On September 28th 2009 the new double disc reissue version was released of Hefner‘s We Love The City album, an album originally released in 2000. Darren Hayman, the band’s singer-songwriter, hails this as his favourite album from the band’s career, and it was definitely the most commercially successful one.
Personally I’ve always ranked it as my least favourite out of their four albums. That’s not to say I’ve disliked it; I’ve enjoyed it very much, just not to the extent that I’ve enjoyed their other three albums. But having re-listened to it after getting the reissued version, it’s an album that’s definitely stood the test of time, holding up remarkably well. I found myself almost re-discovering the album as I listened through it again, feeling as if I was hearing the songs for only the fourth or fifth time around rather than the fiftieth, although I still knew most of the lyrics by heart. (I was in fact amused, and perhaps a bit proud, when the album’s opening track started playing and I managed to pretty much sing along to the entire thing from start to finish.)
Other than the original twelve-track album, the double disc reissue comes with a plethora of bonus tracks – twenty seven in total. I have expressed some disdain in regards to the reissued double disc Hefner albums; I’ve felt that they’ve stuck too close to the more is better philosophy and have in effect ended up clogging up perfectly good albums with unnecessary demo and rehearsal tracks – which for the most part sound very similar to the studio versions but with lower fidelity – and have in effect detracted from the overall listening experience. I’ve been wishing they could’ve made their reissues more like Billy Bragg’s double disc reissues, which have the original album on the first disc and then a second disc containing a dozen or so extras from various places, a few of which may be demos and alternate takes. In effect, keeping the original album experience fully intact. The reissued Hefner albums have been difficult to listen to from start to finish.
But I was pleasantly surprised at how well this new reissue worked in terms of the added content; it’s definitely the best overall reissue so far, and whereas the other two almost felt like a chore to get through, this one was mostly enjoyable. Things do slow down when the onslaught of demo tracks hit, but overall the demos are more listenable than they have been with the past releases, at times even genuinely good, and they’re surrounded by more interesting and high-quality tracks than before, this time also including remixes.
This release is actually so full of bonus tracks that they neglected to include four of the B-sides which were on two of the singles released in conjunction with the original album. I’m guessing these will then appear on the next, and final, reissued album from the band. Not quite ideal, as it would be better to have all of the B-sides from one album release – and thus one era – in one place rather than two, and it certainly won’t help make their next reissued album any more of a cohesive listening experience. A better solution would’ve been to simply remove a few of the less interesting demo tracks; there are a total of eleven demos to be found here, and removing Between four and six of them should’ve made enough room for the missing B-sides.
The idea of these reissues, from what I’ve gathered, is threefold. First of all, after Darren Hayman’s legal battles with Hefner‘s record label Too Pure, he now owns the right to the band’s music and wants to make it readily available again. Secondly, to make it easy for consumers to get a hold of all the music Hefner has released, not having to pay big money to get a hold of the slightly more obscure stuff, like singles and EPs. And thirdly, including previously unreleased recordings – which seem to be the demos – to make it interesting for fans who already have all the band’s releases. And now they only have one reissue left in which to compile the rest of Hefner‘s non-album material. So here’s what they’ve skipped so far:
- “You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone” (2:40) from The Hymn For The Cigarettes
- “Milkmaids” (3:59) from The Greedy Ugly People CD1
- “Kate Cleaver’s House” (3:03) from The Greedy Ugly People CD1 single
- “Everything Is Falling Apart” (4:51) from The Greedy Ugly People CD2
- “Don’t Give Up On Us Baby” (4:18) from The Greedy Ugly People CD2 single
- “To Hide A Little Thought” (3:03) from I Took Her Love For Granted and Boxing Hefner
- “The Science Fiction” (4:32) from Boxing Hefner
- “Twisting Mary’s Arm” (5:03) from Boxing Hefner
- “Mary Lee” (3:03) from Boxing Hefner
- “Nobody Knows” (2:19) from Revelations!
- “Dragnet For Jesus” (2:53) from Revelations!
- “He Got Better Things For You” (3:24) from Revelations!
- “Turkle Dove” (3:02) from Revelations!
That’s over fifty minutes worth of music. This is all material prior to 2001, when they released their final album.
There’s also the band’s very first release, a cassette tape EP called The Devotion Chamber from 1996, but which Darren has doubts as to whether or not should be included in Hefner‘s discography as it’s mostly a solo affair. The release has four tracks, recorded on a four track, all of which, except for one, have been re-recorded and released on the band’s proper albums. I’ve never heard this release, so the tracks in question may actually have already been included on the reissues; there are several tracks marked “4 track” among the extra tracks on the reissues, and three of these are indeed the same songs as from the band’s semi-debut – but are they the same recordings? As for the fourth track, “You’ve Been Prayed For”, it may have been included on the band’s compilation Catfight!, but again it’s not clear if it’s the actual recording from The Devotion Chamber, or if it’s a different recording of the same song; the otherwise informative booklet that came with the compilation doesn’t make it clear, and the reissues themselves are all booklet-less.
There was also a mystery as to whether the version of “China Crisis” included on this reissue, listed as only “4-Track Demo”, was the same as on the London split EP, but then I noticed that on iTunes this track is listed as “4-Track ‘London EP’ Version” instead, thus solving the mystery. I guess the line between a demo and a version is a thin one. And of course, strange that the description should be different on the two versions.
Anyway, there’s a lot of music they need to squeeze onto the final reissue if they are to reach the goal of having all their previously released music easily available, both music from the final album’s era (two album singles, two remix singles, and one EP) and the music they’ve skipped so far. Will this leave much room for demo tracks? While I’ve generally not enjoyed these and felt that they’ve clogged up the listening experience, this is the album for which I’m the most interested in hearing the demos; most of the studio songs are of the retro electronica variety, and so I’m curious if any of the demos were done acoustically, which would be interesting to hear. But will they have room for them this time around? Guess we’ll have to see.
Oh, and a minor annoyance with this reissue is that they’ve made the sleeve a bit taller than it were on the two previous reissue releases. I’m always a bit annoyed when authors or musicians do this, suddenly releasing a product which breaks from the trend of their previous packaging, unless there’s a good reason for it or if it looks better, as it detracts from the aesthetics of your collection. Worst case scenario, if the artist suddenly decides to go for some crazy over-sized sleeve, it may not even fit into your designated area for CDs (as is the case with Radiohead‘s I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings and Jonathan Richman’s Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love). Fortunately this one isn’t quite big enough to make it an issue.
I’ll leave you with a few choice Hefner tracks which are from their We Love The City album, but in different versions than the original album ones. First there’s a remix of “The Greedy Ugly People” by Baxendale, which can be found on this reissue. Then there’s the song “Don’t Go”, one of my favourite songs by the band, from a radio session. Apparently there’s a Hefner radio session compilation in the works too, so I’m curious if this will be included there. I’d love to hear the rest of this session, as this version is really good, and it sounds like the band’s having fun playing it. And finally, there’s “The Day That Thatcher Dies” from a more recent radio session with only Darren and Jack Hayter (aka. 50% Of Hefner). I’ve never liked this song much, but this slow version is pretty decent!