Tuesday, September 21, 2010

myPod: Box sets

[myPod is an attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod.]

Tori Amos – A Piano: The Collection

My girlfriend is the penultimate Tori Amos fan. If our relationship was ever going to work, I needed to appreciate that. Being the giant dick that I am, I settled for parodying Amos’ singing style instead. Michelle wore me down, though, and I eventually found songs from Little Earthquakes stuck in my head, especially “Happy Phantom.” Amos possesses an awfully dense discography, though, so I thought I could get everything I needed by picking up A Piano, which came out not long after we started dating.

I was wrong.

But for a while, A Piano really was all I needed. Price tag aside, it’s a great entry way to Amos. It breaks up some of her more difficult work (The experimental Boys For Pele is spread between two discs) and houses some great rare/unreleased material like “Take to the Sky (Russia)” and “Not David Bowie.” At five discs and a book, it’s a lot of material to consider, but it more accurately represents her work than her greatest hits album. My only real complaint is that it predates 2007’s American Doll Posse, one of Amos’ best albums. That aside, though, it’s an amazing collection of some of emotionally charged, deranged, yet catchy songs.

Verdict: Keep.

The Cure – Join the Dots: B-Sides & Rarities 1978-2001

I love The Cure. Sometimes I forget how much I love them, but then I put one of their albums on and fall in love all over again. Join the Dots was actually one of my first Cure purchases, and it taught me an interesting lesson: Demand great B-sides from the bands you love. In a way, this set predicted my love for underground punk bands who would eschew albums in favor of seven-inches, like The Ergs! and The Measure [SA]. Mostly, though, I just sit back and marvel at how a band could collect four discs of amazing rarities. Join the Dots is nearly flawless. Though its bum tracks are nauseatingly bad (pretty much all of the covers, although their 11-second cover of The Doors’ “Hello I Love You” is pretty funny and their take on Depeche Mode’s “World in My Eyes” has this one guitar effect that sounds like the transformation sound from Transformers), Join the Dots unfurls so many amazing tracks (“This Twilight Garden,” “Signal to Noise,” “Do the Hansa,” and many, many more) that any hiccups are welcome. That said, this album definitely benefits from some editing on my iPod. I love “Burn” from The Crow and “Dredd Song” from Judge Dredd. The only problem is the songs are separated on the third disc by an atrocious cover of David Bowie’s “Young Americans.” Other than that, the set expertly covers The Cure’s evolution from punk to post-punk to goth and beyond.

Verdict: Keep.

The Rentals – Songs About Time!!

I just wrote about this set, but here goes. Songs About Time isn’t too bad. The band continues to tone down its sound, recalling Matt Sharp’s quiet solo work more and more with each EP. It’s disappointing compared to Return of The Rentals and Seven More Minutes, but it still boasts enough good songs to justify its existence. I don’t see myself revisiting the accompanying DVD or book, but I might spin these songs on occasion.

Verdict: Keep, begrudgingly.

Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run: 30th Anniversary Edition / Tracks

Most of my Bruce is on vinyl, but I’ve doubled up on some of his albums, like Nebraska and Darkness on the Edge of Town. However, I waited until the anniversary edition of Born to Run dropped before making the jump to digital. It was worth the wait – I got the album digitally remastered, a decent documentary on the making of the record (Although it does get a little self-aggrandizing at points, as if one of the greatest rock records of all time needs an informercial). A second DVD reveals a performance from ’75 at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, England. It’s such a great performance that it later saw a CD release (and you best believe I snatched that up too). Born to Run the album, meanwhile, remains one of my favorite Springsteen records, capturing with cinematic lyrics and orchestral grandeur the highs and lows of being down and out in the swamps of Jersey. “Born to Run” defies the dulling of the senses that usually accompanies overplayed songs; it’s still hopeful and thrilling and rocking 35 years later.

Perhaps because it covers a much greater period, Tracks is a more mixed bag. A four disc collection of outtakes and rarities that Springsteen had piled up from 1973 through 1998, it starts out strong but gradually peters out. The quality more or less corresponds to the time period. The first two discs cover Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. through Born in the U.S.A., and they’re revelatory just like The Cure’s Join the Dots: here’s a guy who write something as epically catchy as “Thundercrack” and not even bother to put it on a full-length. Springsteen was just that good. But as much as I revere him as a poet and rock star, even I have to admit Bruce sucked in the ’90s (The Ghost of Tom Joad notwithstanding). The fourth disc is all slick production and cliché lyrics. The nadir of the set is “Half Man, Half Monkey,” which is, as far I know, Bruce’s only attempt at a reggae song. Still, though, the first three discs are stuffed with shoulda-been-hits.

Verdict: Keep, but I’m gonna cut out some of disc four from Tracks.

Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime

While it got ho-hum reviews at the time of its release, the Once in a Lifetime box set was a huge deal for me in high school. It got slagged because it basically rips off the rarities from the Sand in the Vaseline hits package and doubles the prices, but it still served as my entry into Talking Heads’ discography. How funny then, that the first track is “Sugar on My Tongue,” a demo that never made it on to any of the band’s proper albums. It still boasts frontman David Byrne’s nervous energy and angular guitar work. It represents the band’s early sound despite being a song that fell by the wayside. The rest of the first disc cherry-picks highlights from 77 and More Songs About Buildings and Food before closing out with “Heaven” from Fear of Music (Featuring my favorite lines, “Heaven / is a place where nothing ever happens”). The next two discs are a little more hit-or-miss, just like the Heads’ later discography, and the accompanying music video DVD and liner notes are a bit tedious, but for a while this set was all I needed. At least, until I got myself a record player and inherited my uncle’s TH vinyl collection.

Verdict: Keep.

Tool – Salival

I loved the shit out of Tool in high school. That changed in college after 10,000 Days, their first record to ever feel like a creative step backwards. I’ve since sold that album, and I’ve been going back and forth over selling this one as well. Salival was released way back in 2000 with a collection of the band’s videos (Mine’s on VHS!) and a live/outtakes collection. The live takes are amazing, but the rarities are lacking. That the disc skips on track six, “Merkaba,” doesn’t help. It’s the first half that keeps me coming back, even though I own the albums these live songs are culled from. Tool remains one of my favorite prog/metal bands, but I’m not sure I’m still obsessed enough to hold on to their every recording.

Verdict: Keep… until I change my mind again.

NEXT TIME: A is for... menstrual minstrels, punk bands I used to like, and motherfucking Armalite.

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