This double-CD set is essential listening -- not just for Downliners Sect fans, but for anyone who's ever worn out copies of any of the first three Rolling Stones albums or owns anything by the Yardbirds, the Pretty Things, Them, the Graham Bond Organisation, the Animals, early John Mayall, the Shadows of Knight, or any of countless blues-inspired American garage bands. In content, it's approximately equivalent to Charly's Yardbirds Ultimate Collection, encompassing the complete contents of the Downliners Sect's three original LPs, from the bluesy "Baby, What's Wrong" to the pounding, proto-psychedelic "Glendora." Thus, listeners don't get the EP and demo tracks "Cadillac," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Beautiful Delilah," or "Shame Shame Shame," and "I Can't Get Away from You" and "Roses" are also missing from the other end of their history -- all of which are present, along with a lot else, on See for Miles' Definitive Downliners Sect: The Singles A's & B's, which is the perfect complement to this set. What listeners do get is two hours of some of the most delightfully raw and unaffected, downright affectionate British renditions of American rock & roll and R&B, so unstylish that they achieve a kind of beguiling, offhanded stylishness all their own -- where the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, the original Fleetwood Mac et al. all had personalities with a certain allure and mystery that made them insinuate themselves into the music, the Sect thump away with more enthusiasm than distinctive talent or personalities, or inventiveness.
That must be why they can shift from sounding like Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley to Bill Haley & His Comets on "I'm Hooked on You," then resemble the early Spencer Davis Group on "Comin' Home Baby," then suddenly sound like the rawest American garage band this side of the Litter on "Why Don't You Smile Now," then switch back toward the Rolling Stones on "Don't Lie to Me" (which includes the most delightfully out of tune bass accompaniment you may ever hear on a finished, released record, not that the guitarist seems to have known where middle C was either...), and follow that with the jocular "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose," sounding like the Pretty Things having fun -- and they even end in a vaguely Kinks-like mode (circa 1966-1967) with "The Cost of Living." And all of that's on their last album, which isn't usually thought of as representing their peak -- geez, on "I'm Looking for a Woman" they get into this Bo Diddley groove that's so perfect, despite being so much more flaccid than Bo would ever permit his band to sound, that your fingers will start dancing to that shave-and-a-haircut beat; there's just something so real and honest about the way these guys plunked and plodded their way through their music, running on sheer bravado and a genuine affection at their core -- it didn't propel them to stardom (except maybe in Scandinavia), but it makes their stuff worth hearing in full 40 years later, and how many bands beyond the Rolling Stones is that true about? This set will dazzle any enthusiast of British blues or British Invasion rock, or, for that matter, first-rate American-style garage punk. The sound is excellent and the annotation is very thorough; there are some misprints and missing words on the song listings, but where it counts, this set would be worthwhile even at twice the price.