Aztec Camera – Backwards and Forwards: The WEA Recordings (1984-1995) boxset review

27 07 2021

Cherry Red Records are releasing Backwards and Forwards: The WEA Recordings (1984-1995) a 9 CD Aztec Camera boxset on 27 August 2021.

The set includes the following studio albums: Knife (1984), Love (1987), Stray (1990), Dreamland (1993) and Frestonia (1995) plus In Concert 1984, Remixes, B-Sides And Live 1986-1988, Remixes, Rarities And Live 1990 and Live At Ronnie Scott’s.

The box set opens with Aztec Camera’s second album, 1984’s Knife, that was produced by Dire Straits Mark Knopfler. The Back Door To Heaven and the title track are my favourites from the album. This version also includes two versions of the Van Halen cover, Jump, that has picked up popularity as the years have passed since its initial release.

The second disc is In Concert, 1984, that includes songs from the band’s debut album, including Walk Out To Winter (two versions), We Could Send Letters and Oblivious.

The Love album from 1987 saw Roddy Frame expanding the band’s sound, working with legendary musicians such as bassist Marcus Miller and Steely Dan drummer Steve Gadd, and including production credits for David Frank (electro band The System) and Michael Jonzun of The Jonzun Crew. Love has a smooth sound that really fits the time of release. Deep & Wide & Tall has some sweet synth and vocal lines, and an 80s staple, timbale breaks! How Men Are is a classic Roddy Frame ballad, but the album will likely be remembered for the singles Somewhere In My Heart and Working in a Goldmine.

Disc Four contains Remixes, B-Sides And Live 1986-1988, that opens with three versions of Somewhere In My Heart, including a 7 minute 12″ remix. Other highlights include a silky version of Working in a Goldmine, recorded live at Pinewood Studios, and a glorious stripped down version of How Men Are from the ITV show that kept me from sleep way into the small hours over the weekend in the late 80s, Night Network.

1990’s Stray is probably the most eclectic Aztec Camera album. Stray still sounds delicious as do the Big Audio Dynamite / The Clash influenced Get Outta London and Good Morning Britain (that features Mick Jones). A bonus on this reissue is a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors, that is a warm homage to the original.

“Make a promise, break a promise in the same day”

Disc Six is for the completists only, and a disc I will not play again in all likelihood, made up of seven versions of Good Morning Britain and a couple of other tracks from the era.

Live At Ronnie Scott’s works well as it is the majority of the concert at the legendary London Jazz Club from 1991 and is just Roddy Frame and Gary Sanctuary (piano and saxophone), so there is a real continuity in the performances. Spanish Horses and How Men Are work particularly well in this stripped back format.

The final two discs are the final two Aztec Camera studio albums. Dreamland is my favourite Aztec Camera album, and was produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Roddy Frame, with mixing duties delivered by Julian Mendelsohn. The Sakamoto influence in the sound is a welcome addition, and the album is worth investigating just for the track Black Lucia, one of Frame’s finest songs.

Spanish Horses is a masterclass and evokes the sound of early America (A Horse With No Name / Ventura Highway) but with a Catalonian twist. The production is widescreen, with lots of space and free from the shackles of the late 80s production. Pianos And Clocks also benefits from the Ryuichi effect, with an interesting keyboard run underpinning the song.

Vertigo is a fine pop song, with a playful arrangement that lifts the song to another level.

“Man, I’m going back
To where I’m captured and caressed
And life’s undressed and left where living belongs”

The Belle Of The Ball is a more traditional arrangement and performance to close the original album running order.

Aztec Camera’s final studio album Frestonia was released in 1995, with a powerful and warm production from Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. ZTT / ABC percussionist Luís Jardim makes several key contributions to the album, which has more of a full band sound than previous Aztec Camera albums, particularly on the opening track Rainy Season.

On The Avenue has a touch of the magic that constitutes a classic Paul McCartney song in it’s DNA and Imperfectly has a wonderful drum intro and moving organ lines throughout.

Backwards and Forwards: The WEA Recordings (1984-1995) is a great way to collect the majority of the albums from Aztec Camera, but you are still going to have to buy High Land, Hard Rain to complete the collection, trust me!

Buy Backwards and Forwards: The WEA Recordings (1984-1995) from Amazon

Disc One: Knife

  1. Still On Fire
  2. Just Like The USA
  3. Head Is Happy (Heart’s Insane)
  4. The Back Door To Heaven
  5. All I Need Is Everything
  6. Backwards And Forwards
  7. The Birth Of The True Knife
    Bonus Tracks
  8. All I Need Is Everything (7ʺ Edit)
  9. Jump
  10. All I Need Is Everything (Latin Mix)
  11. Jump (Loaded Version)

