That more than 30 years later it’s still possible to describe a band’s sound aesthetically as “C86” is a tribute to the lasting cultural impact of the humble cassette that NME released in 1986 as part of a series of promotional releases designed to garner enthusiasm for the now sounds the weekly paper was covering. Even with the obvious disparity between the 22 tracks on the original releases, the tape managed to capture an intangible thread between the bands, and in doing so, a shared attitude and belief in substance over style. (Though of course, there was plenty of style in the bands’ unstylishness.)
After issuing an expanded edition of C86 in 2014, Cherry Red has taken that thread and continued to run with it. Realizing that the aesthetic captured on the original cassette has never really died, and indeed continued to thrive in the UK in the subsequent years, the label released C87 last year and has now followed that up with the three-disc C88.
Like its predecessors, C88’s tracklist is a mix of familiar names and the obscure monikers of acts who may have been short-lived flashes in the pan or simply acts who never crossed over to the greater success of some of their peers. British music perhaps went through its greatest upheaval in decades in 1988, experiencing what would be viewed as a second Summer of Love, with rave culture kicking into full-swing fueled by acid house and Ecstacy. This compilation in some way captures indie pop’s last hurrah before it was supplanted by not only acid house, but subsequently the hazier hues of Madchester and then shoegaze, both of which certainly couldn’t exist without the C86 sound as a precursor. In fact, acts that would figure into both the former (The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets) and the latter (Pale Saints, The House of Love), as well as acid house (The Shamen), are represented here.
In some ways then, this comp is every bit as indispensable as the original C86. Even putting historical significance aside, just listening through C88’s 71 tracks, John Reed, the set’s compiler has done a truly remarkable job of capturing the sonic aesthetic of the time. Beginning fittingly with The Pooh Sticks’ “On Tape,” a track cataloging the singer’s tapes of Orange Juice, Pastels, and Velvet Underground songs, it veers between the Moss Poles’ Ramones redux (“One Summer”), Bradford’s blue-eyed folk (“Tattered, Tangled and Torn”), Bob’s sax-flecked rave-up (“Kirsty”), and The Darling Buds’ revved-up pop. It shows that while sharing some similarities and probably even more common influences, these bands were largely following their own muses. C88 captures that ingenuity, not to mention the richness of the music being made. C88 may be the last in this series of extrapolations, but no one should be left wanting.