Pere Ubu Datapanik in the Year Zero Geffen DGCD5-24969

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
This particular box contains some of the most harrowing, incendiary music ever made; its reissue offers a pertinent reminder of how rock music managed to drag itself out of the mid-Seventies progressive-rock malaise. Both the Boo Radleys and Kula Shaker could learn a lot from these five CDs, the first of which alone scales pinnacles subsequently left unattempted.

Pere Ubu were a band of insoluble contradictions. Named after pataphysician/ playwright Alfred Jarry's most monstrous creation, they combined industrial menace with cartoonish bathos, the latter residing mainly in the helium squeak of David Thomas's vocals. The rhythm section of Scott Krauss's drums and Tony Maimone's bass managed the apparently impossible feat of lumbering nimbly, while Allen Ravenstine's washes of synthesised noise and Tom Herman's piercing, spindly guitar lines scribed their intensely emotional messages in the manner of Kafka's punishment machine in In the Penal Colony, which carved the name of his crime slowly into a criminal's skin. The results offered an unflinchingly accurate portrayal of the emotional effect of living in the decaying industrial wasteland of their hometown Cleveland, which found a particularly resonant echo in the dying dark satanic mills of late Seventies Britain.

Rarely before or since has entropy proved quite such a creative stimulus. The group's first single, "30 Seconds Over Tokyo", is still the most frightening piece of music ever recorded, and between its release in 1975 and Ubu's initial dissolution in 1982 they never ceased stretching whichever sonic envelope was to hand. This boxed set includes their five studio and two live albums from that period along with the original Datapanik EP compilation of their earliest singles, plus a further CD of rarities by the individual members and various other Cleveland bands connected to Ubu. Needless to say, it's worth much more than whatever you have to pay: without this music, not only would punk probably never have happened, but the most interesting post-punk developments - from the likes of Talking Heads and Joy Division - might never have reached the starting-line either. Essential, at least.

The Boo Radleys C'mon Kids CRECD 194 Already tagged their White Album for its diversity, C'mon Kids encourages the Boo Radleys' audience to "throw out your arms for a new sound", then jumps head-first into the kind of "progressive" overload that Kula Shaker would give their cheekbones to access.

Again, the touchstone time is '67, with the figures of Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson (once again) and Pete Townshend looming loftily over Martin Carr's muse. Like Townshend, he uses another singer's abilities to give more effective voice to his rabble-rousing didacticism, here witnessed in the plethora of rhetorical questions and cajoling invocations that spatter songs like "What's in the Box?", "Get on the Bus" and "C'mon Kids". But there's no sense of economy at work here: songs don't run their natural course, but instead sprout extra limbs of questionable utility. "Melodies for the Deaf" intersperses lumpy rock plodding with passages of ghostly chorale, pasting the two together with spooky theremin wailings, and "Everything Is Sorrow" likewise tries too hard, in a magical mystery manner. There's so much music bursting out of Carr, but it's florid and compacted in the way of the ugliest prog-rock, seeking kudos by accretion rather than by capturing the essential heart of a song.

Only occasionally does a song escape the band's excessive attentions relatively unharmed. "Get on the Bus", a lament for dear, departed fast- living friends, effectively blends howling guitar rock with contrastingly gentle vocals and an acoustic prefix, while "Bullfrog Green" rides a melody strong enough to carry it through the Boos' musical shape-shifting. But there are clearly problems of organisation when the middle-section sound- collage breakdown is more effective than the rest of the song, as on "Four Saints". It's not so much a question of seeing what's in the box, as figuring out which of the contents to discard and which to keep.