Music Review: Dr Bargain

George Osborn tells us what you should be buying and where in Cambridge.

Borders Cambridge Coltrane Django Fopp HMV Music Nas The Flaming Lips Trojan


Or How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love the Impulse Buy.


Today was an exciting day for me. Not just any old day you know, a day that really cheered me up and made me excited more than any other that had gone before in this lovely term. Debit card clutched in hand, I rammed it excitedly into the cash machine, chucked in my pin code and checked my balance account. Bingo! Yahtzee! Student Loan is in. Result!

 Ok maybe too much narrative there, but the point doesn’t stop being true. Once that first hefty crunch of your money is gone in that termly bill, what are you to do with the rest of the spoils? Some suggest purchasing booze or partying. Some hardy souls even suggest using the remainder for basics such as eating or buying study materials. For me, the only real option is a cheap CD splurge with me chundering LPs and cash over the most unfortunate of shop keepers (metaphorically obviously) and then locking myself into my room to give them all a proper listen, before emerging unshaven, unwashed and starving four days later. As a lifestyle choice, it’s infinitely more fun than buying off a website, downloading a track and to a real music fan the size of your CD collection is much better than the hard-drive size. But what about you wide eyed and naive music buyers out there? Want to expand your music collection’s size goodness significantly with only a tenner to spend during term time? Well ye must follow yet another of the Cambridge Tabs wonderful guides to all things musical in Cambridge and yonder: the art of blagging bargain CDs.

  Some of you may have thought at stopping there: what is this fool on about? Buying good CDs on the cheap is easier than falling over a log you may cry. But out there traps exist along the way that can catch the best of us. Jet’s debut album for a fiver, the Verve’s greatest hits for £2 and Newton Faulkner’s Built by Robots for £3 can seem like a bargain but if shops were forced to honestly assess albums on the shop floor by quality, all three would count as “soiled goods”. Grabbing a bargain is not a science, but an art cultivated by years of experience and of wonderful highs ruined by terrible, terrible purchases (The Bravery’s debut album still haunts me to this day). So the first step is to learn the five rules of bargain hunting:

1) Know your budget and keep to it. Withdraw how much you plan to spend beforehand to ensure that you try to get your money’s worth and don’t for God’s sake take out anymore once you start. It’s a sure fire path to overdraft city, via the bankrupt express.

2) Make sure you read music magazines and websites on a regular basis. Sites like Pitchfork and the soon to be deceased Planet Sound have a high hit rate for quality music and will normally give a chance for smaller cool bands to be reviewed. If you hear of a great CD keep your eye out for it.

3) But don’t buy the album until 3 months later. By then any good band that has been hyped up and not quite hit their apparent sales potential (pretty much all of them) get hit in their pockets via firesales of stock, reductions or being placed on the Sale rack. An example was Klaxon’s Myths of The Near Future, bought in abundance post Mercury win I picked up my copy for £3 in a Woolworths as they just bought too many. On particularly niche bands this may work in reverse with the album getting pricier and rarer, so use your research carefully.

4) Keep your cool when entering the shop, along with an open mind. Grabbing the first thing you see is a reasonable bet for stupid purchases to occur and you don’t know what joys might be lying in wait later. You may not find exactly what you want, but don’t panic and instead think about maybe finding stuff that is similar or by the artist you were looking for.

5) Trust your impulses sometimes. Sometimes a piece of album artwork might grab you, a sudden urge for jazz music may overcome you or you may just see a price you can’t resist. If it all adds up in your head go for it. You may get a stinker sometimes, but you may broaden your horizons and do it on the cheap too.
These are the basic rules, but a lot more exist so don’t expect to get things right first time. But the next thing to work out is where to go and spend your moolah and what on. Unlike me you probably don’t all have the time to research as much as I have, so starting from the most bargain filled to the least (but which still satisfies the splurge urge) these are my top three shop recommendations along with some of the best buys currently available.


