CD Review of Reissues by Book of Love
Book of Love: Reissues

Reviewed by David Medsker

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"
You’ll dance to anything by Book of Love." – Dead Milkmen

Goddamn right, we will.

It’s still quite surprising that New York’s Danceteria types Book of Love never made the crossover to contemporary hit radio, especially considering the fact that their debut album came at the precise moment that female-led, club-oriented dance pop was peppering the charts (see: Exposé, Company B, Pebbles, Cover Girls). And, as luck would have it, by the time the world was ready for them – their 1988 album Lullaby had even better timing than their debut – they gave the world a song that wouldn’t have stood a prayer of making the final cut of their first album. Their third album Candy Carol was their first one that was truly out of step with the times, and by the time their fourth album Lovebubble arrived, the band was out of step with itself, and they called it a day in 1993.

Most of the band’s catalog has languished out of print for years, but Noble Rot, a Warner Bros. imprint, has dusted the albums off for a grand reissue project complete with remixes and rare tracks. Bullz-Eye takes a walk down memory lane and listens to the albums again for the first time, to see how they’ve held up, and the results might surprise you. They sure as hell surprised us.



Book of Love:
Book of Love

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Label: NOBLE ROT
Released: 1986
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There was a reason why people would dance to anything by Book of Love when the Dead Milkmen wrote their snarky little song professing their envy for the dance acts that were stealing time away from them on college radio. The band’s eponymous debut is a dance pop masterpiece, with perky dance beats and mile-wide choruses. "Boy," "I Touch Roses" and "You Make Me Feel So Good" were all massive club hits, but there isn’t a bum track in the bunch, and Ivan Ivan’s production has held up remarkably well, clearly a product of ‘80s technology but sounding nothing like the club acts that Book of Love rubbed shoulders with at the time. That, combined with singer Susan Ottaviano’s "beautifully bored" alto (my wife has patent pending on that phrase), helped create one of the most iconic dance albums of all time.

This two-disc reissue of the album, however, is more of a companion piece to the original issue of the album, rather than a replacement. The original release of the album contained the remixes for "Boy," "I Touch Roses," "You Make Me Feel So Good" and "Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes)." This version contains none of those mixes, opting for demo versions and live versions (!) of various tracks instead. They do include the Full Bloom Version of "I Touch Roses" and the band’s cover of "We Three Kings," both of which were previously unavailable on CD. The 12" mix to "Lost Souls," however, remains lost, and while the demo versions are cute, there isn’t a fan alive that wouldn’t trade them for a complete set of remixes of these songs.



Book of Love:
Lullaby

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Label: NOBLE ROT
Released: 1988
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They recruited Flood to produce the album. Bands like Information Society and Erasure were scoring multiple crossover hits, and the lead single, "Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls," was a Top 5 hit on the Dance chart. The stars were aligned for Book of Love at last, and Lullaby would be the album that made them mainstream stars…or at least that was the plan, anyway. Fans of the band loved the singles – my personal favorite was the faux-rapping "Witchcraft" – but that love blinded them to the album’s flaws, namely the tunes. They simply don’t compare to the batch they came up with for their first album, and Ottaviano’s vocals lost the beautiful and were just bored. Instrumentalist Ted Ottaviano (no relation to Susan, if you can believe that) steps up to the mic for his Martin Gore moment on "With a Little Love," and that’s sweet, but there just isn’t enough meat on these bones. The album’s best moment, as it turns out, is their cover of Mike Oldfield’s "Tubular Bells," with keyboardist Lauren Roselli gamely playing the role of Linda Blair. Upon its release, many fans considered Lullaby a notch below the band’s first album; time has since put things in more proper perspective. It has its charms, but it’s a pretty serious letdown after their phenomenal debut.

The bonus tracks are not much to scream for, either. The 12" mix of "Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls" is here ("Safe sex! Safe sex!"), as well as the 14-minute house medley of "Pretty Boys" and "Tubular Bells" (previously available on the Sire sampler Just Say Yo). One of Justin Strauss’ "Lullaby" mixes makes the cut, as do two of the (awful) remixes to "Witchcraft," which are the thinnest dance mixes you’ll ever hear.



Book of Love:
Candy Carol

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Label: NOBLE ROT
Released: 1991
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The early ‘90s were not kind to Book of Love and their dancy dance peers. Between house music, Manchester, hip hop and grunge, Book of Love was getting shoved aside both on the dial and in the clubs. Perhaps sensing this, Ted Ottaviano crafted an album that sounded nothing like the band’s earlier efforts, or anything else that was out at the time. Most fans wrinkled their nose at the idea of a Book of Love album with little to no bottom end – full disclosure: I panned it in a review for the Ohio University Post when it was first released – but I’m starting to see things Ted’s way now. He wanted something that recalled a simpler time, and songs like "Quiver" and "Butterfly" are nothing if not simple. In fact, the singles from Candy Carol are an overall better batch than those from Lullaby; "Alice Everyday" is a bouncy throwback to the band’s first album, and the Ted-sung "Sunny Day," deftly reusing the rising/falling bells from "Modigliani," is insidiously catchy. While it’s understandable that Candy Carol was not a hit, it’s held up surprisingly well.

The bonus tracks, however, mark a golden opportunity lost. There are two very much of-the-moment remixes of "Alice Everyday," along with the single mix of "Sunny Day" and Bill Coleman’s "I Touch Roses"-sampling mix of "Counting the Rosaries." And those are fine, but what would have been really cool is if they had included the "Cecelia"-sampling remix of "Sunny Day" and one of Ben Grosse’s industrial-tinged (and far superior, in this writer’s humble opinion) mixes to "Counting the Rosaries." Damn.



Book of Love:
Lovebubble

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Label: NOBLE ROT
Released: 1993
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I’ll be honest: I am hearing this album for the first time. By the time 1993 came around, Book of Love, sadly, became an afterthought even for me. So let’s take a listen. Hmmm, there’s a Soul II Soul drum beat in "Happily Ever After," and a cover of David Bowie’s "Sound & Vision" that’s not far off from 808 State’s remix of the song two years earlier. The band is clearly trying to adapt to the times – two words: "Boy Pop" – yet the album’s best moments come when they look backward. "Flower in My Hand," "Tambourine" and "Enchanted" are vintage Book of Love – literally, as it turns out, since these songs have been around since they made their first album – so why are these songs stuck at the back of the album, and why were they overlooked as single choices in favor of the silly "Hunny Hunny"? It’s unclear, but it’s also likely that the band was past caring at this point, since they split up soon after the album’s release. Give them credit for one thing, though: the production on Lovebubble, much like their debut, was of its time but also outside of it. A noble effort to fight the good fight, but it was clearly time to call it a day.

The remixes of these songs, unlike the songs themselves, are very much of their time. Big house-y beats, vocals converted into percussion tracks, and walls of keyboards are the order of the day. I do love the Stock/Aitken/Waterman orchestra hits in the "Hunny Hunny" remix, but I can’t say the mix of "Chatterbox" is worth much.

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