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Review: 'ROOM, THE'

-  Album: 'NO DREAM' -  Label: 'LTM'
-  Genre: 'Indie' -  Release Date: '12th April 2004'-  Catalogue No: 'LTMCD 2369'

Our Rating:
Last year, W&H were waxing lyrical due to Renascent's brilliant decision to finally unleash "Incandescent" by lost Liverpool heroes The Wild Swans; a document that finally unearthed that band's breathtaking early recordings and - at last - ensured they would live on CD.

And now your reviewer is thrilling to a similar feeling when Liverpool's other lost great band from the post-punk era THE ROOM are finally getting the CD retrospective treatment they deserve courtesy of the ever-diligent LTM Records.

I'll not beat around the bush here. I go back a long way with The Room and never understood why they didn't receive far greater kudos than the limited plaudits their career culled for them during their lifespan (roughly 1979-1985). Personally, I also feel vocalist Dave Jackson and bassist Becky Stringer should have also achived greater rewards for their post-Room project Benny Profane, but that's to get ahead of ourselves.

Incredibly,it's nearly 20 years after they split owing to that peculiarly Liverpool combination of bad luck, record labal collapse and a stubborn (if admirable) inability to compromise, and yet The Room have never been involved in the CD revolution until now. It's not a moment too soon to rectify this, and while I've happily showered praise over LTM for their ace Factory Records-related re-issues, I could love 'em forever for the existence of "No Dream" alone

For the uninitiated (and you are legion, sadly), The Room's recorded legacy was laid down between 1980 - 1985, and in LTM's usual comprehensive fashion, "No Dream" collects virtually everything unmissable the band committed to tape during this period (well, barring "Naive" and "The Friendly Enemy", but "In Evil Hour"s already well-represented here and I digress), featuring choice single and cuts from the band's hopelessly under-rated trio of albums.

Initially (very) loosely affiliated with the new Psych-pop scene that sprang up on Merseyside thanks to the Teardrop Explodes and Echo & The Bunnymen, The Room's history is made up of two well-defined eras. Both of the band's line-ups featured the nucleus of Jackson (vocals) and Stringer (bass), with the period 1980 - late 1982 also including guitarist Robyn Odlum and drummer Clive Thomas, while the later incarnation (broadly 1983 - mid 1985) included guitarist Paul Cavanagh (later of It's Immaterial, Gloss and Smaller with Peter "Digsy's Dinner" Deary), keyboards man Peter Baker and drummer Alan Wills, who - if yer know yer Scouse lore - also featured in crucial line-ups of The Wild Swans and Shack, and now runs The Coral's Deltasonic imprint. Come on, there's lots to take in - keep up at the back there!

The Room's early singles were nervy, monochrome, fabulously brittle affairs, with the metre and melody carried through Becky's supple basslines and the emotion through Dave's rich croon of a voice. By comparison, Odlum and Thomas's roles were propulsive and textural, with Thomas pulling off all sorts of rhythmic miracles and Odlum's guitar echoey, niggly and dissonant when he wasn't indulging in strange Eastern motifs like on "Motion." Even early on they sounded ambitious: there's an eerie stillness to "In Sickness & In Health" and a brooding nightmare-ish quality to "Bated Breath" that owes as much to Can as The Fall or The Bunnymen, for instance.

The plot really gelled with "Things Have Learnt To Walk That Ought To Crawl", a Peel fave and great lost single which remains as tense, catchy and fresh over 20 years on down the line and two cool tracks from the band's first album "Indoor Fireworks" feature here. Of these, "No Dream" is soaring and expectant, while "Heat Haze" is herky-jerky and totally memorable.

This initial line-up splintered come the end of '82, though the link to the future can be heard with organist Peter Baker adding angelic colour to the almost hymnal "One Hundred Years" single, the band's last recordings with Odlum and Thomas. The new Room would be very different as the lush mini-LP "Clear!" from 1983 would suggest. It was roundly panned critically at the time and is a little confused stylistically, but the two tunes from that spell appearing here, "Never" (in demo form) and "The Ride" are captivating, with the band's palette far more colourful and both descriptive keyboards and guitarist Paul Cavanagh's jazzier runs creeping in.

It was The Room mk.2 that would go on to record 1984's lost classic album "In Evil Hour", partly produced by Television's Tom Verlaine. Sensibly, five tracks from the album are included here and they showcase a group peaking gloriously. "A Shirt Of Fire is driven on by Cavanagh's spidery, Johnny Marr-style runs and Jackson's ecstatic vocal and it's tremendous, as are the warmth, richness and tinges of psychedelia displayed by "Whrlpool", "Calloused Hands" and the lengthy "Jackpot Jack", the first of Jackson's intriguing 'narrative' songs he would take into Benny Profane with "Beam Me Up" and "Jerked To Jesus."

"In Evil Hour" rightly raised The Room's profile as high as it ever got and major support tours with The Red Guitars and Violent Femmes should have ensured their future. Instead, Virgin/ 10 who had taken them on board dropped them and in-fighting instead contributed to the band's loss of momentum and ultimate split late in summer 1985. Bearing in mind what they'd just achieved, this seems a desperate squandering, especially as "No Dream" also brilliantly includes four tracks from the band's final demos during 1985. From these, "Here Comes The Floor", "Untitled" and the closing, "Nuggets"-style beat group pummelling of "Jeremiah" were already shaping up for future greatness.

And thus the sand slipped through everyone's fingers. Until now. "No Dream" is an unmissable compilation which should help to set the record straight where Liverpool's equal finest lost underground heroes from the 1980s (equal billing with The Wild Swans, and a problem for Alan Wills) was concerned.

"You hit the Jackpot Jack, with your new pop cack, and all the radios are spewing it back," sings Jackson, slyly dissing most of The Room's horrendous mid-80s contemporaries. He knew his band were intrinsically far better and he wasn't wrong. "No Dream" at last recognises that fact, however belatedly.
  author: TIM PEACOCK

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