BOXSET REVIEW: Optimism/Reject – Punk And Post-Punk Meets D-I-Y Aesthetic

Even its most vehement detractors can’t deny the punk explosion of the 1970s paved the way for a boom in independent thinking around the UK’s music industry. Even if you couldn’t play a note, you could set up your own label to release records by those who could, or start a fanzine to write about them.

It’s that independent DIY spirit which is celebrated in this 4CD, 68-page bookset, which is intended as a companion volume to Cherry Red’s excellent 2017 post-punk collection To The Outside Of Everything.

Naturally, such an extensive set contains some gems, and there’s certainly a few to be found among the 105 tracks here; early prime cuts by Skids, Angelic Upstarts, The Fall, The Ruts, and John Cooper Clarke, among others.

There’s classics, rarities, album tracks and forgotten songs from Subway Sect, Sisters Of Mercy, Young Marble Giants, Marine Girls, Alternative TV, The Raincoats, The Membranes and many more indie names you’ll probably be familiar with.

So there’s plenty of long-lost gems are waiting to be unearthed then, but naturally with compilations like this, it’s got its fair share of tracks that you’ll happily skip past. It’s like listening to John Peel’s Radio 1 show circa 1980, with as much chaff as wheat. I’ll leave you to make up your own mind which is which, but let’s concentrate on the positive.

There’s the ‘before they were famous’ oddities, such as The Frantic Elevators, featuring a pre-Simply Red Mick Hucknall and their repetitive,  Crass-like Every Day I Die; a pre-Dead Or Alive Pete Burns in Nightmares In Wax, and early cuts from other chart-botherers-to-be like Scritti Politti, Thompson Twins and Blancmange.

From punk to new wave, experimental pop and avant garde jazz, there’s something for most tastes, even if there’s a puzzling tendency to include B-sides, instead of the more familiar material; I’m thinking of the set’s Patrik Fitzgerald title track rather than his cult hit Safety Pin Stuck In My Heart, and Masochistic Opposite instead of Mo-Dettes’ much better-known White Mice.

The Associates’ unauthorised (but very good) cover of David Bowie’s Boys Keep Swinging is something I hadn’t heard before, and there’s an early highlight in the shape of The Drones and You’ll Lose (OK, they sound like Buzzcocks, but surely that’s a good thing?).

And who was to know that The Laughing Apple, who contribute the fairly basic Chips For Tea contained future Creation Records supremo Alan McGee and Andrew Innes, who went on to join Primal Scream?

There are fine tracks by lots of artists I’d never heard of: The Tights (the first band ever released on Cherry Red), the Slits-like Devil’s Dykes, The Dodgems, whose lo-fi Lord Lucan is Missing is very of its time, and the slightly ludicrous but still charming (I Saw) Batman (In The Launderette) by The Shapes – “holy soap!”

Such eclecticism is the beauty of a set like this, even if the absence of ‘hits’ means it does appear, in part, to be mopping up the leftovers. 7/10.

Gary Welford owner