Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kirsty MacColl From Croydon To Cuba... An Anthology 2003

Kirsty MacColl had a rather strange career, but produced several unusually good albums, and she possessed a killer voice and a keen sense for songwriting. This three-CD set does a nice job of touching all the bases in a varied career, and throws in several rarities that are top notch, for that sort of thing.

Each of her five full-length albums (1981-200) is well represented, and many non-album singles from her early career appear. A few have never been released on CD. Tracks recorded for her second album, Real, that was never released, are also included.

Some of the early material is a bit too eighties synth-heavy, but most of the songs are the classic perky pop with intelligent lyrics that are the hallmark of her early pop period. There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis, A New England, He's On The Beach and They Don't Know all all great singles, and offer an interesting glimpse into the pop sensibility and humor that infuse her entire output.

Her work throughout the nineties included three fantastic albums. Electric Landlady (1991) was a fine blend of folk, pop, rock, and even a bit of rap on Walking Down Madison. He Never Mentioned Love, All I Ever Wanted, My Affair and Walking Down Madison are all strong songs, all with hook-laden choruses and memorable melodies. My Affair is an early example of her love for Latin music, later fully realized on Tropical Brainstorm (2000).

Tropical Brainstorm was her last album before her untimely death, and it is a perfect blend of Latin rhythms, great songwriting, and Kirsty's wonderful voice. Mambo De La Luna, In These Shoes?, Celestine, Alegria, and England 2 Columbia 0 are all just plain classics.

Between those high points came Titanic Days (1993), her high-water mark, and one of my personal favorites. Produced by then husband Steve Lillywhite, Titanic Days has it all: bright love song You Know It's You, tales of very bad men (to which MacColl seems drawn, at least in her lyrics) Titanic Days, Can't Stop Killing You, and Bad, and the sentimental melancholy of Soho Square. The airy, dreamy Angel and Tomorrow Never Comes are beautiful. Lillywhite's production and the backing of crack musicians help realize MacColl's most consistent songwriting, and her performances are both cool and riveting.

The Anthology does a fine job of representing her entire career, from They Don't Know (the original that Tracy Ullman made famous) to In These Shoes?, a hilarious tale of dangerous love. It includes (as does Galore) the classic Fairytale In New York with the Pogues. It is well worth your dollars or pounds or euros.

For the uninitiated, there is a newer single-disc Best Of that is a good choice, although in trying to cover everything on one CD, you miss some good stuff. The 1995 collection Galore might be a better single-disc choice. If you love it, you can buy Tropical Brainstorm and have most of her best output. Personally I couldn't do without Titanic Days, but that's an odd place to start, because it is such a singular record.

The collections What Do Pretty Girls Do? (BBC recordings) and The Essential Collection and The One And Only (both early Stiff records collections that are not complete career overviews) are for devout fans only. Avoid them unless you must own everything.

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