Missed them first time round? It’s time to put that right
You may well have heard of The Beta Band, but let’s refresh your memory. They’re the group that released their first three EPs to unanimous acclaim, then made the cover of NME, only to famously rubbish their debut album proper on the pages inside.
The Scottish four-piece then got a massive boost when they were bigged up in the 2000 Hollywood adaptation of High Fidelity, Nick Hornby’s popular tale of a romantic music obsessive. Profile duly raised, they also got celebrity patronage in the shape of a certain Noel Gallagher, who was not shy about admitting that Oasis’ 2000 Number One single ‘Go Let It Out’ ripped off not just one but two of the band’s songs – ‘Dry The Rain’ (intro) and ‘Inner Meet Me’ (riff).
So far, so good. The Beta Band then lined up a cracking single (‘Squares’) to showcase their eagerly awaited next album (2001’s ‘Hot Shots II’), only to have it shelved at the last minute because someone else (I Monster) was using the same Gunter Kallman Choir sample. A couple of years on, the Betas released their most commercial record yet (‘Heroes To Zeros’), produced by Radiohead knob twiddler Nigel Godrich and complete with ace superhero sleeve. Unfortunately it flopped, making it financially impossible for them to carry on.
So while The Beta Band’s career was certainly eventful, the bottom line is that they didn’t sell enough records. Like kindred spirits Super Furry Animals, they almost always got great reviews and were regularly cited by both journalists and bands as an inspiration, but they were too wilfully perverse to ever penetrate the mainstream fully. And, they never gave the impression that they ever really wanted to.
But like all great innovators, you can hear their influence all over the place. And those who aped their style reaped the rewards. As well as Oasis’ success, how else do you think Gomez won the Mercury Music Prize? By rerouting The Beta Band’s pioneering eclecticism down the Mississippi Delta and then coining it in. And now Arcade Fire are presenting essentially the same idea(s), but people are actually buying their records, as well as pontificating about them at length in the broadsheets.
Anyway, this collection is here to remind us how utterly brilliant The Beta Band were. And it hangs together far better than any of the group’s studio albums ever did.
There’s not a single duff track, and it takes in woozy psych (‘Dr Baker’), skyscraping guitar anthems (‘Assessment’), romantic trip-hop balladry (‘To You Alone’) and druggy mantras (‘She’s The One’). And in the aforementioned ‘Dry The Rain’, the group have a song so damn uplifting it could even make Kele Okereke crack a smile. The opening track on their 1997 Nick McCabe-produced debut EP ‘Champion Versions’, it remains their definitive statement.
This compilation, which comes with an excellent live disc featuring the band’s farewell London show, signals the official end of one of the most innovative, playful and challenging British groups of modern times. For those who fell in love with them, the affair will continue to endure – and for those about to discover them through this outstanding collection, well, welcome to the history lesson. It’s one you won’t forget in a hurry.