Book of Love: Four Album Catalog Reissued

Book of Love was a New York City-based synthpop quartet that found a modicum of success on the dance charts. Noble Rot has released the group’s four albums on individual CDs, each augmented with bonus tracks and new liner notes. The discs are delivered inside three-panel cardboard slip-sleeves, without plastic beds for the discs.

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Originally released in 1986 the quartet’s debut followed in the footsteps of UK acts like Yaz, Spandau Ballet and Depeche Mode. But even with the synthetic keyboards and drum machines, the band had a distinct voice in songwriter and lead singer Susan Ottaviano. Her vocals are deadpanned in front of skittering and throbbing dance beats, creating emotional tension in the contrast between passivity and activity. Those who fondly remember dancing to post-disco synth sounds will enjoy the trip down memory lane; those who grew thirsty for drums and guitars in the New Wave era will find this a nightmare relived. Noble Rot’s reissue includes the album’s original dozen tracks but drops the five remixes added to previous CD editions. A second disc offers eleven alternates that include live versions of “Happy Day” and “Boy,” five wonderfully primitive demos, and the instrumental version of “Modigliani.” It’s a treasure trove for fans, though it’s a shame the remixes weren’t included.


The quartet’s second album opens with a hyperkinetic reworking of Mike Oldfield’s hit “Tubular Bells,” with a thumping beat that made it a dance floor favorite, and a seamless segue into the AIDS-themed “Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls.” Susan Ottaviano continued to provide most of the lead vocals, though Ted Ottaviano (no relation) steps to the microphone on the throbbing, slow-building grand production of “With a Little Love.” Having spent the two previous years on the road touring in support of their debut, the band didn’t push their sound or compositions forward on this second outing. Those who liked the debut will enjoy this second helping, augmented here with four alternate/extended mixes and the non-LP “Enchantra.” Points off for sloppy reissue art direction that left the front cover rotated 90 degrees to the left.

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Given three years between their sophomore release and this third effort, Book of Love finally carved out some new ground. Though still making most of their music with keyboards, their beats had less dance floor thump, and their vocals and melodies took on the bright shades of ‘60s sunshine pop and light psychedelia. It’s as if the Paisley Underground had revived girl-group with synthesizers instead of Byrdsian chime and Velvet Underground drone with guitars. Their revised sound is more Dukes of the Stratosphere and twee pop than Erasure. The opening “Turn the World” borrows the bass line riff of Tommy James’ “Draggin’ the Line” and layers it with lush vocal overdubs, and the animated vocals and revving car of “Orange Flip” suggests an update of Gary Usher. Those who found the group’s first two albums too heavy with dance beats may enjoy hearing this pure strain of the band’s sugar-sweet pop. Noble Rot’s reissue adds four remixes to the dozen original tracks.


By 1993, seven years after Book of Love released their debut album, the music scene had changed, as had the musical directions of the individual group members. The 1980’s infatuation with synthesizers had been steamrolled by the back-to-guitars sounds of grunge, and the group’s club beats had given way to the pop melodies and layered vocals of 1991’s Candy Carol. Their fourth and final album is a fractured set of songs that range from early dance-ready compositions to moodier, downbeat ballads, and the band’s cover of David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision.” Unlike the group’s second album, whose lack of progress can be pinned on touring commitments that sopped up prep time, the lack of energy here is simply the end of a band’s inspirational arc. There are some catchy melodies and memorable lyrical riffs, but it sounds emotionally estranged and hasn’t the effervescence that marked the band’s best work. Noble Rot’s reissue adds four remixes to the dozen original tracks. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]


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