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Martin "Zero" Hannett 

Rare Grooves

As a selected trawl through punk, post-punk and beyond, Zero: A Martin Hannett Story 1977-1991 (Big Beat, UK), is just about flawless. The disc is a compilation of late British studio whiz Martin "Zero" Hannett's key productions. Frequently credited as the architect of Manchester's Factory Records' early sound, Hannett was a troubled but gifted muso who heard notes between the other notes.

Among Hannett's hitmakers were U2 (the pre-Boy "11:00 Tick Tock," from 1980, prefigures the Dubliners' classic sound yet contains a dense, echoey whiff of Hannett-helmed alien-ness), Joy Division/New Order (respectively, 1979's throbbing "Transmission" and 1981's sepulchral "In A Lonely Place"), Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (electropop mainstay "Electricity," 1979) and the Psychedelic Furs ("Pretty In Pink," 1981, as close to the mainstream as Hannett ventured). Obscurities, oddballs and weirdos, however, were more aesthetically simpatico with Hannett, from the Durutti Column's proto-ambient guitar soundscapes to the Names' quirky dream-pop and Wasted Youth's funky "gothicadelia."

Hannett's career was bookended by punk and alternative; his first professional production was the Buzzcocks' Spiral Scratch EP in 1977 (included here: churning 'Cocks anthem "Boredom"), while among his final work were 1990 records by Kitchens of Distinction and World of Twist (whose cult-cover version of the Rolling Stones' "She's A Rainbow" closes out the 21-song CD). Had he not died in 1991, there's no telling whether Hannett would've been an industry force or a farce.

In Zero's 24-page booklet, liner notesman James Nice has Factory founder Tony Wilson proposing that Hannett was every bit the equal of Trevor Horn. Nice also points out that the drug- and booze-addled producer was "too controlling and willfully Mancunian to sustain an orthodox career." But for music fans who love rock & roll's secret histories and alternate universes, Zero is a fascinating character -- and sonic -- study all in its own.

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