During the first half of the '80s, there were few artists as prolific as the Times' Edward Ball. He cranked out singles and albums like a one-man mod machine, dishing out witty, sardonic songs with hooks as sharp as winklepickers on a seemingly constant basis. That part of the time he was also a member of the Television Personalities makes one wonder where he got his energy from. Cherry Red's six-disc collection My Picture Gallery: The Artpop! Recordings gathers up all the songs recorded by the Times between 1980 and 1986. The set is made up of the group's six albums and numerous singles, all released on Ball's own Artpop! and the label he shared with Dan Treacy of the TVPs, Whaam! Presented in chronological order, it kicks off with the band's 1985 album Go! With the Times since it was recorded in 1980. A jumpy set of mod revival tracks highlighted by a ripping cover of Jimmy Cliff's "You Can Get It" and the mod-psych gem "Red with Purple Flashes," it could have been one of the cornerstone releases of the mod revival scene if released on time. By 1985, it must have seemed like a weird time capsule. Their actual debut, 1982's Pop Goes Art!, is built around the mod sound, but shows them casting a wider net that brings in Kinks-y pop, new wave, and twangy spy music. The band's next two albums were built around a central character named Frank Summit; through him Ball examines the modern state of England and finds it wanting. The first of the batch, 1983's This Is London, follows the same basic template as earlier releases, but 1984's Hello Europe embraced modern recording techniques like sampled and drm machines, ending up to be a left-field sophisticated pop surprise. From there Ball turned his attention to creating a soundtrack to the script Joe Orton wrote for the Beatles called Up Against It. Ball's music is suitably Beatlesque, but with tin-can production instead of the Fab Four's usual lush Abbey Round sound. The sixth Times album, 1986's Enjoy, combines the mod revival sound with slick modern production techniques and comes across as their most accessible album. It's still weird, though, and still as much fun as their early records. Surrounding the albums are a wealth of alternate takes, different mixes, singles, B-sides, and stray tracks, some of them super poppy, some of them indulging Ball's artier proclivities. The group's signature song "I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape" turns up a few times, first as a taut mod rocker with snappy vocal harmonies, then as a more new wave-leaning version with keyboards, then finally as a KLF-sounding remix from 1988, and the progression mirrors that of the band. Ball went on to make all sorts of music after this period, some with the Times, some with other groups. All of it was filtered through his wicked sense of humor and inability to make the same record twice. That was certainly the case during the period My Picture Gallery covers, and it makes for a fascinating, sometimes bewildering listen. Any Edward Ball or Times fan willing to take the plunge into this giant collection of their music will be nicely rewarded for their efforts.
© Tim Sendra /TiVo