We live in a world where major retailers are either drastically reducing or completely phasing out their CD sections, a world where rock and roll has been completely devalued by rampant streaming and piracy. For album collectors, whether vinyl, CD, or cassette, getting music is being pushed into niche markets aimed at collectors. Which isn’t always a bad thing, considering the amazing boutique vinyl labels that have sprung up around old horror movie scores or bundle packages being offered by labels for customers ordering directly from websites. And though my pockets are far from deep, I am a sucker for nice packaging.
Cherry Red Records has a long history of issuing and re-issuing some of the greatest albums in folk, rock, prog, and punk, from the likes of the Dead Kennedys, The Fall, Pere Ubu, Arthur Brown, The Runaways, and many more. Two of their latest releases are box set re-issues. First, there’s Anti-Nowhere League with The Albums 1981-87 (Captain Oi!) and then Hawkwind’s The Emergency Broadcast Years 1994-1997 (Esoteric Records). Both sets come in sturdy cardboard boxes with the individual discs in sleeves, like records. The exterior boxes are nearly the same dimensions as a regular CD jewel box, though about twice as thick, and very nicely printed. The interior sleeves maintain the albums’ original artwork and are also nicely done.
Anti-Nowhere League might be best known to metal fans by Metallica’s cover of “So What” on Garage Days Revisited. Originally the song was the B-side to the superior “Streets of London,” from the band’s debut album We Are…The League. Anti-Nowhere League looked like cartoonish thugs, but actually wrote catchy songs, that were also incredibly crass, crude, and anti-PC.
Included in this set are Live In Yugoslavia and Rarities 1981-84. Live sounds great, but is a bit redundant, with the exception of a mediocre cover of Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” Similarly Rarities doesn’t offer much of interest, but it does have the aforementioned “So What,” which is an uproarious and profane slab of goodness: “Well I’ve fucked the queen and I fucked Bach, I’ve even sucked an old man’s cock, so what, so what, I’ve fucked a sheep, and I fucked a goat, I rammed my cock right down its throat, so what, so what.”
The real jewel of this set, though, is something even better than the band’s classic debut: The Perfect Crime. The guitar is turned down and keyboards are slathered on top for this sneering New Wave lost gem. I’ve only known the punk version of the League, but I knew they went through this phase and I was genuinely surprised by how much I like it. The songwriting is strong and the album as a whole is well produced, although lyrically it can get a little heavy-handed and lean in a U2/Midnight Oil direction (“Johannesburg”), but I can’t fault the band for swinging for the bleachers.
Hawkwind is a band I’ve been circling for years, my interest mainly stemming from the fact that it was Lemmy’s pre-Motorhead band and where the original recording of “Motorhead” comes from. I’ve never been able to get a handle on them and Silver Machine has been the only album that really caught me. Unfortunately, I had no better luck with The Emergency Broadcast Years: 1994-1997. There are some incredibly good songs across these four discs, but like a lot of prog rock, for me, my interest wanes in the meandering and the long, spacey jams.
The set includes four albums, two live albums, The Business Trip and Love In Space, and two studio albums, Alien 4 and Distant Horizons. I can count on one hand the number of live albums I truly like, so I found about 50% of these a slog to listen to, but the studio albums were quite good, if a bit long-winded at times. I think even casual Hawkwind fans will love this set, but I can’t imagine non-fans having their minds changed.
These are beautiful sets that definitely service the fans. Both hardcore collectors and the casual listener will find more than a little to love in both cases. Both can be ordered directly from Cherry Red’s website.