The CD Cull

New year, new CD collection.

December 2022 saw the Second Annual CD Cull, not quite as drastic as the Great Cull Of 2021 but still pretty ‘brutal’.

In this annual period of ‘reinvention’ and ‘rebirth’, some people throw out clothes, books and furniture – these days I look with fear and pity at my overburdened CD shelves.

CDs have lots of pros: sound quality, liner notes, cover artwork. But they are heavy, take up space, and looking at my stash is also a tacit admission of guilt at not getting to record shops as much as I used to.

But which CDs to keep? Of course there are the untouchables, in my case: Steely, John McLaughlin, Weather Report/Jaco/Wayne, Level 42, Jeff Beck, Ornette, Monk, Joni, Miles, Prefab, Little Feat, Marvin, Zappa, Scritti, Faith No More/Mr Bungle, It Bites, Danny Wilson et al.

Then there were the CDs I’m not altogether sure about but aren’t available on any other formats. So it’s a stay of execution for:

Lil Louis’ From The Mind Of Lil Louis
Robin Eubanks’ Karma

Then there are ones I haven’t listened to for ages. So I listened to them. Did I still want the below? Yes! They all screamed ‘classic’ pretty much from the first bar:

Human League’s Dare
Morphine’s Like Swimming

Brad Mehldau’s Places
Geri Allen: The Gathering
Brecker Brothers Collection Vols. 1 and 2
Gary Clail’s Dreamstealers

Little Axe’s The Wolf That House Built
Lonnie Liston Smith’s Cosmic Funk
Albert Collins & The Icebreakers’ Live ’92-’93
Blur’s Blur
Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin
D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar

But stuff has to go, so you need a system. There were soundtrack albums with one or two superb vocal tracks but which otherwise flattered to deceive:

Isaac Hayes’ Shaft
Marvin’s Trouble Man

There were compilation albums that were badly put together, inconsistent or lacking decent liner notes/info. So it’s goodbye to:

Roy Ayers’ A Shining Symbol
The Jimi Hendrix Concerts
Living Colour: Pride
On-U Sound’s Pay It All Back Vol.4
Ian Dury & The Blockheads’ Reasons To Be Cheerful
Peaches: The Very Best Of The Stranglers

Then there were the studio albums that had just a few good tracks and/or no musician details etc.:

Robert Palmer’s Double Fun
Angela Bofill: Love In Slow Motion
Propaganda’s Wishful Thinking
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Freaky Styley
Randy Newman’s Bad Love
Dee-Lite’s World Clique
Blur’s 13 (also in retaliation at Graham Coxon’s constant/irritating ‘shaming’ of the 1990s in recent interviews)
Van Halen’s Women And Children First/1984/Diver Down/Fair Warning
Zawinul Syndicate’s Lost Tribes
John Coltrane: ‘58/Both Directions At Once
D’Angelo’s Black Messiah

Finally, there are those CDs that are just appallingly remastered:

XTC’s Nonsuch/English Settlement
Bill Bruford’s One Of A Kind (2018 version)

I’ve probably left quite a few out here. Yes I’ll probably rue getting rid of some of ‘em. But it had to be done. I hope they have gone to a good home. Now, which CDs will kick the bucket in YOUR gaff…? (And a tip of the hat to the excellent Reckless Records in Soho, who always offer good prices/friendly service. )

TACK>>HEAD: Friendly As A Hand Grenade 30 Years On

Tackhead have always been ahead of their time, but no one could have predicted quite how prescient their 1989 album Friendly As A Hand Grenade would prove.

When Trump became president in 2016, Gee Vaucher’s brilliant cover artwork went viral, though one wonders how many people knew the image’s origins.

In a way that’s a good metaphor for the band’s career. A supergroup of session players, and arguably the ultimate post-punk band in their effortless fusion of hip-hop, P-funk, agit-prop, dub, house, gospel, blues and industrial, Tackhead have never quite hit the mainstream, even while their respective careers flourished with other artists.

And that’s probably exactly how they like it. Tackhead has always been a kind of musical petri dish for each member’s explorations, kind of a funk version of 1980s King Crimson.

Bassist Doug Wimbish, drummer Keith LeBlanc and guitarist Skip McDonald had of course hooked up during their legendary sessions for Sugarhill Records, and vocalist Bernard Fowler was one of the great singers on the ’80s New York scene.

Add London-based mixologist/dub innovator Adrian Sherwood and it was a whole new thang, mixing the latest sampling technology with classic funk-rhythm-section smarts.

And if their second album Friendly, released 30 years ago this weekend, hasn’t dated as well as hoped, that’s more down to its mastering limitations (not enough bottom end) and occasional dearth of quality original material.

But when it works it really works, a thrilling mix of heavy guitar, funk basslines, tasty grooves, soulful vocals and scary samples, usually with a political element.

‘Mind And Movement’ steals a march on Heaven 17’s ‘We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang’, a funky missive against Margaret Thatcher’s late-’80s policing policies. ‘Stealing’ is a grinding, gospel-tinged rail against TV evangelists.

The two ska cameos are pure filler, but side two is much better, kicking off with the classic Tackhead theme tune ‘Airborne Ranger’, and gradually adding in elements of old-school hip-hop and early house.

Friendly was a hit, reaching #3 on the UK Indie album chart and reportedly selling over 100,000 worldwide. The majors smelt a hit; EMI subsidiary SBK came calling with a big advance and huge recording budget (LeBlanc puts it at around £250,000), resulting in the 1990 major-label debut Strange Things, which had some brilliant moments but has been been described by a few band members since as ‘crap’.

Arguably the better follow-up to Friendly was the 1994 Strange Parcels album Disconnection, credited as a ‘A Tackhead Re-Duction’.

Elsewhere, Wimbish went on to great things with Living Colour, McDonald formed the potent Little Axe and Fowler became a key member of the Rolling Stones touring entourage. And they all continued to work with fascinating On-U Sound outliers Mark Stewart and Gary Clail.

But the ‘real’ Tackhead sound has probably never adequately been captured on record  – the gigs were (and are) where it’s at (and highly recommended is their live anthology Power Inc. Volume Three).

There was a memorable March 1989 show at London’s Town & Country Club, and I went to many great gigs in the capital during the early 1990s and beyond. The band’s fans were (and are) an incredibly disparate bunch, from Whirl-Y-Gig crusties to B-boys and musos.

And they’re still with us. Don’t miss them if they come to your town – they’re still doing some of the best stuff out there.