Be Bop Deluxe – Modern Music: Album Review

Release Date:    29th November 2019

Label:  Cherry Red

Formats: 2CD, DL, special edition 4CD/DVD mega package

Cherry Red are doing the Be Bop Deluxe catalogue a real service. After the excellent reissues of Sunburst Finish and Futurama, we get another impossible to resist offering of Modern Music. Modern music on the radio indeed…

An album that a good and trusted friend actually thinks is not just Be Bop Deluxe’s best, but the best. Strong words indeed. Even the font of all knowledge that is Wikipedia calls their fourth album “their peak”  whilst several of those who were there at the time hold the record close to their hearts.

This revised set comes in the standard two discs that focus on the album itself. The original stereo mix plus the Shine B-side plus a new stereo mix of the same with a couple of first versions to add to the collection is essentially it.

Much attention is focused on the Modern Music ‘suite’ that marked Be Bop Deluxe as an outfit that had a little bit more to them than their peers whose rock branched off into more glam or traditional rock and roll territory, such as Roxy Music, Mott The Hoople and Cockney Rebel.  It was perhaps the album that won them some progressive stripes that might have clashed with the pinstripes that denoted their determination to strike out boldly not only in a musical but also a fashion sense. And when hasn’t a genre or a band worth its salt not had an accompanying and identifiable image.  

There’s also the more extensive deluxe version that doesn’t quite break the bank in the same way as filling your Pink Floyd or King Crimson collections have done. Making up the difference are two live shows, one an October 1976 BBC Radio recording, the other an ‘official bootleg’ from Chicago in March 1976 when the band was on their first tour of the US.  It was a golden era for rock music in general, although the sour taste and sense of disillusionment with the music industry highlighted on the band’s first visit to the States may have been the beginning of their end. However, Nelson confesses how the experience had the ultimate effect of feeding onto the Modern Music Suite that provides the centerpiece of the new record.

The recording from the Hammersmith Odeon sees a handful of songs from the back catalogue enthusiastically scattered amongst the new material plus a smart twelve and a half minute run through of the suite and a blast of topical punky energy to Bring Back The Spark. The round of applause that greets the familiar opening bars and hooks of Ships In The Night gives a reminder that Be Bop were becoming more established as contenders in the competitive field.

On the other hand, the Chicago recording includes Bill’s Blues where the band make themselves at home with an extended bluesy work out with some standard. Blues licks and quivering keyboard stabs. The songs also have a determined energy that comes across in the lower fidelity recording typified by a lively Life In The Air Age and the rock and roll drive behind Fair Exchange.

For those who can’t get enough, the  5.1 version comes on the DVD with some standard Whistle Test add on appearances and a package containing (from our pdf copy) a well thought out and thorough booklet containing a new  August 2019 essay by Bill Nelson – always worth a read to hear snippets from the horse’s mouth – a host of photography and images of period memorabilia and meticulously handwritten lyrics to add to the postcards and poster. A lengthier piece on the album by John Powell provides his more in-depth analysis of the album, but the emphasis is strongly on four sharp-dressed men in the most fashionable couture of the day. Those (Italian no less) wide collars, wide ties and wide flares the absolute height to which those of us were there enviously aspired. Once more we can marvel at the fashions of the times. Yes, we all wanted the suits and the shirt/tie combinations that Bill’s boys were modelling.

On the one hand, while the fashions are very much a period piece, we can echo the comments that confirm  Modern Music as a set that stood up proud in the mid-seventies and still stands up when we re-evaluate today and appreciate the wizardry of Bill Nelson.

Listen to the title track from the album here:

Be Bop Deluxe / Bill Nelson online:  Website / Facebook / Twitter 

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