The Best of 1981-1997

Terry Hall

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The Best of 1981-1997 Review

by Jon O'Brien

Perhaps second only to Morrissey when it comes to sardonic British pop, Coventry's finest, Terry Hall, spent the first half of his 30-year career drifting in and out of various bands of very different DNA before finally going it alone in the mid-'90s. As its title suggests, The Best of 1981-1997 charts this eclectic and nomadic journey (perhaps an inspiration for Damon Albarn's similar work ethic) over a rather comprehensive 42 tracks, taking in everything from tribal pop to bedsit indie to classic French chansons along the way. Of course, the complete absence of material from his iconic stint in ska outfit the Specials (and his 1994 solo debut, Home), ensures that despite its lengthy track list, it's never going to be as representative as 2001's The Complete Terry Hall, but otherwise, it contains pretty much everything you need to know. "Sanctuary" and "Murder She Said" are the only absentees from Fun Boy Three's 1982 self-titled debut and 1983 follow-up Waiting, respectively, with several Bananarama collaborations ("It Ain't What You Do…," "Really Saying Something") still retaining their ramshackle charm, and the vaudeville theatrics of "Well Fancy That," the new wave pop of the Jane Wiedlin co-write "Our Lips Are Sealed," and the dramatic, medieval take on Gershwin standard "Summertime" displaying the kind of wilful abandonment that made it impossible for Fun Boy Three to be pigeonholed. Things became a little more straightforward with the melancholic indie pop of the Colour Field, represented here by ten tracks from their 1985 debut Virgins & Philistines, and two from their 1987 sophomore effort Deception, although the avant-garde "Cruel Circus" and covers of "The Windmills of Your Mind" and ? & the Mysterians' '60s psychedelic classic "Can't Get Enough of You Baby" showed they weren't exactly your average guitar band. The rather pedestrian material taken from both kitsch trio Terry, Blair & Anouchka ("Missing," "Happy Families") and Vegas, his short-lived partnership with Eurythmics' Dave Stewart ("She," "Possessed"), perhaps explain why everyone had lost interest by the time 1997's underrated solo effort Laugh ("Ballad of a Landlord," "I Saw the Light") came along. But while his early- to mid-'90s work could quite easily have been omitted without much notice, the first hugely inventive nine years covered here confirm Hall's status as one of the '80s pop scene's true mavericks.

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