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Dodgy – The A&M Years (Edsel)

I often feel as though Dodgy, a little like The Wonder Stuff a few years before them, fell victim to public imperceptions due to the commerciality of their biggest hit single. In the case of the Stuffies, it was ‘The Size Of A Cow‘ and ‘Dizzy‘, which erroneously cast them as a kind of novelty band, somewhat nullifying the minds of the masses to the brilliance of tracks like ‘Circlesquare‘, ‘Maybe‘ and ‘Caught In My Shadow‘. In Dodgy’s, it was undoubtedly ‘Good Enough‘, a summertime feelgood anthem so catchy that we’d probably be made to wear a mask to listen to it now. It was a good song, but its overbearing cheerfulness (musically at least), I would suggest, has clouded the memories of many folk as to just how brilliant this band could be at times. Dodgy are a far better band than you remember, and this eight box set goes some way to proving that, comprising the first three albums, all released in the 1990s on the A&M label, as well as three discs of bonus tracks for each,and a further two featuring various live tracks and remixes.

First up, it’s 1993’s The Dodgy Album, which drummer Matthew Priest has said, whilst still praising producer Ian Broudie, that its feel is somewhat akin to The Lightning Seeds in many places, due to the amount of control granted to the man behind the control desk at the time. Such an accusation certainly cannot be levelled at early single ‘Water Under The Bridge‘ with its Byrds like jangly guitars and Beatles style harmonies. They were always a tremendously powerful live band, Dodgy, and this track was always one of the highlights. Follow up ‘Lovebirds‘ was another hark back to the sixties beat bands and hearing it now takes me right back to my youth, when I used to hang around venues hoping to get whichever band I was seeing to sign a CD or vinyl record sleeve. Dodgy were one of the best in that respect – approachable, engaging and unfailingly generous, even inviting us to grab a beer from the fridge backstage and join them for a pre-gig pint on one occasion. From what I understand from various friends and colleagues, the band kept that same humility throughout, regardless of how successful they became.

But I digress. The fact is that, while The Dodgy Album is a very good album – the urgent pulse of ‘Stand By Yourself‘ and the slick semi-reggae and rampant lead guitar of ‘As My Time Goes By‘ being amongst its highlights – there’s no doubt that it’s the weaker of the three long players.

Homegrown, from 1994, is my personal favourite. A remarkable run of singles beginning with fabulous album opener ‘Staying Out For The Summer‘ saw them skyrocket into the UK Top 40, albeit stalling at number 38 until a remixed version made the Top 20 the following year, though they had dented the top 100 before that with The Melod EP featuring lead track ‘Melodies Haunt You‘ which, to me, ironically, sounds more like The Lightning Seeds than anything on The Dodgy Album.

The best track Dodgy ever recorded – in my book at least – is the towering ‘Grassman‘ that closes Homegrown. After an ominous sounding, gentle intro that seems like it wouldn’t have been out of place in The Wicker Man, it feels like the wind is blowing you all over the place ferociously while being serenaded jubilantly by gospel singers. Impossible to do it justice by just explaining it. If you’ve never heard it before, do yourself a favour and go stick it on right now, it’s a remarkable piece of music. Add to that the smart, Beach Boys infused ‘Crossroads‘ and the semi-Motown influenced feel of several other tracks here and you have a band right at the top of their game.

Of course, it was 1996’s Free Peace Sweet (I still think that’s a truly awful pun, by the way) that would see the band truly ascend into the big time, due in no small part to the aforementioned ‘Good Enough‘, although personally singlewise, I prefer the ballsy ‘In A Room‘ and the affecting ballad ‘If You’re Thinking Of Me‘, but let’s not jump to the conclusion that Dodgy had become nothing but a good time band – there was some of the old gnarly bite there on the brilliant ‘UK R.I.P.‘ that distanced the band from the “jingoistic, xenophobic bullshit that Britpop was throwing up“, according to the accompanying booklet’s sleevenotes. These three studio albums are nothing but a pleasure to listen to and after all this time, they’ve held up pretty damn well.

As for the other five bonus discs, it would take way too long to go through them all – I’m already well over my designated word limit – so I’ll just pick a highlight from each. From Disc One’s The Dodgy Album‘s bonus tracks, it’s difficult to go against the wonderful, reverb soaked epic ‘St. Lucia‘, though you could be forgiven for thinking the band were in the Adorable mould if that was the first thing you heard by them, then from Disc Two, probably the rustic glow of ‘Never Again (Campfire Version‘, which really showcases how strong Dodgy’s melodies were.

From Homegrown‘s bonus tracks, I would undoubtedly pick The Charlatans like ‘Colour Me With Paints‘, although their bare bones take on Soul II Soul‘s ‘Back To Life‘ is well worth a spin too…actually listen, this is taking way too long already. All I really need to say is that Dodgy were, and indeed are, a supremely talented band equally adept at writing killer tunes and tackling the classic hits of yesteryear in an original, respectful and often barnstorming way. And the box itself is just terrific – handsome and full of interesting info.

Fair play to them.

Dodgy’s The A&M Years is released on 25th February through Edsel.

 

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.