Stiff Records will be forever linked with the UK punk movement, but the great irony is that its output and attitude seem in retrospect diagonally opposed to punk's destructive, scorched-earth, policy of disdaining all earlier music forms. The truth is that their release of the first-ever punk single, The Damned's "New Rose", was just part of an ongoing policy of searching out interesting new music that wasn't being covered by the major labels.
It was a policy that the label upheld until the end, their aesthetic umbrella extending constantly to take in the cockney R&B funk of Ian Dury, the biker metal of Motrhead, the quirky new wave of Devo, the proto-Euro-techno of Yello, and several unusual shades of strident pop courtesy of Tracey Ullman, Rachel Sweet and Lene Lovich. This exhaustive four-CD anthology is effectively bookended by the label's two most enduring discoveries, with "Less Than Zero" capturing Elvis Costello in all his early virulence, while "Dirty Old Town" and "Dark Streets of London" find The Pogues ready to temper the New Romantic Eighties with a touch of Celtic folk.
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