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The Independent Singles Collection

The Monochrome Set

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Album Review

For all of the many sterling qualities the Monochrome Set exhibited over the years — and truly, they were one of the most consistently enjoyable bands of the U.K. indie pop scene during their periods of activity, circa 1978-1985 and 1990-1995 — they were absolutely maddening about their compilations. For one thing, the band released nine proper studio albums in their two incarnations, from 1980's Strange Boutique to 1995's Trinity Road, but more than half again that number of compilations have been released since the first, 1982's grab-bag of BBC radio sessions, early singles, and unreleased tracks Volume Contrast Brilliance. Many of these have mashed together re-recorded versions of familiar Monochrome Set songs (with no indication of their provenance) with outtakes, B-side rarities, and unexpected gems that have appeared nowhere else, but there has never been a truly comprehensive collection of Monochrome Set singles. Frankly, it seems highly unlikely that there ever will be one, because Virgin Records maintains control of the group's first two albums, Strange Boutique and 1981's Love Zombies, while Cherry Red has the reins to the rest of the catalog, barring 1985's misbegotten The Lost Weekend, a release for Warner Brothers' Blanco y Negro label that tried to turn the defiantly quirky group into mainstream pop stars. 1997's double-disc Chaps got past this problem by having the mid-'90s lineup of the band re-record the Virgin and Warner Brothers era material; it's simpler to just buy either Colour Transmission or Tomorrow Will Be Too Long: The Very Best of the Monochrome Set, either of which contains both Virgin albums in their entirety, and to ignore The Lost Weekend. With those caveats aside, 2008's The Independent Singles Collection is, at last, Cherry Red's attempt to make sense of the Monochrome Set's non-LP catalog. Lacking the rights to the Virgin and Warner Brothers material, The Independent Singles Collection therefore doesn't have gems like 1980's gorgeously spooky "Goodbye Joe" or 1985's "Wallflower" (the one gem from that era), nor does it contain any of singer/primary songwriter Bid's solo singles released during the group's late-'80s hiatus. But it does finally gather in one place the A- and B-sides of all of the band's independently released singles, from "He's Frank" (in both its original version from their 1978 debut single and the superior 1979 remake "He's Frank (Slight Return)") to 1995's "Kissy Kissy." This includes comparative rarities like the original single recording of 1982's "The Jet Set Junta," a different version than the more familiar take that has appeared on most previous compilations, including Volume Contrast Brilliance, and a number of lesser known flip sides that showcase the band's more experimental side. If someone was only planning to buy one Monochrome Set compilation, this should be the one.

Biography

Formed: 1978

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '10s

When the British art school punk band the B-Sides changed their name and direction to become Adam & the Ants, guitarist/vocalist Bid and guitarist Lester Square opted out to form their own group, the Monochrome Set. Founded in London in 1978, the band (also comprising ex-Gloria Mundi and Mean Street bassist Jeremy Harrington and former Art Attacks drummer J.D. Crowe) was quickly snapped up by the Rough Trade label, and during 1979 issued three singles —...
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The Independent Singles Collection, The Monochrome Set
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