Various Artists

Time Machine: A Vertigo Retrospective

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The sheer collectibility of anything on the Vertigo label is one of those peculiar quirks that few people, collectors included, can truly quantify. True, Vertigo was blessed with one of the most compulsive label designs ever devised: a black-and-white swirl that can, indeed, induce vertigo in anyone who looks at it for too long. True, too, the label prided itself in giving voice to talents who might otherwise never have been heard, and wrapped almost every Vertigo album in the kind of ambitious packaging normally reserved for supergroup concept conceits. And one can also be impressed by the label's insistence on defying even the most remote limits of the period's (the early '70s) commercialism, with a clutch of albums that seriously could not have been expected to sell more than a handful of copies apiece. But it is astonishingly unlikely that any single set of ears can truly take as much pleasure from, say, the first album by Affinity as they do the second by Black Sabbath, or who could slip from Keith Tippett to Jade Warrior without undergoing some kind of major cultural dislocation. Which means, of course, that there are a lot of unplayed LPs lying within any sizable Vertigo collection -- and a lot of tracks on this collection that will have you reaching for the fast-forward button after less than a minute. Persevere! Although the three CDs here certainly wander across the Vertigo show, the compilers have done a masterful job. Eschewing some of the more defiantly outré contributions to the catalog (mainly the seriously jazz/freeform-shaped ones), Time Machine instead portrays a label that cared dearly for what modern ears would term the "cutting edge" of the early-'70s British prog-folk-post-psych circuit: Colosseum, Juicy Lucy, Clear Blue Sky, Warhorse, and Doctor Z are all here, cut through with a few glimmers of genuine chartbusting inspiration -- Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Alex Harvey, Rod Stewart. Inasmuch as most Vertigo albums are now considered rare (reissues from the likes of Akarma and Repertoire notwithstanding), Time Machine is most readily likened to a glimpse inside the most fabulous bank vault in British rock history. But it is also a reminder of a time when the new release sheets were not put together by money-mad automatons, all hoping to make the next round of American Idol. Most of these guys wouldn't even have made the qualifiers for Hit Me One More Time, and more power to them for that.

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