Disc Two: In Concert, 1984

  1. Walk Out To Winter (Live In Glasgow)
  2. The Bugle Sounds Again (Live In Glasgow)
  3. We Could Send Letters (Live In Glasgow)
  4. Backwards And Forwards (Live In Glasgow)
  5. Oblivious (Live In Glasgow)
  6. All I Need Is Everything (Live In Glasgow)
  7. The Boy Wonders (Live In Glasgow)
  8. Mattress Of Wire (Live In London)
  9. The Bugle Sounds Again (Live In London)
  10. The Birth Of The True (Live In London)
  11. Backwards And Forwards (Live In London)
  12. Walk Out To Winter (Live In London)

Disc Three: Love

  1. Deep & Wide & Tall
  2. How Men Are
  3. Everybody Is A Number One
  4. More Than A Law
  5. Somewhere In My Heart
  6. Working In A Goldmine
  7. One And One
  8. Paradise
  9. Killermont Street
    Bonus Tracks
  10. Bad Education
  11. The Red Flag

Disc Four: Remixes, B-Sides And Live 1986-1988

  1. Somewhere In My Heart (12ʺ Remix)
  2. Somewhere In My Heart (Eric Calvi Remix)
  3. Somewhere In My Heart (The Alternate Mix)
  4. Deep & Wide & Tall (Breakdown Mix)
  5. Deep & Wide & Tall (LP Edit)
  6. Everybody Is A Number One (Boston ’86 Version)
  7. Working In A Goldmine (Sax Version)
  8. Working In A Goldmine (Live at Pinewood)
  9. Somewhere In My Heart (Live at Pinewood)
  10. Killermont Street (Live In LA)
  11. Pillar To Post (Live In LA) 12 How Men Are (Night Network Live)
  12. Down The Dip (Live In Glasgow)
  13. Jump (Live In Glasgow)
  14. I Threw It All Away (Live In Bristol)
  15. Interview

Disc Five: Stray

  1. Stray
  2. The Crying Scene
  3. Get Outta London
  4. Over My Head
  5. Good Morning Britain
  6. How It Is
  7. The Gentle Kind
  8. Notting Hill Blues
  9. Song For A Friend
    Bonus Tracks
  10. Salvation
  11. True Colours

Disc Six: Remixes, Rarities And Live 1990

  1. Do I Love You?
  2. Good Morning Britain (7ʺ Mix)
  3. Good Morning Britain (Laylow Posse Hypno- Mix/Kitsch ‘N’ Sync Mix)
  4. Good Morning Britain (Laylow Posse Hypnomental/ Instrumental Mix)
  5. Good Morning Britain (Laylow Posse Hypno- Edit/Vocal Remix)
  6. Good Morning Britain (Mendelsohn Single Mix)
  7. Good Morning Britain (Morning Acid Mix)
  8. Consolation Prize (Live At Glasgow Barrowlands, August 4th, 1990)
  9. Good Morning Britain (Live At Glasgow Barrowlands, August 4th, 1990)

Disc Seven: Live At Ronnie Scott’s

  1. Birth Of The True
  2. Song For A Friend
  3. Killermont Street
  4. Spanish Horses
  5. Stray
  6. The Bugle Sounds Again
  7. Dolphins
  8. How Men Are
  9. Sister Ann
  10. Good Morning Britain
  11. Mattress Of Wire
  12. Let Your Love Decide
  13. Orchid Girl

Disc Eight: Dreamland

  1. Birds
  2. Safe In Sorrow
  3. Black Lucia
  4. Let Your Love Decide
  5. Spanish Horses
  6. Dream Sweet Dreams
  7. Pianos And Clocks
  8. Sister Ann
  9. Vertigo
  10. Valium Summer
  11. The Belle Of The Ball
    Bonus Tracks
  12. (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice
  13. Just Like The USA (Live in Barcelona)
  14. Let Your Love Decide (Edit)

Disc Nine: Frestonia

  1. Rainy Season
  2. Sun
  3. Crazy
  4. On The Avenue
  5. Imperfectly
  6. Debutante
  7. Beautiful Girl
  8. Phenomenal World
  9. Method Of Love
  10. Sunset
    Bonus Tracks
  11. The Crying Scene (Live At The Phoenix Festival, 1995)
  12. Black Lucia (Live At The Phoenix Festival, 1995)
  13. We Could Send Letters (Live At The Phoenix Festival, 1995)
  14. Rainy Season (Live At The Phoenix Festival, 1995)

Buy Backwards and Forwards: The WEA Recordings (1984-1995) from Amazon

Thomas Dolby – A Map Of The Floating City

13 11 2011

The last Thomas Dolby studio album was Astronauts & Heretics back in 1992, so to say A Map Of The Floating City is long-awaited is a bit of an understatement.

There have been a couple of live releases and re-issues in recent years (notably the wonderful collectors edition of The Flat Earth in 2009) but the silence with regards to new music was finally broken last year with a couple of digital EP’s available from the official Dolby website.  6 of the EP tracks appear on A Map Of The Floating City.  Whilst they work perfectly well as album tracks, it’s a slight disappointment that the album is not made up of more new music, but after such a long wait, it’s only a minor complaint.

Album opener Nothing New Under The Sun kicks off with a bassline that’s vaguely reminiscent of The Jackson’s Can You Feel It, and this is the only real nod towards the 80’s on the album.

