Monday, October 03, 2005


No question, Seymour Stein was a huge figure in the record industry. His place in history was made secure by signing the likes of Talking Heads, Ramones, the Pretenders and (of course) Madonna to his Sire imprint. By all accounts he's a great guy, a mentor-type, and he also supposedly coined the term "new wave" (to circumvent radio's refusal to play "punk"). But does Sire Records deserve the same boxed set treatment and iconic status accorded monumental imprints such as Stax, Motown, Blue Note, even Atlantic? Or Reprise? Or Slash? Or Sun? Or Rough Trade?

“Just Say Sire: The Sire Records Story” doesn’t quite make the case, in part because so many of Stein’s new wave and beyond signings were cherry picked from the UK, where the bands already thrived. I mean really, who associates My Bloody Valentine with Sire and Seymour Stein? My Bloody Valentine = Creation and Alan McGee. The Smiths = Rough Trade and Geoff Travis. Depeche Mode = Mute and Daniel Miller. Pet Shop Boys = EMI. Echo and the Bunnymen = Chrysalis. Aphex Twin = Warp. The same goes for cherry picking from Too Pure, Beggars Banquet or 4AD. Who thinks of Stein when you think of those labels?

Even in America, Stein gets little credit for signing, say, Ministry after so much indie success on Wax Trax, or The Replacements post- Twin/Tone. Does signing such established acts really count as risk taking or being pioneering? Ich don’t think so. Does it make him any more than an astute businessman to realize that these acts of significant cult status might make him a few extra bucks with wider, Warner Bros. backed distribution? Perhaps.

However, as a free-ranging, three-disc mix CD, “Just Say Sire” is a hoot, not distinguishing between Morrissey and the Cult, The Saints and Aztec Camera, Wilco and the Undertones, etc. It’s all over the place, and enjoyably so. Also, whenever something like this comes out from Warner Bros./Rhino, it brings hope that one day they might finally remaster the Smiths back catalog, or maybe My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” or “Shake Some Action” by the Flamin' Groovies. God knows, the latter’s title track to my ears sounds better on this comp than it does anywhere else. Usually it sounds like a cassette that had been left in the sun on the beach to have the surf wash over it repeatedly, and not in a romantic My Bloody Valentine wall of sound way, either.

I once saw Seymour Stein here at an Interpol show. He sat next to me surely pondering the best moment to dump a load of money at their feet and beg them to leave Matador.


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