According to the Bible, God rested on the 7th day. The creation of Fopp means I beg to differ. It is a shop of biblical awesomeness with a DVDs, books and CDs all going for less money than a Bedford hooker offering the full works.  But the real strength is the sheer goddamn variety of cheap stuff on offer, ranging from Jazz to Classical to Rap to Reggae to god knows what that makes it so fantastic to browse in. In the £5 section you have the back catalogue of Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver’s fantastic For Emma, For Ever Ago, Eels Greatest hits, Placebo and that’s merely for starters. John Coltrane’s legendary album Blue Train is shoved in there, along with The Roots Game Theory and probably the best rap album ever made Nas’s Illmatic. And on top of that throw in Feist’s the Reminder for £4, Larrikin Love’s only album for £3 and The Mercury Rev’s seminal masterpiece Deserter’s Songs for the same price as a Caffe Nero Iced drink and you have music Nirvana on you (and not the actual music of Nirvana). This even ignores the devilishly cheap boxed sets, with Trojan Reggae 3 CD collections retailing for about £6 for example, which will broaden your music tastes quickly and on the cheap. Fopp is practically the nearest a music fan will get to experiencing hours of orgasm at a time, so enjoy it responsibly!

Pros – Literally everything is cheap, even the chart CDs and new releases slide in price very quickly. The sheer variety of stuff on sale is frankly mind numbingly awesome and a habit of reducing quality albums makes it even better. Staff recommendations on albums are also very solid.

Cons – The excitement can get a hold of you, leaving you unable to buy anything at all. Also the lack of easy “Buy One, Get One Free” offers means you have to do complicated maths as you try to tot up the total of the 97 CDs you eventually plonk on the front desk

 Best Bargain– The 7 CD Django Reinhardt Collection for £7. Yes, 7 CDs of music by arguably the greatest Jazz artist ever for only a £1 a pop. Fuck iTunes!


Now, now don’t get sneery with me on this one. Granted, prices have a habit of staying firmly stuck in the region of “Bloody Stupid” for a long time and anything with chart staying power will not be reduced until it’s about 7 years out of date. But in terms of easiness, HMV allows you to pick up bargains without really considering it. The 2 for £10 combo deal has a nice mix of albums with vintage and class about them (Neil Young’s On The Beach and Ok Computer has been on the racks) as well as newer albums that have done well but fallen a bit out of favour after good initial sales (Elbow’s Seldom Seen Kid or Friendly Fires debut). Plus reductions can be found on Little Boot’s lovely debut hands for only £6 and for the same amount you can pick up Anniemal by Annie (surprisingly enough) one of the finest pop albums of the past couple of years. You won’t find that rare bargain, and niche titles have little chance of being discounted but it does give you a good chance to stockpile some of the more recent and decent albums without burning a hole in your pocket too much. Hype can be pricy, but not too bad in HMV

Pros– Good access to recent albums that have been good but not quite great, plus a hefty number of classics in the 2 for £10 section (Bob Dylan’s Desire? Yes sir!)

Cons – Discounts on smaller albums or bands are about as likely as Jesus’s resurrection into the form of a small talking badger. If you want the National’s Alligator, go somewhere else.

Best Bargain – The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin for just £4. Life changing and mind bending album, it’s absolutely totally and utterly fucking essential to listen to. If you enjoy drugs, this is the one for you in particular.


Probably the most contentious one to put on due to some previously outrageous prices, but they’ve been streamlining their music section considerably of late and as a result, prices are falling as stock gets cleared. The 3 for £15 offer lets you get Beck’s Odelay and the debut releases by Sigur Ros and Last Shadow Puppets in one handy bag, but the real deal is waiting for the clearance box to be filled with CDs and splurge there. It’s rare, but when it happens god is it brilliant.

Pros – When prices crash, they collapse faster than a Jenga tower in the vicinity of a small child and the outcome is very low prices.

Cons – But regular prices are high indeed, and the collection is not that diverse. A long way from the heydays of “Scan the barcode into the machine and listen to any track extract for free”. Good times. Sniff.

Best Bargain – Not a current deal, but for a tenner it was possible to pick up Hope of the States’ the Lost Riots, Ed Harcourt’s The Beautiful Lie and The Open’s Statues which are three of the finest albums I own. All from the joyous clearance box incidentally.

So there you have it. The rules of Bargain hunting, the best places to go and the best things to buy and it’s all free from the Cambridge Tab. Now that’s what I call a bargain…….