January 17, 2002

Colourbox "Best Of 82/87"

It must suck for a band to have been on the edge of cutting edge, only to be forgotten and neglected as time passed. I can think of tons of bands from the 80s and 90s who were quite excellent, who have inspired future generations, yet have received not one bit of thanks for their minor contribution to the grand society of music. Conversely, some bands were also innovative in their own way, but so minute was their "innovation" that to merely mention the band's name would be giving them much more credit than they deserve.

Colourbox was a band whose existence was obscure, even by underground standards. Brothers Martyn and Steve Young, the sole members of Colourbox, were more interested in making music than being pop stars, and preferred the 12" and 7" single format to actual full length albums. Even after having a worldwide smash hit, M/A/R/R/S' "Pump Up the Volume," the brothers Young refused to play the industry "game," feeling that their music should remain separated from their identity. Such sentiments are to be respected.

However, respectability on the grounds of principle doesn't guarantee you a place in history, nor does it mean that your music will be respect by future generations. Colourbox, sadly, fall victim to this truism. The band shunned public performance--on the notion that they preferred to be mysterious and vague, and that performing computer-programmed music wasn't performing--and focused mainly on the club circuit. It begs the question, though, of what the band expected for the future, and were they aware that if a band chooses to be mysterious and vague today, that they shouldn't be surprised if they'd be forgotten tomorrow? In their time, they only released one full length, Colourbox--an album which seemed both redundant and terribly, terribly bland. Instead, the band released numerous 12" and 7" records--a format which suited them quite well.

Unfortunately, Best of 82/87 is weighed down by this aesthetic, making the album difficult listening. Thus, the styles that Colourbox were experimenting with flow freely from track to track, with very little context provided. Many of these songs are so stylistically similar to others, it's absurd; it becomes rather annoying to hear a song with a dub beat, sampled gunshots, and dialogue sampled from a cowboy movie, only to be followed by a song with the exact same formula. There's a blandness to Best Of 82/87 and it's due to the fact that these songs were probably never intended to be compiled together on a "best of" compilation. Let's not even talk about the bad lover's rock disco singing on "Arena II" and "Baby I Love You," because the singing is really, really bad. (And that's bad in a bad way.)

This doesn't mean, however, that Best Of 82/87 is a total waste. While it's true that Colourbox were limited to two or three core ideas, the moments where they break from their patterns songwriting are simply stunning. From the new wave pop of "Breakdown" to the piano coda of "Sleepwalker," what this album does do for Colourbox--and did for me by record's end---is show that even one-trick pony bands can produce moments of real clarity. At points--such as the homage to the master of modern classical, "Philip Glass"--one really has to wonder what Colourbox could have been, had they shaken from their comfortable formula and actually experimented more.

That Colourbox were borne of a time that would produce unforgettably forgettable groups can be forgiven, and Best Of 82/87 tries to remind us that there was a seed of greatness in them--but, unfortunately, highlights the problems that have left Colourbox in the annals of 80's synth pop. It also shows that there were people in the dance world who actually tried to break away from the boring formulas of the time, even if they didn't quite pull it off. A nice album for the curious, but not essential listening.

--Joseph Kyle

No comments: