‘Stratoplay’ Revels in the Delicious New Wave of the Revillos

Cherry Red Records' six-disc Revillos compilation, Stratoplay, successfully charts the convoluted history of Scottish new wave sensations.

Stratoplay: The Box Set
The Revillos
Cherry Red
24 April 2020

You might have been a huge new wave music fan, pogoing your way through your senior prom in 1983, not that this reviewer would know anything about that. OK, fine, this reviewer did pogo his way through his senior prom and still might have managed to miss out on the short but illustrious early 1980s career of the Revillos. But now, thanks to Stratoplay, a massive new wave dance party in a box, you can experience the Revillos in all their glory.

Stratoplay, a six-CD anthology compiled by Cherry Red Records, is one of the most complete histories of a band you’re likely to find. That history is a bit confusing, but Tim Barr helpfully explains it in his extensive liner notes. It goes like this. The Revillos began life as an entirely different band, with a similar name: The Rezillos. Probably the first punk band to come out of Scotland, the Rezillos released their debut album, Can’t Stand the Rezillos, in 1978, and scored a hit single in the UK that year with “Top of the Pops”. Despite this success, the Rezillos soon broke up, releasing Mission Accomplished…But the Beat Goes On, a live album of their final show, in 1979.

The end of the Rezillos led to the birth of the Revillos, featuring Rezillos members Fay Fife and Eugene Reynolds. Without diluting much of the punk edge or the wacky pop culture/sci-fi sense of humor, Revillos added a dayglo new wave sensibility to the mix. The new band’s first album, Rev Up, restarted the party in 1980. Second album, Attack!, was prematurely released without band approval in 1982 and was quickly withdrawn. Subsequent album projects were eventually shelved, and the band quietly broke up.

Then, in true Spinal Tap fashion, “Yeah Yeah”, a song from the Rev Up album, hit the charts in Japan in 1994, leading to Japanese and British live dates, and an eventual 2002 reissue of Attack!, this time approved by the band. Soon after that, though, Fife and Reynolds retired Revillos and revived Rezillos, who went on to release a reunion album. Got all that? Fortunately, Tim Barr’s notes and the CDs themselves will help curious listeners make sense of the complete Revillos experience.

Disc one contains the debut, Rev Up. Over its 13 tracks, Rev Up is a template for the various styles the band dabbled in: crazed surf instrumentals (“Secret of the Shadow”); modern dance rockers (the title track and “Motorbike Beat”, among others); heartbroken 1960s-era girl group homages (“Bobby Come Back to Me”); and more. Nifty guitar riffs and trashy – in the best way possible — keyboard blasts abound. Lyrics revolve around voodoo, hunger for love, science fiction, and copious use of the word “yeah”. The sound conjures contemporaneous bands such as the B-52’s and the Cramps, but the Revillos were very much their own entity.

The second disc presents the 2002 version of Attack!, which expands the original album from 12 to 16 tracks. Attack! finds the band successfully continuing down nearly all the stylistic paths it charted on Rev Up. The muddled history of Attack! continues on disc three, which includes the long-deleted 1982 edition of the album, so fans old and new and compare and contrast.

Bonus tracks abound on the first three discs. These include radio sessions with John Peel and Richard Skinner, along with oddities like a Revillo-ized “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and, what would appear to be a New Years’ song, “1982 Make a Wish”.

The Revillos ’90s revival led to two live albums, and both included on Stratoplay. Live and on Fire in Japan was released in 1994, with Totally Alive! arriving in 1998. Both of these live sets are great fun, but Totally Alive! has the edge. It’s jam-packed with high-energy performances of the best Revillos songs, along with a handful of key Rezillos tunes, and some choice covers, particularly a romp through Nancy Sinatra’s “The Last of the Secret Agents”.

Finally, the sixth disc contains two 1981 live sets, one from the Colchester Institute and one from New York City’s Ritz. These give the sense that the original incarnation of the Revillos was a decent live band, but the sound quality is clearly on the level of cassette bootlegs. Hardcore fans will appreciate having these shows, but the other live discs are much more listenable.

Despite the obvious efforts to make Stratoplay the absolute last word on the Revillos discography, there are two rarities collections – 1996’s From the Freezer, and 2019’s Compendium of Weird — that compile ephemera that can’t be found in the box. If Stratoplay turns you into a raving Revillos fanatic – and it just might – you may want to seek out those collections. Generally speaking, though, Stratoplay contains everything, plus more, that a self-respecting new wave fan needs to acquaint, or reacquaint, themselves with the Revillos.

RATING 8 / 10