This three-disc set presents the complete output from Young Marble Giants, a post-punk band from Cardiff. It includes Colossal Youth, the album the band released in 1980 on Rough Trade Records and the only album it completed while together. It’s a perfect artifact from a moment when, briefly, a brand new pop music seemed possible. Punk rock was a response to many things, art-rock and the tyranny of technique prominent among them. John Lydon showed up for his Sex Pistols audition wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt with “I Hate” hand-written over the logo.
The furious, anti-pop tantrum moment couldn’t last, but in its wake came bands that similarly refused to accept that artistic self-expression is the sole province of those who can play in 9/4 time (or keep time) or sing proper harmonies. That impulse to make a new pop led to the early electronic efforts of the Human League (little of which is as sugary as “Don’t You Want Me Baby,” the experiments in rhythm and rhetoric of the Gang of Four, and countless dance rock groups that tried in their own stilted fashions to create a version of funk.
Young Marble Giants’ innovation was to be quiet. When everyone else was making a distorted noise—distortion used to foreground atmosphere—Stuart and Philip Moxham played clear, spare songs with little bass, less guitar, the occasional organ fill for texture, and Alison Statton’s whispered voice over a muffled rhythm machine. Others would do this later, most notably Frente with a cover of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle,” but Frente lacked the tense, almost claustrophobic, edge of Young Marble Giants. The songs sounded like Statton expressing her frustration, anger and desire privately as she feels she is supposed to, wanting to let it out but aware of all the forces that don’t want to hear what young people, particularly young women think. Beyond that basic drama, the joy of the album is that their invention worked.
The band broke up a few years later, and the other two discs are inessential. They’re fine—EPs, a John Peel session that, if anything, rocks them up a bit—but Young Marble Giants said everything they had to say with Colossal Youth.