Following the fuss over the recent Radiohead "Best of", and then rather lesser-known band LUXT wanting to effectively revise history by re-recording their older material with their new singer to create a career overview, it's time to appraise the idea of the "Best of" compilation.
The "Best of" is used for a number of reasons – either as a way of completing a band's obligation to a record label, as a way of introducing new fans to a band, as simply a cynical money-making tactic…but really, there are loads of reasons. And for me, more than anything, the "Best Of" is dead useful for DJs as if done properly they may mean that I don't need to carry six albums by a band – just the "Best Of" will do! So let's look at the good, the bad and the ugly…
The Best Of
An old one now, this – now ten years old, it was for me an ideal introduction to an artist's work that by that point was already nine or ten albums and fifteen years in. It's a marvellous collection, too – although not in chronological order, it flows well and includes pretty much everything that should be there (my only quibble being the omission of Stagger Lee). In fact, pretty much an ideal "Best Of".
Another ideal "Best Of" was this great career retrospective of one of the top electronic/techno acts of the nineties. By the point this album was released, Underworld's career was perhaps on the wane – their biggest moments behind them, this was probably the best moment to release this. And they didn't skimp on content, either – a 2CD monster with sixteen tracks that covered everything possible to that date, a useful reminder that there was always more to Underworld than just Born Slippy.
Also worth picking up – in particular for the staggering version of Cowgirl that closes it – is the live "Best Of" Everything Everything from 2000, which arguably is a better and snappier selection…
Another that really didn't skimp on content was this, which came in as a lavish 2CD set – one of the original tracks, the second CD full of remixes, in a hardback book-like case. Including a full history of the band too, as well as a wealth of photos and information, it was nice to see this fascinating band get a decent "Best Of" treatment.
Power To The People And The Beats – Public Enemy's Greatest Hits
Arguably the greatest hip-hop band of all, this release was long-overdue when it eventually arrived, and also arguably has helped their critical renaissance a little recently, which has culminated in the "Don't Look Back" tour, playing all of It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back in it's entirety. While some of the later material on this album is, er, not so good, perhaps, the first eleven tracks or so on this are utterly, utterly essential.
I was never entirely sure why this existed. While a useful singles compilation, it was missing a number of tracks and was almost totally devoid of information, suggesting perhaps that the band didn't have much of a hand in it. It is made perhaps more redundant now by the fact that it was the one album ignored in the recent process of remastering and re-releasing the backcatalogue, meaning that it sounds rather flat comparing to the glittering re-issues, and in addition to that the six albums since mean it is also really rather out of date.
Talking of revisionism, this was perhaps the ultimate example in a while. Rather than simply issuing a CD covering their thirty-year history as one of the pioneers in industrial music, the newly-reconvened band took the decision to re-record all of the tracks to appear on the retrospective – with startling results. All of the tracks sounded fresh and new, belying their age. And the accompanying tour was just as good, too…
One that reeked of "cash-in" once the band announced their split (and have since "reformed", to mixed reaction) was this collection, which while doing what it said on the tin (basically the singles) was desperately uninteresting in it's track selection – and did the cynical trick of putting two "new" songs on the end and then a second CD of "rarities" to entice people to buy it. Really, if you want to get into the 'Pumpkins, simply buy Gish and Siamese Dream – they are both a far better investment than this.
Greatest Hits Volume One – A Slight Case Of Overbombing
A band that appear never to have had a problem with taking the piss out of their fans: this is the last release that has featured new material to date. While as a singles collection, this is hard to top, it is hard to argue the point of it when there were only three-albums worth of material to draw from (the earlier material, pre-First and Last and Always, was covered on companion release Some Girls Wander By Mistake) – and the only new stuff was Under The Gun and the umpteenth version of Temple of Love, albeit that the latter has become a goth dancefloor staple, and still is even now. Calling it Volume One was particularly presumptious in hindsight, too…
A trend on a number of "Best Ofs" in recent years has been to include a DVD of videos to accompany the CD, either in a limited edition format or as part of the general release, as an interesting way to try and make the release more attractive to the "fan" as well as the casual buyer (artists to have done this to good effect? In particular I can think of the Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson "Best Ofs" – the latter including a couple of videos that were otherwise banned). So it was a little galling to find that this "Best Of" didn't come with the DVD included, but you had to buy it seperately – for another £20!
The Least Worst Of
One label that has been particularly bad for releasing, re-releasing and generally taking the piss somewhat is Roadrunner Records. A particular example of this was with Type O Negative, where the Least Worst Of was a butchered "Best Of", which while including most tracks that should have been there, they were all included in "edited" versions that made the whole exercise pretty much pointless. And then, Roadrunner released The Best of Type O Negative six years later, after the band had left the label – and didn't really correct any of the faults with Least Worst Of, simply adding later songs that barely come close to the quality of their mid-nineties prime. Again, if you want the real best of Type O, buy Bloody Kisses and October Rust.