COLOURBOX Best Of 82/87 (4AD)
Colourbox are one of the unsung, forgotten heroes of alternative music. They may have released only one-and-a-half eponymous albums and a string of tragically underappreciated singles during their brief lifespan, but the remnants of what they bequeathed are still being picked over and woven into the rich tapestry of popular music today. They welded primitive electronics to deep dub, coptered in great swathes of soul, reggae and systems music, championed sampling, arguably kick-started British house music and were involved in the first independent single to top the charts. They are an overwhelmingly important band, whose knack for being in the right place five years before the party started explains why you haven't heard of them.
Which is where this mid-price CD should, by rights, take over. Except it doesn't, entirely. "Best Of 82/87" gathers up a useful quantity of their hard-to-find single releases, which are fresh sustenance even to a Colourbox devotee like myself. "The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme", presented here in its 7" cut, was actually under consideration for use in the British coverage of the Mexican football tournament, and it's an initially annoying, eventually beguiling slab of muzak that would have been just perfect for the task, one of many examples of Colourbox's chameleon-like ability to slide seamlessly into any setting. "Baby I Love You So" is a deep dub exploration of the reggae classic (I believe the original is by The Upsetters), whilst "Philip Glass" is a wickedly accurate appropriation of its titular subject's style, which actually led to a meeting between Colourbox and the composer. A few nuggets are cherry-picked from their eponymous full-length long-player as well, including the sublime "Arena 2" (the far superior alternate version that featured on the mini-album that accompanied early pressings), the "Prisoner" and "Westworld"-sampling breakthrough/breakdown of "Just Give 'Em Whiskey" and the delicate piano piece "Sleepwalker". The compilers have even unearthed "Hot Doggie", Colourbox's contribution to the 4AD sampler album "Lonely Is An Eyesore". And of course M/A/R/R/S' "Pump Up The Volume" is here too, in USA 12" and enhanced video form, a collaboration between Colourbox, guitar abusers AR Kane and DJs Chris "CJ" Mackintosh and Dave Dorrell. It's a landmark record that, by helping itself from the back catalogues of Public Enemy, Trouble Funk, Eric B and Rakim and James Brown, ushered in a whole new era in the construction of pop music, whilst simultaneously generating an entirely new branch of copyright law. And it was the latter that conclusively broke Colourbox's back, no more material appearing under the group's name from that day to this.
Despite all the musical marvellousness detailed above, this latest compilation seems like something of a missed opportunity. Given how slender the Colourbox discography is, it seems perverse to offer up a so-called "Best Of" that doesn't even scrape past the 50 minute barrier when two plumply-packed discs could tell you practically everything you could ever wish to know about the band. And, entertaining as this album undoubtedly is, it's musically dwarfed by the achievements of their one proper long-player, which functions as a far better introduction to the band. Additionally, for a group who seemed to spend as much care and skill constructing their record sleeves as on the music within them, the artwork - despite being administered by band members Martin and Steven Young - seems depressingly dreary.
I should love "Best Of 82/87": one of my favourite bands, great swathes of unfamiliar material, and finally some booklet notes that offer some background to the music. And I do. But the fact that, to me, it's something other than what it says on the tin, means I can't wholeheartedly recommend it above that sparkling, magical eponymous long-player, which is the real best of Colourbox.