Various Artists

Modesty Blaise No. 1: Cheesy Pop for the Connoisseur

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This strange compilation shouldn't work out -- yet kind of does. The subtitle (usually important with Past & Present's compilations) is "Cheesy Pop for the Connoisseur." Honestly, you might not find much cheesiness here, at least nothing that would compare to the In-Kraut series, for example. On the other hand, what the title and cover art don't say -- and what is more important than the cheese factor -- is that this CD has a split-personality disorder. The first half of the record is devoted to American R&B and Northern soul, with one song by Erma Franklin (Aretha's sister) and one by Malcolm Hayes, among others. These songs are solid soul, slightly too raw at the time for radio DJs, but sincere and moving (either for the feet or the heart). The second half of the CD is all European and focused on R&B-inspired freakbeat: an early single by Chris Farlowe, another by the V.I.P.s (a band that would evolve into Spooky Tooth, here featuring Keith Emerson on organ, according to the liner notes), then in between these English bands are a fuzzed-out hit by Germany's Howard Carpendale and a crazy mod rock track by a Polish band named Trubadurzy. Modesty Blaise holds its share of good B-grade sides. It's unruly, illogical perhaps, but also enjoyable. However, kitsch fans attracted by the "cheesy pop" label will get confused.

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