The Complete BBC Peel Sessions
nyone looking for an introduction to The Delgados should get their fourth album, Hate, pronto. It’s an astonishing record of cynical, beautiful songs wrapped up in the most lavish music of their career. Probably of its producer Dave Fridmann’s, too. As a defining statement, even the lauded The Great Eastern only comes close.
The Complete BBC Peel Sessions certainly won’t change that recommendation. It’s a long way from a stand-in greatest hits and too idiosyncratic to serve as an overview of their career, but is all the more exciting as a result. Its 29 songs track their appearances on John Peel’s Radio 1 show from May 1995 to September 2004, shortly before both their split and his sad death, and show why they were favourites of Peel and his audience from well before their relative rise to prominence.
The first session present features four songs from their early days which didn’t make it to an album. They’re shockingly raw, even compared to the lo-fi, scratchy punk-pop of debut Domestiques. “Lazarwalker” takes quiet-loud-quiet to an extreme, while “Primary Alternative” buzzes with energy. It’s difficult to picture this as the band behind Hate, but there are still hints at the mastery of dynamics which they would use to such fine effect later on.
It’s once we reach the sessions for their first two albums that things get really very exciting, though. “Under Canvas Under Wraps” on Domestiques is a much better song than any of those on the first session, but like most of the album, it sounds rather timid. The session version, though, bursts to life with furiously fast drums and barely lets up, bringing the exact same breakneck energy as the first session to bear on a much more fully developed song, putting the recorded version to shame. “4th Channel” does the same thing, but even better. “Sucrose” does it too, though Emma Pollock’s voice was just starting to reach the bruised beauty that it would be by Hate.
The two sessions for Peloton make a decent case for it as a third classic to rank alongside its two successors. With cellist and long-time near band member Alan Barr added to the line-up to join a violin and flute on the first session, their arrangements were starting to build towards those of The Great Eastern. They’re still flexible enough, though, for immediacy to lend the songs an edge missing from record and to help lesser tracks shine away from an album which sounds a bit incoherent at times. “Blackpool” is far darker, its scratches now almost nauseatingly weird and fitting its sinister air all the better. “Repeat Failure” comes into its own as a fine song rather than the experiment that felt out of place on the album. Even those which were already great, like “Pull The Wires From The Wall” (winner of Peel’s annual Festive Fifty countdown in 1998) are given pretty fine alternative treatments.
Once we reach the second disc and The Great Eastern, things are a little bit less revelatory. It’s not that “No Danger” doesn’t sound stunning. It’s a massive, tear-stained beauty of a song, after all. No, it’s just that by then they had worked out how to record their songs in a way that did them justice. Because of this, the presence of only four of its songs and none at all from Hate turns out to be a strange blessing. They would just sound small anyway, and leaving them out also leaves room for a series of fine covers, including a gleeful and kind of faithful romp through ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky” and a fun take on Cat Stevens’ “Matthew And Son.” A noisy version of The Dead Kennedys’ “California Über Alles” is perhaps a knowing throwback to The Delgados’ own earlier days but, of course, ends with strings layered over it.
An excellent package is finished off by three songs from final album Universal Audio which almost see the band coming full circle, stripping back to a more basic sound though maintaining a certain graceful sweep for the keyboards and pop of “Everybody Come Down” in particular. In addition, there are lengthy sleeve notes by bassist and wit Stewart Henderson, touching on a great range of funny and loving anecdotes. The best concerns the great man Peel himself, Henderson’s mum, and a band called Prosthetic Cunt, but I won’t say any more to spoil it for you. The Complete BBC Peel Sessions is a great find for completeists, a fascinating listen to newcomers, a worthy full stop to a very fine career and a very enjoyable listen in its own right. It would be difficult to ask for more from such a collection.
Reviewed by: Iain Forrester
Reviewed on: 2006-06-20