❉ Sunny Californian pop meets UK cynicism in a brilliant formative album, writes We Are Cult’s Rob Morris.
I remember the day I first encountered Voice of the Beehive. It was on a car journey with my friend – and occasional collaborator – Paul Morris (no relation) where he just shoved a mixtape into the dashboard and let it play. The first track captivated me immediately: the combination of lush synths and guitars was a heady one and, added to that, the gloriously harmonised vocals held my attention at once. I needed at once to know who this band were.
So it was that a couple of days after hearing Scary Kisses – the track in question – I headed to the indie record store in Canterbury to get the ‘Sex and Misery’ album it was taken from so I could hear more. Loving it, I then ended up working my way back through their – admittedly short – back catalogue and then started acquiring their very collectable singles and special releases. (My box of vinyl is almost exclusively VOTB 12”ers, although – just to preserve my “what, really?” credentials – it also includes a Jive Bunny picture disc.)
Voice of the Beehive were formed when Californian sisters Tracey Bryn and Melissa Brooke Belland came to England in the mid-80s because it was the home of their favourite bands and they wanted to form one of their own. Once here they joined forces with UK musicians Mike Jones, Martin Brett, and Daniel ‘Woody’ Woodgate, the latter at the time being the former drummer of Madness. Another former Madness alumnus, Mark Bedford, helped shape their sound but did not become part of the main line-up. The band name is partly inspired by Melissa’s name, which in Greek means ‘honeybee’, but is also a clear nod to Victor Erice’s 1973 Spanish film ‘Spirit of the Beehive’.
This release is a deluxe reissue of their 1998 debut album ‘Let it Bee’, and it has to be said it is very different from 1995’s heavily produced ‘Sex and Misery’. ‘Let it Bee’, to be frank, is way punkier and spikier, but it still shows the brilliance of the songwriting and musicianship which was their signature and with which I fell in love. It also showcases some of the unusual song structures and overlapping vocals they would play with over time.
The major singles still shine in all their shimmering, sunny, jangly guitar glory. Don’t Call Me Baby, I Say Nothing, and I Walk the Earth are absolute stompers, and the slightly more sedate Just a City is a harmonic delight.
Of the remaining original album tracks, album opener Beat of Love is a song absolutely designed for the mosh pit and will have you nodding your head and stomping your feet within seconds. Additionally, There’s a Barbarian in the Back of My Car is a lot of fun – not least because one of the words is bleeped out, which always makes me smile.
But there’s a more thoughtful side to some of the songs too. Sorrow Floats is a gorgeous melancholy reflection on alcoholism (“you can’t drown your sorrows… ‘cause you see my dear, sorrow it floats”). It’s also a brilliant piece of storytelling from Bryn. The punchy What You Have is Enough is a thinly veiled swipe at a culture where the “price of shoes could feed families”. The other standout track – entertainingly enlivened with jungle animal noises – is Trust Me which desperately asks, “what good is the truth if we never use it?” Even I Say Nothing poignantly states “that’s why I drink, so I’ll be who they think I am.”
There are a couple of outlying tracks which don’t quite hit the spot, however. Man in the Moon is a pleasant enough, not to mention surreal, number. It was an odd choice to be a single, though, and barely scraped the top 100 in the UK. And then there’s the country tinged Oh Love. Both are perfectly fine but are generally outclassed by the other tracks on the album.
The CD editions also contain a plethora of bonus tracks. VOTB’s singles were famed for including a truckload of Bee-sides (ahem). And be they offcuts, rejected album tracks, live recordings or BBC sessions they are all included on the second CD and – finally – crisply mastered.
Among them are several tracks of note. One is a cover of Five Feet High and Risin’ recorded for a Johnny Cash tribute album under the name ‘Tracy and Melissa Beehive’. They also do brilliant covers of Blondie’s In the Flesh, Comsat Angels’ Independence Day and the Velvet Underground’s Jesus.
It’s some of the original tracks that catch the ear most, however. The best is This Weak which has always been a personal favourite. In the best traditions of pop, it’s a joyful sounding song that when you actually look at the lyrics is actually pretty brutal. In contrast Jump This Way is a joyfully upbeat little number. A surprise inclusion, however, is an early version of the song Cartoon City which was later released as a B-side for the 1995 ‘Sex and Misery’-affiliated single Angel Come Down. This original version is almost identical, if less produced, and proof – if any were needed – that good ideas never die.
All in all, ‘Let it Bee’ is a great album, and in this reissue a lot of thought has been given to the formats it’s released in; from a simple 2CD release to vinyl releases and deluxe packages with tee-shirts and a reproduction magazine. But even the 2CD edition is worth the price of admission alone, being a comprehensive selection of what I might call ‘VOTB Phase 1’. In fact, I could probably ditch all my vinyl from this era now. (For those clutching at their pearls at this statement, don’t worry. It’s never gonna happen. You’ll have to tear those records from my cold dead hands.)
Hopefully London will now set about working on a similar reissue of VOTB’s second album ‘Honey Lingers’ (say it out loud) as the chequered production history of that album means there’s a treasure trove of demo versions, B-sides and alternative takes out there.
All in all, this is a brilliant reissue of a formative album, and a reissue other labels could learn from. Frankly it’s absolute nectar.
❉ Voice Of The Beehive – ‘Let It Bee’ 35th Anniversary Edition released 25 November 2022 via London Records: Pre-Save ‘Let It Bee’ Here. FORMATS: 1x LP gatefold with honey yellow vinyl and new liner notes from Tracey Belland (Cat# LMS5521766). 2x CD in digipak with 36 page booklet, Bee-sides, live tracks and demos (Cat# LMS5521765).
❉ Rob Morris is a regular contributor to We Are Cult. He is also the writer of several audio dramas for Big Finish Productions and What Noise Productions, and was one of the contributors to the bestseller 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die.