“Hey any fool can write a hit
loop me a breakbeat baby I’ll tweak it till it fits”

A wonderful rhythm guitar line from long-time Dolby collaborator Kevin Armstrong drives the song.  The Princealike dirty bubbling synths introduce Spice Train, a track that sits better on the album (as a standalone single it never really hit me).  The Eastern promise of the strings and backing vocals work well with the travelogue lyrics.

Evil Twin Brother, with it’s New York fire sirens, Shaft guitars and themed lyrics really set the scene for the song.  Much like the way I Love You Goodbye from Astronauts & Heretics, with it’s crickets and thunder gave a real cajun flavour, Evil Twin Brother gives a real feel of the at times claustrophobic New York city vibe.

“They say that New York city never sleeps
But I think they’re only talking about me
it’s 3am and ninety-five degrees.”

The album is split into three themed sections.  The final track that makes up the first section (Urbanoia) is A Jealous Thing Called Love, a lovely latin-tinged song of regret and betrayal, featuring Bruce Woolley (co-writer of Video Killed The Radio Star with Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes of The Buggles) on backing vocals.

Amerikana is the second section of the album, which starts with Road To Reno.

“He was a crooked politician
she sold brassieres at Sears
he said he liked The Beatles
And she liked Tears for Fears” 

A tale of a Badlands styled road-trip, that’s never going to end with chocolates and flowers, although Mars bars get a mention in the lyrics.  The guitar has a real Dire Straits circa Communiqué era feel, which is apt as Mark Knopfler features a couple of tracks later.

The Toad Lickers is a banjo and jaw harp (from Imogen Heap) led song about  “a group of crazed eco-hippies in the Welsh mountains who get high on Bufo alvarius and creep into the local town after hours in search of munchies” according to Thomas on his website.  Glad he cleared that one up, as otherwise I’d have no idea what on earth this strange song is about. The track features backing vocals from Adele Bertei (who provided the soaring vocals on Dolby’s Hyperactive! from 1984, pop-pickers, not toad-lickers).

17 Hills is the longest track on the album, and is up there with Screen Kiss as one of my favourite Dolby songs.  Featuring the afore-mentioned Mark Knopfler on guitar, this evocative track always reminds me of the wide-open spaces of California, and the hills overlooking the urban sprawl of Los Angeles.  17 Hills features some lovely fretless bass work from Jeffrey Wash.

“The city rises on seventeen hills
seventeen hills from the Bay
The silhouette of those beautiful hills
is right at the end of this old stormdrain.” 

Love Is A Loaded Pistol ends this section of the album and is the most stripped back track, with just Dolby and a string section.  I’ll let Thomas explain the inspiration for this song:

“The idea came to me in a dream: I had a nocturnal visitation from Billie Holiday who traveled through time to give me a song lyric. Of course, I was amazed and I was overjoyed. She was in an evening gown and looking ravishing. She sat next to me and said ‘I’ve got a lyric for you.’ I said ‘Great, hit me!’ She said ‘Okay…..This time it’s love.’

I smiled awkwardly. There was a pause. Then I said ‘erm…. well it’s a bit crap, isn’t it?’ She looked dejected and asked why. I said there had to be half a dozen songs with that title over the years, not that any particular one sprang to mind. ‘Well you can make it cool, right?’ Suddenly the waking me got very upset with my dream me and interjected some diplomacy. I mean here I was with one of the greatest singers that ever lived, and I just told her her idea was crap. I started to say something like ‘Look, I’ll try to work your lyric in….’ but it was too late. Billie was fading and I felt myself waking up…”

Oceanea is the final themed section of the album, which starts with the song of the same name.  Featuring Eddi Reader on vocals, it’s a beautiful, haunting song that even includes what sounds to me like, shock-horror, some auto-tune effects on Dolby’s vocals, not in a Cher way you understand, but just a subtle inflection on certain words. The lyrics are the most moving on the album, and Oceanea is definitely the personal highlight of the album for me.

Simone, with its theremin intro from Bruce Woolley, has a lyrical twist that I won’t give away here, and at times reminds me of Aja period Steely Dan or maybe even early Prefab Sprout (who Dolby first worked with on the Steve McQueen album in 1985).

The album ends with To The Lifeboats, with its lovely rolling drums from Pat Mastelotto and haunting acoustic guitar, sounds of the sea and a not very positive end for the subject of the song, by the sounds of things.

Hopefully the warm critical response to this album will mean there won’t be such a long wait until the next Thomas Dolby album.

Buy A Map Of The Floating City at Amazon UK

Buy The Flat Earth at Amazon UK

Buy The Golden Age of Wireless at Amazon UK

Buy The Sole Inhabitant – (+DVD) at Amazon UK

Buy Astronauts & Heretics at Amazon UK

All lyrics © Thomas Dolby

All A Map Of The Floating City videos on this page taken from the official Thomas Dolby YouTube channel.

Thomas Dolby website 

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