This new release charts the early years of the notorious British rhythm and blues band, featuring the first four albums when the line-up centred around Wilko Johnson, before he left the band in 1977. This fantastic box set includes three CDs, one DVD complete with a DVD-sized 48-page inner booklet that also houses a 24-page comic.
It used to be hard to judge the impact of Dr. Feelgood in the mid-1970s, because they’d been such an influence yet had also been so transcended. But now things are boring again, just like they used to be, we can compare and contrast properly.
In 1974, like now, sludgy rock and pointlessness dominated the world and stadia dominated the landscape. Pop was fun, but that was no fun for people who liked excitement and live music. Then Dr. Feelgood came along – and not only were they fast and sweaty, they were also singular of impression. If they’d offered nothing more than old rock’n’roll and rhythm and blues covers in a pub, they’d be forgotten; but singer Lee Brilleaux really did come over like a 1970s cop show villain with a grudge and a harmonica, while guitarist Wilko Johnson was one of the most psychotic-looking people never to eat a hearty breakfast before his death by lethal injection. The albums they made together had a sharpness that The Libertines and The White Stripes, for all their rocking rootsiness, should envy, while there was a newness in Brilleaux’s aggression and Johnson’s spinal crack riffing (influenced by Mick Green, who could solo and play rhythm at the same time, like the Devil). Wilko went on to influence the jagged post-punk work of Gang of Four, and therefore everyone in the early 2000s, from The Rapture down.
These recordings, even now, never sound quaint or teddy-boy; they relate to their source material like The Cramps relate to rockabilly or the Ramones to bubblegum. This is unique music, even when it’s cover versions of other people’s songs – and when Dr. Feelgood rose to the challenge of writing their own material (Back in the Night, Going Back Home, She Does It Right), they were brilliant. They were even better live, too, which is why the live stuff here is essential, as is the superb DVD, which captures them scaring the hell out of the 1970s on various regional TV shows, as well as at their headquarters of evil on Canvey Island. A great collection from a band which shows no sign of getting less great as time goes on.
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