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If you're an '80s alt-pop junkie who scours the various-artist bins for new series that take surprising turns, Hi-Bias' Retro: Active series might fit the bill since it compiles alternate and extended mixes that tend to come from the original 12" releases. A lot of the tracks in the series have been out of circulation since they were first issued, so Hi-Bias should at least be credited for not recycling the same old batch of hits and semi-hits. Notables on this, the second volume, include the extended mix of the Human League's "Human," the dance remix of Blancmange's "Don't Tell Me," the Madhouse mix of Yaz's "State Farm," and the dub mix of Tears for Fears' "Shout.
The Beta Band's biggest claim to fame was that homage in High Fidelity, which speaks volumes about this sorely missed British talent. When John Cusack's character puts The Three EPs on in his record shop, his customers ears immediately prick up. 'Whats this?' they ask, 'It's good!' To which Cusack replies, smugly, 'I know'. If only everyone did... The Beta Band disbanded at the end of 2004, citing their frustration at being critically lauded but commercially ignored. They left behind a legacy of innovative and inspiring tunes, which a small but devoted legion of fans had grown to love. This Best Of does a grand job of placing the finest moments from their four albums in chronological order. There are, perhaps, one too many tracks included from last album Heroes To Zeroes, at the expense of epic live jam, "The House Song", but this is nitpicking. Thankfully, the latter does appear on disc two of this set, as the conclusion to a triumphant live set, recorded at Shepherd's Bush Empire during their final farewell tour. This release is an essential purchase, just to hear the crowd refuse to let "Dry The Rain" finish by repeatedly singing the chorus back to a bemused band.
Recorded and mastered over the course of two days (and apparently recorded in one mammoth take) Chill Out is, as its name suggests, an album for the early morning rather than the night before. It’s the sound of rosy fingered dawn emerging sleepy eyed from behind the horizon, coating existence in swathes of delicious honey and drowsy outlines of amber before playfully chasing somnolent shadows across the horizon. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that a band active in a scene notorious for getting as close to god as chemically possible would make music like this; Chill Out is the ultimate come down album. Yet dismissing this as simply another early 90’s pillhead album would be the height of ignorance. You don’t need to be insufflating anything to appreciate this; the music itself is utterly sublime. Delicate waves of synths wash over percussive trains that trundle lazily through sleepy towns, punctuating brief and fragile fragments of conversation that leak out of yawning doors and slowly blinking windows. From time to time, vehement roars emanate from the open doors of a Baptist church that trembles in divine ecstasy. The KLF deserve the highest praise for painting the musical picture of places utterly alien to them, in the process creating an astounding aural soundtrack to a journey that would only ever take place on the shrouded highways of the listeners mind. This being the good ole days before Gilbert O’Sullivan decided to ruin music, samples are inserted wholesale into the mix; Elvis on the Radio, Steel Guitar in my Soul, which places In the Ghetto over drifting hawaiian guitars, is particularly heart wrenching. Like all good sampling, the individual pieces combined are more than the sum of their parts; church choirs, impassioned preachers, the braying of animals and children - everyday sounds flickering by that somehow succeed in conjuring up intense visions of mysterious and magical places, lonely landscapes and lonelier people.
For the fan that wants more than the superb single-disc Greatest Hits yet doesn't want to delve into actual albums or the exhaustive, rarities-heavy box set Playback, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and MCA Records offered the double-disc Anthology: Through the Years in the fall of 2000. This set basically offers all the singles and album rock radio favorites, with a couple of odd selections here and there and one new song, "Surrender." There are a few omissions -- "Make It Better (Forget About Me)" isn't here, for instance -- but not enough to really be noticeable, especially since this consolidates the bulk of Petty's great songs and plays very, very well. Greatest Hits might have a slight edge to Anthology because of its conciseness, but this double-disc set illustrates that Petty's catalog was deeper than just the hits.
