A British guy in his mid-30s recently laughed in my face when I told him I liked the Boo Radleys, and indeed, a decade after their breakup, the band seems to be reviled, forgotten, or simply ignored. Perhaps they did overstay their welcome, hanging in there long enough to be C-listers of – in order – the shoegaze, Britpop, and electronica-humping scenes, but their catalog contains plenty of rather rich pop, and I’d maintain that the hits do outweigh the mediocrities in the end. This early American release features a pair of songs that first showed up as B-sides to the UK “Lazarus” EP, and they give a fair, if brief, glimpse of the band’s basic strengths and limitations.
The Johnny-come-lately “At the Sound of Speed” takes a few superficial aspects of shoegaze – the layers of guitar, the start-stop tempos – and applies them to a commercial-minded rock/pop template. There are still enough surprises (trumpet?!) and mood shifts to keep it interesting, and the end result often sounds like a smarter, more ambitious, more competent Oasis. While overbaked and no masterpiece, it’s not nearly as bad as the favorable Oasis comparison may make it sound. The much quieter “Let Me Be Your Faith” feels far less forced, drifting along on watery psychedelic guitars and a near-pastoral understatedness that ultimately has greater impact than the A-side’s crafted posturing. Nice. When these guys weren’t bending over backwards to be what the marketplace wanted them to be, there were a lot of great songs – like “Let Me Be Your Faith” – to be had, and those peaks make it well worth any popster’s while to trawl the dollar bins for Boo Radley albums and EPs, or to even spring for Creation’s double disc of career highlights. It’s rarely mindblowing, but the group was smart enough and with-it enough to put together a solid decade’s worth of pleasant material, and that’s nothing to be sniffed at.