Volume 92, Issue 43
Thursday November 19, 1998
billionaire boys' club
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Big bands turn to B-sides
The Best of 1980-1990 & B-Sides
According to market researchers, the Christmas shopping season officially started on Nov. 1 and it's clear the record companies didn't miss the memo. Within the first few days of November, a staggering number of releases from major artists hit the shelves, while continued retail tidal waves have been crashing into record shops each week since.
Yet not everyone is putting out new material. A sneaky way for a band to release some material is by heading into the vaults. This is precisely what two of the world's biggest bands did recently, but with a surprising catch the songs are quite good.
Fresh off their giant PopMart tour, U2 have spent much of the '90s in an engaging state of experimental "Euro-trash" bliss. But in the 1980s, the four mad Irishmen played a more earnest style of music. While the band managed to become a bit more interesting in the '90s, their new The Best of 1989-1990 is a staggeringly wonderful collection of songs.
The album shines from the first strum of The Edge's chiming guitar on the early hit "I Will Follow" through to the dramatic energy of The Joshua Tree's "Where the Streets Have No Name." An updated version of the 1987 rarity "The Sweetest Thing" is a delightful bonus to this remarkable anthology.
Still, it is unlikely any of this will astonish many of U2's fans who are even remotely familiar with the band's early work. What makes this a worthy record for the fans (and especially the marketers) is the "Limited Edition" version which contains an additional disc of B-sides and outtakes.
While it's easy to slag off these albums as merely money makers, they are a handy and less expensive way for the fans to obtain rare material without having to purchase those expensive import singles.
The U2 B-sides from this era are nothing remarkable, but are certainly a lot of fun. They consist mostly of instrumentals, uncommon recordings and covers, including a wonderful version of Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot" and a horrendous rendering of The Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody." Nonetheless, what these songs lack in production and quality, they make for in looseness and character.
For Britain's punchy rogues, Oasis, a B-side collection might seem a bit premature at this juncture in their career. While Oasis may have been slightly humbled on their way to world domination following Be Here Now's lukewarm reception, The Masterplan serves as a small reminder as to why we found these cocky bastards so much fun in the first place. What makes this record a success is the fact that some of Oasis' best material has always been found in their B-sides.
While their sound can hardly be called progressive, Noel Gallagher's marvelous songwriting talents are undeniable. Sparsely captivating recordings such as "Talk Tonight" and "Rocking Chair," mixed with more aggressive pop offerings like "Underneath the Sky," roll with tremendous confidence and poise. In addition, Noel's lead vocal on "Going Nowhere," mixed with some soft Burt Bacharach-influenced brass, could be an Oasis career highlight.
Unfortunately, self-indulgent numbers like "The Swamp Song" muddy the picture, reminding everyone why these songs were supposed to be called B-sides in the first place.
But B-side collections remain for "fans only" and should be treated as such. While neither of these releases offer the continuity and satisfaction which a proper album should, their honest and unassuming nature make them a small triumph.
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