A Review by Alan Haber
Released in 1994 on East Side Digital, Set to Pop was an important record for Bill Lloyd. He had been successful in a partnership with Radney Foster as Foster and Lloyd, a duo that registered a considerable impact at country radio and a more-than-palpable fan base. Followed by a re-release on CD in 1990 of his 1986 solo debut, Feeling the Elephant, Lloyd set to work on a followup, a career-making album that showed what he could do on the pop side of things. He set about writing for himself, “without thinking about crafting songs for a radio format.” The canvas was blank, so with nothing to lose and everything to gain (and a Ray Davies cover in his pocket), he pulled out his musical paint set and got to creating a scene.
That scene, an hour-long aggregation of songs separated by clever bits of whimsy and swimming in an ocean of talent and confidence, manifested itself as Set to Pop. Many classic albums followed–albums that saw Lloyd work his magic that was continually informed by mounting experience and travels along many musical routes. His 2012 release, Boy King of Tokyo, found him multitasking, playing every instrument not nailed down, including the drums. That album featured one of Lloyd’s best and catchiest songs, the relatable-to-all-music-geeks pop confection, “The Best Record Ever Made.”
On the list of Best Records Ever Made, Set to Pop must sit comfortably alongside similarly great waxings drawn from the catalogs of other great artists. Lloyd must know how important a record he made 20 long years ago is, because he’s taken a fresh look at it, reconfigured and reshaped it into an album he has correctly titled Reset2014. And he must be serious, because he’s mixed it in Stereo-Panic Sound.
Record geeks-as-collectors are more than familiar with the concept of the alternate album–the re-christening of an original, full-length work with new and refurbished parts put in the game so the original parts can sit on the sidelines and take a well-deserved rest. Twenty years is a long time, as just about any person of a certain age will tell you. It’s generally a good regrouping point from which you can gaze back through the hazy shade of a lost winter’s dream, see what worked, why it worked, and whether it still works. The fact is, the original Set to Pop still works fine and dandy, but this new look at the Emperor’s Old Clothes is a good way to gain some perspective, and this new renaissance works like a charm, breathing clear life into an old flame. It’s like a new coat of Turtle Wax after it’s baked an hour or two in the hot sun, all shiny and bright.
Lloyd notes that Reset2014, set for release in early November, came about because he found that “most of the bits and pieces for this project [were] just waiting for me to do something with” them. Elements such as these are frequently as alive as alive can be, so it’s no surprise that they called out to him and drew him to enter them into service to provide an alternate road map to the stars–a new look at an old favorite and a new way for fans to experience the excitement of a classic, heritage recording.
To that end, Lloyd remade nine of the 15 songs on Set to Pop for Reset2014 (the songs are presented in the original running order). Two early mixes, one early recording, and three live takes make up the rest of the re-imaginings. Two bonus cuts–an early recording of “Forget About Us” and a live version of “Niagara Falls” recorded at the Bluebird–round out the selections, none of which are meant to replace the originals. The idea here is to apply 20 years of experience and musical maturity to an old friend, to see how it lives and breathes in the here and now.
It should come as no surprise that Set to Pop-as-Reset2014 lives marvelously, like it’s in the prime of its life. “I Went Electric” is still first out of the gate, still a gentle-to-energetic track, with Lloyd on all instruments, and with perhaps a bit more angst in the chorus vocal and certainly in the bones of the electric guitar solo. “Trampoline,” as perfect a pop confection as Lloyd has ever come up with, is perhaps a bit more muscular in an early mix, as opposed to perhaps a bit brighter and shinier and polished in its original incarnation.
In a live setting, as presented on Reset2014, the medium-burn of “Niagara Falls” in the original version gets jump-started with a bit more rock ‘n’ roll intensity. “In a Perfect World,” 20 years on from Set to Pop, is recast by Bill, who plays all instruments excepting the bass, as an all-acoustic, determined workout (the original, musically populated by such luminaries as Garry Tallent, Al Kooper (playing the Al Kooper Organ, naturally), Rusty Young and Kim Richey, chugs along with percussion). And Ray Davies’ “This is Where I Belong,” the sole cover on Set to Pop, is recast from its original, melodic power pop presentation as another, more ferocious beast entirely, with Lloyd feeding his lead vocal through some kind of electronic vocal cord shredder. The remake ends with 25 seconds of Neil Young-worthy feedback. The remake comes in about 25 seconds longer than the original version.
I wonder whether what Lloyd set out to accomplish with Reset2014–what was in his head–was realized. Or did the path down the road to reinvention take left and right turns into uncharted waters. What is clear is that the overall exercise–was it possible to reinvent the wheel in a way that would shed light on the beating heart of Set to Pop?, or was the wheel as it was preferable–was of great value, because it uncovered the tissue of the heart and set it to beat over, under, sideways, down.
There is a great benefit to celebrating what has come before. In every artist’s catalog sits an album of immense importance–an album that defined, ahead of its future cousins, the path that leads to coming songs, triumphs, experiments and the value of it all. With Reset2014, Bill Lloyd has taken pause to smell the roses from 20 years ago and replant them for future generations. These future generations will celebrate the treasure that is Set to Pop and, at the same time, devour and enjoy and embrace the look back that is Reset2014, one of the year’s best and most important releases.