Categories
Music Reviews

No Parents

No Parents

Greatest Hits

Ring the Alarm

A greatest hits album, 32 songs long, by an L.A. punk band you’ve probably never heard of may not sound like a good idea. It’s probably not, but No Parents did it anyway, and that alone is worth a nod of respect.

Upon closer inspection, this record is actually one song, “Hey Grandma,” that’s bloated with a strange two minute classically sounding intro that eventually leads into a short burst of a punk song, and 31 other ADD tracks that are, on average, 30 seconds long. It would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so fun. Songs about UFOs, songs about cartoon food and Homer Simpson’s ass, songs about Kenrick Lamar– it’s a kitchen sink kaleidoscope of colorful craziness that’s somewhere on the punk spectrum between Dead Milkmen and Dead Kennedys, and it’s kinda awesome.

Not every song is memorable, and they all blur together in the neckbreak speed at which they fly by, but “UFOMG,” “Rehab,” “Vin Diesel,” and “LA vs Dubai” are all worth their weight in Luna bars (though I prefer Larabars).

[see: “Luna Bars Are For Girls”]

This ambitious piece of bathroom art wraps up with a minute’s worth of chatter recorded at a Guitar Center. Why? “Why the hell not?!” is probably this band of misfits’ answer!

www.noparents.la

Categories
Music Reviews

Altarboys

Altarboys

Greatest Hits

Last Chance Records

It was destined to happen; punk rock made it to Portland, Oregon. Sure, they’ve got a Starbucks and mass transit, but they also have a hardcore punk scene lead by the Altarboys. It’s the Complete New Urban Experience. As old school hardcore goes, they’ve got all the markers: cool names, reasonably interesting lyrics and a mix that sometimes lets you hear the words. A quick spin through this disc left one line in my fading mind: “we’re angry, we’re young, we’re focused, we’re driven.” Sounds to me like they’ve just come out of a sales meeting.

They do have good lyrics, and that sets them a few millimeters above the competition. They have the right anti-corporate attitude, the right level of fuzz guitar and mindless drumming, a good, readable lyric sheet, and they sound pretty much like everyone else, so you can’t go wrong if you live for moshing. Hardcore intellectuals, you gotta love them.

Last Chance Records: www.lastchancerecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Fugees

Fugees

Greatest Hits

Columbia

Greatest Hits compilations are good investments for record labels — they don’t cost anything to produce, they raise the profile of the group in question (“band X has got a Greatest Hits record, they must be important”) and they sell by the truckload, both to hardcore fans and to casual listeners who couldn’t quite justify the purchase one of the group’s regular albums with — shock — only three or four singles on it.

For high-profile bands/artists it usually goes that, once they release five regular albums, their next offering will be a Greatest Hits. Sometimes, labels push it to four prior releases, or even three. The Fugees have only put out two albums. But they’re broken up now, so Columbia is doing the Greatest Hits thing anyway. Needless to say, the result is somewhat less than spectacular. Offering a measly 10 tracks (culled from their two regular releases, Blunted on Reality and The Score and their remix disc, Bootleg Versions), this collection feels incredibly thin. With the exception of a mix of Lauren Hill’s “The Sweetest Thing,” Columbia’s original promise of solo material from each of the ex-Fugees hasn’t materialized, and any worthwhile extra content — unreleased tracks maybe, or demos, or “Rumble in the Jungle” (the single that got a soundtrack-only release for the film When We Were Kings) — is absent. This disc does nothing more than collect half a dozen classic singles and tries to pass them off as an album. Go buy The Score instead.

Fugees: http://www.sonymusic.com/artists/Fugees/

Categories
Music Reviews

Aware

Aware

Greatest Hits

Aware

Aware is the label that actually prides itself on having unleashed acts like Matchbox Twenty, Train, Hootie and the Blowfish and Five For Fighting on an unsuspecting and partially deaf public. Kudos to them for bringing struggling dead-end artists to a wider audience without ripping out their souls in the process, but one can always discuss actual merit and, in this case, the quality of the artists. You see, they all suck.

Well no, they don’t. This album collect the “best of” from Aware’s annual compilation CDs, which are dedicated to (mainly) unfamiliar acts that may or may not deserve a break. And while those bands all sound strangely similar to each other, in a Counting Crows sort of way, there are a few glimpses of individual talent on here. Better Than Ezra’s star shines brightly in a crowd of Verve Pipes and Vertical Horizons, and John Mayer’s “Stupid Mouth” isn’t all that bad after all. Five For Fighting have come up with something almost tolerable with “Easy Tonight” and I even have a soft spot for Shawn Mullins’ annoying “Lullaby.” There, I’ve said it.

