Saturday, 31 August 2019

The Beat You Just Can't Beat It The Best Of The Beat

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The Beat existed in its original form for less than five years in the late 1970s and early '80s, long enough to release three albums (I Just Can't Stop It, Wha'ppen?, and Special Beat Service) and some one-off singles. So, a two-hour, 37-track, two-CD set like the discount-priced U.K. retrospective You Just Can't Beat It: The Best of the Beat covers most of the group's recordings, with only a handful of tracks (not including remixes and live versions) left out. The most significant omission is the British single "Hit It," which only got to number 70 in the charts. The big hits are all here in a roughly chronological sequencing that gives the listener a sense of the band's development from its ska revival beginnings to more of a dub/reggae style and finally something like a mainstream soul/R&B approach including keyboards. Throughout, lead singer Dave Wakeling sings huskily over the infectiously danceable rhythms, complemented by the toasting of Ranking Roger. By the end, the group doesn't sound remotely spent, but further musical developments had to be handled by Wakeling and Ranking Roger in General Public on the one hand and guitarist Andy Cox and bassist Dave Steele with Fine Young Cannibals on the other. (In her enthusiastic if sketchy liner notes, Rhoda Dakar reveals that Wakeling leads a version of the English Beat in the U.S., while Ranking Roger has the New English Beat in the U.K.)

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

The Specials The Best Of The Specials

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Released in the U.K. in 2008 but not appearing in the U.S. until 2014, the Best of the Specials is far and away the most generous Specials compilation ever assembled, weighing in at a hefty 20 tracks and, in its initial pressing at least, containing an accompanying 16-track DVD featuring music videos and live performance. The real meat of the collection is that CD of 20 hits and staples, the songs that made the Specials one of the most vital bands of the early '80s: all the early singles -- "Gangsters," "Ghost Town," "Message to You Rudy," "Nite Klub" -- but also "Rat Race," "Stereotypes," "What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend," "Racist Friend," and "Nelson Mandela." All these and more are here on a compilation that encompasses the entirety of their dynamic, sometimes chaotic, career and while their debut remains peerless, this is a good way to get a sense of the whole story.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Eurythmics Ultimate Collection

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Preceding the elaborate 2005 reissues of Eurythmics' eight proper albums by a month, The Ultimate Collection narrowly trumps 1991's Greatest Hits since it features remastered sound and a more extensive track list. While it does not contain "Don't Ask Me Again," opting to instead select a couple merely decent highlights from 1999's Peace, two new (unplanned) recordings add value for any kind of fan. Bookending the disc, "I've Got a Life" is powerful disco-pop with Annie Lennox strongly present over a bursting multi-tiered arrangement, while the relatively low-key "Was It Just Another Affair" has more in common with late-period Everything But the Girl. Both songs pleasingly sound the way Eurythmics should sound in 2005. The rest of the disc leans toward the duo's peak of popularity, 1985's Be Yourself Tonight and the following year's Revenge, while the remainder of the albums -- with the exception of the unrepresented In the Garden, the debut -- chime in with two or three songs each. A truly ultimate collection would contain two discs and dig deeper into some of the best album cuts, rather than rely on charting singles, but this disc will sufficiently satisfy the casual fans who just want the songs they know and love.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Suzanne Vega Retrospective The Best Of Suzanne Vega

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Retrospective: The Best of Suzanne Vega is essentially A&M's updated version of their 1999 issue, The Best of Suzanne Vega: Tried and True, adding "Tired of Sleeping" from Vega's Days of Open Hand, "Calypso" and "Solitude Standing" from Solitude Standing, "(I'll Never Be) Your Maggie May" and "Penitent" from the 2001 recording Songs in Red and Gray, and "Woman on the Tier (I'll See You Through)" from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack. Unfortunately, A&M chose to drop "Book and Cover" from the track listing, which was only previously available on The Best of Suzanne Vega: Tried and True, but the overall collection feels a little bit more hearty with a total of 21 tracks instead of 17. [The U.K. edition includes a bonus disc boasting six live tracks, a previously unreleased song titled "Anniversary", and the original version of "Tom's Diner"]

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Ultravox The Very Best Of

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With the departure of John Foxx and the arrival of his replacement Midge Ure, Ultravox underwent a seismic shift in emphasis, signaled by more than the mere loss of their moniker's exclamation point. Having flirted with lush and lavish synthesized sounds on their third album, Systems of Romance, the band threw itself whole-heartedly into the burgeoning New Romantic movement. Beginning in June 1980, Ultravox began releasing a series of seminal singles pooling around alienation and dislocation, taking them into the U.K. singles chart for the first time and keeping them there until their dissolution in 1987. The group's themes became ever more grandiose -- "Vienna"'s crumbling Hapsburg empire, "Reap the Wild Wind"'s horrors and heroism of war, "The Voice" examining the fearsome pull of fascism, "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes" spreading terror of nuclear annihilation. All are packed with images so vivid they remain engraved in the minds of anyone old enough to remember the '80s. But that's because one can't hear the songs today without their fabulous videos swirling into view. Best of Ultravox: Sight and Sound pairs a CD featuring all the Ure-led band's singles (along with a sole B-side, "White China") with a DVD of 14 of their hits and accompanying videos: "Vienna" defining the New Romantic genre and look, "Wild Wind" paying tribute to the RAF who saved Britain from the Nazi onslaught, and "Dancing" turning a three-minute warning into an epic homage of the life that mankind's leaders seemed set to destroy.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Nick Heyward & Haircut One Hundred The Greatest Hits

