The Good & Great from the Dread
You could be forgiven for wondering how it is that a band best known for (and by the mainstream, pretty much forgotten since) the 1995 hit single Little Britain could justify releasing a 'best of' album. If that's the case, then it means you've missed out on fifteen-plus years of one of the most energetic, exciting and powerful live bands to emerge from the post-rave UK grass roots scene; pioneered by members of Big Audio Dynamite and, by inheritance, carrying forward the heart and soul of The Clash - weighty accolades for any band to bear upon it's shoulders. As well as a lot of musical history to have been effectively pushed from the fore of the British music industry. Fortunately, this timely release is here to help you catch up with what you've been missing out on.
In all the years since that brief engagement with the fickle beast that is mainstream success, and for all the supposed must have, here-today-gone-tomorrow acts marching along in the UK chart parade in the interim, Dreadzone have steadily (or perhaps stealthily, though certainly not quietly) been releasing underground storms of albums, progressively bettering, refining and perfecting their own unique and inimitable take on dub - mixed as it is with aspects of trance, sublime guitar riffs, folk roots sentiments and big-beat bass styles - whilst bringing the party to every club, dancehall and field they've shown up at. Always blowing audiences away and steadily earning for themselves the best possible reputation as a live act in the process - no record label push, no unwarranted mainstream hype, just good intentions, great tunes and an infectiously positive vibe which sticks with you long after the music has finished. If you've caught a Dreadzone festival performance in recent years, you'll know that regardless of who is on the bill for the weekend, the buzz afterwards will be all about this band's set. As it happens though, Dreadzone are one of the good-hearted and generous bands that manage to deliver equally well both live and recorded, as this CD shows.
So, here we have a collection of sixteen tracks taken fairly evenly from across the six Dreadzone studio albums to date (360, Second Light, Biological Radio, Sound, Once Upon A Time and 2010's Eye On The Horizon). Given that 360 & Sound have become frustratingly rare to get hold of over the years, this compilation may be the only legitimate place for newcomers to the band to find title track The Good The Bad & The Dread, as well as House Of Dread, Return Of The Dread and Digital Mastermind, and of course the Fight The Power single which isn't to be found on any of the previous albums. I'm sure many fans of the band would rather see re-issues of these out-of-print classics, but sadly there have been publishing rights legalities going back for a long while now which have prevented that from occurring.
Anyway, along with these rare gems, you'll also find single edits and alternative versions of Zion Youth, Little Britain, Captain Dread, Biological Radio and Life, Love & Unity, and though - with the notable exception of Little Britain's Vocal Version - none of these are drastically different to the versions found on the albums Second Light and Biological Radio, they sit nicely in the mix of the compilation, allowing the tunes to flow smoothly from one to the next.
As for the choice of tracks, by and large it's spot on and well ordered (an oft-ignored art with compilation albums, fortunately given the required attention here). I do have my gripes with a couple of the tunes chosen, and would have shaken things up slightly if I'd have been putting the disc together, but in saying that I'm sure we all would do things our own way if given the chance (If Dreadzone have taught me anything down the years, then it's to do just that). I'm a little surprised to see that Elevate is missing from the collection, and I'm not so sure about the inclusion of Gangster from Eye On The Horizon at the expense of, say, Beyond A Rock or Walk Tall - but these are just matters of personal taste, and as it stands the selection of tunes shows off nicely both the diversity of Dreadzone's musical styles and their deft skill at always turning their collective hand to something refreshingly different to what they did last time around (a trait which has kept the band relevant to their audience and constantly interesting over the years). Certainly there are no filler tracks on this compilation, and I'd be remiss to not mention that the excellent and oft-forgotten Ali Baba gets it's due inclusion here. To my joy, the end of the track has been edited down from the version on Biological Radio, now having a definite ending - meaning that those like myself wishing to play the song in a DJ set will no longer find themselves being thrown out by the transition into the following track (though perhaps that's just me).
It seems that the choice of the older tracks included here strongly reflect the era of the band's foundation, coming as they did out of the early 90's maelstrom surrounding the vibrant free party scene and the political unrest of that time, when the desperate protests of a disaffected generation were ultimately ignored and, more to the point, actively targeted to be eradicated via the implementation of the Criminal Justice Act 1994. While political commentary may seem at odds with a music review, it is important to understand where the drive and spirit of Dreadzone, along with many of their musical contemporaries, comes from. On this CD, House Of Dread is probably the most representative track of the early 90s free party sound, with Fight The Power (95) being an ideal companion to the old-skool vibe, including as it does a soundbite from a news report dealing with the legislation of the time. For many these events are long forgotten if ever even understood, but to those who at that time had their entire way of life effectively criminalised by the outrageous political machinations of the moneyed few, they are still painfully relevant to this day - indeed, the battle continues.
However, whilst Dreadzone prove themselves time and again to be a band formed and defined by those days of vibrant protest amidst diminishing personal freedoms, they are neither constrained nor trapped within them, as the arc of their developing musical styles found here amply illustrates. The conscious sampling and lyrics found throughout the tunes taken from Second Light and Biological Radio (released originally in 1995 & 1997 respectively) remind us that corrupt laws cannot be allowed to stand in the face of human resolve, whilst the upbeat and large sounds of the tracks taken from the past decade's Sound and Once Upon A Time albums, such as the now festival-legendary Iron Shirt and live favorite Digital Mastermind, help remind us that the party is nowhere near over yet, that we'll keep on dancing regardless of what is thrown at us to attempt to hold us down - that, in fact, the best way to show our defiance of and distaste for the unjust and oppressive legislation leveled on the public (particularly on, but by no means restricted to, the traveler movement and free party scene) has been to simply keep dancing.
It seems fitting then that the last track on the CD, taken from the most recent Dreadzone album Eye On The Horizon, is the unabashedly bouncy and bright American Dread, which begins with wise words from Americana folk vox populi Woodie Guthrie: 'I hate a song that makes you think you're not any good... Songs that run you down... I'm out to sing songs that'll prove to you that this is your world.' You could not find a more positive tune to finish up this or any other album, and in that regard it's a perfect analogy for both this CD and for Dreadzone themselves - energetic, radiant and uplifting.
In summary, then - this is a solidly compiled, flowing collection of many of the best numbers from a band who could be described equally as a well-kept secret of the british music scene, or as constant and unrelenting frontline party-bringers. If you have been unaware of Dreadzone up until now, do yourself a favour and get this CD - you will not be disappointed. If you're already a part of the bouncin' crew then odds are you have most of the tunes to be found here, but again the playlist is smoothly put together and has the best of the hard-to-find albums included, so may well still be worth checking out. Either way, the only 'Bad' here is titular, as it certainly isn't to be found in the music featured on this compilation, a CD which is fully representative of one of the most determined, resilient and hard-working bands on the scene today. Ahoy!