of Rockabilly, Rhythm & Blues, Country, Blues, Garage Rock, Psych and Pop. On the surface, perhaps they originally sounded like a Pub Rock band but they never played the music business game and they forged ahead, not wanting to be lumped into any specific category. 

On Reckless (1978), there were loads of great tunes but the band was pulling in many different directions, musically, and the album is a little less focused than their subsequent albums, but therein lies its charm.  This was a band that definitely did whatever the hell they wanted.  Much of the album is straightforward Rock ‘n’ Roll with a ‘New Wave’ energy and a serious love of the roots of American and Australian music. “Boys (What Did The Detective Say),” “You Ain’t Home Yet,” “Rockabilly Billy,” “Moon On A String,” “When You Walk In The Room” and “Modern Don Juan” are the album’s highlights, but now there is even more to love on this expanded edition.  This double disc reissue contains a whopping 48 tracks, nearly every one of them a gem. From their first EP to unreleased tracks and more, the amount of bonus tracks available on this set is the equivalent of getting almost three bonus albums along with Reckless.

If you think the expanded Reckless sounds enticing, then Don’t Throw Stones (1979) is an absolute must-have.  THIS was the album that brought them a bit of success outside of Australia and it is the full-length platter they are best known for. The band lost guitarist Ed Bates but gained guitarist/songwriter Martin Armiger and refined their sound thanks to producer Pete Solley. Existing in their own universe, The Sports was not part of any musical movement. However, they were often compared to Graham Parker & The Rumour, Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello. Cummings’ vocals may have had some similarities, but he was certainly no ‘angry young man’. With that being said, Don’t Throw Stones is just as strong as any of the classic albums released by those artists. From top to bottom, the album is filled with absolute corkers like “Suspicious Minds” (NOT the Elvis song), “Live, Work & Play,” “Don’t Throw Stones,” “Step By Step,” and the bona-fide hit single “Who Listens To The Radio.” The tracklist is the Aussie version of the album (as is the cover) but two of the three songs exclusive to the U.S. version - the re-recordings of “Reckless” and “Mailed It To Your Sister” - are here as bonus tracks (not sure what happened to “You Ain’t Home Yet,” but since I don’t have a vinyl version of the U.S. LP, I can’t compare it to the extra version here.)  The bonus tracks also include the rare OK UK EP plus nine tracks recorded at the same sessions but never released (most of which are re-recordings of songs from Reckless and Don’t Throw Stones). The rare single version of “Who Listens To The Radio” is here as well as the b-side “So Obvious”. Add in some live tracks and you’ve got yourself a 35 track version of one of the finest albums of the era… and one of the most criminally overlooked. Perhaps the fact that The Sports never had an image didn’t help their cause. Cummings and Armiger may have looked the part of ‘80s Aussie pop stars but guitarist (and main co-songwriter with Cummings) Andrew Pendlebury had long hair and he and keyboardist Jim Niven looked more suited to be in NRBQ (ironically, another sorely under-rated band). This lack of image was certainly appealing to those looking for something ‘real’ and not manufactured, which has certainly helped since they remain utterly timeless, visually and musically. Don’t Throw Stones will certainly appeal to anyone into great music. It will certainly connect with those of you into Aussie Pop, New Wave, Rock and Graham Parker, Joe Jackson and Elvis the C.

Fucking amazing.  But I already said that.

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