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Valentino's Pirates

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Album Review

Even if only as the answer to a fascinating trivia question ("What was the first North American album released exclusively by a post-Soviet state?"), the position of Valentino's Pirates in the annals of pop music history would be secure. The album, however, far exceeds footnote status; in fact, on its musical merits, it demands and deserves acknowledgement as one of the most accomplished pop albums of the 20th century's final two decades, on a par with masterworks by eccentric peers like the Go-Betweens, XTC, Crowded House, and Guided by Voices. On this matter, at least, Russia was right. That the record wasn't even released in the United States at the time of its creation seems incomprehensible and, retroactively, speaks ill of the tastes and trends of the nation's recording industry. To M'Lou's definitive CD reissue of Valentino's Pirates, however, goes a long way toward purging that particular original sin. It brings home, with absolute clarity, the undiminished supremacy of the Dave Rave Conspiracy's landmark debut. In shaping the album, Dave Rave and Gary Pig Gold were very consciously bridging the gap between Rave's artistic past and an increasingly sophisticated vision that was in part the converse of that past. One cannot always hear the bridge here, but the gap being crossed is well apparent. The album opens with the brittle, somber elegy "Father Be Brave," and it introduces the dark undertone that resurfaces throughout and, in a sense, unifies the album. But it hardly sets a pervading tone. Propulsive rockers ("Do It All Over," the dour but exuberant "Weight of the World") and fabulously gutsy pastiches of the Who (the awesome "Welcome to the Next Generation," "Everyday's a Holiday"), all closer to the Rave of old, vie for space with Big Star-quality acoustic tunes and weird experimental cuts like "Good News," where jazzy trumpet lines snake around a lone, quirky piano groove. The album is anchored by a pair of complex epics ("Vanished and Gone," "Farmer Needs Rain") that convincingly hearken back to "A Day in the Life" and "Heroes and Villains" in terms of their scope and ambition. On paper, it reads all over the map, but in practice the album hangs together brilliantly (if not always seamlessly). Gold's varied production is exceptionally imaginative, trumped only by Rave's exquisite set of songs. Indeed, Valentino's Pirates is a lost — or, perhaps more accurately, unknown —masterpiece of the genre and era, filled with epiphanies both large and small.

Valentino's Pirates, The Dave Rave Group
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