Rough-Guy ’70s Art-Rockers at Their Not-Quite-Best


Right off the bat, Postcards From the Future: Introducing Be Bop Deluxe hits a foul ball. It omits Bill Nelson’s guitar ultimatum, “Crying to the Sky” from 1976’s Sunburst Finish. Nelson’s arena-compressed lyrical eruptions over washes of acoustics and mellotron in the solos were the finest beautiful and heavy moments of his career. Sunburst Finish was hard, fancy-schmancy, sometimes boogying—a “rough guy’s art rock.” It added exclamation points to the Axe Victim and Futurama LPs. But sonically, Nelson never came close to it again.

Often and obviously, Be Bop Deluxe riffed on the fantasy of Ziggy and the Spiders, only with more Golden Age of Science Fiction imagery and a lower-rent ostentation. If Nelson wasn’t as rock-violent as Mick Ronson, he played louder and prettier. Songs and band alter egos included “Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus” and “Funky Phazor and His Unearthly Merchandise.”

Postcards From the Future is a very average selection of Be Bop. The best parts: the guitar whomp of “Fair Exchange” and “Blazing Apostles,” “Modern Music” ‘s pop mini-opera, and the rainy six-string arabesque of “Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape.” Two other omissions, both included on the better survey, Air Age Anthology, would have fit nicely with the mood of Postcards: “Love With the Madman,” from Futurama—its languid glammy vibe conjures up old band photos of Nelson’s mates, dressed in Nazi uniforms, hauling him off for unspecified crimes. And “Down on Terminal Street,” which could have replaced anything on The Man Who Sold the World with none the wiser.