By now the English punk rock scene is more than just an item in the news but a commercially viable institution, and the labels over there which started as back-of-a-sedan operations (such as Chiswick and Stiff) are emerging as the moneymakers of tomorrow. Bands like The Damned, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Stranglers are more than just concert attractions, but are making the charts as well. And so the labels are beginning to have identities of their own, with one of the most promising, Stiff, releasing a sampler album featuring a few previously available tracks, some special bonus unreleased ditties from non-Stiff (but Stiff-affiliated) artists, and a track or two from artists yet to release anything on their own. All in all, an interesting concept which works well in practice, and surprisingly enough the best features of the album are the new artists Stiff has yet to unleash upon the public at large.
The two artists who make the album are Elvis Costello (who may or may not be Nick Lowe, Stiff's sometimes producer and a recording star in his own right — his "I Love My Label" is amusing here but nowhere near his "Heart of the City" single) and Wreckless Eric. Elvis rests a hysterical Kennedy Assassination lyric upon a backing track which sounds like a 1977 update of the "Hang On Sloopy"/"Twist and Shout" syndrome, coupled with a vocal delivery not unlike early Van Morrison. To say the very least, he's a phenomenal talent and unlike anything/anyone else currently making records (by the way, this song entitled "Less Than Zero" was released as a single in the UK with minor impact for some reason unbeknownst to this writer) and should provide the Seventies and Eighties with many more records like this one I should hope. Eric, on the other hand, who seems like the punk embodiment of Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, has a sense of humor, and a voice made of raw raunch. Other items of interest include two tracks by Graham Parker (a Dylan mockery called "Food" and "Back to Schooldays"), a Chuck Berry cover by Dave Edmunds (distinguished primarily by its phasing), the Chantels' "Maybe" covered by Jill Read (beats the original), and several other items of interest and amusement. All in all, a value for your money.
The productions of Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe are also featured prominently here, and although they have been characterized as being slightly throwback due to certain sonic debts to Phil Spector, Norman Petty, and Sam Phillips however... this listener finds no faults in their sound. Adjectives like "crude" do apply at times, but at least these discs don't sound like your typical 1970s record. I mean, records nowadays sound like too much plastic and lacquer; Stiff Records remembered to leave the music there, too, and that's a bold move in this dry age.