What separates the 2006 compilation Forever: The Singles (released in the U.S. in 2007) from the 1998 Melting Pot? The simple answer: the eight years separating the two compilations and that Forever draws heavily from the four albums that came out since Melting Pot, resulting in such '90s Charlatans classics as "Just Lookin'" and "Jesus Hairdo" being left behind. In effect, if Melting Pot documents the Charlatans peak, tracing their rise from the baggy of 1990's Some Friendly to the retro-rock of the 1997 masterpiece Tellin' Stories, Forever is the story of how this quintet turned into rock & roll survivors, weathering tragedies and shifts in fashion to become a strong, reliable rock band, always dependable for solid, entertaining albums even if their singles were not as big or as memorable as "The Only One I Know," "Can't Get Out of Bed," "Just When You're Thinking Things Over," "One to Another," or "North Country Boy." Forever is a good overview of that band and is a worthwhile introduction in that regard, but Melting Pot remains a better portrait of the band at its popular and creative peak
Although Marc Bolan and T. Rex are no strangers to the best-of racks, it is a sad truth that only one previous attempt has been made to represent the singer's entire career, the Australian triple album 20th Century Boy, back in 1981. And, regardless of whether or not the compilers of this set took that package as their benchmark, the best possible compliment that one can offer 20th Century Superstar is that it doesn't simply equal its predecessor, it utterly surpasses it. Arranged chronologically across four CDs, 20th Century Superstar follows Bolan from his first-known recordings, versions of Dion's "The Road I'm On" and Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" cut under the name Toby Tyler in 1965, through to his final single, 1977's "Celebrate Summer." That's 108 tracks, with no less than 19 previously unreleased relics of Bolan's Tyrannosaurus Rex days, presenting the most well-rounded portrait of that era yet. The years 1967-1970 are, after all, the one part of his career to have so far evaded the wholesale archive scraping that characterizes his earlier and later (post-fame) years, but here we have three previously unheard songs, 11 alternate takes, a couple of demos, and, most important of all, a three-song session recorded with producer Joe Boyd in 1967, which is as astonishing as such a collision ought to be. Woven among these gems, of course, are all the highlights one would hope to hear, from the biggest hits to the all-time fan favorites, from BBC sessions to pseudonymous singles, and onto a couple of extra-curricular goodies -- Bolan's guest spot on David Bowie's 1969 "Prettiest Star" single paramount among them. Add a genuinely sensitive remastering job and an excellent essay by Bolan biographer Mark Paytress, and it all adds up to a presentation that renders virtually every other Bolan compilation superfluous. He may have been a 20th century superstar, but he looks fit to run well into the 21st as well
Marc Bolan fans who find this U.K. release while browsing record shelves should rejoice with a gruff Bolan-esque "Yeah!" An overabundance of T. Rex compilations has tried to capture the full span of the godfather of glam rock's career, with very few succeeding -- 20th Century Boy: The Ultimate Collection being the most likely choice. Greatest Hits could practically be marketed as an extended director's cut of that CD with bonus features. This 40-song set includes 17 of the songs found on The Ultimate Collection and groups them with alternate singles and B-sides from 1965 to 1977. Not only does this pairing illustrate the simple brilliance of his 15 songs that hit number one or two on the charts -- including "Bang a Gong (Get It On)," "Cosmic Dancer," "Ride a White Swan," "Children of the Revolution," "Telegram Sam," and "Jeepster" -- but it also shows that Bolan was an absolute songwriting machine, with many of his lesser-known grooves sounding just as powerful as his big hits. The one minor problem with this stellar collection is that most newcomers looking for an introduction to Bolan would probably find a few other songs from his biggest '70s albums (T. Rex, Electric Warrior, Tanx, and The Slider) more essential than some of the picks from his earlier folkie Tyrannosaurus Rex days or later pre-disco years. Regardless, this is a strong overview. "Life's a Gas" is a swaying acoustic classic worthy of any collection, and the boisterous rockers "Laser Love" and "Soul of My Suit" show where David Bowie got his inspiration for his "plastic soul" era. Considering that Bowie was both a peer and pupil of Bolan's, most notably in his Ziggy Stardust phase, this could make for a perfect shelf accompaniment to Bowie's stylistically similar anthology, Singles: 1969-1993; subsequently, no one ever quite explained the curly-headed trailblazer's cultural impact better than Bowie himself, when he spoke for the entire glam community in "All the Young Dudes" and sang "Who needs TV when I got T. Rex?" This collection sums up Bolan's discography brilliantly