Cherry Red's ongoing, year-by-year look at the mostly underground U.K. music scene continues rolling along nicely with C90. Like C89 also did, this collection captures an underground scene that was splintering, evolving, and getting weird as it looked backward and to the future, sometimes at the same time. Loads of groups were delving deeply into the dance culture sweeping the nation, while at the same time many others were picking up guitars and strumming out familiar chords. Some bands were making overtures to the top of the charts, while others were making music small enough to fit on a flexi-disc. There were definite scenes with unique sounds and they are represented here; Madchester (Northside and Flowered Up), shoegaze (great tracks from Slowdive and Chapterhouse), and the Sarah Records crew (the Sweetest Ache, Action Painting) are all on board. Some of the most influential acts of the time are here too: Spacemen 3 with a demo of the genre-blurring "Big City," the La's with their heavenly pop hit "Timeless Melody," and a bracing "New Art Riot" delivered by Manic Street Preachers. Just that trio of artists gives a sense of how broad the parameters of 1990 could be. Add in the noise attack of Th' Faith Healers, the Roxy Music-on-E sound of World of Twist, the honey-sweet chirp of the Sundays, Bark Psychosis' ambient pop landscapes, and bedroom pop heartbreakers like Brighter, and it makes for a head-spinning trip through the year.
As with other sets, half the fun here is (re)discovering some of the more obscure acts making music at the time. Some of the treasures unearthed on the first two discs of C90 are the James Dean Driving Experience's "Sean Connery," which sounds like a lost Lloyd Cole and the Commotions single, Mousefolk's desperately weird noise pop freak-out "Crazy Mixed Up Kid," and the lovely folk-pop of All Over the Place's "Strange." (The last is one of the many female-fronted groups here, a trend that was long overdue and results in some of the best songs in this collection, like Lush's dream pop epic "Thoughtforms" or Heavenly's transcendent ballad "I Fell in Love Last Night.") The compilers of the set saved plenty of space on the third disc for some of the more obscure bands and songs -- it's a memory test of sorts and all the answers are brilliant pop songs. Some of the best are the nervy garage rocker "Twenty-Fifteen" by the Sunflowers, the bubbly jangle popper "Sunday Never Comes Around" by Po!, the scuffy Postcard Records-style "I Really Do Love Penelope" by Hey Paulette, and the jumpy punk blast "Out of My Mind" by AVO-8. There are a wealth of bands worth taking a deeper look at, and that's one of the best things about a lovingly packaged, thoughtfully curated collection like this. It rounds up classic songs by the biggest, most important bands for sure, but it also rewards anyone who wants to take a deep dive into the many tributaries bubbling under the surface.