[17 March 2006]
APB is a curious phenomenon. The Aberdeen, Scotland trio scored a handful of hits exclusively on the east coast of the U.S. in the early ‘80s, leading to the 1985 release of Something to Believe In, a 10-track singles collection in 1985. 11 years later, that same collection was re-released as a CD with six bonus tracks, just as their American label, Link Records, was tanking, and the disc quickly fell out of print. In the years since, Something to Believe In has become a grail of sorts to fans and collectors. A couple of months ago, the cheapest price listed for the CD was $125 on Amazon.com, and soared to as much as $248.99. You’ll fare much better now, because the prices have dropped to the only slightly less unreasonable rate of $49.99. Of course, a lot of people are going to be pissed off when they realize they overpaid for a singles collection that is finally being properly released at a reasonable price, and includes a second disc of live tracks and unreleased rarities.
The thing about APB is that you may not know the songs, but you’ll recognize the sound. Songs like “Shoot You Down”, “Palace Filled With Love”, and “What Kind of Girl?” instantly sound familiar, even if you’ve never heard them before. APB toured the U.S. on 12 different occasions, and often with the likes of The Clash and James Brown, but unless you were in the New York/New Jersey area in the ‘80s, you’ve probably never heard of them. With an apparently large cult following along the east coast, APB is the kind of band every region lays claim (and waste) to—a band that is huge in that particular location, whose zealous fans are certain the group will make it on a national or world stage, but for whatever reason, things just never fall into place.
Disc one of Something to Believe In - 20th Anniversary Edition opens with the vital single “Shoot You Down”. Iain Slater’s aching yet sterile vocals and funky bass line instantly send you back 20 years to a time when new wave was just beginning. Glenn Roberts’ guitar on “Talk to Me” sounds a lot like the work of U2’s The Edge, and Slater’s vocals are sparse and echoing as he explores the consequences of sex. When he asks his lover “What do you think about our love? / Is it the most important thing in your life? / If you hadn’t met me, love / Can you imagine what your life would be like?” there is no conceit, only the confusion of youth faced with the decisions surrounding an unexpected pregnancy.
Undeniably catchy, “Palace Filled With Love” bops along with all the elements of modern dance music. The elastic bass stretches and pulls around George Cheyne’s drums, often getting mixed up in a perfectly gooey jumble. Each opening with sing-song chant/laments, “Rainy Day” and “What Kind of Girl?” are remarkable bits of pop-punk urgency, sounding as fresh today as they must have when first released. And it’s like that up and down the first disc’s track listing—nuggets of angular guitar and flexible bass lines that latch onto the far reaches of your brain and simply won’t let go.
The 14 tracks on disc two are split evenly between live cuts and unreleased songs (with a b-side thrown in among the rarities). The first five tracks are taken from a 1984 show at Hofstra University in New York. In the liner notes, Matt Pinfield describes APB live shows as “incredibly intense and visceral,” and it’s rare for that kind of energy to translate to a record. Although the sound quality isn’t always what modern listeners expect, the hunger of the band comes through in every note, feeding off the crowd’s enthusiasm. Songs like “Rainy Day” bursts with anthemic power in this setting. It’s revelatory.
One could argue that with a cult band like APB, there is no such thing as a “casual” fan—you are either a dyed-in-the-wool devotee or have never heard of the band. And part of the reason behind a reissue like this is to not only solidify a legacy, but to gather some new converts. Unfortunately, where the live tracks are illuminating, the previously unreleased songs undercut what the discs’ other selections work so hard to establish. And there is little to interest the new (casual?) APB fan that warrants dragging these out of the vault. From the faux-edgy posturing of 1981’s “Killing Is Fun” to the droning of 1989’s “Repetition”, the collection sounds unpolished, even for the era they represent.
Listening to Something to Believe In - 20th Anniversary Edition is like watching Citizen Kane for the first time: It’s sometimes hard to remember that everything that is now clichéd was once ground-breaking (which also gets me off the hook for describing Roberts’ guitar work as “angular”). With a band like APB, you have to wonder if what you are hearing was truly revolutionary at the time of its original release. Because all we have to go on is the testimonials of the same people who have felt the band was underappreciated back in the day, it’s hard to know just how unbiased a judgment can be made. When you take into account the original timeline, though, it’s hard to deny the claims of innovation. This is the kind of music that, had I heard it in the ‘80s, I would have eaten up. Because of that, the collection of songs on the first disc is bizarrely familiar and completely listenable. Throw in the second disc to interest the same collectors who shelled out way too much money for the original release of this album, and you have a winner.