Volume Seventeen: Fifth Birthday Bumper Bonanza (Volume, 1996)

This celebratory issue of Volume contains 30 tracks which are fairly evenly spread over its two CDs. It was five years since the series made its debut with Volume One – a world away for both reader and author. There was no sign that this would be the final issue – the subscriber push remains evident and the reasons for its (sudden) demise seem lost in the mists of time. Unless there is somebody reading this post can enlighten me?

CD1 starts with Alabama 3 and Woke Up This Morning, recorded live for Volume at Steamroom Studios. An atmospheric beginning and one that would gain a huge foothold by the end of the decade when it was used as the opening theme for The Sopranos. It’s amazing how the price of television series and films has come down over the years. I remember when show came out on VHS in 2000 and the first season was £50 – boxes of them piled in HMV and they were flying out. Going back to the 1980s, there was terrible value if you wanted to collect series like The Prisoner or Doctor Who. Three episodes or so on a tape that cost close to £20. Or when DVDs first appeared in Ireland – 1998 – and things like The Wicker Man and Fight Club were £40 each (2 disc editions). Going back to the music, track 2 is Elastica’s intense Love Like Ours, taken from that year’s Evening Session and would later appear on 2000’s The Menace. Next are new kids on the block – Travis – with the cautionary U16 Girls, which would later become their second single.

Terrorvision’s Conspiracy (Remix) comes with sufficient crunchy bite to reward a second listen but the depths of musical atrocity run deep on both the Gallon Drunk and Deus tunes. Spineless bastards all. A live version of Morphine’s Never Live Twice comes off as aimless meandering with Bjork’s Possibly Maybe (Lucky Mix), lifted off Telegram “feels like listening to the original song but at the bottom of the ocean.” – so says Danger Nixon. I prefer this treatment of the Post tracks to the rather patronisingly titled The Best Mixes from the Album Debut for All the People Who Don’t Buy White Labels. Keep a reinvention theme are the Longpigs with Manna’s languid remix of On And On while the appearance of Rare raises an eyebrow – then and now. Their Set Me On Fire single on Setanta back in 1990 was the label’s first misstep and Rollercoaster shows absolutely no improvement. Little Axe’s What Have You Got is similarly insipid and we are looking at an epic disaster.

Turn On’s eponymous album formed part of the soundtrack to our Northbrook Avenue house share in 1997. Latin Gloop makes for an interesting “in-flight entertainment” interlude while reading the Q&A session with Tim Gane and Sean O’Hagan (not the journalist). Hawaii and Emperor Tomato Ketchup both get commended in the panel. System 7’s Big Sky City continues the upward trajectory with some nicely balanced techno. But the true plaudits must go to Curve for their arresting Test, an atmospheric precursor for the Come Clean era. Switching discs to CD2, we’re offered a moody take on Led Zeppelin’s Communication Breakdown, courtesy of Drugstore. The jury’s still out. Staying sensitive: the enchanting Like A Dog from Throwing Muses, marked as “new recording”; I do recall its Bright Yellow Gun B-side status the previous year. Rugby Road era gone.

One of the highlights of the Volume series is the curveballs and Elvis Costello covering Sleeper is of them. “Supplanting a kind of innocence with an emotional Molotov cocktail” says Louise Wener. It’s savage yet quietly intense. Which leads me onto the next track, the unbelievable grimness of The Auteurs’ Unsolved Child Murder, here in early demo form. There’s a spirit of malevolence on After Murder Park, its Red-Riding type sleeve hiding many haunting themes. Following are Catatonia with a nice acoustic take on Mickey while Cuckoo’s More Of Me is fine Derry indie from a band with a guy named Deery in their ranks. Meanwhile Patrick Fitzgerald returns as Fruit on the interesting Leather Jacket which has nothing to do with the Elton John album. Next is the mysterious Mel McCrory making her debut here with Here I Am, inspired by Buzz Aldrin. No more appearances.

Through A Long And Sleepless Night (Live Studio Version) is a welcome inclusion, a excellent rendition of one of Casanova’s highlights. Ambitious and ludicrous in equal measures, “It is a vindication of the self even when the self is loathed. Neil as tortured romantic artist.” (Zardok) Just when you think you’ve heard all of the Cocteau Twins’ output, up pops the sublime Touch Upon Touch, the final track ever. Craig Butler says “so sensual and sad at the same time. This song is like seeing a former lover and knowing you can never have those feelings back.” Great interview with Simon Raymonde about movies. Also arresting is Geneva’s Closer To The Stars while Fiel Garvie’s Risk & Fringe’s I’ll Keep It In Mind are both nicely tortured. Next the oblique Bettie Serveet and the well constructed story Spine before Bill Janovitz flies solo from Buffalo Tom on the alternative country twang of Red Balloon. We end with regular in-house joke Mindless Drug Hoover praising the series on Volume and wishing it a happy birthday. While this definitely was an overstretched finale, it’s fair to say that CD2 redeems it and protects the legacy. 192 & out.

Favourite tracks
Elastica – Love Like Ours (Evening Session)

Cocteau Twins – Touch Upon Touch

The Divine Comedy – Through a Long and Sleepless Night (Live Studio Version)

Elvis Costello – What Do I Do Now?

Lest we forget
Curve – Test

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