Guitarist/leader Bill Nelson has always had his head in a space that's defined by the 1950s World's Fair idea of the future - a world of monorails and strange machines. This is particularly evident here, with Nelson's affection for Japan competing for space with paeans to electrical communication. At times charming and even romantic, at other times outré, Drastic Plastic marked the end of the band and hinted at Nelson's musical experiments to come.
Originally released on white vinyl as a double set in which one disc was an LP while the other was a 12" EP, Live! In the Air Age is an impressive testament to one of prog rock's more interesting results. Bandleader Bill Nelson is better known for his solo work of the '80s and on, but prior to that he was a burgeoning guitar hero with a blazing style and a talented bunch of players backing him up.
Things had changed for Be Bop Deluxe by the time of the group's fourth album. The band that turned up in glam rock regalia on its 1974 debut, Axe Victim, was in suit and tie on the cover of Modern Music in 1976. Inside, the band's transformation into a sophisticated pop group seemed complete. Arrangements were still ornate, but the songs were dominated by their highly imagistic lyrics, and as often as not, Nelson was borrowing ideas from the Beatles. It didn't quite work, despite pleasant numbers such as "Orphans of Babylon" and "Kiss of Light," perhaps because a true pop sensibility requires a gift for simplicity that Nelson has never exhibited. The album charted high in England and made the Top 100 in the U.S., but it was Be Bop's peak, not its breakthrough.
Adding keyboard player Andrew Clark to make Be Bop Deluxe a quartet, Bill Nelson finally found a balance between his virtuosic guitar playing and the demands of pop songwriting. The arrangements were still busy, but the humor of Nelson's music was on display as never before, and the songs frequently were catchy. For the first time, it began to seem that the group had a future beyond serving as a foundation for Nelson's splashy guitar work, as Be Bop Deluxe charted in the U.S. and the U.K. and even scored a Top 25 British hit with "Ships in the Night.
The original version of Futurama was a little weak on songwriting content, though long on virtuoso music passages. This expanded reissue is a partial improvement, though not because it addresses those problems; rather, it's just got more of something different, in this case the more commercial (and quite beautiful) single version of "Between the Worlds," plus a scintillating live version of "Maid in Heaven," and the achingly lyrical "Speed of the Wind" – the latter shows off the more reflective side of this band and progressive rock in general, of a piece with King Crimson's "Book of Saturday," and emphasizing their gentler approach to singing and playing. The sound throughout is excellent, and the annotation is reasonably thorough as well.
When Be Bop Deluxe's first album was released during the glam rock wave in 1974 and the band (then comprised of Bill Nelson and Ian Parkin on guitars, Robert Bryan on bass, and Nicholas Chatterton-Dew on drums) turned up on the back of the record cover in heavy makeup, it was viewed as being in the David Bowie mold, which certainly took in Nelson's thin but confident tenor vocals and the uptempo rock approach, and even ballads like "Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape" that sounded a lot like Bowie's "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide."
This 18-track set from Be Bop Deluxe's short but productive four-year, six-album career captures a handful of highlights from each release, and adds both sides of a rare 1973 single, which see their first CD appearance…
Be Bop Deluxe at the BBC is a 3CD+DVD set that features the work of the English prog rock band while at the Beeb. In total, 39 tracks across the three audio discs take in numerous John Peel sessions and ‘BBC In Concert’ performances, while the DVD includes many Old Grey Whistle Test appearances and footage of numbers played on the ‘Sight and Sound in Concert’ TV programme.
This release includes all five of Be Bop Deluxe's studio albums, with additional bonus tracks, plus an additional disc of previously unreleased home demos, rough studio mixes and live recordings. The recordings have all been freshly remastered and the project over-seen by Bill Nelson. All bonus tracks added to the 1990 CD releases have been remastered and added to this release too, except for the bonus live tracks on the 'Axe Victim' release. This remaster is an improvement upon the 1990 releases, and has thankfully avoided being 'brick-walled'. I would suggest this is the last word on digital 16-bit releases of these studio albums.
Air Age Anthology is a double-disc set covering Be Bop Deluxe's entire career, culling highlights from each record (although the booklet doesn't tell which track came from which album). Be Bop Deluxe was an album-oriented band, but this compilation nevertheless encapsulates the group's appeal and achievements, making it useful for casual fans.