The Beta Band - The Regal Years (1997–2004)
Six-CD sonic memoir contains golden moments and tedious filler
When they went on the publicity trail to ‘promote’ their eponymous debut album in 1999, the Beta Band boys were refreshingly, almost too brutally, honest. Having released a much-acclaimed collection of three EPs (entitled, curiously, ‘The Three EPs’), expectations were high, but the Fife-ish quartet nailed those hopes to the board by declaiming the album to be a total disaster.
‘Oh, the cheeky japesters,’ thought the expectant critics and burgeoning fanbase. Except they were absolutely on the money: The Beta Band is a quite dreadful record (imagine a half-asleep Paul McCartney trying to explain to a five-year-old Julian Cope how to record Sgt Pepper and this would be a close approximation of the ensuing carnage) but its inclusion on The Regal Years is a necessary evil if you are to get a panoramic view of the recorded career of this most frustrating of bands.
At their best, they could be funked-up and playful, tuneful and eclectic, witty and weird, but at their worst, unfettered visions went seriously off the rails and veered into either psyched-out drivel or spliced-up tedium.
As well as the studio quartet of The Three EPs, The Beta Band, Hot Shots II and Heroes to Zeros (with extra rehashes such as the Roman Nose mix of ‘Squares’ and a Depth Charge reworking of ‘Out-Side’), we are hurled a couple of extra CDs with live recordings from the likes of Glasto ’99, T in the Park ’04 and some early Radio 1 Sessions.
For those never wholly convinced by Steve Mason as a powerhouse frontman, there is some more proof here as he struggles to get his vocal range around live versions of ‘Dry the Rain’, arguably the band’s finest moment and the track that briefly elevated their status after its appearance in the 2000 movie of High Fidelity.
And yet other evidence suggests just how incendiary they were on stage: the 2004 Shepherd’s Bush Empire version of ‘Squares’ shows what could happen when they streamlined their best bits into one slab of wonder. Blobs of genius are certainly dripped around this six-CD sonic memoir, but those golden moments are sullied by a little too much monkeying around.