Decade: Ten Years of Fierce Panda celebrates the tenth birthday of one of the U.K.'s best independent labels. Like many ten year olds, Fierce Panda is gleefully all over the place, spanning the breezy Britpop of the Bluetones' "No. 11" (which, in retrospect, sounds like a major influence on the Decemberists' brand of bouncy chimbley-sweep pop) to the high melodrama of Bright Eyes' "Arienette" in its first two tracks alone. People who followed the British indie scene in the mid-'90s will be taken back to that era by singles like Placebo's "Bruise Pristine" and even more so by Embrace's "All You Good Good People." Likewise, the early Coldplay single "Brothers & Sisters" is a welcome reminder that the band wasn't always a huge hitmaking phenomenon; while all the elements that made them so big a few years later are all in place, it's sort of nice to hear the band operating on a smaller scale. However, when Fierce Panda gets too far away from its indie roots, it falters a bit; Lo Fidelity Allstars' "Diamonds Are Forever" and Hundred Reasons' "Cerebra" aren't the strongest moments in either the label's catalog or the bands' repertoires. Songs like the Clientele's "Rain" and the Polyphonic Spree's "Soldier Girl" represent what Fierce Panda does best: creative, quirky indie rock and pop, whether it's bright and angular like Kaito's "Thwipside" or soft and vulnerable like Death Cab for Cutie's "Tiny Vessels." Meanwhile, tracks such as Keane's "This Is the Last Time" -- which solidifies the band's growing reputation as Coldplay Mark Two -- prove that the label's ear for potentially big British bands is still sharp. Like any good label retrospective, Decade: Ten Years of Fierce Panda has just the right balance of looking back fondly, enjoying the present, and anticipating the future.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
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