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Music Review: Book Of Love Reissues

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Book Of Love have re-released their four albums in new expanded form on Noble Rot Records. The quartet have collected an interesting selection of bonus materials, as well as liner notes, for each release, and they are now housed in slim cardboard booklets.

The audio is labeled as "remastered", although that seems more to indicate that they were normalized to match the existing album audio with the new bonus material, as the audio appears to be basically the same as the original releases. However, the audio sounds great, and the inclusion of the bonus tracks and historical notes and reflections from the band make these the new default versions to get for fans of both the group and the genre at large.

Started in the mid-'80s, Book Of Love brought a deceptively innocent pop edge to the pervading new wave/synth pop scene. Buoyed by solid programming and the sultry, deadpan vocals of Susan Ottaviano, the group blended a brighter, happier and immediate simplicity of radio pop with echoes of club culture. The tour following their debut release found them immediately opening up for Depeche Mode and finding a fast audience with college radio. While their base style stayed more or less intact, the pop culture around them soon began to wander off in wildly different directions. By the time grunge and alternative rock had taken over in the early '90s, the group's sound became more isolated from the mainstream and began to fade underground. But with the continual interest in electro-pop and its influence on the current musical landscape, bands like Book Of Love feel surprisingly relevant again.

Book Of Love

The group's self-titled debut remains their strongest, and the one that has best withstood the changing seasons of music. There's no mistaking those '80s drum machines, but as pop culture continues the "retro is chic" trend, they sound more classic than aged. This was a very well programmed album, and mixed with catchy, upbeat pop tracks, it remains as solid now as ever. Singles and fan favorites such as "You Make Me Feel So Good", "I Touch Roses" and the club hit "Boy" are simply synth-pop gems. Deeper album tracks are all solid as well, from the dreamy "Modigliani (Lost In Your Eyes)" to the darker "Lost Souls" and moody "Yellow Sky". But overall these are cheery highlights from the synth-heavy 80s that flow admirably from track to track. This is the album to start with.

This release also has the most robust selection of bonus materials, requiring an additional disc to hold them all. The bulk of it consists of early band demos: "You Make Me Feel So Good", "Lost Souls", "Boy", "White Lies" and "I Touch Roses." The demos certainly aren't bad, but  will be more interesting for completists than those with more all-purpose interest. More interesting are the remixes.

Although the Full Bloom Remix of "I Touch Roses" isn't exactly adventurous, it plays well as an extended mix. And the Dub version of "Boy" is an excellent club mix of the track. The instrumental version of "Modigliani" feels like filler, but nice filler. Of the two live tracks – "Happy Days" and "Boy" – the former is an excellent performance and not a bad recording either, while the latter has more of a bootleg quality. The lone non-album song is an interesting Christmas carol, "We Three Kings", where they give a fun, club polish to the holiday staple.

It's a tough call between whether this release or the original Sire album is the one to get. This reissue certainly has more "stuff", but it doesn't all seem to have a lot of replay value. The Sire release contained a lot of excellent remixes that are sadly missing here. Had everything been included, this would have been a no-brainer, but as-is it's a bit of a toss-up. Completists will obviously enjoy the demos and live tracks, but for the general music fan the one-disc convenience and more interesting remix supplements could be the better value.

Lullaby

Book of Love's second album, Lullaby, saw a shift in mood. Whereas their debut largely surrounded itself with faster and more radio-friendly tracks, Lullaby moves towards slower and more moody pieces. Things start off energetically with their cover of Mike Oldfield's classic "Tubular Bells", which then transitions seamlessly into the highlight of the album, "Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls." One of their best tracks, it also makes the album feel a bit misleading, as this club-oriented opener is never matched in energy by the following tracks.

However, there are gems of other kinds. Both "Sea of Tranquility" and "With A Little Love" infuse solid ballad entries to the mix, while "Champagne Wishes" swings us back to more of the bubblegum pop end of the spectrum, before the sweetly serene, mid-tempo closer "Lullaby." This album has also held up well with time, although it remains the weaker version of its predecessor.

The bonus material for Lullaby is perhaps the strongest of the series. Although mainly remixes, they are really good remixes. The extended mix of "Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls" does just what it says and takes the track from its club-album version to something more primed for the dance floor. The real gem though is the Regan's House Medley of "Tubular Bells/Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls." This uber-extended mix pulls out all the club stops, and while it veers off into some more odd territory, it remains thoroughly interesting and a slamming rework.

If you remember this one from Sire's Just Say Yo compilation, you can now enjoy it here in a much more convenient and suitable place. The Pleasant Dream Mix of "Lullaby" adds just enough kick to bring it up to remix level, while also extending it out into a nice, alternate excursion. The Extended Mix of "Witchcraft" joins "Pretty Boys…" as being an updated club mix; and while this one doesn't stray too far from the original, it offers enough bells and whistles to add interest. "Enchantra" is actually an alternate version of "Witchcraft", and serves as more of an outro that's taken to semi-full length.

Candy Carol

In many ways, Candy Carol feels like it would have been a more obvious follow-up to the group's debut. There is a greater emphasis on upbeat, sing-songy melodies while the production is expanded, yet still maintains their core synth-pop sound. Where Lullaby seemed to have more of an obvious album structure to it, Candy Carol is another collection of just fun songs.

Tracks such as "Sunny Day" and "Alice Everyday" offer the best examples of the band's strengths, followed closely by the more subdued and austere "Quiver" and "Candy Carol." There are some mis-steps – such as the awful lyrics on "Butterfly" and the promising-but-abandoned "Flower Parade" – but the large majority of the album is very strong material that unfortunately got lost in the shuffle upon its release at the beginning of the '90s. This re-release is an excellent opportunity to visit the album afresh.

Following on the lead of Lullaby, Candy Carol uses its bonus section to highlight a handful of strong remixes. Both the Everyday Glo Mix and Sam the Butcher Mix of "Alice Everyday" are taken from the excellent maxi-single for that song, the latter of which is hands down one of the coolest mixes you will find from the period, and a testament to the quality of remix culture before the laptop revolution began. The Single Remix of "Sunny Day" offers a slight variation on the album version, while the Happiness and Love Mix of "Counting The Rosaries" mixes things up quite a bit by introducing a hip-hop groove (Book of Love, keeping it real on the East side…).

Love Bubble

By their fourth and final album, Love Bubble, the magic had all but worn off. Even by their own admission, the group had more or less run its course, and the experimentation that ensued did little to yield new inspiration. Stylistically the album never really settles on anything solid. And although there are hints of previous efforts, Love Bubble sounds more like a Book of Love cover band – and a weak one at that – than the group itself. Vocals are spread between all members instead of relying on Susan for the bulk of the material, and the songwriting feels built on experiments or idea snippets that wouldn't have made the cut before. High points include the opener "Sunday A.M.", "Flower In My Hand" and "Enchanted", which would have been the start of a solid fourth album, but the rest of the supporting material does little to impress. A disappointing end, but it's the one we're left with.

Bonus materials feel as underwhelming as the album. "Boy Pop" was at least a forgettable, generic, club-sounding track, so it becomes an inevitable choice for remixing. The Go Bottom Go Top version is a fairly paint-by-numbers house music interpretation, while the Swinging Boy Pop Mix gives that same basic style at least some more interesting twists and turns.

The Sweet and Sticky Mix of "Hunny Hunny" doesn't deviate too far from the style of the "Boy Pop" mixes, but here it does a much better job of helping out a rather weak album track, infusing much needed energy and beat distractions until it becomes substantially more interesting than before. Likewise, the clubby Late Night Chat Mix of "Chatterbox" makes lemonade out of a headscrather of an original. Although a bit generic in style, it does its job.

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