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Various Artists (curated by Jon Savage)
Dreams Come True - Classic First Wave Electro Iain Moffat , October 24th, 2008 17:29

Dreams Come True - Classic First Wave Electro

"I hear you're buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator and are throwing your computer out the window because you want to make something real. You want to make a Yaz record."

Thus spake James Murphy in 'Losing My Edge', and, as this compilation ably demonstrates, dozens of people before and since have wanted to make a Yaz - or, as we knew them in their homeland, Yazoo - record; specifically, 'Situation'. After all, not only does nobody deliver a careworn powerhouse of a vocal like Alison Moyet, but this was very much the near future (amazingly, it predates Harold Faltermeyer's work on the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack by three whole years), a taste of all kinds of end-of-the-decade joy (its signature squiggles being very much the lingua franca of acid), and even a handy touchstone for 21st century pop (with the Saturdays appropriating it in a desperate reach for some secondhand cool).

And, given that he's thrown that away as the opening track on this collection, you'd have to hope curator Jon Savage can maintain such high standards. Certainly, as was the case when he published England's Dreaming, his timing is flawless. After all, the twin turrets of wonky pop and new rave (easily knocked now, of course, but it continues to inspire fine records, even if it's clearly at the same cusp that Britpop had reached immediately before Cast and Northern Uproar turned up) are nothing if not real music with synthesizers, and, after years of superstar DJs peddling the myth that there was disco and then there was house, with nothing in between, any endeavour putting the record straight is automatically a valuable artefact. Moreover, his choices here are never short of being inspired; nothing at all wrong with Bambaataa, Shannon and Newcleus, of course, but they've graced too many albums of this ilk already, and it's to Savage's credit that he lets more overlooked jewels have a bit of a shine instead.

And what startlingly prescient jewels some of them are! C-Bank's 'Get Wet' lets itself down slightly with a vocal that spends somewhat too long in the realm of the perfunctory, but it's hard to fault the gusto of a deranged arrangement that places it as the missing link between Kraftwerk's 'The Robots' and Timbaland's work on 'Cry Me A River', while Klein & MBO's 'Dirty Talk' is such a magnificent template for critic-styled intelligence dance music that it wouldn't seem at all unlikely to be told that it had come out on Warp or International Deejay Gigolos even though it actually emerged when those labels were but twinkles in Beckett, Mitchell and Hell's eyes. Class Action's 'Weekend', meanwhile, lauinches on a wave of Nile Rodgers-cribbing guitar and Tom Tom Club-happy keyboard stabs before Chris Wiltshire's liberated holler of "I can't take the heartbreak!" (three minutes in! Never let it be said those early electro types weren't up for making proper use of all twelve inches) renders it recognisable as the track that Todd Terry made so totemic at acid's giddy height.

Needless to say, given that we're looking at a club-based underground music here, there's no shortage of sauce either. The synths in Nuance's 'Love Ride' don't so much orgasm as gush, and, mere months after Frankie had asked "are we living in a land where sex and horror are the new gods?", the eroto-sturm und drang of the Latin Rascals' glorious minimalist monolith 'Lisa's Coming' answered unswervingly in the affirmative. Hell, even when the songs on show here weren't pushing the envelope quite so much - inevitable, perhaps, given that there's a five-year span between them - there's still some tremendous work on offer; there's a very real naive charm to the insistent Eurobeat of Noel's long-forgotten 'Silent Morning', while Dhar Braxton's 'Jump Back (Set Me Free)' is a close cousin of 'What Have You Done For Me Lately?', but significantly slinkier, and, mid-way through, rather more likely to have inspred Nitro Deluxe's 'This Brutal House'.

Mind you, the fact that Braxton went top 40 with that makes her especially outstanding in this company, since, "classic first wave electro" or not, nothing here exactly troubled the charts overmuch at the time. Still, without this lot, Friendly Fires, Metronomy and Late Of The Pier would be profoundly different propositions, and Chromeo, Neon Neon and Black Affair wouldn't exist in those incarnations at all. If you're happy enough for the last twelve months to be defined by Duffy, Nickelback and Coldplay then maybe this isn't for you; for everyone else, though, it's esoteric-yet-essential listening.