Friday, September 05, 2008

Compilation Roundup

I have been listening to a ton of music lately, but all towards the end of my newest editions of the $15 Song CD's, which I will explain further someday. If you weren't convinced of my total insanity before that... well, suffice it to say that this will be the tiebreaker.

Instead, today we'll discuss compilations. As mentioned here, I've come up with a rating system just for compilations/greatest hits fare, which I have intended as transparent and merciless. As a reminder, the idea is that you want to be high on the casual fan rating scale and low on the hardcore fan ripoff factor. In lazy, non-alphabetical order:

  • Asia - The Very Best of Asia: Heat of the Moment (1982-1990) (2000 - 1 CD). Yes, this is how I've decided to start this mess. Asia sounds better in retrospective than it did back in the day, which will not save it from Sell-Back Pile 1. I am struck at how much Steve Howe's guitar sound from early Asia (1982) mimics the sound he was using for the Yes album Drama (1980), or how much their later songs tonally echo Trevor Rabin's sound (his replacement in Yes). Can't argue with "Heat of the Moment" or "The Heat Goes On"; the rest is best left to the radio.
    Verdict: Sell-back Pile 1.
    Compilation rating: Moderate. For the casual fan, this is great. For the hardcore fan, says "For diehards, it's essential for the three rare B-sides 'Daylight,' 'Lying to Yourself,' and 'Ride Easy' and the detailed liner notes," but that seems like a stretch. And those songs are not that good. I'd say this is a moderate ripoff for those fans.

  • Superchunk - Tossing Seeds: Singles 1989-91 (1991 - 1 CD). This is absolutely great. For the casual fan or the hardcore collector, this collection is not only full of great material, but collects all of their early 7" singles into one package. If you're not into Superchunk (like I wasn't), this is the perfect place to start.
    Verdict: Portable CD Case.
    Compilation rating: Very high. High marks for the casual fan, low marks as a ripoff since it's a great album on its own. Everyone wins.
  • Failure - Essentials (2006 - 2 CDs). This is great because you do get most of the highlights from Failure's brief but significant three album career; for the hardcore fan, you get a lot of unreleased demos and outtakes. This is not so great because they released a whole bunch of other demos and outtakes in 2004 in the DVD/CD compilation Golden. Methinks this is the end of the line for any material they have in the closet... or maybe we'll see yet another compilation in the next two years. Please stop now.
    Verdict: CD Rack.
    Compilation rating: Moderate to high. Great for the casual fan, and nice for the completist. But a lot to buy for the latter.
  • Idlewild - Scottish Fiction: The Best of 1997-2007 (2007 - 1 CD). Oddity #1: They released an original album (which is still in Car CD Changer, Make Another World) as well as this compilation in 2007. Oddity #2: Some of the tracks on the compilation are from that album (which seems to be a bit recent to include, no?). Oddity #3: They are still together and touring. Oddity #4: They are currently working on a new album. I bought this so I could get familiar with their back catalog, but this really is a total ripoff for loyal fans. It's a decent album, but totally a cash cow at this point in their career.
    Verdict: Portable CD Case.
    Compilation rating: Low. Okay for casual fans but a definite gouge for hardcore fans.
  • Young Marble Giants - Colossal Youth (2007 - 3 CDs). If you have never heard this album, you are not alone, but you are missing out on the finest piece of minimalist post-punk you will likely ever hear. Much like My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, this album is something you listen to and wonder how it ever came together -- and yes, I am comfortable in comparing this album to MBV's absolute classic, which says it all. This set is basically everything they ever recorded -- their 1979 album (Colossal Youth), their 1982 EP (Testcard), the entire demos album that was released a few years ago (Salad Days), and even their John Peel Session from 1980. Plus, the remastering for this album really brings out the full sound of the albums, which I find to be exception rather than the rule. Finally, the extensive liner notes tell the whole band story. I'd put this in the "must-have" category, and you might as well get this compilation and own it all. It is worth it and a real slice of history.
    Verdict: A Car Changer CD comp that goes into the Portable CD Case only because of its style.
    Compilation rating: It's got to be high; even if you own their other stuff (like I do), it's great to have it all in one place and remastered, and the casual fan gets everything they ever recorded. High casual fan rating, low hardcore fan ripoff factor.
  • James - The Best of (1998 - 1 CD). Long considered a poor-man's version of The Smiths, James has some great songs and features the distinctive voice of Tim Booth. Known primarily for the songs "Sit Down" and "Born of Frustration," this compilation is exactly what I want out of this group -- all the hits and some quirky surprises. It's a nice summary and all I really need.Verdict: Portable CD Case.
    Compilation rating: Probably high.
  • Even as We Speak - A Three Minute Song Is One Minute Too Long/The Singles 1986 to 1990 (2005 - 1 CD). Category: best compilation title. Winner: Even as We Speak. This obscure Australian pop band really reflects the 60's, and what I'd consider "Australian pop," even though I'm not quite sure what that is. (And that's not INXS, which is more British or American in its sensibilities.) But like pornography, I can't define it but I know it when I see (er, hear) it; now that I think about it, I've always associated the quaint sound of The Moles/Richard Davies as "Australian pop," and this is definitely in that vein. This is a nice piece of history that shouldn't just go away.Verdict: Portable CD Case.
    Compilation rating: High. This combines a bunch of long out-of print vinyl singles onto CD for the first time. As a first-time listener, this is a great summation of the band as well.
  • Snuff - Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other (2005 - 2 CD's). Thanks to the late, great, Lance Hahn, I checked these guys out. Much like the Failure compilation, it's got "greatest hits" on disc 1 and rarities, demos, etc., on disc 2. They've got a great sound from that grunge era and their original tunes are solid but not spectacular, but still definitely worth listening to. It's actually disc 2 that makes this so much fun -- I am a sucker for covers, and these guys have it in spades. "I Think We're Alone Now," "Don't Fear the Reaper," "I Can See Clearly Now," "I Will Survive," and "Hokey Cokey" (oh yes -- the Hokey Pokey meets punk!) highlight the surprisingly solid 2nd piece of the puzzle. A lot of fun, ala The Nomads.
    Verdict: Portable CD Case.
    Compilation rating: High. High on the casual fan index, low on the ripoff factor.
  • Swervedriver - Juggernaut Rides '89-'98 (2005 - 2 CD's). This is one of those rare compilations where I really don't distinguish between the individual songs, but the blur is a really pleasant ride. The one song that really jumped out at me was "Planes Over the Skyline," which is a nice song. But when I mis-heard the lyrics as "Flames Over the Skyline" -- now that was epic. Too bad. "Never Lose That Feeling" and "Son of a Mustang Ford" highlight Disc One; Disc Two contains four unrerleased tracks, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason (and certainly no chronological order) to what went where. But someone had some sense of how to put this all together in a sensible musical order, because in the end it does work as a unified piece. Overall, I'm extremely happy with it, but would probably be pissed if I owned all of their albums and had to buy a two-disc set to get four songs. Think melodic grunge that's very cleanly produced. To be honest, I probably need more time with this one - my opinion nmght be different in two years, for better or worse. I'm guessing better.Verdict: Portable CD Case.
    Compilation rating: Low to moderate. For casual fans or the ultra-completist.
- Snilch

No comments: