Monday, November 20, 2023

The Darling Buds - Killing For Love: Albums, Singles, Rarities and Unreleased 1987-2017 (2023, Cherry Red)

Perhaps not as lyrically profound as the H.E. Bates novel this photogenic coed quartet (and eventual quintet) purloined their moniker from, The Darling Buds were responsible for a profound amount of affecting and winsome guitar pop that spanned two decades and six robust years, churning out a trio of renowned albums.  The packed and newly released 85-track Killing For Love box corrals not only these full lengths (Pop Said, Crawdaddy and Erotica) but virtually every contemporary b-side, early recordings, demos and even a few representative live cuts in one fell swoop illustrating the prowess and quality control that the Buds seemed capable of exuding at virtually every turn.

Helmed by frontwoman Andrea Lewis the band was established with guitarist Harley (Geraint Farr) in 1986 in Caerleon, Newport Wales. Inspired in part by the blossoming UK indie movement of the era the Darling Buds though plenty raw at first quickly segued if not into a "hit-factory," per se, a wholly reliable guitar pop entity delivering vivacious, three-minute refrains adorned with saccharine hooks, crunchy guitars and a dollop of '60s girl-pop savvy.  Structurally, they were on an even keel with home-country mates The Primitives, so much so that comparisons were inevitable. Commencing their swath with the 1987 "If I Said" single (and a clutch of heretofore unreleased demos from the same period compiled on the "early years" portion of Killing For Love) the Buds came across as veritably savage in their most nascent phase, but for the most part downright catchy.  The Jesus and Mary Chain were an early reference point, but this proved to be a fleeting phase for the band, as Lewis and Co. were already on their way to shedding some of their noisome tendencies by the time '88 rolled around for two more singles "Shame On You" and "It's All Up To You" both making their digital debut in their set. Unmoored from the constraints of the mainstream record industry the Darling Buds packed a visceral bite on these wonderful early 45s and even though three-plus decades have passed they still illicit an intoxicating rush.     

The Bud's debut, Pop Said arrived in 1988 on Epic, and even the dented the charts. More significantly it was a quantum leap from their preceding releases, manicuring some of the noisome clamor without stifling an iota of the effervescence. Still very much in the punk-pop wheelhouse the overall effect of the band at this interval wasn't unlike the early Go Go's, minus some of the harmonies of course. Pop Said is a start-to-finish whirring buzzsaw of a hookfest, relentlessly indelible and sing-songy in the most sophisticated guise this stripe of music ever presents itself.  A near-perfect record, one that only the Buds could (slightly) improve upon.  The album is accompanied in this set with no less than ten b-sides and alternate versions.

Their attack and acumen got doubly tighter on 1990's Stephen Street produced Crawdaddy, which may not have lit up the charts back home but seemingly gave our protagonists exponential notoriety in the States, at least with the burgeoning alternative clientele of the time. "Tiny Machine," "Crystal Clear," and "It Makes No Difference" should have beckoned as FM radio clarion calls on both sides of the Atlantic.  Just when I thought the Darling Buds couldn't have exuded any greater universal appeal they deliver an equally dazzling follow-up that in fairness occasionally tamps down on the extraneous guitar crunch in favor of something more rhythmically aware. Crawdaddy was incontrovertibly the next logical step in their progression. As for the three extra versions of "Tiny Machine" tacked on at the end, why not?

Not a sea change so much as subtle evolution, their third and final LP, Erotica featured no less than two songs conducive to dream-pop, "One Thing Leads to Another" and "Angels Fallen" boasting discernably flanged guitar effects that were nearly startling on my initial listen. Elsewhere "Sure Thing" could have comfortably rubbed elbows with the likes of Juliana Hatfield and Velocity Girl.  Thanks to a considerable push from Epic, "Long Day in the Universe" and the sugary confection "Please Yourself" made the most sizable waves, garnering even more endeared Yankee ears, but bona fide stardom wasn't in the cards. Shortly after Erotica's album cycle the Buds decamped to Los Angeles and managed to eke out some promising demos just prior to what would be an amicable breakup. 

That leads me to the fifth and final installment of Killing for Love, a nicely patched together odds and sods composite of some random but fascinating demos from yesteryear, a few Erotica-era live cuts, the contents of the aforementioned L.A. demo session, with the finale featuring all four songs from the band's underpublicized 2017 reunion EP, Evergreen, a brief but effective return to form.  True, Killing... is an exhausting archive of the Darling Buds catalog writ large, but even more than a tidy summation of the band's career it's a testament to their consistency as songsmiths and dazzling melody-peddlers. Frankly, this is astonishing stuff kids. The whole enchilada is available in a clamshell box set straight from Cherry Red or Amazon.

1 comment:

Bhagpuss said...

Wow. Thanks for drawing this to my attention. I have all the studio albums but the rest would be new to me. I saw them several times in basement clubs and they were absolutely ferocious - much louder and harder than you'd imagine from the recordings. A really great band.