Essential New Music: Various Artists’ “C87”


Venerable British label Cherry Red continues to mine the U.K. indie-pop of the ’80s for archival sets. The five-disc Scared To Get Happy: A Story Of Indie-Pop 1980-1989 came out in 2013; C86, expanded to three discs from the classic NME cassette, arrived in 2014; Still In A Dream: A Story Of Shoegaze 1988-1995 earlier this year. Now there’s C87, a three-disc C86 sequel that includes many of the same bands, although with different songs, that were on those first two sets (and a couple on the third). But fear not: This isn’t a case of diminishing returns, although Scared To Get Happy should still be your entry point.

1987 was the year of major-label U.K. hits such as the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven,” the Smiths’ “Girlfriend In A Coma” and XTC’s “Dear God,” but C87 celebrates songs such as the Wedding Present’s “My Favourite Dress,” the Vaselines’ “Son Of A Gun” and the Soup Dragons’ “Hang Ten!”—compact gems of frenetic guitars, breathless vocals and askance views of romance. In many cases, the songs here fulfill the promise of the scruffier C86 tracks: The production, although still often treble-heavy and favoring fuzz-tone and distortion, is cleaner, and the hooks are more tightly wound. Those are slight increments, however. This is still indie-pop released on labels such as Sarah, Creation and 53rd & 3rd. The bands hadn’t found mainstream success, but they had been validated by the indie-chart success of the loose scene that the NME C86 collection defined, and the confidence often shows.

While the set includes plenty of glorious jangly and jittery guitar pop from bands such as Miaow, Biff Bang Pow!, Talulah Gosh and Razorcuts, it also features darker and edgier tracks from Inspiral Carpets, the Wolfhounds and A House. And disc three delves into less conventional, noisier representatives such as A Witness, Mackenzies and Dog-Faced Hermans. Some C87 bands, such as the Wonder Stuff and the Primitives, scored chart hits a few years later; others had members who found greater acclaim in bands like Teenage Fanclub and Stereolab. But C87 is a special moment in itself, a deep dive well worth taking.

—Steve Klinge