Various Artists – From Brussels With Love
Released 6 November 2020
A deluxe 40th anniversary 2CD hardback edition of the famed sampler cassette first released by Les Disques du Crepuscule in November 1980. The set has contributions from Brian Eno, John Foxx and A Certain Ratio among others…The 21 tracks of the tape, which were exclusive to the original release, are bolstered here by 18 bonuses on a second CD. Also available are a cassette facsimile of the 1980 edition and a double coloured vinyl set…LTW’s Ian Canty feels a pure blast of love from the low countries…
Originally a cassette release by Les Disques du Crepuscule in 1980, From Brussels With Love was one of the key compilation albums of the time and over the years has gone on to become something of a benchmark for post punk collections. Pulling in a number of big names alongside some more obscure artists, the selection of a diverse wodge of music alongside spoken word offerings marked it out as truly special. This was clearly something was put together with real imagination, as far away from a slapped together “best of” as it was possible to be.
From Brussels… gets underway with the first of three “Jingles” from John Foxx, before we’re into the light but mysterious synthpop of Airwaves by Thomas Dolby. Though he went onto great pop success later in the 80s, this perhaps remains his most entrancing moment. Then comes Repetition’s excellently spiky Stranger. They were a band with links to Spizz and the Xtraverts in their ranks. They are also represented on the second disc of this set by their first single A Still Reflex, which was produced by Joy Division/New Order manager Rob Gretton. Singer Sarah Osbourne helmed the band at this stage, but she had been replaced by Steve Musham by the time of Stranger. Even so, a band with a great sound, much invention and well worth further investigation.
Martin Hannett’s rough swoops of noise and rhythm machine moves on The Music Room shows a mind perfectly attuned to sound manipulation, something that was proved by time and again in his many production works. Fellow Factory alumni Durutti Column appears with the cool and spectral Sleep Will Come and Piece For An Ideal, which has some choice soaring guitar from Vini. Labelmates A Certain Ratio cut a bracing percussive swathe on the live Felch and Kevin Hewick, backed by New Order on one of the earliest released recordings, provided a real jewel in Haystack – I mean, how can one not love a song which ensues with the line “She picked up her stilettos and we fell into the haystack”?
A Walk Through H by Michael Nyman is in his trademark pulsing rhythm/classical style and Gavin Bryars’ White SS marries tinkling piano with what sounds like very deep tuba notes. Brian Eno’s 10 minute interview, where he expounds on his work and art, could be seen as a bit pretentious. But it does offer a good snapshot of him around the time of Music For Airports and Discreet Music and is neatly backed by his own synth drones. Actress Jeanne Moreau also is featured in speech, but as I only learnt German at school I can’t let you in on what she is saying, though her voice and a jolly piano do make for a charming enough listen.
Richard Jobson of The Skids is also in spoken word mode, contributing a poem Armoury Show that was to give its name to his post punk supergroup of a few years later. I very much enjoyed Radio Romance’s Etrange Affinite, which for some reason made me think of the Mo-Dettes, not a bad thing really. It is always good to hear some Bill Nelson too, his pulsing The Shadow Garden is very synth dominated, but also very good.
Der Plan’s wry electropop number Mein Freunde is a real charmer and Wire duo BC Gilbert and Graham Lewis buzz malevolently on Twist Up, before John Foxx’s Jingle #3 ends the set. From Brussels With Love is hugely entertaining, occasionally inscrutable, but always innovative and inspired. Simply put, a great compilation.
Disc two of this new version of From Brussels With Love in effect is part two of the original compilation, even down to being bookended by another couple of John Foxx jingles. It also includes a lengthy interview segment with a doyen of cinema, but this time round writer/filmmaker Marguerite Duras does the French language honours. That the throbbing electro of Polyphonic Size’s Nagasaki Mon Amour follows is apt as of course Duras’ most well-known work was her script for the film Hiroshima Mon Amour.
Durutti and ACR crop up again, the former with the entirely fitting and wonderful For Belgian Friends and the latter cooking up a live storm on And The Again. The fast punk funk of Digital Dance’s Treatment is a highlight and Bill Nelson again comes up with the goods. His elegant guitarwork more to the fore this time, sitting beautifully atop a wobbly repeat rhythm on his track Dada Guitars.
If one was to be hypercritical Josef K’s Sorry For Laughing, though without doubt excellent, has been heard before a lot. Something a little rarer may have been called for, but thematically the band and song fit. Stranger are the blocks percussion of Belgian Composer Karel Goeyvaerts’ Ach Golgotha and Aksak Maboul’s avant garde keyboard and wind instrument experiment DDB (Double Blind Baby). All things considered this second disc does a decent job of providing material that enhances the set and is authentically in the spirit of the original LP.
This reissue of From Brussels With Love has been carried out with the care and attention to detail one has come to expect from Les Disques du Crepuscule. The book it comes in looks a thing of real beauty and is something which perfectly chimes in to the aesthetic of the original cassette and of the label as a whole too. It is as much a part of the whole thing as the music and words.
I say this without downplaying the album though, as it still sounds of the best quality today. The shifts of emphasis between wildly different music and words are something that few tried at the time and has been seldom (if ever) done as well since. I felt swept up in its thrall. Whilst opening up new vistas to explore, it is never anything other than compulsive listening – two things that all compilations should aspire to be. From Brussels With Love remains one of a kind.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here