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Welcome to The Carnival (The Very Best Of ) – Stripped (reviewed by Dave Franklin)


Stripped are one of those bands who give pop music a bit of a reputation. A great one. If that generic label now conjures images of dance routine driven, style over substance dreamt up by a marketing department and a team of music lawyers, Stripped instead remind us that there is an alternative fringe that has long kept alive that indie-pop dream first evoked by such iconic bands as The Lilac Time (Stephen Duffy would bite their hand off for She Dreams), Lloyd Cole, Orange Juice, Crowded House and labels like Postcard and Sarah Records. Across 13 tracks and twenty years they blend jangling and emotive guitar pop lines with just a hint of rock to keep things sassy, deft songwriting and infectious choruses. It all seems so easy doesn’t it, on paper maybe but Stripped join a small and celebrated group of bands who could actually make that work and work brilliantly.

Occasional dashes of Beatle-esque brilliance jump out at you on songs such as Love is Gone and Cartoon Eyes, the latter fitting somewhere in between The Fab Fours first acid drop and the more indulgent explorations which it lead to. But this is no pastiche and largely they are their own band, creating rather than referencing but referencing from some perfect sources. In Space shows that they are just as at home in more rock climes, crafting riffs that The Stooges would be proud of, though presenting them with slightly more decorum than the much missed Motor Town mayhem.

And it is this balancing act which sets them apart. As popists and rockists wage pointless pitched battle, Stripped have always adhered to the cult of the song, preferring to take the role of tunesmiths who exhale composition over flash and muscle. If this retrospective is the perfect rallying point for those who have long understood that this middle way has always sported brilliant acts — pop acts muscled up by a dash of rock, rock acts whose bluster is tempered by indie details and indie acts happy to explore pop immediacy — the fact that the band are announcing live dates once again is the icing on the alt-pop cake.