Recently, I was asked to review the third and final series of time-travel-drama-that-turned-out-not-to-be-a-time-travel-drama Ashes To Ashes. Here’s that review in full, which was politely returned to me as ‘not really useable’…
Hitting An All Time Low?
Originally released late in 1992, …XYZ was the wrong album at the wrong time. Not only had Moose – only months earlier written off as more or less music press shorthand for genre-jumping chancers – chosen the exact moment when Grunge began to give way to Britpop to unleash a collection of songs that married jangly guitar moping to such unlikely and unfashionable influences as Tim Buckley, Glen Campbell and the ‘gone country’ era Byrds, they’d also chosen to unleash it at the height of a seemingly endless economic recession, with the result that Virgin dropped this suddenly decidedly uncommercial prospect before the album had actually reached the shops, despite almost universally positive reviews (not to mention a strong showing in NME’s albums and singles of the year). With minimal promotion, and, let’s face it, its intended public too busy arguing over who was best out Kurt Cobain and Brett Anderson (there’s only one way to find out… FIIIIGHT!) to take any notice, …XYZ basically disappeared. While Moose – who were far from alone in being sent packing back indie-wards at that time, when even Blur had a similarly darkly-hued intended second album rejected with orders to write a more singalong-friendly new one – went on to record for a number of smaller labels, to huge critical acclaim but far less huge record sales, listeners eventually came round to the thrills of their major label one-off and …XYZ became a much sought-after rarity, at one point changing hands for upwards of fifty quid. Now it’s finally been reissued, and remastered to boot, with the steel guitars chiming, and throaty vocals throating, as if they were being chimed and throated live in session on Radcliffe & Maconie the night before. Lead single Little Bird (Are You Happy In Your Cage?) still sounds sweeping and epic, like the theme from some unmade film set in the ‘Old West’ of England, and similar heights are soared by I’ll See You In My Dreams, Polly, and a spooky cover of cheerful old Everybody’s Talking, as taken into the charts to spectacular lack of effect by The Beautiful South only a couple of years later. Included as bonus tracks on this reissue are the contents of Sonny & Sam, a US-only mini-album collecting highlights from their earlier EPs. Unfortunately, nice as these super-rare tracks are to have in upgraded sound quality, they don’t really sound like they belong next to the dramatically different …XYZ, and their inclusion leaves no space for a couple of genuine album outtakes issued as b-sides, including an …XYZ-ed up reworking of Sonny & Sam track This River Will Never Run Dry, while the original collection also omitted the superlative Untitled Love Song and as such was never really ‘essential’ to begin with. Still, complaining about the bonus tracks is about as pointless as complaining about the fact that nobody bought it in 1992; it’s …XYZ itself that counts and at last it’s available for people who want to hear it but don’t want to have to go panning for gold first.
[Apologies to anyone who was expecting, as they might well do from the implications of the title and the probable fact that there's a photo captioned 'Hapless DC Skelton' with a load of text about an obscure indie band wrapped around it, some form of a review of series three of Ashes To Ashes. The awkward truth of the matter is that, having reviewed each series of both Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes thus far in some detail, I've genuinely found nothing new or worthwhile to say about this final run, apart from a couple of negative points about the individual storylines and the overall wit being allowed to slide a little in favour of a general upping of the 'spookiness' ante, and some observations about the finale but that isn't really enough to base a detailed review on. So I thought I'd give a little bit of a shout out to something else I've been enjoying lately and which hasn't had nearly enough said about it. Sorry everyone, but hopefully you'll enjoy the other reviews elsewhere in this issue. And get ...XYZ, it's good!]