Gary Steel is slowly compiling all his album reviews in one place. This is a work in progress, or what we call a “live document”. Today is the letter ‘V’.
Mike Oldfield and the Sex Pistols have but one thing in common – Virginity, a New Zealand-compiled cost price double album sampling choice cuts from the Virgin catalogue.
Up to 1976, the Virgin roster was typified by their first release (in 1973), Oldfield’s multimillion-selling Tubular Bells, but an about-face transpired with the coming of punk and new wave.
They were the first major company to realise the worth of this music, hence their near-total monopoly on much of the best British music today.
Surprisingly, side three of Virginity, which features several of their early signings, is largely disappointing.
Mike Oldfield rehashes Tubular Bells once again, synthesiser group Tangerine Dream trot out a tired-sounding atmospheric soundscape (mood music), songwriter Kevin Coyne proves he’s as bankrupt of musical ideas as he is exceptional lyrically, former new wave group The Motors go disco, and Johnny Rotten and his mum spew out an overlong, self-important interview.
The remaining sides are sheer delight though. On Side 1, Magazine – brain-child of intellectual Howard Devoto – and XTC get two tracks apiece. Interview and Penetration throw some exceptional power-pop our way, and John Lydon’s (aka Rotten’s) new group Public Image floor us with ‘Low Life’, at once a cry of pain and derision.
Side 2 is predominantly disco. Former glam-rockers Sparks team up with Donna Summer’s producer Giorgio Moroder for the ingenious ‘La Dolce Vita’, and Sparks crop up again producing ‘I Want A Man’ by Noel, whoever that may be. Supercharge weigh in with an overlong and slight disco satire. The Records appear with the straight pop of ‘Girls That Don’t Exist’, and Steve Hillage plays a lengthy virtuoso guitar solo on Donovan’s ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’.
Two classic new wave songs, the Members’ ode to living in a bed-sit ‘Solitary Confinement’, and the Skids’ ‘Into The Valley’, open Side 4, and two from the Virgin reggae catalogue (one by the religious Culture, the other by the extravagant Sly Dunbar) close the album.
In between are sandwiched the Sex Pistols’ version of The Who’s ‘Substitute’ and the straight-ahead energetic rock of the Ruts’ ‘Babylon’s Burning’. Anyone even casually interested in contemporary music should be loath to miss this. 7/10