Compilation of bonkers high-concept pop combo's first essential releases...

Enter the domain of pop discourse and you will find that the term ‘mad’ has been debased beyond usefulness. In actual fact, mental illness and a career in rock tend to be mutually exclusive. Charles Manson is mad. Mansun, on the other hand, are quite patently not. Madness, crazily enough, are sane. And so on. Were The Beta Band really as demented as conventional wisdom dictates, they could have landed a sponsorship deal with Britain’s leading straitjacket manufacturer by now. As it is, their record company has compiled the Anglo-Scots quartet’s three EPs into an album, prompted by black market exchanges of up to 40 quid for the originals. Now that’s mad…

Of course, it all boils down to the poverty of imagination in the post-Britpop compost heap that anyone not clunking out refried versions of early Supergrass B-sides while calling themselves The Tearaway Tossers must be, [I]a priori[/I], bonkers. From what one can gather, The Beta Band are a pretty disorganised bunch, accident-prone and fond of giving free rein to their anarchic impulses. Some of them went to art school, apparently. Yet the lasting impression left by ‘The 3 EPs’ is just how reassuring their cosmic folk slop tastes. Granted, this a wildly eclectic brew, and midway through the 15 minutes of ‘The Monolith’ they do metamorphose into Funkadelic as heard through a distressed radio speaker inhabited by hermaphrodite gnomes, but it’s hardly ‘Beta: The Asylum Years’.

Indeed, what makes The Beta Band such a powerful proposition is their ability to pervert the traditional campfire ballad in myriad ways, without appearing contrived (hello Gomez, and, if you please, goodbye) or losing its kernel of warmth. Collectively, these 12 songs leave you gasping, not only at the frenzied sense of enterprise but also the combustible emotional depths therein. Even an item as ostensibly flip as ‘Dog’s Got A Bone’ (“all of his own”) fathoms an inchoate sob: [I]”Can’t help this feeling of feeling so alone”[/I]. ‘Dry The Rain’ encapsulates the typical Beta duality in its first verse: [I]”This is the story of my life/ Lying in bed in the sunlight/Choking on the vitamin tablets the doctor gave in the hope of saving me”[/I]. The lighters-out chorus seals this most bittersweet of homegrown symphonies.

Heard in one cumulative wedge, the leap from the primitive ‘Champion Versions’ debut through ‘The Patty Patty Sound”s pawky psychedelic dub and up to the spooked avant-pop of ‘Los Amigos…’ is dramatic and suggests a group still assimilating the magic at their fingertips. In less than 12 months Steve Mason’s woebegone mumble has assumed seriously mournful qualities on ‘Dr Baker’. Meanwhile, ‘Needles In My Eyes’ opens with a snippet of live seagull action before its organ-driven tale of narcoleptic doom evolves into an unobtrusively beautiful song, like REM had they decided all those years ago to stay weird.

It’s early days, of course. But on their latter two EPs alone, The Beta Band have dared to turn pop convention on its head, lather the tired old beast in hot buttered soul, and still emerge utterly groovy. If this is madness, pass the medication.