The Fox Box

Fox: “The Fox Box”

Okay, we may be stretching the boundaries of our remit by reviewing this new 4CD box set from Cherry Red. You may even consider the idea of Fox being an ’80s act to be one of those “alternative facts” we keep hearing about. But stick with it, we do have our reasons.

For one thing, if you’ve been following BBC Four’s Top of the Pops reruns since they began in 2011 with shows from 1976, you’ll remember Fox as one of the big breakout acts of that very first edition. Amongst the inauspicious company of Sailor, Tarney & Spencer and Pan’s People dressed as big game hunters, the vision of singer Noosha Fox – in hotpants, almost see-through blouse and inexplicable massive white cape – teasing and cooing her way through S-S-Single Bed was an obvious highlight. You may even remember the ensuing Twitter uproar as scientist, writer and part-time Michael Ball lookalike Ben Goldacre outed Noosha as his mother.

Alternatively, if you were a regular TOTP viewer back in 1982 there’s a good chance that you stayed with BBC1 for The Kenny Everett Television Show directly afterwards, in which case you’ll be familiar with the closing theme Electro People. That was Fox too; although they split up in 1977 when Noosha went solo and two members formed splinter group Yellow Dog, there was a brief reformation in the early ’80s, the only real product of which was the tie-in single release (on BBC Records, no less).

While The Fox Box promises a full overview of the band’s career from 1974 to 1984 – and even manages to sneak in a couple of early ’90s recordings through the back door – it concerns itself mainly with the three albums the band released between 1975 and ’77. These are afforded a CD each, housed in card sleeves which mimic the original artwork (although not in great detail, with song titles and credits removed from the rear sleeves). Disc one, the band’s eponymous début, opens with a straightforward reading of Love Letters (a hit for both Ketty Lester and Elvis Presley in the ’60s and later Alison Moyet) and proceeds to flirt with a variety of styles, subtly infusing what initially seems to be a fairly unexceptional set of mid-70s pop songs with elements of reggae and the pedal steel guitar of B.J. Cole. Top twenty hits Only You Can and Imagine Me Imagine You are both here, as are both sides of Noosha’s solo top forty hit Georgina Bailey, installed here as bonus tracks despite being from 1977, after the band had split.

Related:  "Like a phoenix coming back from the ashes" - ABC to release "The Lexicon of Love 2"

Before that Fox still had two albums in them. Released towards the end of 1975, Tails of Illusion is a strange beast, introducing hints of what would become known as “world music” on tracks such as Yuli Yuli and Kupu Kupu. The album stretches Fox’s boundaries more than their début, but the decision to share vocal duties between Noosha, guitarist/songwriters Kenny Young and Herbie Armstrong and even drummer Kimberly Frank dilutes the effectiveness of the album and makes for a less cohesive listen than it really should. Adding to the confusion are the aforementioned ’90s recordings, stapled inappropriately onto the end of the disc, including a desperate attempt to update Young and Armstrong’s 1978 post-Fox hit Just One More Night – remember when somebody at Madness’s record label decided their 2007 single Sorry needed some kind of “urban” rap over it to make it appeal to “the kids”? It’s ten times worse than that.

Those anachronisms out of the way, we return to 1977 for Blue Hotel, the band’s third and final album. Opening with Fox’s second top five hit (and Australian number one) S-S-Single Bed, we’re firmly back in first album territory but there’s little to equal the impact of that final hit, despite the obvious attempt to follow it up in the same vein with the shameless nudge-nudge-wink-wink of My Old Man’s Away. By this stage Noosha’s mannered vocals are beginning to wear thin; while I was listening to this my wife came into the room demanding to know why I was listening to Jodie Foster in Bugsy Malone.

Filed away at the back of the box, the fourth disc Images is actually a much better introduction to Fox’s work. Distilled from a 2014 double CD compilation to a single disc, all the singles are here again (apparently in original 7″ versions, although the difference between these and the album versions is rarely obvious) but after that we unearth a brace of recordings from the band’s 1980s reunion, previously unissued aside from Cuddly Ken’s theme Electro People and the fearfully titled Model In A Leotard, apparently released as a single in Italy. Given that I’m reviewing this for an ’80s site you’d expect me to say that these are the best tracks in the whole box, but some of them genuinely are; perhaps Fox were ahead of their time, as their ever-so-slightly off-kilter approach to pop music seems much better suited to the ’80s electronic approach than the more conventional instrumentation of their ’70s material. Dancing With An Alien and Torn Between Two Worlds wouldn’t sound out of place on any early ’80s synthpop compilation worth its salt, and there’s a final twist in the tale as we discover – via a frenzied, raved-up cover version which is clearly from much later than the nominal 1984 closing date of the compilation – that Reparata & the Delrons’ 1968 hit Captain Of Your Ship was actually written by none other than Fox’s main songwriter Kenny Young. Small world, innit?

Related:  Review: Freddie Mercury - "Messenger of the Gods: The Singles"

Overall, The Fox Box seems a little on the excessive side. Disc 4 on its own should be plenty for all but the most rabid Fox enthusiast, so unless you’re a die hard fan looking to replace worn out vinyl copies in one easy to handle and reasonably priced fell swoop, you might be better off seeking out a copy of the original Images 1974-1984 instead. Or at least familiarise yourself with the final disc before embarking on the other three.

5/10