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© Getty Images

Kirsty MacColl’s too-short career can essentially be split into three periods – her early, indie-hued quirk-pop, the midcareer commercial breakthrough that saw her smart, sophisticated songs enjoy UK chart success, and the more exotic rhythms of her later material before her tragic death in 2000.

This new 4CD compilation focusses exclusively on the midperiod, drawing its repertoire from Kite (1989) and Electric Landlady (1991), the two Virgin albums produced by her then-husband, Steve Lillywhite. There again, that last sentence deliberately typifies the dismissive assumptions she had to battle for her entire career.

The daughter of legendary folk pioneer Ewan MacColl and the wife of U2 producer Lillywhite, MacColl had an uphill struggle for credibility in her own right, and it troubled her. “I’ve been the token woman all my life,” as she sang on Bad, from 1993’s Titanic Days. “The token daughter, the token wife.”

This was sadly ironic as what emerges, once more, from this boxset is that MacColl was a highly idiosyncratic, individual and, yes, unique artist. Her forte may have been kitchen-sink drama, delivered in that droll south London twang, but she was at heart a romantic: a perfect pop song, she famously declaimed, was like a “four-minute orgasm”.

It was her bittersweet cover of The Kinks’ Days that powered Kite to chart success, but its pleasures ran far deeper.

The maudlin Mother’s Ruin and acerbic Don’t Come The Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim! sighed around her favourite subject matter, the uneven battle of the sexes. What Do Pretty Girls Do? prefigured Amy Winehouse’s Fuck Me Pumps by 20 years.

Electric Landlady (what a quintessential MacColl title that was!) was a funkier, more eclectic affair. Lead single and US hit Walking On Madison unfolded around a Happy Mondays funky-drummer beat and featured a guest rap, while My Affair and The Hardest Word incorporated sultry Latin rhythms. Yet her trademark deep, wistful melancholy remained intact: ‘We can’t escape our dreams,” as she mused on Halloween.

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