Oasis or Blur? Noel and Liam Gallagher or Damon Albarn? The questions continue to make the rounds of modern music lovers, especially among Brits. And I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sick of it. So consider this my final answer: with Radiohead around, who even cares?
With the new album, OK Computer, instrumentation remains the same but sounds different, with the guitars taking on an almost unearthly quality and blending with the keyboards. The result is haunting and makes a powerful case for strong songwriting without radio-friendly singles. And the best part? None of the anger, angst, and depression feels contrived. As much as these qualities have been maligned of late, I'd much rather hear a tortured soul than a bunch of arrogant slobs with messianic complexes who hate each other. You listening, Damon? (JD)
All For Nothing/Nothing For All
I'm extremely wary of the latest wave of two-disc compilations (one best-of, one rarities), including this one by the Replacements and others by X the the Pixies. It's like these bands are being repackaged for the younger generation in their cuddliest, easiest-to-swallow form. The way I figure it, if Johnny Genex wants to learn about the Replacements, let him start where everybody else did: with Pleased To Meet Me or Let It Be. But folks like their laziness, and Sire's all too happy to provide one more way to get a flawed impression of an important band.
There is, of course, a big problem with this collection: this is major-label 'mats, focusing on their Sire albums, which means nothing goes back before Tim (word is that original label Twin/Tone is working on their own 2-disc comp). Certainly, the Sire years weren't valueless (for God's sake, PTMM was a major-label album), but the "best of" disc makes the crucial error of pretending that every Replacements album is of equal worth by showcasing exactly four songs from each Sire album, in chronological order.
This is a deadly misjudgement. Say what you will of Don't Tell A Soul and All Shook Down, they just don't measure up to Tim or PTMM, and if the track listing doesn't admit it, the songs themselves do. "Left of the Dial," "Bastards of Young," "The Ledge," "Alex Chilton" and "Can't Hardly Wait," classics one and all, are shoulder to shoulder with mess-on-wheels "I'll Be You," the curiously overrated "Achin' To Be" and a bunch of dreck from ASD, which was practically a Paul Westerberg solo album, for God's sake. Some of the later songs are pleasant. Some are inoffensive (which totally misses the point). Some are even good. None of them compare to the first eight tracks.
But, man, those first eight. All of the above is a beef with Sire, not the band. As a reminder that the Replacements were a great band (once), this works wonders. As a way of avoiding having to get DTaS and ASD, it's crucial, containing just about everything you'd want from either of them (with the possible exception of ASD's "When It Began," missing here). It even works wonders as an analysis of Westerberg's evolution as a songwriter: there's a logical progression from "Alex Chilton" to "Talent Show" to "Merry Go Round" (and, later, to his solo song "Waiting For Somebody").
The bonuses are mostly hit-or-miss. The rarities disc offers absolutely vital cuts like an outtake of "Can't Hardly Wait" (tougher and tighter than the official release), the anthemic and telling "Beer For Breakfast," "All He Wants To Do Is Fish" (a jauntily mindless tune that foreshadowed drummer Chris Mars's more-interesting-than-not solo projects) and a jazzy run-through of "Cruella de Ville," and then throws in some crap to show how fucked up the band was (nobody ever needed to hear "Like A Rolling Pin") and how sensitive Westerberg could be when he sobered up (the solo-career-telegraphing "All Shook Down"). Nowhere to be found are some great cuts that have been on bootlegs for years, like the awesome "Yeah Yeah Yeah" and "Kissing In Action."
Those lucky enough to work the CD-ROM tracks tacked onto both discs will be disappointed by a mere four videos, one from each album (sense a theme?). Still, it's heartening to see the band rebelling against the form (for a while, anyway) with "The Ledge" and the mythical "Bastards of Young" clip (they rebel against the band itself in "Merry Go Round"). As with the CD tracks, though, it's a horribly unrepresentative look at the Replacements. Ironically, it's in another multimedia outlet that AFN/NFA really shines: print. Inside the CD booklet is a bunch of stories, arranged chronologically, written by industry types who didn't know what the hell to do with the band. They're hysterical (and, in some cases, patently false) and the best thing about the comp. When the liner notes are more entertaining than the album, you know you're in trouble. You want to know about the Replacements? Get the original albums. You want to know about corporate folly? All For Nothing/Nothing For All will tell you everything you need to know. (MH)