Beyond Bowie and T. Rex, past chart-toppers like Mud and the Sweet, even buried below bands like Kenny and Hello, there was a bubbling underground of goofy, glammy, and hooky rock & roll being played by bands in the U.K. during the '70s. Most of them were forgotten if they were ever known in the first place, lost to junk shops, bargain bins, and boot sales. The music was too good to be left in the dustbin forever, though, and early-2000s compilations like Velvet Tinmine, Glitterbest, and Boobs finally gave bands like the Jook, Crushed Butler, and the Plod their moment to shine. After that little blast of activity, the reissues dried up until the arrival of 2019's excellent All the Young Droogs: 60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks, Rock 'N' Glam (And a Flavour of Bubblegum) from the 70's. It's easily the equal of the earlier sets, sharing some bands and artists but digging up loads of dusty gems, too. The compilers (Phil King and Mark Stratford) split the three discs into separate themes, each of which was a main tributary to the glitter glam flood that filled the underground between 1971 and 1976.
Tubthumpers and Hellraisers collects fun and frolicsome rockers that were delivered with a wink and a smile. Many of the bands are influenced by the Sweet and like them combine the same whomping hard rock attack with a sticky-sweet (and slightly silly) bubblegum feel to come up with danceable, singalong-ready tunes. Hector's "Bye Bye Bad Days" sounds like kiddie Sweet, Hot Rod's "I Want You (All Night Long)" adds some yearning bubble-soul to the mix, the One Hit Wonders' "Hey Hey Jump Now" is a ridiculous cheer rocker, and the Jets' "Yeah!" is a synthy stomper. The quotient of hits to misses is very high and it says something that the biggest name here -- Mott the Hoople -- delivers only about the tenth best song.
Rock Off! delves into the side of glam that was more likely to be denim clad than sporting a feather boa. It's made up of beery boogie rockers, blasts of proto-punk, some concrete heavy slabs of hard rock, and a bit of energetic pub rock. Iggy & the Stooges make an appearance with their wiry "I Got a Right," but most of the bands aren't that wild or wooly. Or dangerous. Mostly they come across like goof-offs and wannabe tough guys, and that makes for way more fun. Tracks like the Brats' "Be a Man," Milk 'N' Cookies' "Wok 'N' Roll" or Slowload's really dumb "Big Boobs Boogie" are not the work of serious musicians; nobody here comes close to saying anything profound or important, nobody is super skilled at their instrument, and most of the singers are still looking for the right pitch. If that sounds like a bad thing, perhaps look elsewhere for musical kicks.
Elegance & Decadence doesn't much rock at all; it focuses more on the space ballads, off-kilter cabaret explorations, and sophisticated anti-pop that trailed in the wake of Bowie and Roxy Music. Most of the songs here are seriously weird and made by artists reaching for some kind of sophistication and drama they can't quite reach. The difference between reach and grasp makes for fascinating listening. A track like Paul St John's "Starship Lover" is such a goofy take on Bowie's extraterrestrial sound that it shouldn't work at all, but the quirks make it brilliant. Pick anyone from the track list and it'll be much the same. Brett Smiley's fragile music hall ditty "Abstracting Billy" or James Arthur Edwards' overblown '50s ballad "Pastiche Blue" or Brian Wells' super-dorky "Paper Party" are all too precious and silly by half, but they are works of oddball genius instead. By the time the disc finishes spinning, it's impossible not to be convinced that this is the best, most insane collection of glitter and glam ever committed to disc. When you add it to the other two discs in the set, it helps make All the Young Droogs an invaluable resource for aficionados of this very weird, very exciting period of music. The set is certainly the equal of the essential junk shop glam collections that have come before it, and the care and thought put into it might even make it better. Either way, fans of the sound and era should be glad that this sound is being dug up again.