Though a couple of Peel Session EPs had snuck out in the late eighties, it wasn't until this long overdue and utterly worthwhile collection surfaced that all the various recordings the Birthday Party had made over years for John Peel finally saw official release. Combining both familiar numbers and a fair share of rarities or oddities, The John Peel Sessions contains four sessions recorded over the space of two years, conveniently documenting the band's England-based career. The obvious debt owed to Iggy Pop and the Stooges gets repaid in full with a scorching take on "Loose" (incorrectly listed as an original in the songwriting credits), making for a reasonable studio alternate to the equally gone live version on the Drunk on the Pope's Blood EP. Another track that appeared on Drunk got its only released studio take here -- "(Sometimes) Pleasure Heads Must Burn," a jazzy jump blues noir not far off from the work of fellow Aussie Foetus -- while the same session produced a fierce one-off, "Roland Around in That Stuff." Whether or not the title's a bizarre dig at guitarist Howard, the whole combination of brisk drums, Howard's agreeably crazed work and Cave's practically barked vocals makes for an excitingly ridiculous vamp. Other obscure material includes "Bully Bones," which only appeared elsewhere on the Live '81-'82 compilation, and "Pleasure Avalanche." Elsewhere, sessions focus on material from the main or upcoming releases of the time -- the first four songs are all versions of Prayers on Fire songs, including fantastic versions of "Yard" and "King Ink," the latter of which is pure threat and drama set to music. Other great takes on familiar songs include "She's Hit," Howard's slashing guitar line in the chorus particularly vicious, "Release the Bats" and "Deep In the Woods."
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett