Straight-talking, honest music: why I’d rather listen to a warts-and-all box set

Box sets tend to airbrush a label’s history with hit after hit, but Creation and Ork Records’ new compilations take you on an uneven yet fascinating journey

The Jesus and Mary Chain … Crown of Creation. Photograph: Ilpo Musto/Rex Features

Among the recent arrivals in the post have been two new box sets, each dedicated to the often shambolic recordings of a particular label. Artifact: The Dawn of Creation Records, assembles everything released on Alan McGee’s label during the first two years of its existence, and a load of stuff that wasn’t – demos, unreleased singles, radio sessions – and stops long before Creation reached its zenith. Put it this way, the only things on Artifact that might be considered “hits” – even within the insular world of 80s indie – are the Jesus and Mary Chain’s first single, Upside Down, the Loft’s gleaming Up the Hill and Down the Slope, and the debut from Primal Scream.

The other set, Ork Records: New York, New York, compiles the output of “the world’s first punk label”, set up in August 1975 by Terry Ork to release Television’s debut single, Little Johnny Jewel. Its hit rate is rather higher – as well as Television, it features crucial early releases by the Feelies, Richard Hell and the dBs – but it takes a particular kind of listener to thrill to Funky Kinky by Kenneth Higney or Let It Blurt by Lester Bangs.

I wouldn’t call either of these box sets “essential”. But they’re fascinating, and what makes them fascinating is their imperfections. The temptation, when compiling music history in box-set form, is to airbrush it – to present a series of unalloyed triumphs, great song after great song, maybe with the inessential stuff tacked on the end as a bonus disc, or some alternate takes to tempt in the completists. I’ve got plenty of those box sets, and you probably do, too. They’re the ones I listen to the most, too, because I know I’m going to get hit of pleasure after hit of pleasure.

But box sets like Artifact or Ork Records are in some ways a more compelling experience to listen to, even if their warts-and-all approach has sometimes seen the warts grow into huge protuberances. Their completist approach actually captures a time and a place – you learn more about Creation from Artifact than you do from your My Bloody Valentine records. Listening to a box set of this type is like finding a packet of Pears soap when you’re clearing out an elderly relative’s things after they die: open the packaging and you can smell the past rushing at you, overwhelming your senses.

The Creation set captures a time when I was first listening to John Peel, and discovering indie music. Hearing these groups whose role in the Creation story has long been forgotten is a stern reminder that it took a long time for the label to become the UK’s champions of alternative guitar music – when the set ends, we’re still two years from the House of Love’s first single, let alone Screamadelica, Loveless or Definitely Maybe. But it’s a more honest portrayal of the label than one that simply journeys from landmark to landmark: those of a certain age might remember John Peel playing the sixth single on Creation, Do the Ghost by the X-Men, and remarking that it was the label’s best single to date.

You can read the rest of this article on the Guardian website here

We’d love to know what you prefer……original album or the deluxe boxset reissue?

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1 Comment

  1. Box sets are great apart from the ones with stupid prices that I couldn’t justify spending the money on. Especially those bands who I have the original vinyl and then bought the cd version

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