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THE ART AND CRAFT OF POPULAR MUSIC (2001)
The Art and Craft of Popular Music - Click to view! Throughout the past decade, Ronnie Martin has amazed and dazzled throngs with a legacy called Joy Electric. From the first note of 1994's Melody to the final buzz of the recent Starcadia EP, the electro-synth-dance-pop anthems of Joy Electric have tickled the ears of curious listeners and delighted thousands who share an appreciation of true musical art. The Art and Craft of Popular Music is a synopsis of this drama: a 2-disc collection of jE's legacy in its entirety. Half "Greatest Hits" album, half previously unreleased material, The Art and Craft... contains a little something for everyone.

Disc one of the box set is a basket brimming over with Easter eggs. There are 15 "new" tracks here: two of which come from the Starcadia EP ("The Matterhorn" and "Dance to Moroder"), three different remixes of "We Are Rock" (from The White Songbook project) and ten b-sides that never made the cut on other Joy Electric albums. Keep in mind this doesn't mean that the b-sides are lesser quality material. "Such a Beautiful Thought" resonates with an eerie aura of traditional jE dance beats. One of jE's minimalist tracks, "Mistletoe and Molasses," is another popular Ronnie Martin storytelling song that whisks you away to a snowy, country town setting. It's a rather comfortable tune that has a smooth bassline and resurrects youthful memories of hot chocolate and Christmas mornings. "Apples of Gold" carries along the Christmas theme with a faster paced drum loop and sonic synth providing a melancholic melody, despite the song's perky nature. An older cut, "Weep in the Sunshine," scores instant recognition for the recurring, epic flare of the background synthesizer and the emotion stored in Ronnie's vocals. A tragic tale of alcohol abuse is portrayed several tracks later through images of "Blueberry Boats (and Pink Elephants)." The lyrics are some of the darkest to date as the protagonist dreams of happier days while the other just sees "pink elephants." The building water-drop sound during the track's bridge is incredible. Needless to say, these b-sides make a sufficient contribution to The Art and Craft of Popular Music and should be given a spin.

The second disc showcases hand-picked Joy Electric classics from the band's previous records dating up to Christiansongs. Among these are the multi-mega masterpiece, "Monosynth," the ever-popular "Cobbler," fan-favorite "Children of the Lord," the hyperactive, headache-inducing "Sugar Rush," and the manically depressing "Five Stars for Failure." "Disco for a Ride," "Hansel," "Analogue Grand Diary," and "North Sea" are also just a few of the nineteen hits that sprinkle this CD with sugarcoated sweetness. A grand collection for the long-time fan and Joy Electric novice alike, but unfortunately no tracks from The White Songbook are included.

Of course you'll be shocked to read that the most intriguing piece of The Art and Craft of Popular Music was not the music, in my opinion, but the CD liner booklet itself. The 22-page booklet includes a stirring tribute to Ronnie Martin and Joy Electric written by Chris M. Short, promo photos of Ronnie Martin and co. during the band's various stages, and thoughts and commentary by Martin himself on each of jE's full-length albums, the new songs, and his career as a whole. There is a wealth of Joy E information in this small booklet alone, and it would be a mistake to further indulge in electronic bliss without reading through the entire document. Fans surely would not want to miss out on the personal insight into each Joy Electric recording.

I believe Chris M. Short said it best in his tribute to Joy Electric when he wrote "This retrospective isn't an end to an era, but a simple document of stellar songwriting and proof that a musician doesn't need to interpret the trends, but remain true to the Vision, no matter what others think." And truly, this is what Joy Electric continues to do with each project. Whether you've been a fan of jE from the get-go, or you're only just now stumbling across the threshold into Ronnie's Joy Toy Company, it would be a shame to skip out on such a milestone as The Art and Craft of Popular Music.
- Rick Foux
August 2002
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