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Just Say Sire: The Sire Records Story – various artists

Rhino/Sire 74665

Being a jamband fan means that you're not a musical purist. How can you be if what you're supporting is like a recipe for soup — a cup of this and a pinch of that added to the overall mix in order to give it flavor.
But, in other matters I can't help but demand a more pure vision. Some things should not be played with, and the creators of boxed sets should just stop their meddling once and for all. I'm talking about the idea of re-imagining history as the "shuffle" button on your CD player or iPod. If the purpose of a multi-disc set is to give weight and significance to the subject, then presenting it in a chronological manner offers additional depth to the aural story. Rather than just relying on an essay detailing what the artist went through to make this song or that album, the winding road of creative peaks (and valleys) can be heard though your speakers. It provides the listeners with illumination to a specific moment in someone's career.

This rant comes about thanks to the odd handling and sequencing of the three-CD/one DVD Just Say Sire: The Sire Records Story. With material jump cutting back and forth over three decades, it’s like a Quentin Tarantino film. Similar to the multiple pieces that make up his storylines, the Sire set does find cohesion due to a roster that elicited bountiful riches.

Sire Records actually began in 1966 by Seymour Stein and producer Richard Gottehrer. (In fact, Stein's work as an executive was recognized earlier this year when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.) But the label's peak years came about during the mid-'70s through mid-'90s, when it began to sign acts that were either the alternative to what was going on at that time or particularly talented in a particular style. For years Sire's roster was filled with punk rock acts from New York (The Ramones, Richard Hell & the Voidoids), New Wave (The Smiths, Modern English) and SynthPop (Depeche Mode, Erasure), artists from Great Britain and just about anything else that aided college radio deejays across North America to fill their weekly playlists (The Cult, Morcheeba, The Replacements, Lou Reed, Throwing Muses, Ministry, Wilco, My Bloody Valentine, Talking Heads).

It wasn't just one sound that made Sire, but it's hard to deny the fact that Madonna helped make the label prosper. It reminds me of a response Paul Westerberg of The Replacements had when confronted with how he feels to be on the same label with her. He said he didn't mind because her success allowed bands like his to remain on a major label. Cynical, yes, but more than likely true — which may be the reason why a Madonna tune starts off the set. Only problem is "Everybody" isn't infused with the power of "Holiday" or "Lucky Star." Next we travel back two years for The English Beat's still exciting ska workout, "Mirror In The Bathroom." While interesting as another chapter in Sire's story, "Kiss Me" by Tin Tin just sounds weak.

At this point I had to stop, even with liner notes that promised so much more. Realizing that there would be the occasional bump in the road, I moved forward and found that the majority of the set's 61 tracks represented a consistent quality. Of course, the other pleasure comes from hearing an artist or song for the first time and coming to the conclusion that it justifies selection among defining material by Tom Tom Club, Seal, k.d. lang, Ice T., Dead Boys and others. That's especially true during the trio of cuts by The Saints, Plastic Bertrand and The Rezillos. Together, it showed that hook-laden punk rock knew no borders as it ran from Australia, Belgium and Scotland respectively.

I could find fault with the lack of rarities and unreleased tracks, but its existence rests as a celebration of the label's heyday rather than a compilation of B-sides and tracks that have collected dust on unmixed studio tapes. Understandably that could be compiled on some box set of the future.

The DVD supplements the choices on the three CDs by including additional Talking Heads, Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen material while providing clips of a few artists who weren't represented earlier. Although it starts a little slow, Just Say Sire offers a strong portrait of a label and a time period where the breadth of creativity rivals the valued classic rock of the Sixties.

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