Friday, February 26, 2010

New Releases Update (2/26/10)

Hot on the heels of me telling you about the 3CD set of their singles, The Stranglers' Decades Apart (March 9) is released as a 2CD collection of hits and album tracks, but this time there's at least one track from "each of their 16 albums" (they've got WAY more than that, folks), plus two new recordings, "Retro Rockets" and "I Don't See the World Like You Do.'

Meanwhile, down under in Oz, the Hoodoo Gurus release an album of all new material, Purity of Essence. The 16-track CD features the single "Crackin' Up" (not sure if this is an original, the Bo Diddley song, or the Nick Lowe one), plus a di rigeur DVD of live footage shot for Max TV and interviews. (March 16)

Here in the States, a 180-gram vinyl release of Wild Gift by X comes out (March 23) from Porterhouse. The band's first album, originally released on Slash in 1981, it's practically a greatest hits of L.A. punk. The reish will feature the full original inner sleeve and lyric sheet.

And now, ladies and germs, you can stop trying to find a good copy of The Flying Lizards' debut, eponymous LP. A CD reissue is due (April 6) in the US that will have, naturally, both "Money" and "Summertime Blues" on it (plus a single version of the former). Now that's what I want…

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Beatles • Let It Be... Naked

I realize this came out in 2003 and is not one of last year's remasters, so don't get yer panties in a wad. Having bought all of the 2009 reissues and gone over them a few times each, I gotta say that the original Let It Be album is the closest to a botched job the Fabs ever committed. The icky strings future murderer Phil Spector laid on—as well as the choirs and assorted other stuff—may have been the first time this guy ever killed something. Or was it legalized murder (sorry Robyn Hitchcock)?

So, having just loaded my Beatles albums into my iTunes library (at 320 kbps for virtually non-compressed listening), I decided to BREAK MY OWN RULES and load Let It Be… Naked in place of Let It Be. Gary Betourne and scads of Beatles purists the world over probably want to wring my neck, but I can't help it… the re-do Sir Paul instigated finally brings this album the glory it's always deserved. Through some clever electronic wrangling, slicing and dicing, the guys over at Abbey Road removed the junk Spector added and restored it back to what George Martin (and Glyn Johns, who engineered the sessions and took stabs at early track listings of the sessions) wanted. For the most part, the cleanup crew used the same takes that wound up on the original release, and kept from doing the kinds of things Capitol Records used to do to stretch the catalog. (Like, for instance, taking one version of "I Am the Walrus" with the extra measure in the middle, welding that onto the British stereo version that repeats the intro riff six times instead of four, and creating for the Rarities album "an all new version!")

It aint't exactly perfect though. I think the title leaves a lot to be desired. I mean, gosh Paul, that's really neat, you put the word "naked" into the title of one of your albums! What a cheap thrill. He probably reads Playboy for the articles, huh? I would've called it Let It Be and then just added some kind of disclaimer that said "the way it was meant to be" or Let It Be… Minus Phil Spector or something.
5/5 (Apple/Capitol)

The Stranglers • The UA Singles 1977-1982

The Stranglers' collection The UA Singles 1977-1982 started life as three box sets of CD singles mirroring their vinyl releases and spanning the band's United Artists heyday. The cash you would have spent on the box sets would buy you ten of these! (How I wish I would have had foresight when I bought them…) Taking you from their debut 45, "(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)" on to "Nice 'N' Sleazy," a cover of "Walk On By," and all the way up to "Duchess," "Nuclear Device" and finally the French version of "Don't Bring Harry," this 3-CD, 49-song set gives you almost every song on the first two box sets.

My favorite era of the band is the Black & White/No More Heroes timespan, which is basically the year of 1978!, when here in the States it was easy to find their LPs on A&M. I think I had heard "Peaches" on a US compilation and thought it was cool in a kinda creepy sorta way. Next thing you know I bought the albums, played their songs on my college radio show, and generally became a fan. But right after that they went into a darker sound, Themeninblack and Raven albums came out and they lost me. (They picked me up again when they redid "96 Tears"; by that time they were on Epic and had gone into a much more commercial place.) Listening to these dark tunes now, though, I actually like 'em a lot more than my 20-something year old human jukebox was willing to stock.

