LEVEL 42 Reissues Universal (2007)
Level 42 sum up Thatcher's Britain more than perhaps any other UK band, and that's not meant as an insult. Their period of chart popularity coincided with the 'Loadsa Money' culture.
To that extent, they are of their time and the pumping basslines and keyboard stings will sound dated to anyone other than those of a certain age who may have shagged to the band's backbeat - or at least pondered their investment portfolio to the funky undertow.
You will be thinking: "Have Level 42 a place in the lexicon of rock?" In truth probably not, but the early albums represented here occasionally melded rock figures and funk via Boon Gould's guitar (Boon also doubled up on alto saxophone). And of course they had the great rock/blues veteran Mike Vernon as producer who had the knack of capturing a band's live sound in the studio.
The Early Tapes July/August 1980 (Universal/Polydor 9843572) was originally released by Polydor in 1982 in the wake of their success with 'The Pursuit Of Accidents'. It included a couple of fine instrumentals and the early single 'Love Meeting Love'.
This album does show the nascent band before they achieved wider acclaim with a focus on their great musicianship. This reissue is bolstered by three bonus live tracks from the BBC in 1981 and a US mix of 'Wings Of Love'. ***½
The eponymous debut on Polydor (Universal/Polydor 9843571) captures a youthful band who demonstrated that UK funksters could play the USA funksters at their own game. The album also attests the importance of 'fifth band member' collaborator and keyboards wizard Wally Badarou.
Level 42 crafted a pop awareness to their funky tunes and this CD yielded the early single hits 'Turn It On', 'Starchild' and 'Love Games'. Bonus tracks include live versions of these tracks plus the busy 'Heathrow', 'Why Are You Leaving' and an extended version of 'Starchild'. ***½
1982's The Pursuit Of Accidents (9843573) built on the success of their debut and produced further hit singles in the form of 'Weave Your Spell' and 'The Chinese Way' whilst demonstrating more subtle compositional skills on 'Eyes Waterfalling (The Prodigy)". The title track was a long instrumental showcase and it is easy to see why the band so impressed their jazz-funk peers, not least Earth, Wind & Fire who later produced them. Bonus tracks include three BBC Radio live versions from 1983 and a US remix of 'The Chinese Way'. ***½
The Universal reissue series has done the band proud, not least the splendid double CD reissue of World Machine (9843543) which features the original album (1985) plus a whole CD of unreleased cuts,live versions, and remixes.
There was pressure on the band to come up with the goods on this one, after the previous 'True Colours' dipped in terms of sales.
The band were rewarded with their biggest hit single to date, 'Something About You' followed by 'Leaving Me Now' - a slower track that would set a template for future slow-burners. The first single, and the album, secured the band international - and US - success and consolidated their contract with Polydor.
Produced by Wally Badarou with the band, it's a more mature work than anything else before it. The slinky funk of 'Physical Presence' and the more upbeat 'I Sleep On My Heart' are particular standouts. ****
With hindsight, a lot of the non-single album tracks are not as durable as one might have hoped for. As time went on, the bass propellered, synth-coloured, falsetto and sometimes scat-vocalled, tunes did get a bit boring and predictable.
Hence it will comes as no surprise that the band imploded circa 1987 after their major recording and touring success with 'Running In The Family'. The Gould brothers left and the band went through several line-up changes, never recapturing the glory days. Like Mrs Thatcher, Level 42 were out of favour by 1990.
Review by David Randall
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