As the only multi-label anthology of New Model Army's singles (at least as of its 2003 release), Great Expectations lives up to its title. Compiled with full cooperation from the band -- and oddly, only available in America where they enjoyed only marginal success -- this 18-track single disc is a perfect introduction to this legendary British post-punk group. Still active nearly 20 years after their first release, these 18 tracks cover the years 1984-2000, presenting the material in chronological order, and showing how the band matured over the years yet maintained their core political and musical values. Only singer/songwriter Justin Sullivan remains from the original trio, and the group's approach has developed substantially over this 16-year period, yet 2000s "Orange Tree Roads" is unmistakably the work of the same outfit that kicks off this compilation with 1984's title track. Although the plentiful lyrics get a bit heavy-handed and Sullivan spits them out them like an angry Billy Bragg, there is no denying the terse intensity in this music. The addition of edgy violin to "Vagabonds," and Mark Feltham's harmonica on "Poison Street," along with the input of legendary producers Tom Dowd and Glyn Johns makes these songs explode, but the overall effect of hearing these defiant cuts next to each other is daunting. In fact, this disc is probably best enjoyed in smaller portions, which provides the listener a chance to absorb each song's lyrical and musical complexities. Although their albums stand on their own, all remain out of print in the States as of this disc's appearance in 2003, making this excellent collection even more valuable for newcomers. The remastering is crisp, the printed lyrics (in miniscule type) are a nice addition, and the reproduction of the picture sleeves make this a near-perfect, single-disc summation of this influential band's most popular work.
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AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz