Ira Robbins
October 02, 1992 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Stiff Records Box Set

Current Status
In Season
Various Artists
Reissues, Rock

We gave it an A

Long before alternative rock reached its current state of grace, bands that didn’t sound popular had no way to get their music on record. When new wave hit in the ’70s, independent labels like Stiff became a grass-roots alternative to the music establishment. The Stiff Records Box Set documents the now-defunct British company, which started in 1976. Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Ian Dury, and Madness are just some of the eccentric greats who emerged via Stiff, but lesser lights also contribute gems here. What unified Stiff’s musical menu — punk, R&B, pop, ska, soul, nonsense — was a bratty rejection of standard rock & roll excess and the belief that money isn’t the only reason to make records. Not every single track here is a timeless winner, but you can hear enthusiasm in each note. A

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