Pioneering 80's eclectic pop/dub/electro/scratch experimentalists Colourbox are practically all but forgotten now.....but ironically are now regarded as true genre-hopping innovators whose influence on a lot of modern pop and dance cannot go underestimated. Bafflingly, it's taken the best part of 20 years to get this long-wished-for box set compiling EVERYTHING they ever released under 4AD to become a reality. Bearing in mind how their more celebrated labelmates Cocteau Twins have already been the deserving subject of a whole slew of remasters, reissues and boxed collections, it was only a matter of time before Colourbox head honcho Martyn Young, together with 4AD, heeded the restless pleas from their original fanbase to get their first full length album proper remastered in its original 2 x vinyl entirety.... together with all their 7"/12" singles to date.
Everybody knows how only one side of the free limited 12" remix album was included on the CD version, leaving the remaining three tracks on side 2 inexplicably in limbo, and everybody also knows how, around a decade ago in 2001/2, when news broke that Colourbox were releasing a much-anticipated "Best Of", fans were left short-changed and extremely disappointed when said "best of" chose to include a paltry 10 tracks, hardly any of which were the blistering pop indie hits and album tracks that showcased the true diversity of Colourbox's output. Until now, the only way to get much of the original Colourbox tracks in digital format was to make vinyl rips of most of the 12" and 7" singles. This 4xCD box set finally puts to rest all the waiting.....and it is well worth the effort, and every penny, I can tell you!
CD 1 is the full length album in its entire 17-track [2x12" vinyl] glory - including the three elusive remixes/alt versions ("Manic II" / "Fast Dump" / "Sex Gun") omitted from the original CD finally present and correct and restored to the proper running order. For anybody who has never heard Colourbox, this album is the best place to start: you will seldom come across a more diverse 10 tracks than these: two contrasting instrumentals kick off the album - the dreamy piano interlude "Sleepwalker" followed immediately by the more boisterous and punk-guitar-fuelled "Just Give 'Em Whiskey", chock-full of dialogue samples from films (notably The Prisoner, Westworld and A Space Odyssey) that soon became all so common-place in late 80s dance music. Next up, a cover of an old U-Roy tune "Say You" introduces the soulful vocals of third Colourbox member Lorita Grahame, and this is swiftly followed by one of the most amazing songs of the 1980s: "The Moon Is Blue", a soaring pop ballad with a gargantuan showtune production which is so spine-tingling it has to be tongue-in-cheek! The only weak track on the album follows next, the rather forgettable "Inside Informer", but the tempo and urgency is restored once more with the stomping scratch/beat-driven monster "Punch" and the sensual pop of "Suspicion". The first of two versions of "Manic" is next, featuring a ferocious guitar solo from, of all people, William Orbit [who was in a band, Torch Song, during the 80s before he became a renowned mixer and producer/engineer], which then crashes right into an inspired and high-tempo version of the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hanging On". Lorita's vocals are a shining beacon throughout, and none more so than during the closing track of the main album: "Arena", a truly emotional slow-burner which climaxes with her heartfelt pleas in the face of impending isolation : "Long was the morning/deep was the yearning/stripped of my armour now/everybody's gone and deserted me......in this Arena....". You can almost sense the tumbleweed rolling across as the track fades....
The additional 12" of remixes showcases even more sonic mayhem and jump-cut wickedness ("Edit The Dragon", "Fast Dump"), moody electro-pop ("Hipnition"), spoken word interludes (the Hale and Pace-sampling "We Walk Around The Streets") and further versions of "Manic" and "Arena" (cunningly titled "Manic II" and "Arena II") before ending on a truly riotous note with the punktastic "Sex Gun" - which is actually the backing track to "Just Give 'Em Whiskey" but this time featuring Lorita's vocals: with its relentlessly overloaded drum machine sounding like a semi-automatic firearm at its climax.
CD 2 and 3 are all of the singles compiled in their complete 7-inch and 12-inch versions. Highlights are the 1986 singles "Baby I Love You So" - another genius exercise in cavernous reggae dub with overlaid spaghetti-western samples - and the "Official Colourbox World Cup Theme" - probably their most well known instrumental after the 1987 M/A/R/R/S number 1 smash "Pump Up The Volume" (Left off here for obvious reasons), plus its ultra-cool Philip Glass-pastiche b-side (called, yup, you guessed: "Philip Glass"!) Plus, the rocktastic instrumental "Hot Doggie" is also included. This track was only previously available on the "Lonely Is An Eyesore" 4AD compilation of 1987 and the 2001 Colourbox Best Of, but it's still a killer tune with yet more sampled film dialogue cleverly sprinkled throughout. Another great and long lost b-side is "Keep On Pushing" - a 1983 re-recording of an earlier EP track - a truly brilliant pop tune to be driving your car along to, seriously!
CD 4 collects the remainder of the Colourbox EP tracks (their first 1983 mini-LP/maxi-EP) and two previously unreleased BBC radio sessions: featuring several new tunes which were never recorded for 4AD as singles or album tracks amongst them. These are all fascinating insights to how the band started to develop their sound and evolve into the innovative musical magpies that they became for their all-too-brief 1980s heyday.
Colourbox really were a band of their time, and, as with so many of their contemporaries, it's always ironic how they only finally get their due - in terms of their influence on others - long after they ceased to exist. It's also hard to believe that they never brought out that elusive second album, despite, even as late as the early 1990s, promises that there was going to be a follow up on its way. It never arrived.
At least we FINALLY have this box set now, and it couldn't serve as a better epitaph. Buy it!