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October 29, 2007

Shortcuts—The Brit Box

Maybe you’ve wondered what happened in British pop music post-Invasion, on the tail end of the punk movement. If you're too shy to ask the record shop locals, Rhino Records has a quick and easy digest for you in the form of The Brit Box: U.K., Indie, Shoegaze And Brit-Pop Gems of the Last Millennium.

The four-disc, 78-song compilation is a chronological panorama of the bands and songs that made culture across the pond from 1984–1998. While these bands enjoyed laudatory recognition in England and reigned over the U.K. charts, many of them barely dented the American musical consciousness. Brit Box’s stateside release is looking to change all that. The set retails for $65, admittedly a rather steep price tag for the not-yet devotee, but boasts packaging in the shape of a miniature, red British phone booth (THAT LIGHTS UP) and an 80-page booklet teeming with band photos and interviews.

Disc one spans the moody vocals of The Smiths, The Cure, and The Jesus And Mary Chain, up through the acid-house dance revolution of the late-80s. The latter stylings were spearheaded in part by Manchester mainstays Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses.

On Disc Two we’re introduced to the dreamy sound of the so-called “shoegazers” of the early 90s—bands such as Ride and My Bloody Valentine. The term “shoegazer” was coined by the British press to describe band members who generally spent more time looking at their feet than facing the audience during performances.

Dubbed by some as Cool Britannia, the mid-90s was perhaps the apex of the Britpop era, and is covered in Disc Three. All the big-timers of the era are here: New Order, Blur, Oasis, Pulp, and Stereolab. Each get a word in, whether with a club hit or stadium power ballad.

The soundtrack of the Britpop comedown arrives on Disc Four, featuring tracks from the likes of Spiritualized, The Verve, and Placebo.

All in all a fairly well put together listen, excepting one glaring oversight: I can’t really understand how anyone makes an assemblage of British pop-music history since the 1980s and neglects to include New Order’s seminal dance track “Blue Monday.” Put down an extra dollar on iTunes for that and, next to Brit Box, you’ll be on your way to a proper discovery of Britain’s post-punk musical landscapes.