Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Zilch resurfaces: get it before Japan catches fire and we have to look for the copy of Japan that we left in the glove compartment of the rental car.*

Shack are a British band, plagued with bad luck and a generally low profile that's even lower in America, to the point of nonexistence. Next week will likely be devoted to them.

A fast, fast, fast overview for everyone who doesn't know them (which is pretty much...everyone in the US). They're an often glorious pop group who've released a number of albums that might be described as Beatles/Byrds/Love filtered through the sound of late 80's England turning into early 90's England (i.e. Tha La's edging into Oasis, especially if Oasis had been composed of introverted Love fans). If I had to try to hook your interest quickly, I'd mention that they were Arthur Lee's backing band for one of his tours where he performed his old catalog. A bootleg of that was subsequently issued legitimately...details are here.

I make the Oasis comparison with hesitation, given that the word "Oasis" conjures up a lot of associations that have nothing to do with Shack, but Shack's big pop move (1999's H.M.S. Fable) had the makings of an Oasis-level, 60's-updated-to-90's, hit. It wasn't. Around the same time, the group released a series of import-only singles that, assembled, could have formed a second hit record. The story of Shack is filled with disasters, labels folding, great material going unheard, etc. Their true fans are gluttons for punishment. A month or so ago, these fans had to suffer through a bit of good news.

The joke goes that Shack's first album, Zilch, was named for the number of copies it sold. Pretty much since its release, it's been incredibly hard to find a copy. That finally changed very recently, when the good folks of Japan, the music lover's favorite country, saw fit to reissue it with bonus tracks (if you've noticed copies of Zilch showing up on eBay lately, now you know why). In one of the most astounding examples of the glories of the modern world, I ordered a copy of the reissue on a Saturday from HMV Japan and received it the following Monday. Total cost with shipping was 4800 yen, which is probably several million dollars at this point, but I'll find out when the credit card bill arrives.

I'd been making do with a CDR, and the reissue is beautiful, coming in one of those pretty replica lp sleeves (thankfully missing the ugly logo in the picture above) and including a number of bonus songs that I'd never heard, plus what appear to be extensive liner notes that I can't read. It's a very nice package.

Zilch, with some held-over-from-the-80's production, isn't the album I'd use to convert the unconverted. The drum sounds can be distracting, and the songs, while great, are subtle and need time to grow on you. But, for people who follow the band this is pretty big news. I'll try the unconverted-converting thing next week, but meanwhile here's John Kline and Who Killed Clayton Square. On the latter track, you can hear the group kind of nosing around the edges of the Manchester sound, something that they wouldn't really end up pursuing. With the exception of a dated remix of I Know You Well, the extra tracks on the reissue (mostly singles and b-sides) are worth having.

*Where I give in to the rock writer's urge to make semi-obscure references in the title of the piece. Google "shack waterpistol glove compartment" for details.

John Kline by Shack
Who Killed Clayton Square by Shack

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