If punk rock was supposed to make us recoil in horror from anything recorded before 1977 (with the possible exceptions of David Bowie, krautrock, and reggae), then it failed miserably. Instead of the streets of the inner cities ringing with the sounds of “Autobahn” in dub played by a pale and pimply adolescent in a thrift store version of the suit on the cover of David Live, we got bands who absorbed a technicolor, mix and match grab bag of pop culture fragments. Quite often, those bands were the most interesting.
Unless you’re Scottish (or bizarrely, Japanese), you may have never heard of the Revillos, or their parent band, the Rezillos. And why should you? In the UK, the Rezillos had a solitary hit single with “Top of the Pops”, which earned them an appearance on the premier British pop show of the time, also called Top of the Pops. If that isn’t post-modernism in action, then I don’t know what is. They split in 1978, with some members forming the Revillos. This new name may have been chosen because they could only afford to paint over one letter of the logo on the side of their van. They scored one less hit than their previous band but kept going until the mid-80s, becoming “big in Japan” in the process. Which brings us here – the delightfully named Compendium of Weird is a collection of outtakes, demos, rehearsal tracks, and rarities, which is way better than it probably should be.
The Revillos were one of those late 1970s bands who were heavily inspired by the get-up-and-go attitude of punk but preferred wearing Day-Glo minidresses to tattered “Destroy” T-shirts. Taking their cues from Link Wray, the Standells and Dusty Springfield, the band were a slightly less art school version of the B52’s, but with way more fuzztone guitar action. This collection would make a great entry point to their work, which for an album compiled like this, is almost unique. It showcases their sound in a pleasingly complete way – their aggressively tuneful way with a cover version (“Cool Jerk”), garage band sneer (“Take Off”), polished pop-rock (“Can I Have Some?”) and aching, girl group balladry (“Heaven Fell”). It’s not all great, but it’s all interesting.
It doesn’t start very promisingly – “Boom Boom Boom Boom” is a rather weary pastiche of Lord Rockingham’s XI (the house band of “Oh Boy!” – a late 1950s, UK TV pop show). But things perk up immeasurably with “Can I Have Some?”, which is almost overloaded with pop smarts and memorable hooks. It’s that grounding in classic pop that lifts much of this material. Even at their most raucous, there is still a tune you can whistle and a memorable lyric, or in the case of “Caveman Raveman”, a ludicrous title that will either make you groan or grin like an idiot.
Compendium of Weird is a completist’s dream, with enough rarities to satiate even the most ardent Revillomaniac. But even they will need to brace themselves for the super-ultra-low-fi version of “Do You Love Me”, which has the unmistakable sound of a rehearsal recorded onto a cheap cassette on a ghetto blaster in the corner of the practice room. Audiophiles, look away now. It’s worth the effort as it’s an incredibly tight and powerful performance. To see this band in a tiny club at the height of their powers must have been quite a thing.
The last track, “Rocking Goose”, has “for completists only” tattooed onto its face. It’s a woozy, saxophone lead, just about in key, 12-bar blues, augmented by car horns and whistling. Thankfully, it’s less than a minute and a half long. It was probably hilarious at the time. Not so much now. Did I mention that it’s really short and right at the end of the record?
There’s a lot to love on Compendium of Weird. It’s a collection of well written, neatly observed, rough and ready pop (for the most part) that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While many of their punk/new wave peers were brushing up on their Dostoevsky and stressing over which grey raincoat to wear for their photoshoot, the Revillos were slapping on their eyeshadow, strapping on their unreliable (but period correct) big red guitars and having the time of their lives. Compendium of Weird may be slightly shop soiled, but it’s pretty damn good.