But that’s it, really. The artists on here — all undoubtedly talented people, in a “we’ve been around for a long time, sonny” kind of way — all occupy the same corner in commercial rock, and their songs are all going to grate on your nerves after not too many a listen. It’s blue-collar enough to warrant some bonus points, but you’ll start to wonder if it’s actually a capitalist ploy to eventually undermine any support for the working class.

On another note, there are nine Aware comps out so far, but most tracks on here are taken from the earliest of the lot. That may indicate that Aware has come to some sort of musical standstill lately and should consider moving beyond their regular narrow paths of commercial rock. If they’re willing to broaden their musical horizons and refocus their search for new talents to include other fields of music, Aware could have something really exciting going.

Aware Records: http://www.awarerecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Twila Paris

Twila Paris

Greatest Hits

Sparrow

No one can deny that Christian music (and Christianity itself) gets a bad rap. You’ve got the TV evangelists, the unholy ministers, the religious killings, and even unsavory political figures that claim to be utterly devoted to Jesus. Now, this can be any religion, but it just so happens that Christianity is the largest practicing religious group in America, and so since there are so many, it’s easy to notice when things go bad. It’s just now becoming honestly cool to express your faith openly, not matter what your beliefs are and in the unstable nature of our relationship with the Middle East, it’s now more necessary than ever to have one. Despite all the other types of music available to people, many still choose Christian as their desired listening. Just like non-religious music, Christian artists can be pop, easy listening, gospel, rock, country, or even rap. Most of the time they’re a combination of those elements, as is the case with the ultra-popular Twila Paris. On her newly released Greatest Hits CD, Paris explores such topics as divorce, being lost, loneliness, and premature babies. The woman who has achieved 32 number one radio hits, five Dove Awards, and sold over two million records put together the eighteen track disc with her fans in mind because she included three new tracks (“Sparks And Shadows,” “Faithful Father,” and “God Of Miracles”), which proves that after twenty years in the business and three published books, she still has it.

Twila Paris: http://www.twilaparis.com

Categories
Music Reviews

The Cure

The Cure

Greatest Hits

Elektra/Fiction

So here we are, smack in the middle of 2001, and The Cure is releasing yet another “greatest hits” record. In the past, Robert Smith has opted for clever titles for his “hits” showcasing (see Galore, Mixed Up, and Standing on a Beach); this time he goes for the jugular by naming it simply Greatest Hits.

Let’s call this record the “greatest” of the “greatest hits records.” All of the tracks on the new hits records have been on the other “hits” records, with the exception of two new, noteworthy tracks.

“Just Say Yes” is a hard rocker, in the vein of The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me days. As a special treat to some and a sickening gesture to others, Republica lead singer Saffron sings backup on this track. “Cut Here,” the album’s other new track and its first radio single, is a return to the days of 1992’s Wish. Very melodic guitar lines noodle around Robert’s longing lyrics of a meeting after a long absence. “Cut Here” is classic upbeat Cure, and is worth a listen.

In terms of the album’s other tracks (15 of them), we find a brief stroll through the history of The Cure. The expected hits (“Lovesong,” “A Forest,” “Friday I’m In Love,” etc.) are all here and remain somewhat timeless after the years. The tracks sparkle with a newfound brilliance somehow on this collection, even though I’ve heard all of them dozens of times.

The other morning, on British radio, Robert claimed that he’d like to keep The Cure going for 10 more years. If this is true, we’re sure to be in for at least a couple more hits collections, but to date, Greatest Hits is probably the best and most coherent representation of The Cure’s history.

