Even without the benefit of hindsight, sending a turd in the post to the NME was never going to endear the Levellers to the music press. But the faecal fracas that followed a bad review of their second album, 1991’s Levelling The Land, was typical of a proudly unfashionable band who thrived on opposition and obstinacy, and hang the consequences.
A punk band in revolutionary folk drag, the Brighton five-piece were the antithesis of the prevailing musical trends of the early 90s – an outsider status they revelled. Signature tune One Way (‘…Of Life’) was scorned for its simplistic message, but it showed they could knock out rabble-rousing anthems in their sleep.
That song features on this 35-track, two-disc set (albeit as an unnecessarily re-recorded version from 1998), but it’s the lesser-known tracks that show what a great band they are: the kitchen sink dramas of Fifteen Years and Julie (the latter updated with guest vocals from Frank Turner); This Garden’s wide-eyed psychedelia; the surprisingly riff-heavy Fantasy. Elsewhere, Billy Bragg adds extra emotional heft to a new version of Hope St, though Imelda May’s ersatz rockabilly stylings adds little of value to a retooled Beautiful Day.
Like their one-time bête noires the Manics, the Levellers occupy a unique place in British music: loved and hated in equal parts, even as they remain out of step with everything around them. All that, and not a turd in sight.