Sound & Fury Archive, 2001-2003

A collection of quickie reviews for the Santa Barbara Independent. Each one was a nice challenge, in that I had to cram a whole record review into 90 words.

U2: The Best Of 1990-2000 (Island)
U2’s second hits package plays as revisionist history for casual fans, with a few bones thrown at diehards (some lifeless re-mixes and two bland new songs). There are some glaring omissions (“The Fly,” “Please”), but generally the present old tracks are worthy, especially the excellent “Until the End of the World” and “Gone.” However, the emphasis on songs rather than sounds seems like a forced apology for making more exciting, but less “commercial” material during the 1990s, effectively blunting the album’s “best-of” billing. 12/12/02

Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Imperial Bedroom (Rhino)
Costello’s 1982 magnum opus is reissued for the second time, including a 23-song bonus disc of demos and alternate takes of the album’s 15 tunes. If you take the nerdy step of playing the bonus disc first, the flat, bristling demos of tracks like “Beyond Belief” and “Man Out Of Time” explode into pompous technicolor in their final, more familiar incarnations. Most surprising is the initial, flashy funk version of “Town Cryer,” light years from its eventual home as the album-closing ballad. 12/19/02

Camper Van Beethoven: Cigarettes & Carrot Juice-The Santa Cruz Years (Spin Art)
Currently semi-reunited and touring Europe, these happy Campers celebrate their formative years of the mid-1980s with a re-rlease of four indie albums, each jam-packed with their trademark surrealist-absurdist folk. It’s a mixed bag, but not without great bursts of hilarity like “Take The Skinheads Bowling” and “The History Of Utah.” Most welcome is a live disc of later, major-label material, boasting the best live album title ever: Greatest Hits Played Faster. 1/16/03

Morphine: The Best of Morphine 1992-1995 (Rykodisc)
Unlike its European issue, this disc is noticeably lacking representation from Morphine’s recent excellent Dreamworks albums. However, Rykodisc manages Morphine’s range well, with some of the late Mark Sandman’s choice doses of slow, smoky beat-noir mixed with more uptempo songs that show how much this guitar-less trio could rock, especially on numbers like “Honey White,” “Thursday,” and “Radar.” The selection leans a little too heavily on 1993’s Cure For Pain, but it’s worthy nonetheless. One of the great under-appreciated bands of the 90’s. 2/10/03

Cracker: Hello Cleveland! Live From The Metro (Cooking Vinyl)
Included stateside with 2002’s Forever, this rollicking live disc sees alternate release as a UK import this year. Compiling highlights from a 1999 show, the performance catches David Lowery & Co. at a bizarre crossroads- halfway between a one-hit has-been and an indie-cult favorite status. Cracker illustrate their predicament with a fiery initial blast of rootsy fan favorites like “Been Around The World” and “Big Dipper,” before slowing into an obligatory romp through hits like “Low” and “Pictures Of Matchstick Men.” 3/28/03

Lucinda Williams: World Without Tears (Lost Highway)
Lucinda Williams continues a fantastic run of albums by abandoning Nashville for L.A. on her latest effort, which is probably for the better even if this somewhat melodramatic and over-emotive collection doesn’t quite stack up to her previous two. Williams’ raspy drawl is balanced by some epic and brightly reverberated fretwork by guitarist Doug Pettibone, putting rockers like “Real Live Bleeding Fingers” and “Righteously” on a decidedly un-country stratospheric trajectory, while conversely lending extra depth to resigned ballads like “Ventura” and “Over Time.” 4/10/03

Golden Shoulders: Let My Burden Be (Doppler/Blackliner)
These Nevada City roots-rockers recently stomped through town to flaunt some crunchy pop songs spiked with the genial wit and sharp lyricism of frontman Adam Kline. Their album sounds like the last time you were brilliantly intoxicated, ambling (“Do You Know Who You Are?”) shuffling (“Genius”) and waltzing (“Spirit of ‘78”) through an assured, resolute set that doesn’t let up one bit- even closer “Time We Took Away” cannily makes the subtlest of tempo changes right in time and on a dime. 5/29/03

Eels: Shootenanny! (Dreamworks)
Eels main man E shaved off more than his bushy beard when making his latest album. Most of the jagged teeth present on last year’s “Souljacker” have been gently pulled in favor of equally stripped down pop-rockers like “Saturday Morning” and “Restraining Order Blues” that seem far more comfortable in their own skin than ever before. E shares credit with crafty henchmen Butch and Kool G Murder (an unflappable rhythm section) on many of the songs, but the frontman’s sparkling melodies remain the disc’s primary strength. 6/5/03