Sometimes reduced to a footnote in the history of rock -- Tom Robinson was openly out, singing "Glad to Be Gay" when many rockers remained in the closet -- the Tom Robinson Band was a dynamite rock & roll group, straddling the line between pub rock and punk at the end of the '70s. Their sound was full-blooded and muscular at a time when many rock & roll groups opted for jagged, reckless attacks, but Robinson took more risks politically than almost all of his punk peers, mercilessly pursuing Thatcher and taking a strong stance for gay rights. That is the context for the music collected on 2013's triple-disc anthology, which contains TRB's two studio albums -- 1978's Power in the Darkness
and 1979's TRB 2
-- singles, John Peel Sessions and BBC Sessions…the whole shebang, really; everything the group recorded during their prime. Opening with the single "2-4-6-8 Motorway" before sliding into a series of live sessions, the big roar of the Tom Robinson Band is immediately apparent, so by the time the professional punch of Power in the Darkness
arrives, it's clear that things have been tidied up but have retained their power. Todd Rundgren
wound up polishing the band even more on TRB 2
, appealingly enough, but all the live material that follows functions as a nice corrective, illustrating that TRB may have gotten more assured but hadn't lost their bite. And, when all three discs are taken together, it adds up to a convincing argument that Tom Robinson Band were one of the more underrated groups of their time: they had the songs, they had the politics, they had the flair; they just existed between two worlds, which is perhaps why they sound more appealing now than they did back then.