B.E.F.: Dark UK 2xCD 
Disc 1 | Music of Quality + Distinction Vol. 3
- Every Time I See You I Go Wild • Featuring – Kim Wilde
- Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time • Featuring – Green Gartside
- Don’t Wanna Know • Featuring – Sarah Jane Morris
- Picture This • Featuring – Kate Jackson
- Breathing • Featuring – Andy Bell
- It Was A Very Good Year • Featuring – Glenn Gregory
- I Wanna Be Your Dog • Featuring – Boy George
- The Same Love That Made Me Laugh • Featuring – David J. Roch
- God Only Knows • Featuring – Shingai Shoniwa
- Make Up • Featuring – Boy George
- Just Walk In My Shoes • Featuring – Sandie Shaw
- The Look Of Love • Featuring – Polly Scattergood
- Party Fears Two • Featuring – Glenn Gregory
- Smalltown Boy • Featuring – Billie Godfrey
- The Day Before You Came • Featuring – Maxim
- Co-pilot To Pilot • Featuring – Kelly Barnes
Disc 2 | Soundtracks for Imaginary Films
- Every Time I See You I Go Wild [instrumental]
- Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time [instrumental]
- Don’t Wanna Know [instrumental]
- Picture This [instrumental]
- Breathing [instrumental]
- It Was A Very Good Year [instrumental]
- I Wanna Be Your Dog [instrumental]
- The Same Love That Made Me Laugh [instrumental]
- God Only Knows [instrumental]
- Make Up [instrumental]
- Just Walk In My Shoes [instrumental]
- The Look Of Love [instrumental]
- Party Fears Two [instrumental]
- Smalltown Boy [instrumental]
- The Day Before You Came [instrumental]
- Co-pilot To Pilot [instrumental]
I was beginning to think several years ago that the possibility of Martyn Ware gifting us with another B.E.F. “Music of Quality + Distinction” volume was increasingly remote. Then he shared the concept and I had to await the results in my Record Cell with no small amount of patience. But he has made good on his promise and the results are incredible! Given that he financed it all on his own with artists working “on spec” for the love of doing it means that everyone is engaged for the right reasons; the love of a song and crafting a new interpretation of a venerable classic.
Ware’s idea was to adopt the methodology he applied to the Human League’s astonishing cover of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” from their debut album “Reproduction” and apply the same rules to a whole selection of pop material that ran the gamut from Iggy Pop to Frank Sinatra. The brief was to take a dark, electronic, cinematic vibe and apply it to previously happy songs. So the mainstream r+b of Volume 2 is only touched on peripherally. The quirky synthpop of Volume 1 is a larger touchstone, but the Human League cover really is the core of where this ship is heading.
Speaking of Human League, the opener by Ware’s old pal Kim Wilde is an insane cover of a Stevie Wonder song I was not previously familiar with. I’ve always been sort of cool to Kim’s merits, but maybe it was the setting she was used in that didn’t do it for me. Here, Ware’s collaborator Brian Duffy has dropped the thrush into a music bed entirely crafted from a vintage Roland System 100 modular synth as used on “Reproduction!” It begins with a few random notes not miles away from “The Dignity of Labour” and then begins its pulsating journey into the heart of desire. Any chance Kim can get Martyn Ware to produce her next album? I’m willing to buy! More analog modular synthesis, please! Why let Benge have all the fun?
Green Gartside continues on from his Vol. 2 appearance with a great cover of The Delfonics “Didn’t I Blow You Mind This Time.” The result doesn’t break any new paradigms, but let’s face it; Green was born to sing this song, and you really wouldn’t want to hear him singing it over a minimal techno music bed. His vocals are perfect, and his phrasing accentuates the dark ambiguity always there in the song but not usually noticed. At the very least, this will hold his fervent fans over until the next Scritti album drops. Again, why not let Ware produce it, I ask?
Sarah Jane Morris you may know from her singing with The Communards, but I’d not had the pleasure. Her bluesy take on John Martyn’s “Don’t Want To Know” is a feast of her multi-tracked vocals. Like all of the vocalists here, she brings enormous character to her performance. This is an album of singers to savor in a dazzling setting. I love how the track drops out to the stomping percussion track over the outro.
I am currently obsessed with Kate Jackson’s life-changing cover of Blondie’s “Picture This” that shot shivers down my spine the first time I heard it and continues to do so even as I type these words with the album playing on my earbuds. The string arrangement by Marvin Ayres is absolutely stellar and Ms. Jackson wrings new poignance out of the very familiar Blondie classic. Ware admits weeping upon hearing it in the booth when recording and you’d have to be made out of clay not to respond to a performance like this! The song has a new owner as I simply can’t shake this heart-rending version of the song. Definitive.
I’d not heard anything Andy Bell had done following the Erasure album that… Martyn Ware produced 20 years ago that stands as the final Erasure recording in my Record Cell. He and Ware are inveterate Kate Bush fans and took the opportunity to cut Bush’s eerie nuclear anxiety single “Breathing” from 1980. It’s an ear-opener to hear Bell make this song his own, even as I’ve been trending further downward on my lapsed [25 year] Kate Bush fandom lately. He invests the track with new life and as far as I’m concerned, here’s another song on this album with a new owner. I love how the rhythm bed degenerates as the song reaches its climax.