Nick Heyward & Haircut One Hundred The Greatest Hits

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Haircut 100 wasn't given the respect the band deserved in the early '80s. The group was -- and unfortunately still is -- often lumped in with the one-hit wonders from that period. It's not their fault that U.S. radio stations only concentrated on one track, the cuddly single "Love Plus One." They were far better than people give them credit for. This compilation mixes the band's U.K. chart favorites with the highlights of vocalist Nick Heyward's solo career. Although many best-of albums usually aren't comprehensive enough when reflecting the finest moments of an artist's discography, this is a welcome exception, the perfect introduction to Heyward and Haircut 100. It's hard to argue with the selections. "Favourite Shirts" should've been the smash that "Love Plus One" became. Recalling a young Aztec Camera with its infectiously jangling riff and positive vibes, "Favourite Shirts" has a sense of innocence that alternative rock in the '90s sadly lost. The summer-soaked gaiety of "Favourite Shirts" and "Fantastic Day" is exhilarating; listening to them is like inhaling fresh air. Although Haircut 100 wasn't the same without him, Heyward actually improved as a songwriter when he left the group. Solo cuts such as "Blue Hat for a Blue Day" and "Whistle Down the Wind" display his maturity, but his ear for toe-tapping melodies hasn't aged. "On a Sunday" and "Love All Day (And Night)" resurrect Haircut 100's untainted pop

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Blur The Best Of Blur

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It's boring to point out omissions on hits compilations, especially when a collection is as generous as the 18-track The Best of Blur, but let's do it anyway. The Best of Blur largely bypasses the group's key album, Modern Life Is Rubbish, the record that invented Brit-pop, skewing in favor of the self-consciously "experimental" 13, which, for all of its attributes, wasn't a singles album. Plus, the group continues to punish the British record-buying public by not including the brilliant "Pop Scene" (to beat a dead horse, the single that invented Brit-pop), since nobody bought it at the time. So, without "Pop Scene," "Chemical World," or "Sunday Sunday," a crucial chapter of Blur's history is missing from The Best of Blur -- the chapter where they essentially became Blur. It's to their immense credit that the album doesn't feel like it's missing anything, since these singles (plus one album track) are dazzling on their own. Of course, the trick is that the record isn't assembled chronologically. Instead, it flows like a set list, complete with the set closer "This Is a Low" followed by a two-song encore that ends with the new song (the good, not great, "Music Is My Radar"), which not only gives it a momentum of its own, but draws attention to the songs themselves. And "dazzling" isn't hyperbole -- based on these 18 songs, Blur aren't just the best pop band of the '90s, with greater range and depth than their peers; they rank among the best pop bands of all time. The Best of Blur illustrates that, even as it misses some of their best moments -- omissions that prevent it from being the flat-out classic it should be. Even so, it's pretty damn terrific, particularly for the unconverted.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Squeeze Big Squeeze The Very Best Of

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Over the course of Squeeze's 25-year career, an inexplicable number of greatest-hits compilations have surfaced (seven, to be specific), and nearly all of them have suffered from a serious flaw, whether it's the exclusion of important hit singles or the inclusion of mediocre album cuts and B-sides. The only two worthwhile compilations -- 1982's Singles 45's & Under and 1994's Greatest Hits -- both suffered somewhat by not covering the entirety of the band's career. Big Squeeze is the attempt to remedy this mess, as it is the first hits compilation that covers the band from 1977 to 1998, including most of the important singles along the way, as well as tacking on a bonus disc of B-sides. Granted, Squeeze released some great singles -- enough to substantiate a straight-up two-disc singles compilation, really -- but for a casual fan, this is truly the best introduction. Big Squeeze includes the entirety of Singles 45's & Under (save for the substitution of "Labelled with Love" for "If I Didn't Love You"), and then goes on to pluck their more important later-day singles, including their biggest U.S. chart hit, 1987's "Hourglass," and their 1995 Top 20 British comeback, "This Summer." The second disc is an interesting, if flawed, journey through Squeeze's B-sides catalog. The band has a treasure trove of nearly 100 non-album cuts available, so it's surprising that Big Squeeze wastes space on throwaways like "Suites from Five Strangers" and "Squabs on Forty Fab," but most of the rest of the tracks live up to the high standard of the band's singles and album cuts. There is also an insightful track-by-track commentary written by both Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, although it's poorly organized and inexplicably fails to identify who is speaking in each part of the liner notes. Qualms aside, the most significant feature of Big Squeeze is that unlike most of the other Squeeze compilations, this one makes sense as a retrospective. [Big Squeeze was also reissued in 2005 as Gold].

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Tears For Fears Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82-92) (Sound+Vision Deluxe)

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Capturing some of their chart-topping smashes and other key tracks, Tears for Fears marks a monumental career with their collection Tears Roll Down: Greatest Hits 82-92. Toward the end of the praise surrounding their third album, 1991's Seeds of Love, Curt Smith left the band. Roland Orzabal was left to sail the ship alone, and the strong success dwindled years later. However, this dozen-track compilation showcases some of the band's early tracks heavily dominated by pulsating bass drops and heavy synth beats. "Pale Shelter" and "Mad World" from their 1982 debut The Hurting moved toward the soul-defining musical maturation found on 1985's groundbreaking staple Songs From the Big Chair. The Top Ten hits are undoubtedly featured: "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," "Shout," and the more obscure "Mothers Talk." The luscious "Head Over Heels" cuts short of it's closing guitar work, a disappointment in the grand scheme of Tears for Fears' synth-dominated sound. Such layered riffs separated the rawness from the fluffy new wave aspect. "Sowing the Seeds of Love" marked the band's own branded progressive rock & roll, but "Woman in Chains," the gospel-tinged cut featuring guest vocals from Oleta Adams, was their most spiritual effort. Essentially, the dozen-track collection is a perfect look at what Tears for Fears did for music during the '80s until the mid-'90s. They made new wave sound cool and melodically beautiful.
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