Swing Out Sister - Blue Mood, Breakout And Beyond - The Early Years Part 1
Blue Mood, Breakout And Beyond - The Early Years Part. 1 is an outstanding new box set from Swing Out Sister that, over the course of eight CD's, covers the first eight years of the band and includes their first three studio releases, the live album Live At The Jazz Café, three discs of mixes, remixes and instrumentals and a disc of B-sides and edits.
Initially a three piece consisting of Andy Connell (The Immediates, A Certain Ratio) on keyboards, Martin Jackson (Magazine, The Chameleons) on drums and vocalist Corinne Drewery, Swing Out Sister hit the scene with the single “Blue Mood”, and while it didn’t chart, the follow-up “Breakout” exploded and hit number 4 in the UK and 6 in the US. Due to its huge success the band immediately went into the studio and recorded their debut album, It’s Better To Travel, an infectious collection largely consisting of jazzy, horn-driven, electronic dance pop highlighted by Drewery’s vocals and including the hits “Twilight World”, “Surrender”, “Fooled By A Smile” and the aforementioned singles. Among the other highlights are the slower, atmospheric “After Hours” and “Theme (From - It's Better To Travel)”, an impressive instrumental that sounds like it’s right out of a Bond film.
Although he did contribute some drum programming and is credited on a couple songs, Jackson left the band partway through the recording of their follow-up release Kaleidoscope World. From the opening strains of the outstanding opener “You On My Mind” it’s apparent there was also a slight shift in their sound. Drawing from their mutual admiration for the work of John Barry they moved in a more orchestrated and cinematic direction and even worked with the legendary Jimmy Webb on the arrangements of the gorgeous, laid-back “Forever Blue” and “Precious Words”. There are a few tunes that are more of a throwback to the debut, most notably “Waiting Game”, but overall this is a stunning collection that has really stood the test of time.
Get In Touch With Yourself, their third release and last studio album in this collection, moves in more of a groove oriented soul direction, thanks in part to the influence of artists like Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes, both of whom they were listening to at the time. Along with their infectious cover of the sixties tune “Am I The Same Girl” (originally recorded by Barbara Acklin and Dusty Springfield a little later) and “Notgonnachange”, which became a big club hit, are highlights like “Everyday Crime” with its funky groove that sounds like it would fit in on a Shaft soundtrack, the jazzy “Circulate” and the title track. While to me it’s a bit more polished and not as charming as its predecessor, there is still plenty to like about this album.
When they toured in late 1992 most of the song arrangements in the live show had largely evolved to suite the players. Since no one would pay to record them, the band self-financed the recordings in December of that year that ended up becoming Live At The Jazz Café, which at the time was only released in Japan. To me this album is the highlight of the whole box set. The songs absolutely come to life with lively jazzy arrangements that strip away a lot of the studio gloss and replace it with refreshing organic instrumentation, exploding with improvisation. Tunes like “Breakout”, which starts with a loose, jazzy instrumental section before moving into a funky take on the song, “Circulate”, with its Latin percussion, and “Notgonnachange”, with its slow burning groove, are given a whole new life.
Over the course of thirty-eight tracks, the next three discs contain a variety of mixes and remixes of twelve of their songs. While there are some mixes that are interesting and some completists will like having them all together, most people probably will skip over these discs after an initial listen or two with so many mixes of the same songs. The last disc contains eleven b-sides and bonus tracks, plus a couple edited tracks and a live version of “Circulate”. For the most part the b-sides are strong cuts that could have easily been album tracks. Some of the really interesting songs include “Dirty Money”, which was the first track they ever recorded and interestingly has a bit of a funk groove that wasn’t really present on that debut album, “Fever”, a cut that emphasizes the electronic side of their sound and has a bit of a New Order vibe and "Taxi Town", one of my favorites here that is over half instrumental and really sets a mood with a movie soundtrack feel. Other highlights are the Burt Bacharach flavored “Coney Island Man”, “Spirit Moves”, a soulful, laid-back tune with a funk groove and the gorgeous vocal and piano cover of “Windmills Of My Mind” that was recorded for a radio station appearance. Rounding out this outstanding box set is a very comprehensive booklet with interviews with Drewery and Connell that give great insight into this era of the band, the releases and also the remixes and b-sides. While the band failed to hit the charts anymore after these three albums, they are still together and have released eight more studio albums, so hopefully there are more box sets to follow.