Hugh Cornwell, the lead singer, is no longer in the group, and Jet Black is still drumming—and he's 71! These early singles are a wellspring of Stranglers nectar and well worth the dose. Sod the box sets, save some money, and buy your sweetie something nice… 'n'… sleazy.
4/5 (EMI UK)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Plimsouls • Live! Beg, Borrow & Steal

A phenomenally hot show, recorded on Halloween 1981 by The Plimsouls, Live! Beg, Borrow & Steal is a steamin' disc featuring highlights from their first two albums, before the second one was released. They recorded this one at the Whisky A Go-Go on the Sunset Strip, and though the sound quality isn't exactly Frampton Comes Alive, it's certainly no frills but all thrills.

Here Peter Case, Eddie Muñoz, Dave Pahoa and Lou Ramirez turn in a barn burner featuring "A Million Miles Away," one of the greatest rock songs of all time, "Hush Hush," "Zero Hour" and more of their own tunes, plus scorching covers of The Easybeats' "Sorry" (before The Three O'Clock recorded it, looks like) and The Kinks' early "Come On Now." The 14-track show is available on CD and limited edition (1,000 copies) vinyl, which also includes a peachy keen poster to hang up on your wall, if you still do that sorta thing. Naturally, I went for the vinyl, and naturally I was almost completely satisfied. I mean, I was hoping for a higher quality recording, but this ain't the '70s, and bands don't typically go into the studio to fix up all the fluffs they committed before God, the crowd, and the remote truck.

So Live! Beg, Borrow & Steal is a high energy power pop glop of wax, and the only real odd thing is that there is no title track! They should've called it Shaky City, since that song is actually performed here. Regardless, however you come across it, be it buy, borrow or steal, you'll dig this one.
4/5 (Alive Naturalsound)

Blur • Midlife: A Beginner's Guide to Blur

How long ago did they issue that Best of Blur collection? Not very long. So? Well, at least they didn't call this "greatest hits." This time, with Midlife, you get a 2-disc Blur collection, with most of what's on the previous one (save the bonus live disc, which was only in the first batch), and a lot of pretty decent album cuts. Personally, I think they should have given us the single A-sides and then the best of their B-sides ("Tame" and "Ultranol" are two of their best songs ever), but if they are really trying to get new fans to sign on—as judged by the title of the set—then this is pretty nice and not too costly. You do get classics like "Advert," "This Is a Low," and the woefully overplayed "Song 2," and there are a couple of versions of songs that are tough to find ("For Tomorrow (Visit to Primrose Hill)" version, anyone), but I think maybe "Trimm Trabb" and "Bugman" could've been given the shove.
3/5 (Virgin US)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Damned • The Long Lost Weekend: Best Of Vol. 1-1/2

No bargain at 99¢ this time, I found The Damned's The Long Lost Weekend on Ebay and had to buy it. This is a real difficult album to find—in fact, I only had a crappy cassette of this for ages until most of the tracks had come out on LP or CD finally in the late '80s/early '90s. I'm not even sure why Big Beat Records put this out, to be honest. Well, yeah I am... But by the time they released this in 1988, MCA had already put out The Light at the End of the Tunnel, a double LP/CD that had most of these cuts. So, aside from "Over the Top," a tune credited to Motordamn (Lemmy of Motörhead plus The Damned, a la "Ballroom Blitz"—also present), what you have here is a bunch of singles released on other labels, the extended version of their cover of "White Rabbit" (which is quite good and KILLS the Airplane version), another cover in their "Citadel" (The Stones from Their Satanic Majesties Request), and a real cool looking cover (on the front). This single record clocks in at over 50 minutes, so the grooves are mighty thin. My copy's a bit crackly, but hey... I've been looking for this for years! Maybe they could have snipped off one song on each side to make this a little better pressing, but then again, if I've had such trouble finding it for twenty years, maybe they never pressed too many of these to begin with.

Recommended for completists and those who don't already have a greatest hits/best of collection by my favorite band of all-time. Yes, over The Clash. Yes, over The Beatles.
3/5 (Big Beat UK)

Pretenders • Live In London

Recorded in her adopted ex-hometown last year, the live album/film Live in London is a very exciting Pretenders program. I'll review this as a live album first and then close with what I thought of it as a film, since I bought this in the CD section of the store.

