Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth and Collected Works

Young Marble Giants
Colossal Youth and Collected Works

Surely I can’t be the only one that repeatedly gets the Young Marble Giants confused with the Young Fresh Fellows. Both are 3 words long, starting with “young” of course, and both are routinely name checked as influences in the college rock scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Then my mind tends to wander and somehow the Feelies and db’s creep in there, too and I think of them all as one big mess of bands. But the truth is these bands are far removed from the Giants and share nothing in common aside from “influential status” and “out of print.” So it’s forgivable that a rock addled mind like this can get them confused, right?

Well surely I can’t be the only one that finds it hard to believe that Colossal Youthis just now getting around to the reissue treatment and this is how they all get fouled up in my head. It’s a reissue long overdue if only because of what I refer to as the “Pixies Syndrome.” Too many bands are breaking through today, heavily influenced by an artist that never got their rightful due when they existed. In the case of Colossal Youth, it was close to becoming that album everyone had heard of but actually never heard. Leave it to Domino to swing into action and oversee the reissue by adding everything conceivable the band had done in a tasteful manner and one that doesn’t detract from the original album’s importance.

Scraping the vaults and tacking on countless bonus tracks are ruining the importance of reissues but it doesn’t have to be this way. Catering to the obsessive only pleases the hipsters who already owned the original albums, probably on first press vinyl. For anyone coming late to the game or to the kids who want to see who it is that serves as the influence to someone like an Interpol or a Radiohead, including a basement demo or half finished practice jam only deters from understanding why an album is important in the first place. There is a certain sense of mystery absent by doing this.

But unlike the recent Sonic Youth or Pavement deluxe releases, Domino has collected everything the band has officially released and spread it across 3 discs, not tacking anything on to the original album. The first disc is the only full length album the Cardiff trio recorded as they originally released it. If you’re interested in hearing the Peel Sessions the band did, skip on over to disc 3. Want to hear the EP’s or compilation albums YMG contributed to? They’re all neatly compiled on disc 2. Gratefully absent are things such as 4 different versions of “Wurlitzer Jukebox” or studio chatter. In the day and age of speedy internet connections and file sharing sites anyone interested enough can seek out any outtakes on their own.

With that said, the second of the 3 discs includes the Testcard EP, the “Final Day” single, and 2 other compilations & singles. What stands out is that only half a dozen songs are repeated across the packages’ 46 tracks and that each additional song is just as vital and impressive as anything on the debut.

By now any self respecting music fan is familiar with the Young Marble Giants name. At least if only by hearing it as a touchstone to the 2nd generation post punk bands of today. This influence is best summed up in the booklet that accompanies the album, written by Simon Reynolds. Reynolds has done an amazing job documenting this era in music through his book Rip It Up And Start Again and it flows over in documenting this album. In fact, he sort made it near impossible for anyone to do a proper review of it. In the liner notes he names 3 of the most important albums of the era: PiL’s, Metal Box, Talking Heads’ Fear Of Music, and Gang Of Four’s Entertainment and damn if Colossal Youth doesn’t fit right alongside each of them. What I can add to Reynolds’ take on the album is that what separates Colossal Youth from something like PiL or Gang of Four is warmth and human touch.

The power and intrigue comes from open spaces between the bass, guitar, and vocals, and in most cases that’s all there is to the music. The occasional drum machine pops up on a track here and there but few bands have done more with less. Alison Stratton has an unexpectedly enchanting voice and the lyrics are more direct than the abstract nihilistic manner prominently sneered in this era. The Young Marble Giants were more than just sinew-y bass lines and curvy guitars. There was a real honesty to them despite the musical landscape they were in.

That’s really the only introduction necessary since Domino & Reynolds have taken care of it further. If you’ve been interested in the band this far chances are you already know the most of the history. The only thing left to do is finally delve in and listen to the masterpiece the album is.