Friday, May 21, 2021

Duff Review: The Selecter "Too Much Pressure" Deluxe 40th Anniversary Reissue!

A rude boy in a suit leans up against a wall with his head in the crook of his elbow. His pork pie hat is on the ground next to him.
(Review by Steve Shafer)

During their intense, year-long association with 2 Tone,* The Selecter always seemed to have been unfairly overshadowed in the press by their label co-directors and mates The Specials, despite that fact that The Selecter' original songs were as good (if not better) and relevant (addressing racism, street violence, alienation, and the "no future"/"nothing to do, nowhere to go" of Thatcher's England)--and their live performances just as incendiary. So, it's wonderfully fitting that of all the recent 2 Tone 40th anniversary releases, the deluxe reissue of The Selecter's debut 1980 album Too Much Pressure is by far the best. 

The triple-CD deluxe edition of Too Much Pressure features the remastered version of the original album; a second disc of related singles, their 1979 John Peel session, and several previously unreleased recordings; a third disc of previously unreleased live tracks from two hometown concerts in Coventry from '79 and '80; and excellent, copious liner notes by Daniel Rachel (read my interview with him about this project), as well as track-by-track commentary by several members of the band (it should be noted that none of the other recent 2 Tone 40th Anniversary reissues were expanded and included unreleased material from the vaults). The heavyweight LP version of Too Much Pressure (mine is clear vinyl!) features a half-speed master, plus a copy of The Selecter's debut single "On My Radio" b/w "Too Much Pressure" (in the 2 Tone sleeve)--and if you ordered a copy from the 2 Tone store like I did, they included a 7" EP containing the four aforementioned live tracks from 1980 (the '79 concert will be released on vinyl during the second Record Store Day drop this summer). Die-hard Selecter/2 Tone fans will want--and be very pleased with--both editions. 

The pairing of the Roger Lomas-produced "On My Radio" b/w "Too Much Pressure" single with the Too Much Pressure LP inadvertently underscores just how perfectly suited he was as The Selecter's producer. (First listen to the single and then the LP.) While Errol Ross did a very good job with producing the album, the tracks don't quite capture the power and punch of anything The Selecter recorded with Lomas (and there are many more examples of Lomas' work with them on the second disc of the triple-CD). At the time, according to Rachel's liner notes (and Neol Davies told me in an interview published in The Duff Guide to 2 Tone), the choice of Ross as producer was controversial within the band (Davies wanted Lomas, but more members of the band voted for Charley Anderson's friend Ross) and none of the band members were completely satisfied with the end results. So, Lomas was recruited again for "The Whisper" single and the band's sophomore LP Celebrate the Bullet--a very under appreciated album--read my write-up of it here. (The Specials had a similar issue with Elvis Costello's production for their debut album; he didn't quite capture the band's sound in the studio as well as Dave Jordan (More Specials) or John Collins (Ghost Town EP), which was evident when the bootleg Live at the Moonlight Club hit the streets prior to The Specials and the former made for a much better debut album--read my review of official 2 Tone/Chrysalis 2014 release of Live at the Moonlight Club here.)

Disc two of the CD set ("Singles, B-Sides & Rarities") contains a fantastic, previously unreleased, alternate (and more urgent) take of "Three Minute Hero" produced my Lomas for the band's lip-synched 1980 appearance on "Top of the Pops" (Errol produced the version released on the single). There's also an awesome, unreleased synth-washed version of "Cool Blue Lady" which was recorded by Lomas during "The Whisper" sessions (a second version of the track appeared on Celebrate). I learned from the liner notes that the superior version of "Street Feeling" on this disc that was included on the 12" of "The Whisper" was actually from the "On My Radio" b/w "Too Much Pressure" sessions (as Gaps said, "We recorded three songs and let the record company choose [what was on their first single]"). And rounding out the unreleased material on this CD is a brilliant medley/mash-up of Lee Perry's "A Live Injection," a bit of Tommy James and the Shondells' "Mony Mony," and "Too Much Pressure" recorded during a soundcheck in 1980. Plus, if you never got your hands on a copy of the "Ready Mix Radio" version of "On My Radio" done by Lomas and released as a freebie on flexi-disc for the first issue of Flexipop magazine in November of 1980, here's your chance to hear it (I have the flexi, but the track sounds loads better on CD). 

The majority of live material on disc 3 of the CD set is from The Selecter's November 1979 concert at Tiffany's in Coventry, which was part of the UK 2 Tone Tour with The Specials and Madness. The Selecter had only been together for about six months at this point (and they were slated to start recording their debut album the next month), but their songs and performance are absolutely magnificent. Of course, it helped that most of the members of The Selecter previously had played together in other Coventry bands like Hard Top 22 and Neol Davies already had ace material that he written and performed ("On My Radio," "Out in the Streets," and "Street Feeling") with The Transposed Men (which included The Specials' John Bradbury and Desmond Brown). But still, it's extraordinary how good and confident and entertaining the band were so early in their existence. 

One of the greatest stories revealed in Rachel's liner notes comes from their first recording session with Roger Lomas. The producer had seen them opening for The Ruts and knew that "On My Radio" was perfect for their debut single, but he didn't know the name of the track. When The Selecter played their set for him, but he didn't hear that hit song. So, Lomas asked if there was anything else and they responded "On My Radio," but they were reluctant to play it, because they thought it was like "a bloody Eurovision Contest song"! 

This definitive edition of Too Much Pressure brilliantly documents The Selecter's enduring 2 Tone legacy. Get it! 

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(*They left 2 Tone for Chrysalis proper for "The Whisper" and Celebrate the Bullet releases.)

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