As an important side note, when this record is released at the beginning of November, the first pressings will come with a FREE BONUS DISC of music! This actually is what makes this hits collection so much better than the others. All of the songs found on Greatest Hits can be found in their acoustic incarnations on the bonus disc. Oh Baby! Try your best to get one of the first pressings with the bonus disc, because you’ll essentially be getting 34 Cure tracks for the price of one CD.

http://www.elektra.com, http://www.thecure.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Dirty Rotten Imbeciles

Dirty Rotten Imbeciles

Greatest Hits

Deadline

How Not to Reissue an Album or Compile a Retrospective, example #93: Dirty Rotten Imbeciles’ Greatest Hits. For fuck•s sake, is this any way to treat a legendary band?! Dubious title and track-selection squabbles aside, this compilation comes courtesy of the once-respectable/now-suspect, line-•em-up/ship-•em-out Cleopatra family, specifically its Deadline division, who are responsible for the shoddy reissue of Tiamat•s Sumerian Cry debut a couple years back (surprising that Century Media didn•t take their asses to court). That should tip off the more-astute of you, and then some. What we•re given in D.R.I.•s Greatest Hits is weak •remastering• (the original CD pressings sound as good, if not better, or at the very least louder), an all-fucked-up track listing (good thing I already own all of its contents, lest I should look like the fool), next to no liner notes (no track info and/or broad band history, but a tiny and inconsequential paragraph from somebody named •DJ Will,• presumably an old roadie/soundman of the band•s), zero graphic design (a bootleg probably would have looked better, basically because it would•ve looked like someone actually cared), and a song-selection solely focusing on their first three albums (Dirty Rotten LP, Dealing With It, and the ever-influential Crossover). It•s that lattermost element that makes me grumble the loudest and to no end, as Four of a Kind and Thrash Zone (1988 and •89, respectively) are no slouch by any means, and even as patchy and erratically recorded as their •90s output is, it•s still imminently enjoyable and certainly worth a nod. But seriously • this is Cleopatra we•re talking •bout here, folks. (Need proof? Check out all their horrendous tribute albums, piss-poor reissues, and bootleg cum official live albums • a real study in modern ineptitude if there ever was one.) However, there•s no denying the contents, as time-locked as it is, their thrash-meets-hardcore onslaught still resonating today, if not in a more vague form; consequently, •Nursing Home Blues• (from Dealing With It) still sounds as fresh today as when I heard it as a young skate-punk back in •88. Still, I can kinda understand the concept, but as for the execution? Sheesh•. Big question on everyone•s minds, though • where the hell was Rotten Records in all this? Latest D.R.I. update: played a thrashing-mad show at this year•s Milwaukee Metalfest (infinitely glad I was there).

Deadline Records, 13428 Maxella Ave #251, Marina Del Ray, CA 90292; http://www.cleorecs.com, http://www.dirtyrottenimbeciles.com, http://www.rottenrecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz

Greatest Hits

Virgin

Even for a person (like me) who doesn’t listen to commercial radio, it would be difficult to have missed many of the songs on this record, including the new powerballadish “Again” (for those with no MTV, woo-hoo, good lookin’ chicks and you get to see Lenny’s butt in the video!). But even if you don’t particularly like Kravitz’s retro-mining (I have to admit to being noncommittal as a rule), you still have to be impressed with the guy’s talent.

Sure, he’s stealing, but he’s choosing some good stuff to swipe – when he stops to say “Are you gonna go my way,” it’s no coincidence that it reminds you of Jimi saying “Are you experienced?” Or when he goes “Ooh yeah” at the beginning of “Rock and Roll is Dead” (and later, in the same song, and at numerous other places, Jimmy Page), you’re not alone. But there are lots of other touches – the Motown strings intro to “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over,” the sitar at the end of the same song, for examples.

And on the new single, “Again,” all you’re hearing is Lenny, he plays all the instruments and sings all the vocals. Not bad for someone who first came to prominence as Lisa Bonet’s boyfriend. A solid best-of.

Categories
Music Reviews

James Gang

James Gang

Greatest Hits

Yer Album

Rides Again

Thirds

MCA/Universal

Lord knows we don’t have a lot to thank the Eagles for. Single-handedly responsible for the dumbing down of contemporary country radio, which has turned into little more than the slick ’70s California pop/rock Henley, Frey, and company churned out, the band has little to be proud of. Of course it wasn’t exactly their idea to screw up an entire genre, but if you need a whipping group for screwing up C&W music, you’d be hard pressed to find a better candidate.

