Th' Faith Healers, Stereolab, PJ Harvey, Too Pure - The Peel Sessions

REVIEW: Th' Faith Healers, Stereolab, PJ Harvey, Too Pure - The Peel Sessions (Strange Fruit)

- Richard Ellenson

Paul Cox and Richard Roberts's Too Pure label has by now gained quite a reputation; this was where PJ Harvey and Stereolab began; this is the label that all through the Britpop craze housed bands as uncompromising as Th' Faith Healers, Pram or Moonshake; this is the label that was so desperate for money that it was nicknamed Too Poor and got only barely saved by Ivo Watts Russell (of 4AD) buying a third of the shares.

This sampler takes us back to the days of Too Pure's beginnings - and their first bands. Here are live versions that vintage Too Pure bands recorded for BBC Radio One's John Peel show. The record comes as a CD or 10"; buy the 10" if you get one, not only is it limited to 3499 numbered copies, but each of them has an individual sleeve, handpainted by the "Bastard Banjo Brothers". Artsy. I was impressed. Mine is number 2707, by the way.

Th' Faith Healers were the first band to sign with Too Pure. The three songs here never made it onto any album, but "Coffee Commercial Couples", "Bobby Kopper" and "Jesus Freak" all have the sarcasm, the anger and the abrasiveness that's typical of the Healers. Not as good as their later stuff, but it's interesting to see where they started.

Then there's four songs by Stereolab. Need I say anything about them? They're indie celebrities by now, only these recordings date back to 1991; in fact "Super-Electric" and "Doubt" were their first singles, and if you don't have the somewhat e(xc)lusive Switched On CD, you probably won't even know these titles.

By far the most powerful of these artists is PJ Harvey. All the titles on this sampler can be found on her first album Dry, but it simply feels good to hear them again even less diluted than on that album. What a voice! What power! I'm still stunned. Especially "Oh My Lover" strikes me as one of her best songs ever.

It's funny to look back to 1991 and watch three bands who started more or less on the same premises: PJ Harvey became a star, Stereolab reached Indie Heaven, and Th' Faith Healers - well, they disbanded after two brilliant albums of which nobody took notice. So turn back the clock and listen to three bands right at the beginning of their respective careers. It's an experience.

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