I will be blunt: The chief reason I ordered this two-disc collection culled from the bowels of the On-U Sound record archives was because of the presence of Tackhead. They were (still are, really) the funk-tronics collective that melded the backing band of the Sugar Hill Gang — as in, the actual members of the band — with an industrial-strength drum machine, the blaring vocal assault of On-U Sound leader Gary Clail, and the grimy studio malfunctions of Adrian Sherwood. Over the years, most of their catalog has been issued digitally, but even many of those discs have fallen out of print or grown hard to find; while their landmark album Gary Clail's Tackhead Tape Time remains available as a digital download — at least, for now — too many other bits and pieces that leaked out as 7" or 12" vinyl are still only found in DJ's milk crates.
Science Fiction Dancehall Classics is a partial fix for that situation, as it reissues a few key moments from the Tackhead story — "What Now?", "Move", "Dee Jay's Program", "Dub Storm" (under the Fats Comet moniker), and the face-melting "The Wrong Name And The Wrong Number" by way of Mark Stewart + the Maffia, heavily enough associated with Tackhead to be worth mentioning with them in the same breath. But I'd be remiss in not talking about all the other artists whose rare sides this collection rescues from obscurity, all of them hailing from the British On-U Sound label that distinguished itself with its magnificent breed of reggae, dub, funk, and proto-electronica.
Spread across the two discs of this collection are things both familiar and unfamiliar, and wonderful for both of those reasons. Consider Neneh Cherry's "Dead Come Alive" — yes, that Neneh Cherry. This item dates from 1984, years before her first leap into the limelight, and it has more the nervy, jangly quality I associate with contemporaneous downtown 1980s New York No Wave acts like the Bush Tetras than it does with the stuff she later became known best for. Then again, she did serve time in groups like The Slits and Rip Rig & Panic, and she is the stepdaughter of jazz legend Don Cherry, so maybe it's better to think of this as her real default mode, and not Raw Like Sushi.
The pleasures of a collection like this are endless. African Head Charge, another favorite outfit of mine from the On-U halls, are true to their name: they offer a mix of African rhythms and melodies, modern studio electronics, and Western instrumentation. Best cut here: "Western Intonation", a sinuous groove made doubly propulsive thanks to a nervy fiddle vamp and a bit of scrapyard guitar. (For my all-time favorite cut of theirs, "Dinosaur's Lament", seek out their Environmental Studies album, the same album that gave us "Intonation", also recently reissued as a digital product.)
Missing Brazilians and Dub Syndicate traffic in a sound that became heavily associated with the On-U name — electronic reggae with a heavy emphasis on shimmering studio effects. The former's "Quicksand Beach Party" goes way over the deep end into the kind of wall-of-white-noise effects seen on Mark Stewart's albums. And Little Annie — a/k/a Anne Anxiety-Bandez — turns up at the end of the double-disc set to croon elegiacally over an Echoplex full of percussion and piano.
There's more, but I won't lie: my first and last (if not only) reason for picking up this set was those Tackhead cuts. I'm still waiting for some intrepid soul to take their entire early catalog and give it permanent enshrinement on digital disc, but for now this is a good stopgap. And then some.