Various Artists

Mutant Disco

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"I'm a former scientist now on wheels." "I'm a disco clone!" "Spooks spooks spooks in space!" "Woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks!" These are just a few of the odder lines taken from some of the strangest, silliest, most colorful underground singles released during the late '70s and early '80s, all of which were released by Michael Zilkha and Michel Esteban's New York-based ZE label. A two-disc compilation released on the revitalized ZE, this swollen reissue of 1981's Mutant Disco adds 19 label highlights to the original album's six-track running order. At their most inspired, the artists on ZE found some middle ground between immensely accessible disco-pop and the avant-garde, without ever falling down the middle of the road. Music that appealed to Highlights-reading six year olds as well as their Village Voice-reading parents wasn't particularly common back then (surely there are no modern-day parallels); and it's just one of the voids that the ZE label filled, fostered by a very direct collision between the novelty of pop and the possibilities of artful experimentation. Three of Was (Not Was)' earliest, most thrilling songs -- "Wheel Me Out," "Tell Me That I'm Dreaming," "Out Come the Freaks" -- are here, in all their squealing, thoroughly batty, funk-driven glory. They practically make the remainder gravy. Lizzy Mercier Descloux transforms the Crazy World of Arthur Brown's "Fire" from a proto-Nick Cave stomp into a rollicking groove of clickety percussion and popping basslines, with the protagonist changed from a howling madman to a taunting siren. Garçons' zipping "French Boy" -- along with Martin Circus' "Disco Circus," released on Prelude and therefore not present here -- makes a strong case for French disco two decades before Daft Punk. "Blame It on Disco" is a breezy cross between lounge and dub from the equally flirty and dispassionate Cristina, a posh character who also made a song about her mink coat and covered Van Morrison's "Blue Money" on the same album. And then there's the Waitresses' bratty new wave, Kid Creole & the Coconuts' tropical brainstorms, and Material's lasergun funk. These examples only scratch the surface. The overall package, including dozens of photos and liner notes from the ever-insightful Kevin Pearce, is a must-have for anyone who loves post-punk, new wave, funk, disco, or any combination thereof -- or, of course, fun. Sometimes timeless music is created by people who have no interest in doing such a thing. Here's a whole lot of it.

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