Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel

Greatest Hits [EMI]

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Of all the glam-rock acts to hit it big in England during the 1970s, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel were second only to David Bowie himself in terms of artsy ambition. Tunes like "Judy Teen" and "Love's a Prima Donna" may have been poppy enough to sail into the English singles charts, but they also boasted unconventional instrumentation (no Cockney Rebel single ever featured an electric guitar) and poetic lyrics with lots of surreal, Bob Dylan-esque wordplay. The result was a string of intelligent yet catchy singles, all of which are compiled on this collection. Songs like "Make Me Smile (Come up and See Me)" and "Mr. Raffles (Man It Was Mean)" still sound fresh today thanks to their ability to mix insistent pop hooks into their mix of unconventional sounds and oblique lyrics. Greatest Hits also includes a generous array of album favorites like "Sling It," an apocalyptic rocker driven by frenetic electric-violin riffs, and "Tumbling Down," a beautifully orchestrated epic that takes Cockney Rebel's penchant for fatalistic melodrama to operatic heights. Another interesting aspect of this collection is that it highlights Harley's oft-underrated skill with ballads: a particular highlight in this area is "(Love) Compared With You," a delicate, subtly orchestrated tune where Harley drops his yen for surrealistic lyrics to communicate in direct and elegantly romantic terms. The only real downside of Greatest Hits is that its surprisingly short track list omits some early gems like "Hideaway" and "Ritz": the compilers could have easily thrown in another two or three songs to fully flesh out the track selection. Despite this quibble, Greatest Hits is a fine collection that includes the majority of Cockney Rebel's finest moments and makes a great introduction to this group's ambitious, artsy style of pop.

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