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Electrelane – “Singles, B-Sides & Live” (2006)

June 21, 2009

It is as it says on the box. B-sides, a non-album EP, and original and new versions make up this collection, arranged in chronological order. For those who have never heard the band before, go out and grab one of the band’s three albums. For those who have the organtastic “Rock It Tor The Moon”, chicly arty “The Power Out” and the experimental, though clichéd “Axes”, ownership of this disc depends on your level of fandom.

First up comes the band’s first two singles. Three of the songs, “Film Music”, “Le Song” and “U.O.R.” would later be rerecorded for their debut album, “Rock It To The Moon”. This pubescent Electrelane was made up of Verity Susman (organs), Emma Gaze (drums), Rachel Dalley (bass) and Debbie Ball (guitars). The versions of these songs vary little from the album versions, bar a few rough edges. This is the start of my favourite era of the band. Their tracks would start with a slow riff, build up a head of steam before exploding with free-wheeling organs or guitar. The remaining song from this era, “Come On”, is led by guitar and bass, with organ almost absent, and while it runs to the usual Electrelane arc, the lack of organ makes it sounds tentative, which is probably why it failed the cut for the album.

Ball left before the recording of the album, to be replaced by guitarist and Wire contributor, Mia Clarke. Comparing the single and album versions of these tracks, there is little to pick between Clarke and Ball. Clarke’s is first heard on this compilation on “John Wayne”, a cheesy b-side, with Susman playing something part circus music, part Spanish spaghetti western. Clarke adding some Morricone-style scrapes on the guitar, with Gaze drums thud flatly, like a marching band. “I Love My Farfisa”, an ode to an organ the Seventies Prog couldn’t have existed without, is pure riffage, nice but not essential.

The real value of this collection is the inclusion in full of the “I Want To Be The President EP”. A time of transition, this EP contains the band’s first experiments with writing lyrics. Considering that a voice now has to be heard, the music is a lot more restrained. The title cut is deep on low, insistent organ notes and a little light guitar. Susman’s voice is her usual plaintive self we would all come to hear on later albums, while the vocoder buzz, soaring synth, word-less vocals that explode near the end nicely besmirch the locked groove. The instrumental “I Only Always Think”, harks back to their debut, though slower and more spacious. “I’ve Been Your Fan Since Yesterday” starts atypically gently, the singing soft, as cinemania lightly undermining the mood. Soon enough, though, guitars break in to ramp things up – clearly the girls can’t help themselves. This is an intriguing EP, showing a band trying a few different things to see what would work.

It is a shock, therefore, and a pleasure, that the next track is Electrelane’s short, snappy, shouty version of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”, a b-side, as well as a live favourite from “The Power Our”. Next is an unnecessary 2004 Albini produced re-record of “Long Dark”, which lacks the playfulness, verve and “Popcorn” reference of the album version recorded three years earlier.

The live tracks are a mixed bag and generally inessential, which is disappointing for such a great live band. Neither “The Pockets Are People” nor the Peel session version of “Oh Sombra!” improves on the album versions. The cover of Bryan Ferry’s “More Than This” really needs you to be there, amidst the live vibe for it to sound anything else than indulgent and a tad silly. Only those glorious few minutes that make up “Birds”, arguably the best song they have ever written, saves the live section, allowing Clarke to bend notes all over the place.

Dalley left prior to the recording of the “Axes” album, to be replaced by bassist and sometime cellist and banjo-picker Ros Murray. Murray’s only studio moment on this collection is the closing b-side, “Today”, which sees the band back the kind of riffs they revelled in on their first few singles. This current incarnation of Electrelane may wish to play juggle Improv and arty songs to varying degrees of success, but sometimes there’s no beating a good riff.

7/10

I bought the original Electrelane album years ago on the strength of reading a review of the I Want To Be The President EP in the Wire. I quickly became a fan, but the EP itself proved hard to find. Thankfully the now defunct Rockus webzine filled this gap by sending me this compilation album which contained the EP in full

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