Sunday, April 12, 2015

Guest Review: Chairman Ralph: Bristol Boys Make More Noise (Various Artists)

You've got the book, you've heard the CD, now buy the T-shirt...
(Bristol Archive Records: Facebook Page)


Bristol Boys Make More Noise!: The Soundtrack
(Bristol Archive Records)

Let's face it: secondary cities don't get a lot of attention from their capital area cousins. The plus side of that situation is the freedom to develop as you wish – grow up in public, so to speak – before the heavy industry spotlight gets a bit too harsh.

So it goes with Bristol, whose rock 'n' roll legacy is typically summarized in terms of the Cortinas – whose teenage lineup included Nick Sheppard, who'd join the Clash during its twilight era (minus Mick Jones) – or its later reputation as the “birthplace of trip-hop.” But there's plenty more to the story, as this cracking 22-track compilation from Bristol Archive Records indicates.

The proceedings get to a flying start with Magic Muscle's “Free As A Bird” – whose dueling guitar solos and falsetto harmonies will leave you cold, or elicit a knowing wink and a nod (depending on your mood, and tolerance for older heavy rock). At 4:52, this song also ranks among the longest here (except “Sparkle,” by the colorfully-named Fabulous Ratbites From Hell, which clocks in at 5:48).

The pace ratchets up with the Cortinas' “Defiant Pose,” one of three indie singles that they issued before signing to CBS – whose clanging guitars and coda summarize the incoming mood, Year Zero style (“1977's got a hold on me!”). Sheppard also figures in the Spics, whose politically incorrect monicker shouldn't stop you from enjoying “You And Me,” and “Angels In The Rain.” Both tracks are poppy affairs featuring terrific male/female vocal interplay that underscores the angst on display here (“When I get outside, I feel no pain/When I get outside, I feel on shame”).

Of course, half the fun on any compilation is the unheralded stuff. My top vote goes to the X-Certs' “Queen And Country,” which boasts a propulsive riff – once you hear it, I guarantee that it won't leave your brain. Sadly, the lyrical concern hasn't dated an ounce (“Uncle Sam needs you/He wants your body for a sandbag, too”), in view of the never-ending Afghan and Iraq wars. The song's topicality could well have given the Jam a run for its money, had it earned a similar degree of attention.

Other underdog highlights include “New Blood” (The Media), a classically declamatory punk anthem (“You sold your passion for the truth you hid”) powered by a gliding bass line; “Unlucky In Love” and “Time Of My Life” (Various Artists), whose glistening pop hooks should have reaped bigger rewards; “She'll Be Back” (The Vultures), which suggests a more defiant response to the heart's dilemmas; and “Sheep War In A Babylon” (Shoes For Industry), a deft reworking of the dub idiom that would elicit a smile or two from Lee “Scratch” Perry.

Like any compilation, you'll feel more inclined to revisit some moments than others – such as “Bleak Grey Skies” (The Sidneys), whose lyric consists of one couplet (“Bleak grey skies/is our way”) that's repeated over a bed of chiming guitars and buttery female vocals. The music's fine – I just can't get a handle on what it's about, basically. I also felt likewise about “Yellow Runs Forever” (Joe Public) – which boasts some nifty guitar lines, as well as an equally foggy lyrical style (“Who can say if yellow runs forever?/I'm not sure”), which inspires me to say: “Answers on a postcard, please, when you find the time.”

But such quibbles are part and parcel of the comp experience, and relatively minor ones – the whole idea is to get you digging deeper, once you figure which tracks struck your fancy. Based on the goods here, Bristol had plenty of talent – dark horses, why-nots and might-have-beens who made their marks to varying degrees of success – so if you want to investigate further, this comp is definitely a good starting point. --Chairman Ralph

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