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The Woodentops – Before During After

One Little Indian

The Woodentops - Before During AfterThe press release (and CD booklet) draws our attention to Morrissey‘s endorsement of The Woodentops. What’s not mentioned is that although he raved about their debut single “Plenty,” he had already publicly withdrawn his endorsement by the second (or was it third?) single, dismissing the group as has-beens. This three CD set lets us decide for ourselves whether or not he was being a little unkind in his premature dismissal of the group.

The early pre-LP singles are all collected, together with some of the b-sides on disc 3, and they sound as fresh today as they did back in the early ’80s. The first four a-sides, “Plenty,” “Move Me,” “Well Well Well” and “It Will Come” provide as great an opening salvo as anybody ever. Like a British version of The Feelies, these songs bounce along on their urgent hypnobeat grooves and adrenalized acoustic guitars, careering recklessly towards their climaxes. If these four singles were all The Woodentops had ever released, they would have ensured their place in rock history… which is just as well, really. The rest of the disc is filled with various hideously dated ’80s dance remixes, so let’s jump back to to disc one: the debut LP.

Giant could have been a great album with the right producer – many of the songs were as good as the early singles, but Bob Sergeant‘s production managed to sand off all the corners and suck all the joy out the songs. It’s not a bad record by any means, and an enjoyable listen in its own right, but it could have been so much more. The group must have been similarly disappointed with the results, as they followed it up almost immediately with the live album Live Hypnobeat Live, which featured more or less the same songs presented how they were supposed to sound. CD 2 features the group’s second studio LP Wooden Foot Cops on the Highway and the less said about it the better.

This is certainly a worthwhile collection, but ultimately the group were better served by Live Hypnobeat Live and the 2007 collection The BBC Sessions where the group’s urgency and vibrancy is not neutered by the dreaded ’80s production. Before During After is worth getting for the first four singles alone – but why not include every b-side?

-Alan Holmes-

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