Next: …Chairman of the [Circuit] Board
Martyn certainly knows how to get the proceedings going! Kim Wilde is utterly reinvented here. The song seems as though it was written for her. Green Gartside has only let me down once on the Anomie & Bonhomie album which is patchy at best. Here he sings his aching heart out and it’s a pleasure to listen to. Sarah Jane Morris is one of those people who has always made the people around her sound better. Martyn produced an album for her in the 90’s album Heaven to very good results. It’s nice to hear her shine.
But the song I can put on single track repeat for play after play is Kate Jackson’s Picture This. Here is the track that ties HL Mk1 with BEF MOQAD Vol. 1 and brings them both to the present. Jackson certainly does take ownership of this classic! Her band the Long Blondes owe much to Blondie and Siouxsie, for that matter, but man is this a star turn! It invades my mind. It haunts me for hours after I listen to it. The arrangement is pure Vol. 1 in every sense. If I ever get to meet Martyn I will say thank you for this interpretation.
Echorich – Ha, yes, “Anomie + Bonhomie” was a much better title and art direction portfolio than a Scritti album. The hip hop so didn’t work for me. I bought the “Tinseltown To The Boogie Down” US CD single and stopped there. Hell, I traded that thing in in record time. A kind friend made me a CD-R of “Anomie + Bonhomie: Limited Edition Rap-Free Pressing” with six delightful tracks. But wow, did he bounce back with “White Bread, Black Beer!” That quickly became my favorite Scritti Politti album. The man is clearly a genius.
But boy howdy, that Blondie cover is to die for! It haunts me from the moment of waking, throughout my day. Giving so much more pleasure than the modest purchase price. Let’s face it; I owe Martyn Ware big time for this album! I didn’t pay enough scratch for it! It’s clearly worth so much more than the asking price! I’ve been waiting for reader Taffy to chime in here with his two cents on the hot issue since he’s a Blondie mega-fan.
Wish I could chime in properly, but I’ve only heard the Blondie cover as a live offering on youtube. I will eventually purchase the BEF CD, but til then all I can say is there are precious few covers which do Debbie and the boys justice to my ears. This one – wow, pretty impressive. I do think that “ownership” still safely resides in Debbie’s possession, but I like what they’ve done here. I miss Debbie’s ice cool confidence, but Kate swaps that out for an extra scoop of yearning which most definitely works.
Taffy – Omigosh, hearing this without the orchestra in a live presentation is almost unthinkable. Off the top of my head, no Blondie cover even comes to mind for good or ill. What covers did you like earlier?
Mmm, well, i’m too picky to really like many Blondie covers. I don’t like ANY better than the originals, but i am cool with the very different genres explored with Heart Of Glass as covered by Associates, The Puppini Sisters, and The Bad Plus. Voice of the Beehive did a reverent In The Flesh, and Tracey Ullman likewise kept the girl group sound intact on her take of Presence Dear. And I quite like Franz Ferdinand’s rocky Call Me. While you didn’t ask, I’ll volunteer that of all the abominations masquerading as Blondie covers, One Way Or Another has been routinely butchered by talent-free pop acts, most recently boyband One Direction.
Taffy – D’oh!!! How could I forget Associates magnificent” Heart Of Glass,” Tracey Ullman’s great “Presence Dear” and VOB’s lovely “In The Flesh??!!” The day I had at work yesterday [which was just like a really long anxiety dream, except that it was far worse than not studying for a test and it was REAL] might have had something to do with my brain fog! I seem to recall hearing a great electro cover of HOG with a male vocalist at a club in the late 80s and noting it, only to buy “Popera” when it came out on CD and discover that it had been The Associates I had heard a couple of years earlier. It had been the one time I’d heard Associates in a dance club and it was before I was a fan!
Billy took the best route by picking up the beat and “joy-afying” (new word I’m sure) his take on HOG. I agree with Taffy, Blondie are VERY difficult to cover well, but BEF/Kate Jackson is just stunning and possibly the best piece of music I have listened to this year!!
Echorich – Can’t say I disagree with any of that!
I’ll limit my comments to just the songs covered in this part. Like the Monk, I was not a Kim Wilde follower though I’ve never thought ill of anything I’ve heard from her, but this is just perfected ingenue and a million miles from Stevie Wonder’s version, just (once again) proving the rule that sometimes … you gotta take a song away from the songwriter and give it to people who can do something with it.
The other tracks are pretty much as described here by Monk and Echorich. This album REEKS of the labour of love, and it is a glittering showcase for the singers involved. Billy MacKenzie is painfully missed by his absence here. I can only hope that the response will inspire Ware to issue these gems a little more frequently!
Chas – I’ll let Monk continue the appraisal of this amazing album, but I agree that Billy is very much missed here but certainly not forgotten! There are a few tracks which I am sure Martyn arranged and chose the performers for to in a way tribute BM and his immense shadow which looms approvingly over the album. This record is a tour de force.