Be-Bop Deluxe - Axe Victim: Expanded And Remastered Edition Review

Four-disc box set honours a neglected glam nearly-was.

Be-Bop Deluxe
(Image: © Cherry Red)

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Be-Bop Deluxe’s debut as a glam rock outfit failed to launch. Already, by 1974, these tropes seemed a little old hat: Bowie was dreaming up plastic soul and Bolan was going off on trippy gospel tangents with Zinc Alloy. As a result, Axe Victim’s camp and cosmic mannerisms swished into town after the Lord Mayor’s show.

Like most time-capsule glam, today it sounds fantastic: arty, ambitious and randy. The opening verse – ‘We hoped you’d lend an ear/You hoped we’d dress like tarts’ – encapsules the obligatory post-Ziggy complaint that “the band” were serious artists despite wearing Auntie Joan’s chiffon. Bill Nelson dropped in references to Cocteau and Gide to emphasise the point. 

He also, being a proper musician, drowned everything in guitar solos. As
a couple of tracks cross the six-minute mark, you can sense there’s no focused arrangement other than to let the project’s most valuable player waffle on for a bit. Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape hints at the broader soundscape his later work found, and elsewhere his progressive or pensive tendencies peep through. Dominating the expedition however are those glam-coated flicks and tricks. Nobody seems sure if Jet Silver And The Dolls Of Venus was mimicry or satire, while Darkness (L’Immoraliste) takes a cigarette and puts it in your mouth. Sometimes Be-Bop Deluxe Mk 1 sound like Cockney Rebel doing Jobriath. And sometimes like Robin Askwith’s band in Confessions Of A Pop Performer. Yes, that splendid. ‘Like voices on the winds, we hit the road to Hull...’

Nelson was too talented not to lick his wounds and come again. He broke up the band, and Harvest hooked him up with producer Roy Thomas Baker, the magical Maid In Heaven catching lightning. Axe Victim is still vibrant under amber, and this four-disc set offers snazzy new mixes, bonus tracks including singles and alternative versions, Peel sessions, an audition tape and Nelson’s own dry recollections. More treasure than trash.

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Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.