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Review of the Deluxe Version,
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This review is from: F.U.E.L. [Deluxe Edition] (Audio CD)
And so the final Sugar album is remastered and follows Copper Blue and Beaster's repackaging. Following those albums was always going to be an issue and at the time this felt like a let down after the sweetness of Copper Blue and the bitter angst of Beaster. So its actually nice to revisit this on its own merits.
File Under Easy Listening (shortened to FUEL at the time and since) isn't as good as those albums. At times when listening again its hard to pinpoint exactly why. Gift starts off proceedings in fine style with a track that could have been on Copper Blue (Bob Mould still plays it live). Its a tour de force of guitar and grunge. Company Book isn't quite the dirge it could be and is David Barbe on vocals. On the remaster it somehow comes out better than I remember it. Your Favourite Thing is the first single and it rocked along nicely enough with great melodies and sounded almost power pop (ok not just almost). The next two tracks, What You Want It To Be - guitar driven pop again but never hitting the heights really and Gee Angel - a single and a good track at that round off side one. Yes side one...you read that right because this was definitely of the era (and read the liner notes and Bob's book for more details) where LP's were still about and bands split their albums into sides. Side One of this is a solid offering. Side two feels different. - confirmed by the liner notes. This was mainly acoustically led tracks like Panama City Motel, Believe What You Are Saying and Can't Help You Anymore. They feel almost lightweight and throwaway (with one huge exception which I will come to shortly). If they were ordered differently or if, as Bob alludes to in the liner notes, some tracks were replaced with some of the more rockier B sides then this might have been a five star album. However, it is only really a four star album for these reasons. It never hits the heights of Copper Blue as a pop record and is nowhere near as dark and menacing as Beaster. Its a piece by itself though and I know some fans listen to this a lot, its certainly easier to listen to than Beaster. For me its a great record. Its not up there with the other offerings. However, it does finish on an absolute killer track - Explode and Make Up. Yes this is acoustic and yes this is raw. Its almost as hard a track to listen to as the Beaster stuff as it just is Bob laying his soul on the line (as he says in the lyrics). It was a hell of a note to finish proceedings (and to all intents and purposes the bands recorded work) on.
I keep mentioning those liner notes and they are included in this package. They cover the albums difficult making and also the bands break up. There is a second CD which is a live one. It was included as a bonus CD on the Besides collection of...err..well B Sides. Its as good a live recording you will hear of the band (although not containing a single track of Beaster I might add). The DVD contains the three promo videos (extremely forgettable), an MTV spot with interviews (short and worth a watch) and a live acoustic version of Believe What You Are Saying with Bob and Lou Barlow - good version. There are also five B Sides included on the first disk. All of which are very good and leave you with a mixed feeling of what if...what if they were included.
Overall the package warrants five stars for the package. The live album is really good and the album itself might be four stars. But the overall remastering (seems to have added something here I think), live CD, liner notes and B sides make this worthwhile (the DVD I could probably lived without if I am honest). This album though suffered from comparisons to its predecessors. Take it on its own merits and its a very good album and worth revisiting. I think it will be on heavier rotation for me now.