Orange Juice | Coals to Newcastle
Most Likely To: overwhelm with healthful and invigorating goodness.
Of all the headscratchers in pop music history, the complete obscurity of Scotland’s Orange Juice, at least in the United States, is one of the scratchiest. How the band completely managed to elude U.S. label interest during their early 1980s heyday is baffling. If bands like the Joboxers, Danny Wilson, and Haircut 100 – all of whom lifted Orange Juice’s sound pretty in toto – could find American label homes and subsequently have hits on this side of the Atlantic, how in the world did Orange Juice manage to spend their entire existence without a single note of their music seeing release stateside?
Part of Scotland’s legendary Postcard Records stable, Orange Juice combined stripped-down post-punk with pop and soul and concocted the DNA that lurks in the genetic structure of bands like Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura to this day. During their several years existence, they recorded a series of singles for Postcard, three full-length albums, and sundry odds and sods, none of which has been easily available for poor stateside blighters. Until now.
Now, going from famine to feast in one fell swoop, the entirety of the Orange Juice catalog is available in one ridiculously sumptuous box set from Domino Records. It’s all here, from charmingly tentative rough sketches of OJ’s early days to the confident, slickly produced soul-pop from the end of their run. With 125 tracks spread over six discs and a seventh DVD tossed in for good measure, Coals to Newcastle turns an Orange Juice shortage into a surplus.
“Falling and Laughing,” the first track on disc one, instantly sketches out the Orange Juice sound – a perfect pop hook played with the urgency of contemporary combos like The Teardrop Explodes or The Bunnymen but much sweeter than either, topped with Edwyn Collins’ dramatic Scot bellow. It’s a rush of pure pop with enough of a rough edge to slot it firmly with the post-punks and to keep it from ever becoming cloying.
While they definitely got more professional and proficient on later releases, Orange Juice never managed to sand off their rough edges – it would take Haircut 100 to manage that as they parlayed a less edgy take on OJ’s sound to chart success. To ears listening in 2010, Collins’ melodramatic voice might sound a bit odd, removed as it is from its early ‘80s context when other grandiose Scotsmen like Billy MacKenzie of The Associates, Jim Kerr of Simple Minds, and Stuart Adamson of Big Country were the rule of the day – but the hooks built into classics like “Rip It Up,” “I Can’t Help Myself,” “Salmon Fishing in New York,” and every other track here are timeless.
Some people might consider the repetition of much of Coals to Newcastle to be a drawback – several songs appear in multiple versions, with disc one alone containing four versions of “Poor Old Soul” while “Falling and Laughing” opens discs one and two. This is somewhat like complaining that the Christmas season is just too merry. Too much of a good thing does not apply here, as each alternate version of a song has its own charms. It’s fascinating hearing the evolution of the ebullient instrumental “Moscow” from its primitive lo-fi take on disc one to its lush and sparkling version on disc two.
Does anyone really need this much stuff from Orange Juice? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but I do think that yes, anyone with functioning ears needs precisely this much Orange Juice. The band is perhaps the last of the great post-punk bands to finally be getting its due in America. It’s thirty years too late, but better late than never. It’s doubtful that there are very many more treasure troves from the era on the scale of Coals to Newcastle waiting to be discovered with fresh ears, and it’s even more doubtful that they would be this good.
Watch the video from 1983′s “Rip It Up”: