Complicated as Graham Parker's history of label affiliations has been in the U.S., he has an entirely different one in the U.K. Some of that history is revealed on this three-CD box set, No Holding Back, which traces his recordings for Demon Records. Anyone accustomed to thinking of box sets as comprehensive career summaries will find the results idiosyncratic. Simply put, this one compiles excerpts from Parker's fifth, ninth, tenth, 11th, and 12th studio albums, his second and third live albums, and a seasonal single. That means it begins with songs from 1980s The Up Escalator, his last with his original backup band, the Rumour, then skips ahead eight years to The Mona Lisa's Sister and covers the next six years, stopping in 1994. As a chronicle of Parker's work, clearly this is incomplete. It's like going to a movie a half-hour late, staying 15 minutes, going out for popcorn, coming back a half-hour later, staying a half-hour, then leaving before the end. Actually it's worse than that because the selections made from the available albums are questionable. "Endless Night" from The Up Escalator is missing, as are "Back to Schooldays" and "You Can't Be Too Strong" from Live! Alone in America and "Don't Ask Me Questions" from Live Alone! Discovering Japan. So, even with the available materials, the compiler could have done better. The best thing about the box may be Parker's typically jaundiced liner notes, in which he takes aim at his own jaundiced lyrics and finds room to insult his fan base as well. Even he can't make sense of this peculiar collection, however, and he isn't assisted by the additional, appropriately unsigned liner notes that get his story wrong. As with any Parker release, there are some terrific songs with biting lyrics, intensely performed. It's the context that's incoherent.
No Holding Back Review
by William Ruhlmann