Sunday, December 1, 2019

SPACE/The Anthology (6CD Box Set) review!

(Edsel Records)

Available NOW!

Space was the first – and, so far, only - “Multi-Dimensional Cinematic Technicolor Pop Band”. Hailing from Liverpool, it’d be easy to compare them to The Beatles, OMD, The La’s, The Icicle Works, Deaf School, Echo & The Bunnymen, Yachts, and any other great band that came from that small but influential part of the world.  However, Space sounds nothing like any of those artists... or anyone else for that matter. To be honest, their uniqueness bas been both a blessing and a curse. Ask Space fans what the band means to them and most of the time, each answer will be different. However, a band that always challenges itself - and musically evolves with each album release - may not be as appealing to a mass commercial audience. Space is a band ten steps ahead of the charts and it doesn’t seem that anyone has quite caught up with them yet.

Some artists are content to focus on one genre at a time but not Space. In any given song, you will find guitarist/bassist/vocalist Tommy Scott crooning a melody inspired by the ‘60s, keyboardist Franny Griffiths exploring different eras of Electronica, guitarist/vocalist Jamie Murphy bashing out some power chords and classic Rock ‘n’ Roll-influenced riffs/licks, and solid rhythms from bassist Yorkie Palmer, and drummers Andy Parle and Leon Caffrey providing simple yet sophisticated rhythms. Surprisingly, they all remain on the same musical page and everything fits together perfectly. On the surface, Space is a slightly odd but undeniably melodic Pop band but peel away the layers and you’ll discover a band like no other. Oh, and did I mention that they have a very wicked sense of humor? Space most certainly threw out the Pop and Rock rule books and just did whatever the hell they wanted.

Space’s career is now being celebrated with a six CD box set from Edsel entitled THE ANTHOLOGY which contains their first five studio albums – including their previously unreleased third album LOVE YOU MORE THN FOOTBALL - as well as a slew of non-album tracks. While the band has a seemingly endless supply of remixes and single edits, this box set's bonus material wisely overlooks them and focuses on the more desirable non-album songs.  For collectors and Space novices alike, this box set is a brilliant introduction to a musical career that continues to surprise fans this very day.

SPIDERS (1996) is the band’s debut album and the only full-length released in the States. The band’s enormously popular “Female Of The Species” is their best-known track in the U.S. but the album includes plenty of gems that are just as adventurous as that fantabulous single. “Dark Clouds” is a sweeping Dance/Rock tune with Disco influences and flourishes of Flamenco added into the mix. “No One Understands” sounds like a Prog Rock tune recorded on a carousel. “Neighborhood” explores the darker side of life with such musical glee. And that is just a tip of the iceberg. One of the most engagingly eclectic albums to ever spawn some equally delightful UK hit singles.  (Disc One contains the album plus six bonus tracks)

TIN PLANET (1998) is even better. Slightly moving away from their tendency to experiment, the band turns up the melodic hook quota and offers a more refined – but still unique – approach to their music. “Avenging Angels” sounds like it could have been a James Bond theme and remains one of their finest moments. “The Ballad Of Tom Jones” is a twisted love song featuring a duet between Tommy and Cerys Matthews from Catatonia. “Be There” has quirky verses but a chorus that could fit onto a ‘60s Easy Listening compilation. “The Unluckiest Man In The World” has a Madness swagger and swings like a Sinatra classic. “Bad Day’s” is quite beautiful, influenced by classic Glen Campbell but turned completely on its head with some twanging guitar and quirky lyrics. “Disco Dolly” is Punk Rock Electronica. TIN PLANET is a big step forward for the band and is a classic Pop album on almost every level. (Disc Two contains the full album plus six bonus tracks including their classic cover of “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”)

LOVE YOU MORE THAN FOOTBALL (2000) is their legendary unreleased third album. Due to problems with the label, the album was shelved. Although a few tracks have surfaced on various ‘hits’ collections, this is the first time the full album has been released physically. Sounding like a kinder, gentler TIN PLANET, it is a shame that the album was never released because it surely would have given the band a few more hits. Mostly produced by Edwyn Collins, the album offers up a buffet of great tracks. While Franny is certainly providing plenty of atmosphere, the album is far less electronic and even more focused on classic songwriting than ever before. The previously-released “Diary Of A Wimp” is an absolute Pop classic and should have been a massive hit.  “Good Times” is yet another melodic gem, an optimistic anthem with some Hawaiian sweetener added to the mix. “Gravity” is a moody anthem with a soaring chorus. “Raymond” finds the band exploring Rockabilly. “Supersonic Jetplane” and “Despise” are delightfully delicious. “Juno 54” is a Disco-influenced instrumental with some vocals floating in and out of the mix. The only misstep is opening the album with “Everybody In The Madhouse”, a fine Techno-driven rocker that seems wildly out of place on the album. LOVE YOU MORE THAN FOOTBALL is their most accessible and rewarding album and the fact that it remained unreleased for 19 years is a travesty. A truly magnificent album that deserves to be heard. (Disc Three features the original album with no bonus tracks.)

SUBURBAN ROCK ‘N ROLL (2004) finds the band bloodied and bruised from the experience with their previous label, yet not even close to being broken. The first release after the departure of Jamie Murphy, this is an album that is a little darker than their previous releases yet they rebound with a great batch of songs. Still traveling down many musical paths at the same time, the album was produced by Stephen Lironi, who twiddled the knobs for SPIDERS. SUBURBAN ROCK ‘N ROLL isn’t SPIDERS, Part 2, though. The album is melodic, clever, and created by a band that still has plenty to say. More personal than their previous releases, this is an album that should have been heard by more people. However, working within the limitations of an independent label, the album didn’t reach as wide of an audience as their first two albums. With that being said, there are plenty of Space nuggets to be found here including “Zombies”, “Paranoid 6Teen”, “Punk Rock Funeral”, “20 Million Miles From Earth”, and the title track. Space survived the record industry and more than proved their worth on this platter. Sadly, they disappeared shortly after the album’s release. (Disc Four includes the entire album plus four bonus tracks including “Play The Songs”, one of those songs that are so good, you wonder why it didn’t make the album.)

ATTACK OF THE MUTANT 50FT KEBOB (2014) sees the return of Tommy and Franny with a new Space line-up and another set of cracking tunes. Ten years is a long time between albums but this release sounds like the natural follow-up to SUBURBAN ROCK ‘N ROLL. However, the lyrics make it seem like there may have been a few LSD trips into the world of ‘50s monster movies during their decade away. Song titles like “She’s In Love With The Boy In A Bodybag”, “Guest List To Hell”, “Day Of The Dead”, and “Attack Of The Mutant 50ft Kebab” seem to take the songs into previously uncharted territories. In reality, the band has already played with these types of lyrical images in the past but they seem to more prominent on the album. With Rock, Indie Rock, Ska, and Pop on display, this is just as wonderfully strange as their previous albums and a marvelous return for a band that still deserves your love and affection. (Disc Five contains the full album – in slightly different order than the original release – plus two bonus tracks.)

Disc Six in this box set contains additional non album tracks including cuts taken from their pre-Franny debut EP as well as songs from their online MUSIC FOR ALIENS series. And yes, all of the tracks are must-have additions to your Space collection.
The Space story didn’t end there. There is a 2017 album entitled GIVE ME YOUR FUTURE that is not included in this box but has proven to be difficult to track down (I’m STILL looking for it - Spaz). Thankfully, we can look forward to more music from a band that has been overlooked here in the States - they have a new album due in 2020!

Stop what you are doing and spin some Space!

Your pal,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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