And then there’s the matter of Their Greatest Hits 1971-’75, the biggest selling album in HISTORY. I mean, what’s with that? Not Hendrix, not Led Zep, not even the damn Beatles or Stones have sold more of a single disc than those droopy California schlumps. What’s all this got to do with Cleveland’s rocking James Gang and the reissue of their early catalog, plus one snazzy hits package? Well, when the Eagles’ producer/engineer, one Bill Szymczyk (say that five times fast), set off on a mission last year to restore the Eagles’ Greatest Hits by hunting down the original studio masters to replace the crappy second-generation work tapes used to sell those millions of discs, he also revisited some of his other projects and decided to clean them up too. Enter the first hat trick of albums by a Joe Walsh-fueled Cleveland power trio, the James Gang. Of course the world wasn’t clamoring for the reissue of these oldies 30 years after they were recorded, but this was clearly a labor of love on Szymczyk’s behalf.

Although not essential to an understanding of rock and roll, Walsh — along with drummer Jim Fox and bassist Dale Peters — churned out some incredibly powerful, melodic if not quite influential music on their three studio and one live album recorded between 1969 and 1971. Pete Townshend was also an early and vocal supporter, and provided the band with an enormous boost by having them open Who shows. Thanks to Szymczyk, though, all three of their studio discs, Yer’ Album (1969), Rides Again (1970), and Thirds (1971) have now been given the classy reissue treatment.

Remastered from the original tapes, and reissued with restored graphics, detailed liner notes, and even recent interviews with the musicians, this is better than any of the Eagles albums either look or sound. All three of the James Gang’s discs contain highlights, but Rides Again is the only one that can be considered essential. It not only includes the band’s best songs, but divides them into louder and softer “sides” (used to be a two-sided record, remember?), and no less than six of its nine tracks were plucked for inclusion in Greatest Hits. In the gripping seven minute “Bomber” medley, finally restored with the “Ravel’s Bolero” section, which had to be snipped out of the original due to copyright problems, the band arguably hits their creative peak as they shift effortlessly into different suites, all led by Walsh’s quicksilver guitar lines.

Unless you grew up with these albums, as I have, clearly the way to go is the sixteen-track Greatest Hits compilation. Replacing the almost 20-year old 15 Greatest Hits, which sported thin sound and no liner notes, the freshly-released collection not only uses the newly restored original master tapes, but adds two heretofore rare tracks from the soundtrack of the movie Zachariah, the only instance where the band worked with an outside vocalist. The set also includes two cuts from James Gang Live, a long out-of-print final Walsh disc, which although not necessarily a first-rate indication of how imaginative they were, still gives a fairly adequate picture of the trio’s live attack. It also exhibits their blues roots in a ragged version of Albert King’s “You’re Gonna Need Me.” Additionally, the package includes a lovingly assembled 16-page booklet with track-by-track analysis and some informative, well written essays. After Joe Walsh split for a solo career, and then his Eagles days (he only joined for Hotel California and The Long Run, so he’s not entirely responsible for all that crap), the band soldiered on for a while, releasing a few more records with substitute guitarists and vocalists (Tommy Bolin did a stint in the band) which never captured the magic, creativity and songwriting prowess of these.

Now a shadow of his former self, Joe Walsh can be justifiably proud of the work he did with the James Gang, and he still tosses “Walk Away” and “Funk #49,” two of the band’s most incisive singles, into his live sets. It doesn’t atone for the Eagles, but neither Frey nor Henley has three albums as solid and imaginative as these in their closets.

Universal Recods, 1755 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10019

Categories
Music Reviews

B. B. King

B. B. King

Greatest Hits

MCA

OK. It’s B. B. King, so there’s no questioning whether or not the artist is worthy. To most people, B. B. King IS the blues. He certainly is its greatest ambassador. The only issue open to debate is the selection of tracks. Since he has really only had a couple songs that were mainstream hits, MCA has selected 16 representative tracks, beginning in the early ’60s when B. B. first started to achieve some commercial success. Of course, his best-known tunes, like “How Blue Can You Get” and “The Thrill is Gone,” are here, as well as a couple off the classic Live at the Regal. The tracks from the late ’60s and early ’70s show B. B. flexing the genre into the new electric blues, and highlight what I’ve always felt was his greatest asset — his broad and beautiful voice. Of course, the guitar work is pretty good, too. In the ’80s and ’90s, B. B. was involved in a multitude of collaborations, and the toughest task had to be choosing these selections. The selected tracks, “Playing With My Friends” (with Robert Cray) and “When Love Comes to Town” (with U2), are consistent with the overall theme of this collection, and in fact, B. B. King’s life — to deliver his blues to as many people as possible. This anthology is a testimony to his success. MCA Records, 70 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608