Against Me!’s Searching For a Former Clarity. Propagandhi’s Less Talk, More Rock. Lagwagon’s Let’s Talk About Feelings. Face to Face’s Don’t Turn Away. Like a gajillion NOFX releases. What these albums all have in common – in addition to being awesome – is their publisher, Fat Wreck Chords. It’s almost ridiculous how many high quality albums the label has dropped given their business model: No written contracts, one album at a time, leave whenever it works for you. It’s an artist’s ideal set-up, but it shouldn’t be good a company – where’s the cutthroat cash grab? Yet Fat Wreck has endured, possibly through luck, probably because their “music first” approach is appealing to bands and definitely because of the hard work founders Fat Mike and Erin Burkett, along with their staffers, put into it. So it’s fitting that the label is celebrating its 20 years of punk rock with the triple disc set Wrecktrospective.
Long in the making, it features “fattest hits,” demos and, for the first time on CD, the entire Fat seven-inch club. That’s 88 songs for $15. The package has a “something for everyone” appeal. Depending on your perspective, the greatest hits disc is either the best crash course in punk for whippersnappers since the demise of the Punk-O-Rama series, or a shit-starter. It’s 33 tracks long, yet it doesn’t seem to cover the band’s entire history. Where’s Smoke or Fire, the Soviettes, or the Loved Ones? Sure, they show up on the demos disc, but c’mon! Teenage Bottlerocket and Banner Pilot are ignored completely. And if we’re being honest, shouldn’t NOFX’s “The Decline” be on here? Yet the CD hits so many big numbers – Lagwagon’s “Violins,” Less Than Jake’s “
The already converted get something too. The third CD gives longtime fans cuts from the likes of Strike Anywhere, MxPx and of course NOFX. They get cuts from lesser known Fat bands like Tilt, Snuff and Bracket. Better yet is the packaging. The set comes with a poster featuring just about every Fat release ever. The liner notes are dense – the back of the poster features bands’ memories of the label, some good, some not so good. Fat Mike even wrote a short history of the label, and he’s surprisingly frank about Fat’s ups and downs. He defines the label’s best years as being 1996-2006, and is upfront about how much the record industry’s downturn has made it harder for his bands and label to stay self-sufficient. It’s a good read, so I’ll say it now: If Fat Mike wrote an autobiography, I’d read it out.
Admittedly, hardcore followers might not be able to get that much out of Wrecktrospective. Anti-Flag fans probably own “Turncoat,” Lawrence Arms fans probably own “Like a Record Player,” etc. But it should fill in people’s gaps in punk rock knowledge, collects the seven-inch series and offers some neat essays. It doesn’t quite sum up the label’s history, but it does justify Fat Wreck’s existence.