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The Bolshoi – 5 Albums

The Arkive

The Bolshoi - 5 AlbumsMany years ago, I was all about The Bolshoi. Tipped-off by a friend at sixth form college, I borrowed their album Friends from the local tape library (for the benefit of our younger readers, tape libraries used to be a thing back in ancient history. As, of course, did tapes. And libraries.) and instantly fell in love with its marriage of goth-inflected cynicism and massively catchy tunes. For a while back there it was up there with The The‘s Soul Mining and the Sisters Of Mercy‘s First And Last And Always as my favourite album.

When I left home and hit the big city, I managed to track down their first mini-album, Giants, and was blown “clean away” (as it were) by the track “Happy Boy”. The follow-up, Lindy’s Party, I enjoyed a great deal, but not as much as Friends. No, for me it was all about Friends. Lindy’s Party wasn’t goth enough for my liking (in hindsight a bit of an unfair requirement of a band who weren’t ACTUALLY a goth band, despite Friends‘ “Away” being a guaranteed floor-filler at every goth club in town); a little too poppy for its own good, I thought.

I managed to see them play live exactly once, and as far as I remember (which isn’t too far, given that I’d just left home and discovered the joys of rarely remembering the night before) they were awesome, Trevor Tanner being every bit as engaging a frontman on stage as he sounded on record. Then it all got washed away on a tide of industrial rock and New Model Army, and I kind of forgot about The Bolshoi.

Which is why I approached this release with some trepidation, in full knowledge that you can’t always go back. A five-album box set, in the vein of Joy Division‘s Heart And Soul and containing everything they ever recorded plus a live set, it was fairly obvious to see how it could have gone either way for me, really. But I’m glad I plucked up the courage, as it has been well worth it. And the fact that yes, I still love them, means the fact that there is an IMMENSE quantity of music here is a wonderful thing.

Giants, originally a six-track mini, is here bulked out to seventeen with the addition of out-takes, B-sides and demos. But it was Friends that I was most looking forward to. And, I have to say, as a grizzled 44-year-old rather than an embarrassingly gothy teenager, I think I like it about 80% as much as I used to. Which shouldn’t sound too damning, really, given that I liked it an awful lot, so that 20% can probably be written off to youthful exuberance which I wouldn’t be able to capture these days anyway. “Away”, though… “Away” is still sublime. “Books On The Bonfire”, “Someone’s Daughter”, “A Funny Thing” (which was an extra track on the cassette back in mediaeval times and one of the few vivid memories I have of that single gig) — these are all still pretty great. But “Away” really hasn’t lost any of its gloss — it’s a perfect single to this day.

Lindy’s Party was the real surprise, though. Listening to it now, I think it’s a better album than Friends. That poppiness that had slightly turned me off it back then I am now not so precious as to see as anything other than a good thing. The songs are sparser, less guitar-based, but that just gives them more room to breathe. At times you could even see them as a darker Duran Duran for adults (meant as a compliment, I swear). It’s a great pop album, and the title track is a masterclass in how to END a pop album, building from a mournful synth trumpet opening to a triumphant crescendo as Tanner holds forth with the glam cynicism. Even though these days it doesn’t end there — like all the others, Lindy’s Party has a bunch of extras to nibble on after the main course has finished.

Possibly the most interesting inclusion is Country Life, which is as close to what would have been their unreleased album as we’re gonna get. It’s a progression from Lindy’s Party, going further down the intelligent pop route, but blending that album’s synth-led sound with the more traditional rock instrumentation of Friends — I would have loved this if it had been released at the time. Hell, I love it now. Sometimes, it would appear, you CAN go back.

And like any self-respecting retrospective (try saying THAT after half a bottle of gin) there’s a final disc mopping up all that was left in terms of demos and stuff, as well as a stonking live set showing off the guys’ onstage chops.

So yeah, they’re well worth revisiting if you ever liked them. And if you never heard them, then this is the perfect opportunity to sample some of the most under-rated British pop-rock of the last few decades. It’s wonderful to hear them again, but it also makes me slightly sad that they never made it (poor-quality multilingual Dad-joke shit pun warning) really Big.

-Justin Farrington-

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