When the Scottish pop band Orange Juice split up in January of 1985, it didn’t seem too likely that they would become one of the more influential bands of the era. Yes, their early singles on the tiny Postcard label generated some excitement, and they had a bona fide chart hit with the 1983’s single "Rip It Up," but their career had mostly come to a sputtering halt outside the lens of the public eye. One short year later, with the rise of C-86 and the early indie pop bands, the brightly scrappy attitude and scruffily melodic sound of early Orange Juice suddenly became popular again. Fast forward to the mid-'90s and Belle & Sebastian, then Franz Ferdinand and more, to see that the Orange Juice legacy lives on as strongly as ever. The songs of Edwyn Collins (and those of James Kirk) have been required listening for a large number of great pop bands. Thanks to the release of 2005’s The Glasgow School, which made all the band’s early recordings widely available for the first time, even more bands were able to draw inspiration from the band and their sound. In 2010, all the band’s recorded output was finally made easily accessible.
Put together in part by Edwyn Collins, the box set …Coals to Newcastle is beautiful to look at, wonderful to listen to, and basically a dream come true for Orange Juice fans who weren’t able to get a hold of the original albums or the Japanese CD reissues. Even if you did own either of those, Coals is still worth seeking out for all the extras. The six-CD/one-DVD set contains all of the band’s recorded output: the early singles, the three studio albums, the Texas Fever EP, a full complement of B-sides, a handful of demos and different mixes, a disc of BBC sessions, two videos, live footage from the Old Grey Whistle Test, and a very '80s concert video (Dada with the Juice) that the final incarnation of the band made. The Glasgow School is included as the first disc, and it’s still amazing to hear all the singles and demos cut in that short period of time (between 1980 and 1981) all strung together. Songs like "Blue Boy," "Falling and Laughing," and "Lovesick" bubble and pop in a brilliant mix of wise-ass punk and off-kilter disco, at once creating and defining a new kind of pop. The joy and energy that radiate from these tracks is life-affirming. While common wisdom states that the Postcard singles were the artistic high point of the band, the three albums and EP that the revamped (and shifting) band produced are perfectly good, even sometimes great. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a better early-'80s pop album that their debut, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever. Hearing the discs one after the other with all the assorted B-sides, live cuts, and spare tracks, you can see that the progression the band makes from lo-fi kids thrashing about in the studio to polished pros working with esteemed reggae producer Dennis Bovell does nothing to detract from the humanity and soul in the songs, and especially in the voice and vision of Edwyn Collins. Add to these discs the uniformly excellent BBC sessions, and you have a full picture of one of the most important -- and enjoyable -- groups of the modern pop era. …Coals to Newcastle is everything an Orange Juice fan could have hoped for and a simply thrilling example of how to put together a box set.