Colourbox - Music Of The Band (1982 – 1987) album review

Eighties innovators Colourbox celebrated by 2000 Turner Prize winner

Colourbox - Music Of The Band (1982 – 1987) album artwork

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Anyone who visited the Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition at the Tate Modern during the first half of this year will know that this music sounds truly great. Partly because the acclaimed German artist chose it to play on a loop in a conceptualised “listening space”, where the sound quality was so fine you wanted to live there, and partly because Colourbox were always as visionary as they were eclectic.

Their wilful mash-ups of soul, dub, electronica and hip-hop seemed all the stranger emanating from the then mostly “ethereal” label 4AD, and their freak international No.1 hit single Pump Up The Volume – a collaboration with AR Kane under the name MARRS – led to litigation regarding samples on top of disillusionment with the pressures of success. Yet in five years, brothers Martyn and Steven Young (together with Ian Robbins and vocalists Lorita Grahame and Debian Curry) had left a groundbreaking, gratifying legacy. Steven and Ian sadly passed away in recent years, so this compilation – released as a double album with gatefold sleeve featuring a new Tillmans photograph – arrives as a tribute to them, as well as a bona fide art artefact. As Tillmans says, they were “pioneers of experimental pop”, and “at the forefront of sampling, which in its digital form would become ubiquitous in the course of the 1980s”. For all their fascination with studio technique, these tracks flow with a light-footed ease, their catholic influences ranging freely over spacious, rock-steady grooves. Being an authentic fanboy, Tillmans has elected to omit one or two better-known numbers, like Tarantula (made famous by This Mortal Coil) and even their would-be World Cup Theme. However, their blend of high jinks and intensity glows on the likes of Looks Like We’re Shy One Horse, Just Give ’Em Whiskey and the 10-minute tease of Nation. The sampled voices get busy, but on The Moon Is Blue we’re reminded that Grahame’s singing was their main vocal weapon. The roots of modernism.

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.