The Boo Radleys
Find The Way Out
h The Boo Radleys. Sadly it appears that they have now been dealt a shite hand by history and will be forever known by most people as one-hit-wonders of the fondly-regarded-but-annoying category. “Oh, they had that song about waking up, yeah?” They had a few more besides.
Find The Way Out is the kind of compilation that satisfies no one but may delight some. Assuming anyone buys it, that is. Stumble across it accidentally, vaguely aware of their reputation or that one enormous hit, buy it on a whim, take it home, and you may well fall in love with a band long since sadly dead. But if you’re already a fan with (almost) all the albums and maybe a handful of the singles, and you bought this in search of b-sides and rarities you thought long out of print, then you may be disappointed by the tracklisting, because a huge host of those b-sides and rarities remain out of print. So it goes. We knew this would happen.
So, some facts. Firstly, Find The Way Out runs in deadeningly logical chronological order, starting with a handful of very hard-to-find tracks from their “missing” (presumed disowned) first album, the noisy, aimless, sub-Dinosaur Jr. Ichabod & I, before working through their other albums in order. These are, in case you don’t know, the raggedy FX-pedal indie of Everything’s Alright Forever; the quantum-leap into eclectic genius of Giant Steps; the hit-housing obtuse Britpop of Wake Up!; the gloriously energetic artrock of C’Mon Kids; and finally the lacklustre but appealing farewell of Kingsize. In case you didn’t notice, that’s two outstanding albums, two very good albums, one OK album and one album that no one’s heard because you can’t get it anywhere and even the band think it’s pretty poor.
Martin Carr, Boo Radleys guitarist and key creative force, describes himself in the (extensive) sleevenotes as too selfish a songwriter to do the easy thing—halfway through writing a song he’d be overcome and have to do something he deemed was cool or awkward with the rest of it; tear it apart with feedback, perhaps, or make a stab at drum n bass for an intro, or wax free-jazz trumpets all over the middle-8. This is both The Boo Radleys’ genius and their curse; it’s what made them incredible, inspiring and individual, but it’s also what kept them firmly away from mainstream success for the most part.
Most of the early tracks here are, for me at least, little more than curios; they’re fuzzy, scuzzy, underwritten and drummer Rob Cieka hadn’t yet joined and thus his fantastic rhythmic glue wasn’t holding the band together. “Catweazle,” the opening track, is a case in point—had they recorded it three years later when they could play properly and weren’t afraid of their own ideas, it could have been mega. As it is, it’s just another late-80s, early-90s piece of British proto-shoegaze indie. Things start to get good with “The Finest Kiss” and “Everybird,” non-album tracks from around the time of Everything’s Alright Forever, and which display an improved dexterity in both writing and playing, further evident on the almost-great “Spaniard.”
The turning point, not only of this compilation, but of The Boo Radley’s entire career, was “Lazarus,” included here in glorious, 12” splendor. Basically a big pop tune halfway between Dinosaur Jr. and The Beach Boys slapped in the middle of a great big dub instrumental (just feel Tim Brown’s awesome bassline), it comes replete with enormous trumpets, a wordless chorus, and lyrics about Martin’s vague agoraphobia which are delivered with fantastically odd sensitivity by singer Sice. It is, simply, phenomenal, and worth buying the compilation for on its own, arguably. The next handful of tracks here, cropped from Giant Steps (yes the name is aping Coltrane), further detail the band’s rapidly expanding talents. Click that link to find out how and why.
Wake Up! was an odd beast. “Wake Up Boo!” became an enormous, accidental pop smash, soundtracking innumerable cool breakfast television shows in the summer of 1995 and becoming joyously overexposed in the process. It still sounds good, a proper Motowntastic stomp, and because of it people rushed out to buy the album it came from, only to find such glorious oddness as “Joel,” and such melancholy as “Reaching Out From here” alongside a couple of other pop songs in the “Wake Up Boo!” vein (notably “It’s Lulu”). Predictably, people didn’t take to it as a whole, despite further critical acclaim after the praise lavished upon Giant Steps. Copy upon copy of Wake Up! now sit in second-hand CD bins in Cash Converters outlets and charity shops across the UK. Interestingly for this compilation, Martin Carr saw fit to append “Wake Up Boo!” with “Music For Astronauts”, a three-minute instrumental of space-electronics, which effectively works by making the tune into something resembling a 12” dub remix. I take this choice to mean that he too is fed-up of hearing “Wake Up Boo!,” even if the PRS cheques from it do help to pay his bills.
Reacting to their brief flirtation with success, The Boo Radleys made arguably their heaviest album in C’Mon Kids; the press were lukewarm in their reaction, but luckily for fans it’s up there with Giant Steps in terms of quality. Inclusions here are the two singles, both excellent, shouty numbers, “Ride The Tiger,” and the multi-sectioned epic, “Four Saints.” Sadly, C’Mon Kids was the band’s last great record—Kingsize was recorded by a band lacking in confidence and direction, and sounds it. Still, when they hit their stride they were still excellent—the tile track is superb, melodic and emotive, “Free Huey” a kinetic single not dissimilar to those from the previous album, and “Blue Room In Archway” is just very good, if a touch melancholic.
Of course there are omissions that will upset people. “Lazarus” b-side “Touchdown Jesus” could have been included—picking “Blues For George Michael” ahead of it seems like perversion for the sake of it, not that the latter is bad. “Wilder,” “Bullfrog Green,” and “Upon Ninth & Fairchild” are sadly missed, but non-album single “From The Bench At Belvidere” is here and still excellent, as good as anything on Wake Up! from the same era. The other b-side inclusions are all good, some verging on great, but there are so many others that one might hear whisperings about on internet forums that it seems a shame there couldn’t be more.
Oh The Boo Radleys. Creation records head honcho Alan McGee apparently hated them. Noel Gallagher once told Martin Carr that he wished he’d written a song as good as “I Hang Suspended.” As creative as labelmates Super Furry Animals or Primal Scream ever were, that The Boo Radleys don’t get as much praise as either band frankly sucks. In his sleeve-notes essay, Brian Block (there is one other essay by Keith Cameron, plus a track-by-track rundown by Martin Carr) compares The Boo Radleys to XTC in the “overlooked genius” scheme of things. He’s not wrong. In fact if anything he’s understating their brilliance, because I much prefer them to the rather too quaint XTC. As an introduction to The Boo’s magnificent talents and catalogue, Find The Way Out is excellent, and should tempt people to go searching for more. I hope.