Be-Bop Deluxe – Extended Modern Music Edition

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Be-Bop Deluxe

Modern Music (Extended Edition)

Esoteric

2CD/4CD+DVD/DL

out now

New 2CD box set of Be-Bop Deluxe’s ​​fourth album with a bonus disc of remixes. Ian Canty hails a group that was buzzing with activity in 1976, despite growing disenchantment with the music business.

From the outside, it appeared that Be-Bop Deluxe was an unstoppable force when Modern Music came out. Their third album Sunburst Finish (review here) was released in early 1976 and was a big seller, with the band breaking into the UK Top 30 with the single Ships In The Night. In September of the same year, they are back with a new album, Modern Music, recorded with the revamped line-up (the incomparable Bill Nelson with a rhythm section of Simon Fox and Charlie Tumahai, plus the new recruit, the keyboardist Andrew Clark). So, at first glance, everything seemed rosy indeed.

However, in the aftermath of the success of Sunburst Finish, a tour of the United States had left bandleader Bill Nelson dejected and disillusioned, especially with the music industry he had seen up close there. He also experienced a large dose of culture shock. Being the artist he is, he sought to use that same frustration in his music, making it a key part of Deluxe’s ​​new album. This manifested in the Modern Music Suite of short songs, which formed a whole as part of the second side of the original album.

One difference between Be-Bop Deluxe and all the glam/prog contenders around the same time is that they were strictly contemporary to Bowie and Roxy Music, not the copycats who took inspiration from that pair. They were also cunning enough not to let their considerable musical abilities overwhelm their songs: they always kept things tight and flowing, their excess of ideas being expressed in a thoroughly accessible way. Plus, when called upon to channel pure rock and roll thrills, they sounded totally authentic, never letting their ambitious ideas or artistic aspirations get in the way of a driving track.

Donning business suits in the Modern Music cover photo was another way to clarify the gap between them and the long-haired herd. Nelson also had the prescient mockup of a TV watch on his wrist, years before Apple even thought of it. The presentation was ultra-modern, then – and the music then?

Orphans Of Babylon heralds the arrival of Modern Music in a catchy, riff-laden way, but taking on odd angles with an eminently enjoyable and crunchy in-phase attack. The next Twilight Capers is a little more experimental, having what sounds like banjo picking before evoking a glam space vibe for a while. There’s even a bit of rumba rhythm in there and it’s all so well done.

The album’s single Kiss Of Light failed to follow Ships In The Night on the charts, although it’s hard to see why: it’s a superior pop song built around a solid street rock staple. Bill mentions in the booklet that he apparently influenced XTC’s Statue of Liberty, which gives you an idea of ​​how far ahead he and Be-Bop Deluxe had the game in 1976. After that, we get into the powerful piano rock ballad The Bird Charmer’s Destiny, before the first side of the album culminates with two superb songs in The Gold At The End Of My Rainbow and the utterly irresistible Bring Back The Spark.

As mentioned, the second side begins with the Modern Music Suite, Bill Nelson’s meditation on their mismatched US tour that found them struggling with the audience who brought tickets for Ted Nugent and Barclay James Harvest. The Modern Music itself begins with a “radio sweep” that includes snippets of Be-Bop Deluxe, coverage of the Montreal Olympics, John Peel and Hancock’s Half Hour, before a clever, catchy track n emerges. Romance and imaginative, this is classic Be-Bop. Dancing In The Moonlight (All Alone) reflects Nelson’s feelings of isolation in America, but it’s bright, punchy rocker that’s followed by the similarly themed descent of Honeymoon On Mars.

Lost In The Neon World is only a fragment that leaves you wishing for more, it soon gives way to Dance Of The Uncle Sam Humanoids. This one takes aim squarely at the record industry, with Andy Clark posing as an oily A&R man. The Modern Music cover completes a masterclass in how to couple the experimentalism of prog with the immediacy of rock and roll.

Although undoubtedly the main track of the album, after the Modern Music Suite, there is still much to explore here. It seems like Forbidden Lovers was written on the hoof to increase the length of the album, but you wouldn’t know that if you listened to it in isolation, because it’s a good number, upbeat and catchy. Down On Terminal Street has rightly become a Be-Bop Deluxe live anthem, powerful and with a hint of Christmas in those chimes. The LP closes with Make The Music Magic, a beautifully sung and played song that shows there was still hope in their hearts after the rock and roll cynicism they had endured in the States. Ending the album on an upbeat note was another masterstroke – you couldn’t pin Bill and his band down.

As a bonus, there’s also the funky sci-fi of Shine, the B-side of Kiss Of Light. The new stereo mixes, which make up the bulk of disc two in this set, are stunning. They are razor sharp and give the listener clear access to hear the band’s industry, light touch and abundant talent. While these revisions are generally looked down upon a bit, the ones featured here make what was already a terrific album just a little bit better. Shine also gets a new brush and shave and we get the first takes of Forbidden Lovers and The Bird Charmer’s Destiny. The latter returns to Bill’s voice and piano and is just wonderful.

Added to the above there is also a well produced booklet with a comprehensive and informative liner note (which also contains revealing observations from Bill Nelson himself) and a poster facsimile which all make for an attractive set . Kudos to Esoteric, who seem to be good at this stuff. I look forward to Be-Bop Deluxe’s ​​latest album, Drastic Plastic, receiving similar treatment.

Modern Music was another quality release for Be-Bop Deluxe and that is done justice by this new edition. The original album sounds great, the new remixes kick it up a notch, and the poster and booklet complement the music perfectly. Bill Nelson and Be-Bop were at the top of their game in 1976, despite their run-ins with the American music industry, with plenty of evidence expertly presented here throughout the two CDs. Modern Music presents an extremely talented band at their best.

All the words of Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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