What makes a decent compilation album? By which I mean, a collection of tunes that is, well, more than just a collection of tunes. I have recently been reviewing Dark is the Night, the latest of the Red Hot Organization’s fund-raising records. It’s a who’s who of the young, gifted, and groovy, including Bon Iver, Stuart Murdoch, Feist, Cat Power, Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, and more. It’s a magic pudding of an album, a cut-and-come-again collection. I am enjoying its parts but does it represent anything more? Is that what good, even great, compilations do? Or am I just looking at the moon through a keyhole?
By compilations I mean collections of more than one artist or band.
I tread warily around reggae compilations from Studio One. When does a collection of rare “classics” become the scraping of the barrel? I am rarely curious enough or cashed up enough to fund out. And I run screaming from most tribute albums. Gram Parsons, The Smiths, The Go-Betweens, Serge Gainsbourg…I’m outta here. When is the whole greater than the sum of the parts, grasshopper?
I have fond memories of the early Hal Wilner sorties Lost in the Stars (a collection of songs by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil, and Stay Awake, the music from Disney films. Highlights here include Los Lobos’ “I Wanna Be Just Like You” (from the Jungle Book) and Bonnie Raitt, who I otherwise don’t go out of my way for caressing “Baby Mine” (from Dumbo) into exquisite moods. The take out from these two records is that I come away with a greater appreciation of the idea being compiled. There may be one or two stinkers in there too, but I’m prepared to forgive in the name of eclecticism. There’s a Martin Hannett anthology, Zero, that is an interesting tour of post-punk (Buzzcocks, Joy Division, Kitchens of Distinction) that I am not ashamed to own.
What compilations have lasted longer than a fake tan?