The Big Stiff Box Set
There's a certain rude humor to the title of Salvo's The Big Stiff Box Set, a humor that's entirely appropriate for a box commemorating the messiest, drunkest rock & roll label ever. The Big Stiff Box Set isn't the first box of Stiff Records produced -- Demon/Rhino released one in 1992, one that was sloppy enough to carry a vinyl transfer of Richard Hell's "Blank Generation," complete with cracks, pops and turntable wobble -- and it falls just short of being the best, but it's pretty damn great all the same, capturing the ragged glory and ludicrous splendor of the label. Which ain't to say that it's perfect: three songs in, it's almost derailed by Roogalator's choogling "All Aboard" and it extends way to late, right to the revived Stiff of the new millennium. But Stiff was all about their flaws, so it's only right that The Big Stiff Box Set isn't polished: it's tattered and frayed, as it should be. Despite the quarrels and quibbles over the track listings -- to get back to Roogalator (as all good pub rock discussions inevitably do), where's "Cincinnati Fatback"?; licensing restrictions may be the reason why there's only one track a piece from Elvis Costello and Madness -- this hits most of the high spots, and there are loads of them: all the big singles from Nick Lowe, Ian Dury, Wreckless Eric, the Damned, Lene Lovich, Jona Lewie, Kirsty MacColl, Any Trouble, Tenpole Tudor and the Pogues, plus great one-shots from Tyla Gang, Max Wall, the Yachts, Larry Wallis, Mick Farren, Humphrey Ocean, the Rumour, Dirty Looks, Desmond Dekker and many others. A lot of this was on the first Stiff box, but The Big Stiff Box Set distinguishes itself from its predecessor -- and, in doing so, makes it necessary for those who already have the first -- but adding singles not found on its predecessor, including great moments and/or notable novelties from Plummet Airlines, Ernie Graham singing Thin Lizzy, the Sports, the Subs, Pointed Sticks, Motor Boys Motor, the Equators, Nigel Dixon, the Dancing Did, Brigit Novik & M and Yello. True, some of this unheard stuff borders on the outright silly, but Stiff's glee in irreverence is what made it a great label, and it's nice to know that no amount of historical reverence -- such as a big box with a very nice accompanying book -- can camouflage this essence.
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