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The Riddle (Remastered Expanded Edition)


Artist: Nik Kershaw
Label: Universal Music
RRP: £13.99
0 060253 728803 8
Release Date: 12 August 2013

The Beatles vs The Rolling Stones.
Oasis vs Blur.
Nik Kershaw vs…erm…Howard Jones.

Well, okay, that last entry may not exactly have gone down in history as one of the most legendary rock rivalries of the last century, but the question still gets thrown up from time to time in drunken pub discussions across the land.

Nik Kershaw or Howard Jones – which '80s singer/songwriter got your seal of approval?

In truth, they were never really in the same league and didn’t even have that much in common to begin with, other than they could both occasionally be seen pretending to play with their synthesisers on Top of the Pops.

I’ve got nothing against Howard Jones who was pleasant enough in a bland and largely forgettable sort of way, but he did seem to follow the '80s trend of releasing a few reasonably catchy singles and then padding out the rest of his albums with weak filler.

In sharp contrast, Kershaw’s deliciously captivating singles were nearly always the least interesting things on albums packed full of quirky pop oddities which were quite unlike anything else at the time.

Following on from last year’s successful re-packaging of Kershaw’s debut album Human Racing, expectations are high for this new remastered and expanded edition of his superior second album The Riddle.

Nearly thirty years on, this marvellous album now sounds sharper than it ever did, but the choice of bonus material on the second disc is likely to leave most hardcore Kershaw fans feeling just a little bit let down and disappointed.

A casual listener may remember the three hit singles lifted from the original release of this album back in 1984 – the sweeping epic grooves of ‘Don Quixote’, the brilliantly babbling nonsense lyrics of the title track ‘The Riddle’, and the curiously selected retro rocker vibe of ‘Wide Boy’ which was completely unrepresentative of anything else on the album.

If ‘Wide Boy’ was a poor choice of single, there were certainly enough alternative picks of finely-crafted synth-pop magic scattered throughout the rest of the album.

The oddball pop hooks of ‘Roses’, ‘You Might’, and ‘Easy’ were crying out for wider exposure and chart success, whilst the quieter introspection of ‘City of Angels’, ‘Wild Horses’, and ‘Save The Whale’ proved that there was far more to this pint-sized recording artist than just a few catchy choruses.

In short, The Riddle might just be one of the greatest under-rated albums of the '80s, and the remastered sound quality of this new release is worth the price alone.

But if you’re going to go to the trouble of re-packaging this classic album with a second disc of bonus material, you may as well make the effort to include all the stuff that every Kershaw fan would quite naturally expect to find on such a release.

And this is where the remastered and expanded version of The Riddle falls a little short in comparison to last year’s repackaging of Human Racing which featured all the relevant b-sides and remixes from the period.

Firstly, the original b-side to the single release of ‘The Riddle’ (a live track called ‘Progress’ of which no studio version was ever recorded) is inexplicably missing from the collection, which will come as a bit of a blow to completists.

This glaring omission is particularly disappointing as it leaves only the two far weaker b-sides on offer here - the dreary piano ballad ‘So Quiet’, and the bizarre novelty duet with then-wife Sheri Kershaw ‘Don’t Lie’ which might just be the most cringe-inducing track that Nik Kershaw ever released in his entire recording career.

Thankfully, all three 12” mixes of the singles are included in the package, although it’s fair to say that these are probably an acquired taste.

The extended 12” mix of the 1980’s was always a bit of a curious beast and rarely had any direct input from the artist in question.

The extra long mixes here are no exception, but I have to admit that I’ve always had a soft spot for them.

If you’ve ever wondered how ‘Don Quixote’ might sound if it was spun out to nearly twice its original length, then you’ve certainly come to the right place.

The rest of the bonus disc is blatantly padded out with no less than six live tracks taken from a 1984 performance at The Hammersmith Odeon.

It seems a shame that this repackaged release has gone quite so overboard with the live material when there’s no shortage of other far more interesting stuff which was just waiting to be plucked from the archives.

Whatever happened to the 7” single mix of ‘Wide Boy’? An even more intriguing choice for inclusion would have been the early demo version of ‘Wide Boy’ originally intended for the Human Racing album before the track was completely revamped for The Riddle. Or how about the ultra-rare interview with Nik which popped up on the cassette single version of the title track?

All of these potential little gems are completely overlooked.

One final criticism regards the seemingly random sequencing of the bonus disc. Live tracks, b-sides, and very lengthy 12” mixes are simply thrown together without much thought or consideration. Even if sequencing the tracks in some kind of chronological order may have been far too much to ask, the material could surely have still been presented in a slightly more logical and digestible structure.

I’m not sure how many fans have a burning desire to hear a live track, followed by a 9-minute 12” mix, followed by another live track, followed by a b-side. It just doesn’t seem to make any sense.

If all this sounds a little harsh, I should stress again that The Riddle is a deeply wonderful album in its own right from a period when Kershaw was at the peak of his powers. I would heartily recommend buying this slice of '80s treasure if only for the stunning quality of the remastered original album.

However, the bonus disc is ultimately a missed opportunity to treat the fans with the material they expected and deserved. It really wouldn’t have been very hard to get this right.

It’s been suggested in the promotional material that Nik Kershaw himself was responsible for the track selection of the bonus disc. I find that quite hard to believe... but if it’s true, why on Earth did he make such baffling choices?

That conundrum might just turn out to be the biggest riddle of all concerning this puzzling package.


Daniel Lee Salter

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