Wednesday, 20 January 2010


 (Adapted from a review of Crystal Days, the 4-disc box set.)

I've became a fan of McCulloch and Co in the very early 80's when they were recommended to me by a guy at a Science Fiction convention (remember the face, forget the name) -this was no means unusual, we talk about anything and everything at SF cons, not just SF. I tipped my toe in the water by buying their 12inch EP which was just great that I set about buying the rest of their stuff which came out, at least for a few years. Some time after meeting Susan I sold all my vinyl albums as they took up too much room in our tiny flat.

Not long after I started at Sunderland City library which its large Sound & Vision Dept, I started borrowing CDs and copying them to my pc hard disk. One of the happened to be the above box set which, at the time, was around £40 and well outside my budget. Then, just recently, I read a review of Crocodiles (their first album) remastered with extra tracks which stated that this series of releases supplanted the box set. What follows is my slightly edited Amazon review.

There's no question that there is some considerable overlap, particularly with the first four albums which I think are the band's best. I'm not going into every last little detail but suffice it to say that the best tracks (or versions of them) from the four are well represented on the first two discs. However, the remastered editions of these albums contain, obviously, all the original tracks plus a number of live/alternate cuts and b-sides which are often different from those on the box set. CD3 of the set covers highlights of the successive studio albums. CD4 is a superb collection of live cuts.

Now while the remasters have new liner notes by Max Bell, the box set has a substantial booklet.

There are pros and cons about which to go for. For someone who just wants one collection of E&TB, and although there are several best of's, I'd recommended this lavish box set. But it doesn't tell the full story. Ian McCulloch used to rant on about Ocean Rain being the best rock album ever. He's wrong, of course, but not that far wrong and it should be in every rock fan's collection. Buy the box set and you miss a number of great songs and the same can be said of the first three albums.

I recommend you do what I did. Get the box set (which, at its current price, is a bargain  - it's aroudnn £16.00 and despite having a digital copy, I'm still thinking of buying it), revel in it for a while, and then go back and buy the remastered extended versions of the first four albums, plus maybe a later live set for a bit  of variety. (I picked up Live in Liverpool, 2002, which is nice but nowhere near the live disc on the box set.) But whatever you do, even if it's just buying Ocean Rain, you win.

Post Script.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my favourite albums ever. If I were to do that now, having had time to listen to the albums again, Ocean Rain would replace Crocodiles as one of them with that album being the alternative choice. This is their musical peak and nothing else they recorded after came remotely near it.

Incidentally, the reason I like this band so much is the great songs with their distinctive lyrics, the musicianship (especially the brilliant guitar), Ian McCulloch's mournful echo of a voice, and the general aura of alienation -art college rock at its best.

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