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The synthesizer’s bubbling like a mischievously well-tuned fart as the meat-market beat starts, and why wouldn’t it? After all, it’s nearly 1983—ancient astronauts like Bowie and Roxy were luring their robot-disco tricks home to rock all the way back in ’75. All the more reason for young Edwyn Collins, frontman of Orange Juice, to march in place: Scottish burr and slight lisp be as damned as expired fashion, he’s doggedly keeping up with the same old thing, the same old first-vision-of/lost-chance-for love: The line “When I saw you standin’ salty in the rain” is still music to his wounds. “Rip it up and start again,” he suddenly commands himself, taking over the (his) guitar’s tauntingly taut appropriation of Chic’s cheerful “Good Times” lick. Ah, but soon he’s adding “Swallow my pride” with a humorous Bowie-frog gulp, and it looks like “Rip It Up” is gonna settle into a lovable tears-of-the-clownin’, semi-fly-for-a-white guy funk. Yet something’s waiting at the bridge.
Collins sways up to the bar line, sounding a bit worse for wear, yet stealthily launching the song’s second melody with “Where I take my pen/And feel obliged to start again,” even though he knows, like you know, that “There are things in life/One can’t quite express.” Then again, “You know me, I’m acting dumb-dumb/You know the scene is very humdrum/And my favorite song is/’Bo-oh-ore-dom’!” That sweet punchline’s initial, dead-on delivery is replaced by a slightly absent-minded (though well-earned) vocal agility, as if Collins is anticipating his latest OJ temp’s big (and equally well-earned) guitar solo, during the song’s appearance in the late-’84 concert on the DVD that accompanies the six CDs in Orange Juice’s new box set, Coals to Newcastle.
Coals contains OJ’s very, very complete output, including tracks rescued from flexi-discs, B-side stingers, 12-inch dub mixes, and demos, alongside the two and a half albums completed and released during the band’s 1979–1985 active status: 124 remastered audio tracks total, including 16 previously unreleased. The DVD adds a couple early videos for singles to the TV performances and concert footage previously issued on VHS as Dada With (the) Juice. All incarnations of “Rip It Up,” OJ’s funky, punky, soulful, and sole Greatest Hit, mellifluously meld the band-written, non-disco bridge with the concluding “dumb-dumb” lines, which are, in fact, from “Boredom,” a Buzzcocks song born Anno Punkemi 1977. That’s also when Coals begins, with sometimes-ghostly punk tumult still breathing, albeit near quivering bowls of Collins’s (passing) vocal angst. Good influences and/or getting a life are mostly what this box is about. For another instance, several key members of Glasgow’s changeable Juice crew lived their formative years in Africa, which may be why dynamics get flexed in certain ways, usually not too self-consciously, and always in the nick of time.
Naturally, boxy suspense is provided by spuds and duds in our passway. You probably don’t need the French or even the instrumental version of “Poor Old Soul,” but we all need the original version’s gentle touch to bleed on our best frenemies. Ditto “Tender Object” and “You Old Eccentric,” which betray no ageist spite: Just Collins and his colleagues’ somewhat serious in-jokes, though their rich implications calmly connect with other songs’ urgent, obsessively reasoning need to figure out how far to take things. Especially the things you take to your lover-in-progress, and your bank.
Do take them “In a Nutshell,” one of OJ’s most beautiful ballads, thus its homely title. A little cautionary deflation, like when even the late-blooming DVD’s Dada concert, despite being chopped into “chapters,” nurtures “All That Matters” by vividly refreshing crooner Collins’s swoon-worthy rhyme of “Now I realize” with “Our demise,” and tacking on a spontaneously goofy quote of Paul Anka’s goofy-as-written “Diana,” which squeaks truth to love’s power, adding zen flavor to the buzz.
Disc Six’s 18 songs of detailed clarity, as written and performed by varying OJ lineups in a sequence of BBC sessions, finally rattle free of the original versions’ personal and professional considerations, free enough to reach new narrative momentum, within and between themselves. So the considerations get a new dance, too, of course, as childhood’s end spins on like this.