The Glasgow School
t may be heresy to some to say it, but Orange Juice may well end up being this generation’s Velvet Underground. During VU’s brief career, they didn’t sell many records, but their influence was felt by many. And much like the Velvets, Orange Juice’s albums have all been out-of-print at some time or another, meaning that their influence was grown from the underground, from home taping and borrowed copies, from LPs played and heard once at parties and never forgotten.
It’s ironic, though, as one of their main influences was, you guessed it, the Velvet Underground. But even a cursory listen to bands like Franz Ferdinand, Belle & Sebastian, and dozens more shows their legacy to be very much intact, despite their relative obscurity. And now, much like that halcyon period of my own youth when those original VU albums were finally reissued and I could hear once and for all what all the fuss was about, today’s generation is finally rewarded with what may be the definitive Orange Juice document, The Glasgow School.
This essential document compiles two long unavailable Postcard releases from the early 1990s, when the label briefly fired up again for both reissues and stellar new works as well (for a treat, track down former Bourgie Bourgie frontman Paul Quinn & The Independent Group’s Will I Ever Be Inside Of You?, itself something of a lost classic from this period.) The first of the two albums, The Heather’s On Fire, collected for the first time Orange Juice’s four legendary Postcard singles and put them on CD and LP for the first time. The second, Ostrich Churchyard, was the previously unreleased debut album the band recorded for the label before jumping ship for Polydor, re-recording much of the material in slicked-up fashion to be released as You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever. While that album is rightfully considered a classic in its own right, the material on The Glasgow School makes it sound pale by comparison.
In 1980, indiepop as we have come to know it did not exist yet. Someone had to invent it, and a strong case can be made that Orange Juice did just that. Self-glossed as “the Sound Of Young Scotland” as printed on the hand-folded sleeves of those early Postcard singles and inspired by the DIY ethos of punk, yet weaned on classic pop of all sorts—from the Byrds to the Velvet Underground to Chic and Motown—Edwyn Collins & Co. threw it all together and made it work: pop art imagery, funk and soul music, classic balladry, a decidedly romantic lyrical bent, a slight absurdist streak, an almost willful ignorance to learn to play properly, and an undeniable sense of energy and enthusiasm for their craft. They were rough around the edges and weren’t afraid to miss some notes; yet unlike their post-punk contemporaries, they strove toward classic pop. Led by the enigmatic Collins, whose distinctive voice was half-Bing Crosby and half-Mrs. Miller, the band invented campy romantic pop years before Morrissey and Marr perfected it. They were truly original in every sense of the word.
The Postcard singles still get blood rushing to all the right parts today, 25 years past their release date. That magical, rushing coda of “Falling And Laughing” still makes cheeks pink with that feeling of being head over heels for the first time; the double A-side of “Blue Boy” and “Love Sick” are the one-two punch that Motown would have had if they weren’t so hung up on looking smooth; “Simply Thrilled Honey” is a “Pale Blue Eyes” for the punk generation; and “Poor Old Soul” sees the band looking back with nostalgia for a time that hadn’t even yet passed. Brilliant all, and ripe to be discovered all over again, or for the very first time. Ostrich Churchyard captures the band in LP mode and running the gamut from the tear-jerking “In A Nutshell” to the uplifting Byrdsian jangle of “Dying Day” to the discofied “Satellite City” and even a seasonal take on Vic Godard’s “Holiday Hymn.” Orange Juice had it all, and it is all on display here.
While the music may be perfect, the package isn’t without flaw. In order to fit both of the Postcard albums onto CD, the bonus material from the previous separate editions was abandoned—a grand total of eight BBC radio sessions (and a hidden take on the New York Dolls’ “Who Are The Mystery Girls?” recorded while the band was still known as the Nu Sonics) that show the band at the height of their powers, and could rightfully be considered even better than the material on display here. The performances were passionate and loose and charming, especially compared to the band’s later Polydor material, but also easily outstripped Postcard’s shoddy production values. The BBC sessions maintained that early enthusiasm and ramshackle energy, but add quality recording techniques to the mix. One need listen no further than the three versions of “Falling And Laughing” to hear the difference. The Postcard single recording is almost laughably bad, with a kick drum miked-up far louder than necessary and guitars ringing to the point of making eardrums bleed. By comparison, the Polydor re-recording was a bit too glossy, still full of charm but missing the tumbling sensation of the original’s coda. The BBC session version is the best of both worlds, and to these ears at least, remains the definitive article. Hopefully this BBC material (and more) will return to the shelves someday, as well (you listening, Domino?)
These are minor complaints, however, and some Orange Juice is far better than none. Miss this reissue at your own peril.