Every vaguely melodic, vaguely punk band in
that was cool at some point in the 90s cited Leatherface as a strong influence, almost entirely on the basis of 1991’s Mush. While I’d agree that it probably is their finest work, this has always struck me as an odd perception about a band that hasn’t put out a record that’s been widely panned, nor a record or single that’s charted. What came before wasn’t as consistently well crafted, and what came after occasionally lacked some bite and didn’t sound quite as upbeat. The first full-length that followed in 1993, Minx, was noticeably flatter, and harder to access immediately than Mush. It wasn’t much worse at all overall, but the fact that it took a few spins to actually appreciate put it at a disadvantage next to its instantly likeable predecessor. America
This change wasn’t completely sudden, however. A somewhat forgotten extended play was released in the year in between, combining elements of the infectiously bouncy Mush and the more thoughtful Minx. “Games” is the first track on Compact And Bijou, and while it does sound more reined in than a lot of the Mush material, it does have very similar-sounding instruments. The drum track, while not that high in the mix, does sound a bit aggressive in relation to the guitars and vocals at times. Frankie Stubbs wasn’t exactly writing silly little ditties before, but his infamously gravelly voice espouses more pensive lyrics, which rhyme with the slightly more sullen tones in the guitars. Having said that, it’s still got quite a bit of energy to it, and it’s got a neat guitar solo.
The next track runs in a similar vein, but sounds a little more Mush-y. Shoot me, I like terrible puns. Whereas “Games” was sufficiently different, “Live For You” sounds like it could have been wedged into the back end of Mush, or at least in the bonus track section. It’s brisker, simpler and catchier, but not quite as good. “Pale Moonlight” is a moody acoustic number with a hint of piano. It’s a bit of a downer even with the slight change in tone from prior material taken into account, but although the song was powered up into an electric rock song and stuck on the end of Minx at the last minute, this acoustic version is better, as is the hilarious punk cover of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” that was cut from Minx to make way. At the end of the day, this was an EP of homeless material, and there are only so many B-side slots, and a whole album full of mismatched scraps wouldn’t have gone down too well, so an extended play was the best way to present the material.
Speaking of punk covers, Leatherface did quite a few in their time, with Presley, Bob Dylan, Elton John and The Police among their victims. This time Frankie and his chums set their sights on Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution”, and to aficionados of “real” music, they absolutely butcher it. However, if you’re accustomed to Frankie’s voice, which is very much an acquired taste, and like yourself a bit of high energy rock, then you might agree that the band have actually done a good job souping it up, and while it may not be their very best (“Message In A Bottle” is a more realistic contender) or most humorous (the punk rock version of “You Are My Sunshine” takes all the biscuits, and any biscuit analogues like Jaffa Cakes), but it’s pretty good. That’s your lot for those who bought the 10” placemat, but for those with the 12cm coaster, you get a bonus track. It’s a cleaned up recording of a song from the I Want The Moon 7”. This version of “Dreaming” doesn’t have the mental guitar solo, but sounds cleaner, more cohesive, and generally more powerful. The solo that is present isn’t as randomly heavy metal, and the faint sound of Stubbs sounding like he’s vomiting during the break isn’t really any worse than the faint tape loop in the old version, and so it was this version that survived to be used as a B-side twice more. Having said that, a superior version was recorded in 1991 for BBC Radio jockey John Peel for the first of three brilliant sessions (the opening track of this EP also saw a superior version in the 1992 Peel session).
This EP is essentially a home for loose ends, and isn’t essential to new fans of Leatherface. However, that isn’t to say that it’s worthless. “Games” is a fantastic and distinctive track, and ultimately what made Compact And Bijou worth a separate release from the full length albums that sandwich its largely forgotten place in the Leatherface canon. If you like Mush, Minx, or both, then there’s definitely something on here for you.
Personal picks: Games, Talkin’ Bout A Revolution
Picks for others: Games, Live For You
Relative weaknesses: Pale Moonlight
01 – Games
02 – Live For You
03 – Pale Moonlight
04 – Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution
05 – Dreaming