First off, I'll be damned if I can figure out what London venue this was recorded at. [Turns out, when you watch the video, you can see it's the Empire.] But it's a great sounding concert with a real nice set list, including the right ratio of older classics with newer ones. Secondly, Chrissie Hynde employs a very capable lineup here, including original Pretenders drummer Martin Chambers—he of the swooping, razor-sharp sideburns—and lead guitarist James Walbourne and bassist Nick Wilkinson. The secret weapon, though, is a chap on pedal steel guitar called Eric Heywood. One of the original members of Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods*, Eric lends an ethereally cool vibe to the songs, sounding like something somewhere between an organ and a guitar depending on what he's doing. He sounds especially fitting on the newer ones, like "Don't Cut Your Hair" and "Love's a Mystery," but even on "Talk of the Town" and "Message of Love" (from the video) it's not a problem. Keep in mind, naysayers, that the Flying Burrito Bros. albums contained no electric guitar—all that fuzz and "rhythm" guitar was provided by steel player Sneeky Pete Kleinow. Martin Chambers plays and looks about the same, very solid drumming and very stylish sidies!

Okay, so how does Chrissie sound? Like not a day has passed since she and Chambers, James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon walked into the studio to cut Pretenders with Chris Thomas in 1979. Her singing's as tough 'n' sweet as it's ever been, she can still hit the notes, and her attitude is just as "beneath that gruff exterior lies a tender heart" as it ever was. She's crackin' jokes and pickin' notes like it's the only thing that matters in this world.

Film-wise, Live in London is real nice to look at. No fancy sweeping crane shots, as filmmakers Pierre & Francois Lamoureux point out in the notes, no crazy digital dissolves or stupid graphics sliding across the screen. Though it is indeed a multi-camera shoot, it's not hampered by modern excesses. Which is good, because although the stage is a little cleaner than one would expect from ex-punk/new wavers—and the venue bigger than your typical Dingwalls dump—it's no arena or stadium. I only wish I had been this close when I saw them in '82 at the Seattle Center Arena. Good job, Frenchies!

Make sure you pick up the combination CD/DVD version of this to get the full presentation, unless you're gonna buy the Blu-Ray movie, in which case the regular CD should work fine for ya.
4/5 (E1 Music) (* Not really. He's from Iowa. He's probably never even heard "Billy Don't Be a Hero.")

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Arthur "Killer" Kane • I, Doll

...Life and Death with the New York Dolls. Well, that's what it's about, all right. Told by Arthur "Killer" Kane himself, this short read is full of all kinds of anecdotes—remembered or half-remembered—by someone who was there for all of it. I, Doll is told from 10-20 years of hindsight by Arthur Kane, onetime New York Doll and later-on Mormon and star of his own documentary (New York Doll). Kane tells the stories in a very "I can remember it like it was yesterday" style, even when his memory fails him, due to age or, more likely, how stoned or drunk he was when it happened. And he doesn't try to play down anything, no matter how embarrassing it might be, so when he tells you the story about how all the Dolls were puking up Newcastle Brown Ale onstage in Birmingham in 1972 (pre record deal!), I'm sure he's telling it like it is/was.

You don't have to be a fan of the Dolls to enjoy this memoir (though if you're not a fan, you're no friend of mine!). Like The Dirt by Motley Crüe, it is a fascinating view of what it was like in the '70s, pre-AIDS, pre-uptightness about sex, pre-major label slaughter of the lambs and their music, pre-everything that makes today's rock 'n' roll bands pale imitations of their punky, grungy, awesome forefathers. I'm still playing rock myself, and I don't think I ever got laid just because I was in a rock band! (Okay, I did get a blow job once, but hey... it was 1978!)

I met Arthur in 2002 or 3 in Los Angeles at a gig my band shared with The Dogs in North Hollywood, and he was a very kind, subdued guy. At the time I wondered if that was his true personality, or if it was the decades-ago ingestions and current Book of Mormon teachings doing its thing on his 60-something year old body. My friend Loren assured me that that was Arthur. I wish I would have gotten to know him better. Of course, not a week goes by that I don't plop New York Dolls onto the turntable or into the CD player and crank it up, so in that sense I know Arthur, or at least his music.

