Compilation and tribute fever has overtaken the music industry.
In the '80s, the "Red Hot" compilations of various artists (including dance music and all-star tribute covers) and soundtrack albums (such as "The Big Chill" and "Good Morning, Vietnam") as well as other such works, have led slavering record company executives to near-overkill.More recently, the trend has led to more adventurous soundtracks (in particular, the extremely uneven mix of punk-rock/heavy metal/hard rock with rap and hip-hop of "Judgment Night") and unsuccessful tributes to artists as diverse as the Ramones, the Dead Kennedys and Gram Parsons. Consequently, prolific alternative-rock artists like Soul Asylum, Matthew Sweet, Buffalo Tom and Bob Mould have reaped the benefits of additional media attention and radio play.
Following are three of the more notable various artists efforts released recently.:
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Born to Choose" (Ryko Analogue). * * 1/2
Obviously dedicated to a pro-reproductive rights stance, "Born to Choose" is a frustratingly mixed bag of live covers, studio leftovers and heavy-handed originals.
Typically, consistent artists like Matthew Sweet (covering the Beatles' "She Said, She Said"), long-time English punk stalwarts the Mekons (the title track) and Bob Mould's Sugar (the crushing "Running Out of Time") are swell. On the other hand, Soundgarden's screeching "HIV Baby," Helmet's one-chord "Distracted" and Pavement's dull "Greenlander" are just plain awful.
The 12-track album is one of those releases that make CD track-searching (or "surfing") a must.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "No Alternative" (Arista). * * *
The third in a series of "Red Hot" releases dedicated to AIDS and "safe sex" education, "No Alternative" is a schizophrenic blend of new studio tracks and surprisingly good live numbers.
Decent efforts from punk-rock and "new wave" forefathers Jonathan Richman ("Hot Nights") and Patti Smith ("Memorial Tribute") steal some of the thunder from the CD's better efforts (like the Goo Goo Dolls' smoking cover of the Rolling Stones' "Bitch" and Buffalo Tom's "For All to See").
While the compilation falters midway, largely due to boring numbers from Sarah McLachlan, Straightjacket Fits and the Verlaines, "No Alternative" even features the best Nirvana track in years in "Happy."
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Sweet Relief: A Tribute to Victoria Williams" (Thirsty Ear/Chaos/Columbia). * * * 1/2
Probably the worthiest effort of the "cause" compilations released this year, "Sweet Relief" features friends and other artists paying tribute to the somewhat-obscure (undeservedly so) folksinger Victoria Williams, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.
The usually bombastic Pearl Jam manages a superb and subtle version of Williams' "Crazy Mary," while Soul Asylum's grinding cover of "Summer of Drugs" and the Jayhawks' country-flavored version of "Lights" are standouts.
Additionally, Evan Dando (of the Lemonheads) and Scotland's Waterboys both manage tracks that are far better than anything on albums the two bands released this year.
RATINGS: four stars (* * * * ), excellent; three stars (* * * ), good; two stars (* * ), fair; one star (* ), poor, with 1/2 representing a higher, intermediate grade.