Brinsley Schwarz

Cruel to Be Kind

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Cruel to Be Kind is the second installment of Brinsley Schwarz's BBC recordings released by Hux, following What IS So Funny About Peace Love & Understanding? by three years. This gathers most, but not all, of the BBC performances that didn't make the first volume, following the same mix-and-match sequencing as that collection, so sessions from 1971 alternate with those from 1973 and songs from a particular session are split up. Some collectors may complain about such non-chronological sequencing, yet it's ultimately nitpicking, since the chosen track sequence gives the collection momentum as an album, not as a concert. Plus, it's simply a joy to have this material officially released, since it captures the Brinsleys at a peak, whether it's on the laid-back roots rock that comprises the first two-thirds of the record, which is primarily material from Nervous on the Road and earlier, or the poppier songs from Please Don't Ever Change to their disbandment in 1975. While the first part of the album is excellent, it's fairly familiar, similar in tone and feel to the BBC sessions on the first Hux collection (sometimes they're even culled from the same date), with the only surprise being a nice, relaxed 1973 cover of Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell" and the previously unreleased, wonderfully titled "Do the Cod (The Thirty Pounder)," an enjoyable instrumental. What's really noteworthy is the final stretch of the album, which contains no less than four newly released Brinsley songs (three of them previously unheard) and a dynamite, shambolic cover of the J. Geils Band's "Wait." This constitutes the missing link between the pub rock of Brinsley Schwarz and the rowdy, new wave rocker of Nick Lowe's Jesus of Cool -- songs that grew from the laid-back rock & roll roots of pub rock, but are filled with shiny, clever pop hooks, witty words, and a wild, slyly subversive spirit. Chief among these is the first version of "Cruel to Be Kind," which later became Lowe's biggest hit, here taken a little faster with Bob Andrews' careening organ taking a prominent role, but not far behind is the deliriously catchy "We Can Mess Around With Anything But Love," which could have easily fit onto Labour of Lust, and "Give Me Back My Love," a delightful fusion of the ringing guitars of the British Invasion and the trashy organ-fueled sound of the Sir Douglas Quintet. These songs, along with the other unheard original, "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," help make Cruel to Be Kind more than just another collection of BBC recordings, and turn it into necessary listening for fans of straight-ahead rock & roll and pure pop. It's terrific.

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