By the way, on one very popular book ordering website, this book is noted as a "posthumous autobiography." You mean Arthur wrote it AFTER he died? Wow! I knew the man was talented, but holy crap.
4/5 (Chicago Review Press)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Nerves • Live! at the Pirate's Cove, Cleveland Ohio, May 26, 1977

Since there is only extremely scant recorded evidence of The Nerves' sound, nigh-on bootleg releases such as Live! at the Pirate's Cove... will have to do. This mid '70s pre-supergroup of Peter Case, Paul Collins and Jack Lee points directly to the bands these guys went on to form (The Plimsouls, The Beat), not to mention the superior but telling recording of The Nerves' "Hanging on the Telephone" by Blondie. Indeed, the gig on this recording is interesting: not a large crowd, not the greatest sound quality, but a freakin' awesome selection of songs. "Walking Out on Love," "Working Too Hard," "When You Find Out" and "You Won't Be Happy" all went on to appear in vastly superior form on The Plimsouls' and The Beat's debut LPs, while we all know the story of "Hanging on the Telephone." Along with these power pop gems, you also get some great soul/R&B style tunes. No wonder the post-Nerves groups did so well, with the talent they sported. (Guitarist Jack Lee continued to write songs but failed to record/release any of them himself.)

What this release is missing, of course, is sound quality. This must have been recorded on someone's cassette deck (I don't think it is a board tape), although the notes say it was "mastered from 1/4 track analog tape," which means someone either recorded it that way or it was transferred to 1/4 somewhere along the line.

On the plus side, as Alive Natural Sound did on their superior release, The Nerves' One Way Ticket (which features the three songs the band ever officially released back in the day), the packaging features lots of memorabilia from Paul Collins' personal collection... business cards, press releases, newspaper clippings, etc. Since the previous release contains the official recorded output plus early demos, I'd have to tell you to get that first if you're new to the Nerves. If not, then this is still a pretty valid release—as long as you can stomach sub-professional sound quality. Remember: it's all about the songs!
2.5/5 (Alive Natural Sound)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jarvis Cocker • Further Complications

The eagle-eyed, front-of-mind of you will note that Jarvis Cocker's Further Complications came out way back in June 2009. Yes, I'm playing a little ketchup here. And that's partly because when this came out I didn't really give it much of a chance, just kind of assuming I'd like it because I like Pulp—JC's band of Different Class and This Is Hardcore fame—and Cocker put on a helluva show here in Seattle in support of his first solo record, Jarvis.

Good news: I was right. I do like it. But not exactly for the reasons stated above. It turns out that Further Complications is more of a rock 'n' roll record than Cocker's ever done. As it says in the notes, Tim Call plays guitar in the right speaker and Martin Craft does in the left; I wouldn't be surprised if these were the same blokes Jarvis had with him on tour, because these songs definitely have more of an edge than you'd expect. Or is it because the disc was recorded by noiseo/icon Steve Albini? I suppose that's where these songs get their sort of dry, "just the facts, m'am" vibe.

Finally, there's the lyrics. Also dry. For instance: "In the beginning there was nothing/and to be honest that suited me just fine." Or: "I met her in the Museum of Paleontology/And I make no bones about it." Or: "I never said I was deep but I am profoundly shallow/My lack of knowledge is vast and my horizons are narrow." Okay, sure, out of context these sound like Groucho Marx leftovers, but in the context of a Jarvis Cocker song, you've got some great stuff here. All in all the songs are pretty good and the arrangements are snappy. And yet, I think his first solo disc may be the better of the two... Or is that just because "Cunts Are Still Running the World"* is so great that it's gonna be awhile before Jarvis betters it?
4/5 (Rough Trade)
* Buried on the final track of
Jarvis; also available as a download single.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Hot Rats • Turn Ons

Gaz and Danny from Supergrass, The Hot Rats' Turn Ons is an album full of cover versions. Perhaps taking the idea from David Bowie's 1974 Pinups album, or even more recently any number of other all-covers albums, the two-man band and producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Paul McCartney) put together a dozen or so songs for the occasion, and twelve of them appear here.

The festivities get started with a shot at Lou Reed's "I Can't Stand It" and The Kinks' "Big Sky." Things lag a bit on The Doors' "The Crystal Ship" and then you get to the first single, "Fight for Your Right," which sounds nothing like the Beastie Boys' original. In fact, the Rats do a great job of completely changing it... for the better, really, since that song—so closely associated with the silly video that accompanied it—is ultimately a childish, bombastic thing. (And I'm not saying I don't like it!) Stabs at Roxy Music, Pink Floyd, Elvis Costello, The Cure, and Bowie himself follow, and then comes "EMI" which is great because, as you know, the Sex Pistols cut that song as a swipe at the first label that signed y dropped them. And it makes you wonder, does Supergrass still have a contract with EMI, whose Parlophone label they have been on since 1995? (The band did this song on the Craig Ferguson late night show with Pistol Steve Jones—look it up on YouTube!) Well, anyway, the disc ends with a very nice, melancholy version of Squeeze's "Up the Junction," with an arrangement that really does justice to Difford & Tilbrook's sad story-wrapped-in-a-happy-melody that was a chart topper in the UK in '79.

