Family - It's Only A Movie

Family – It’s Only A Movie

The liner notes for this new reissue of Family’s 1973 album It’s Only A Movie begins with this sentence:

“Whenever a reissue series covers a highly respected band […] there is always an awareness of when the releases stop, and what might have been the circumstances surrounding the final album release.”

It’s funny that Steve Pilkington should wonder about that because I have a related question: When a reissue series covers a highly respected band, what do they do about the worst album in the catalogue? While tastes vary, there are usually albums in each band’s career that most can agree are duds; is it any surprise that Steven Wilson hasn’t gotten around to remixing Tormato yet? The reissuing label must put time and effort into a product they know for a fact won’t sell as well as other reissues by the group and they have to rely on completists or those with more money than sense to hit their margins.

I’m no Family expert – indeed, I only picked up this reissue for reviewing purposes because I knew that I would have never listened to the album otherwise – but even I know that It’s Only A Movie is generally regarded as the nadir of the Family canon. If ProgArchives is to be trusted, Family’s first six albums linger between 3.39 and 3.97 stars out of 5 while It’s Only A Movie falls far shorter, with just 2.44. To quote Mystery Science Theater 3000: “It stinks!”

But I don’t want to just throw numbers at you and call it a day; let’s talk about what’s on the album. In truth, it’s far from the worst set of songs: there’s a lot of soul and emotion in Roger Chapman’s idiosyncratic vibrato – I’ve learned to withstand it and appreciate it in its own way – but the tunes themselves aren’t very adventurous or indeed progressive. Lots of slow-tempo country-folk-infused rock songs fill this LP and the party never really seems to get started. According to the liner notes, Family were already aware that this was going to be their final album, and one can definitely feel the lack of energy to keep the ball rolling on this dozy record. Still, there are flashes of brilliance on tracks such as Buffet Tea for Two, which has a beautiful instrumental section. The good stuff tends to be overshadowed by the monotony of tunes like Boom Bang, which sounds exactly the same all the way through.

To sweeten the deal, Esoteric has thrown in a bonus disc of BBC radio sessions from January and May 1973. Curiously enough, this very reissue will debut on the 51st anniversary of that January session. The January set lasts roughly an hour and thankfully contains some of their better-known numbers from previous albums, including Sat’d’y Barfly, Top of the Hill and Burlesque.

To my glee, my favourite Family track, Glove, was also featured, although I was shocked when it was announced as a B-side when it was clearly strong enough to be an A-side. It all starts well, with the group playing with the dynamics of the quiet verse, but when it comes time for the song to get going I was disappointed at how slow and quiet the track was compared to the album version. It was then that I realised how vital the string accompaniment was to the power of Glove; without it, the song was just a shell of itself, though you could hardly expect the band to employ all those extra musicians just to play that one song. Interesting listening, but I fiercely prefer the studio version for once. The May set is much shorter and features four songs from It’s Only A Movie to advertise the album.

There’s not much to say really. If you’re a Family aficionado, you probably don’t need me to tell you to go and grab this release, but if you’re on the fence I’d recommend steering clear as there’s very little excitement to be found here. Though packaged with as much vim as Esoteric usually puts into their reissues, there’s no hiding that this is a rather dull album indeed.

Disc One: It’s Only A Movie

01. It’s Only A Movie (5:09)
02. Leroy (5:42)
03. Buffet Tea for Two (5:19)
04. Boom Bang (3:03)
05. Boots ‘n’ Roots (5:02)
06. Banger (Instrumental) (3:09)
07. Sweet Desire (3:42)
08. Suspicion (3:24)
09. Check Out (4:35)
~ Bonus Tracks:
10. Stop This Car (B-side) (2:54)
11. Drink to You (B-side) (3:34)
12. Boom Bang (early version) (5:03)
13. Suspicion (early version) (3:27)
14. Stop This Car (early version) (4:45)

Time – 58:43

Disc Two: BBC Radio Sessions 1973 / BBC In Concert 26th January 1973
01. Sat’d’y Barfly (5:37)
02. Top of the Hill (9:19)
03. My Friend the Sun (4:51)
04. Buffet Tea for Two (5:12)
05. Children (3:35)
06. Glove (6:13)
07. Ready to Go (7:18)
08. Burlesque (5:53)
09. Holding the Compass (5:34)
10. Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu (6:13)
~ BBC Session 22nd May 1973:
11. Boom Bang (3:31)
12. Buffet Tea for Two (5:19)
13. Check Out (5:13)
14. Sweet Desiree (3:58)

Time – 77:39

Total Time – 136:22

Roger Chapman – Lead Vocals
John “Charlie” Whitney – Guitars, Banjo
Tony Ashton – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Jim Cregan – Bass
Rob Townsend – Drums, Percussion
~ with
Peter Hope-Evans – Harmonica (2)
Del Newman – String & Horn Arrangements (9)

Record Label: Cherry Red Records | Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 22856
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 26th January 2024

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