All in all, a pretty great covers album. Some songs are awfully close to the originals, some aren't, and some are in between. They all sound like The Hot Rats, though, a crunchy, sorta lo-fi vibe quite different from Gaz & Danny's other band's sound, so you're not gonna confuse these versions with the others when they come up randomly on your iPod. My only qualm? They didn't include the Rats' version of "Drive My Car" on the album, even though there's a video for it. Where can a Supergrass/Hot Rats fan get this, I wonder? I hope it'll be on a single or something...
3/5 (Fat Possum [US], G&D Recordings [UK])

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bonnie Hayes with the Wild Combo • Good Clean Fun

Once again, on one of my weekly "just lookin'" ventures, I found a couple of great deals. The first one was a Mobile Fidelity half-speed master of a VERY PROMINENT '70S ROCK ALBUM (name withheld to protect me from those who might make fun), which had a real used cover but the record was PERFECT. And it was only 99¢! The second was what this review's about, Bonnie Hayes with the Wild Combo's 1982 new wave gem, Good Clean Fun.

I first ran into this record during my rookie year as a college radio DJ at Seattle's legendary KCMU. (It is now the world-renowned KEXP, but don't get me started...!) My freshman year at the University of Washington, 1981/82 was a year that was beyond compare for yours truly. During the summer of '81 a friend told me about this low-watt radio station where they played all kinds of "weird new wave"—this is where I first heard The B-52's, XTC, Devo, you name it. I tuned in the station whenever it would come in (at that time it was only 10 watts), and upon my first week of school at the UW, I promptly went to the station to find out what it was all about. It was then that I learned that almost anyone could get a show, and met a slew of like minded students (like my buds Mike Fuller and Andy Taylor, for two) who enjoyed DJing and playing whatever records you wanted. I got my first show in November (a Friday night from 11 pm to 2 am), and eventually this puny little station became a major part of my life. I discovered more great music in the initial years of DJing there than I have in all the years since! Sometime in 1982 Slash Records, the Los Angeles-based punk rock label, put out Bonnie Hayes's LP, and we played the hell out of it. Sure, some of the jocks thought it was pretty lightweight, and if you have no history with the girl groups of the '60s, you might too, but this record really was good clean fun. And this from the label that had already put out X's first two albums and The Dream Syndicate and The Gun Club! Slash had punk cred like no one else.

Well, anyway, this is about as pure an '80s new wave record as you can get, with percolating organs and crunchy guitars and a nice female voice singing of "Shelly's Boyfriend," "Girls Like Me," and "Raylene" (long before the late '90s porn star made her debut). And to think I went decades without this record, yesterday I found it in the 99¢ bin! Sleeve in good shape, record looked good. And like the record mentioned way above, it turned out to be in great shape. So, here's to Bonnie Hayes and her Wild Combo allowing me to relive some memories nearly 30 years old. I'll have to check out what's she's up to now...
4/5 (Slash Records; reissued on CD in 2007 by Wounded Bird) (bonniehayes.com)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Delroy Wilson • Dub Plate Style

An unsung reggae singer during his time, Delroy Wilson's style lies somewhere between '70s reggae and R&B. Being from Kingston, Jamaica, he sang reggae songs and made his way up the ranks to record with stalwart producers such as Bunny Lee. In 1978 Lee helmed a collection of Wilson's songs titled 20 Golden Greats. A showcase for both Wilson's R&B-ified singing and Lee's reggae production expertise, the album stood out (perhaps not for the best at the time) primarily thanks to Prince Jammy's remix. Jammy's dub mix moved the album into the realm of "dub mix with reggae vocals" (typically dub mixes include only sporadic bits of vocal), at the time where some thought mainstream reggae was headed. Alas, it didn't go there. Fast forward…

Dub Plate Style is that same album, released by Pressure Sounds out of the UK last year, under a more fitting title and sympathetic marketing. Using the original master tapes and pressed on high quality 180 gram vinyl (it's also out on CD), Wilson's vocals atop Lee's production and Jammy's remix is a treat to behold. Not as sappy as some straight reggae can be, not as dubby as some of the more far out dubs you usually hear (which were typically meant to be B-sides), these songs are somewhere in between and with a fair dose of soul, something Wilson clearly took in as a young man hearing the typical Motown and Stax records that were played in Jamaica in the '60s. After first listening no one track sticks out for me as the epitome of the collection, but I'll bet as time goes by this will become one of my favorites. And it's just one of Pressure Sounds' many fabulous releases—which should be bought on vinyl to appreciate them to the utmost.
4/5 (Pressure Sounds, UK)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Blue Cheer • Vincebus Eruptum

“Blue Cheer were an American psychedelic blues-rock band that initially performed and recorded in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and were sporadically active from that point on until 2009. Based in San Francisco, Blue Cheer played in a psychedelic blues-rock style, and are also credited as being pioneers of heavy metal (their cover of "Summertime Blues" is sometimes cited as the first in the genre[3]), punk rock[4], stoner rock[5][6], doom metal[6][7], experimental rock[8], and grunge[9]. According to Tim Hills in his book, The Many Lives of the Crystal Ballroom,[10] "Blue Cheer was the epitome of San Francisco psychedelia. The band is named after a street brand of LSD and promoted by renowned LSD chemist and former Grateful Dead patron, Owsley Stanley." [11] Jim Morrison of The Doors called the group, "The single most powerful band I've ever seen"[12].”

Well, that's what Wikipedia says. Indeed, the progenitor of heavy metal but so much more, Blue Cheer is being served well by Sundazed. Who better to release the band's first two albums again on vinyl? In fact, Vincebus Eruptum is out in MONO and the grandiose power of the trio's debut is right there in your face... not meant to spread around either side of your head, but to smack you right in the noggin like you deserve! How a major label record company decided to put this out in early 1968 is beyond me—hell, I was only 5 at the time—except that they must have all been on some form of blue cheer themselves. It's like the Beatles did Sgt. Pepper and then all of the sudden EVERY LABEL HAD TO HAVE PSYCHEDELIC BANDS ON IT. And so Verve signed the Velvet Underground and The Mothers, and Philips (now linked with Verve but not at the time) got them some Blue Cheer. These guys couldn't have been that accepted in San Francisco, at least not if you trust the revisionist rock history we're used to reading... I mean, if CCR was pop and Jefferson Airplane was psychedelic, what was this band? OUT OF THIS WORLD. And they are Still. Today. In 2010. [Also released by Sundazed is the band's second album, Outsideinside. And RIP Dickie Peterson, Blue Cheer bassist, who passed away very recently.]
4/5 (Sundazed)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Paul Gorman • Reasons to Be Cheerful: The Life and Work of Barney Bubbles

Barney Bubbles was a British graphic designer who became well known during the punk/new wave era. Bubbles (real name Colin Fulcher) designed album covers, singles sleeves, posters and more for everybody from Hawkwind to Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Psychedelic Furs, Billy Bragg and more; all of his designs capitalized on his fascination with type, geometry and symmetry (or lack thereof), and standing out on a busy record rack.

Paul Gorman's book Reasons to Be Cheerful looks at the life and work of Bubbles, in over 600 pages crammed with examples of the man's work. It's broken into chapters that chronologically look at what he put his all into, from his magazine page designs for the underground Oz, to his early poster and album designs, to his heyday as a practically in-house guy for Stiff, F-Beat and Chiswick Records, to his later work for Utility and others. Along the way he did some very risky and eye-popping work, from the Elvis Costello This Year's Model UK album sleeve that was printed deliberately off register, therefore showing the color registration bars, to Ian Dury's Do It Yourself album, which was printed on various patterns of wallpaper (again, only in the UK). For Utility, Billy Bragg's early label, Bubbles designed a very utilitarian brand identity that spanned all of the label's releases. The wealth of work this guy turned out in the late '70s/early '80s is so grand, you can barely believe it was all done by just one guy, in just 24 hours a day.

Sadly, Bubbles' life was cut short by his own hand in 1983, barely 40 years old and seemingly with another lifetime worth of awesome work to come. Reasons to Be Cheerful is a definitive guide to his work, and well worth the money.

At left, the inside sleeve of Nick Lowe's Labour of Lust album.

5/5 (Adelita Books, UK)