Saturday, March 12, 2005

Review: Yo La Tengo, Prisoners Of Love

(Or, for purists, the complete title: Prisoners Of Love: A Smattering Of Scintillating Senescent Songs 1984-2003 PLUS A Smattering Of Outtakes And Rarities 1986-2002.)

As I've frequently told anyone who will listen (and many who won't), Yo La Tengo was the coolest band of the '90's. (They're still putting out great albums, just not quite as great.) A series of back-to-back fantastic albums, with songs ranging from screaming guitar workouts to quiet, barely audible beauty (often in the same song). The best live show around. Creative choices of cover versions (including the annual WFMU pledge drive, when they would play pretty much any cover request in exchange for a donation to the station). Incredible videos. And just all-around good people.

So it's too bad they went and pissed me off by releasing one of those packages I view as the ultimate slap-in-the-face to longtime fans -- the greatest hits + rarities combo. I've railed against these before: the sort of dedicated fan who most wants the b-sides and rarities already has all the "hits," so why make us shell out for both? (And, I suppose, conversely: the casual listener interested in checking out a band via a greatest hits package probably doesn't want to be saddled with an extra disc of [typically lesser] b-sides.) Price-wise, it's not a bad deal for a 3-disc set, but I still can't see whipping out the ol' Visa card when I own 80% of the songs already.

Of course, setting aside my personal feelings and just evaluating this on the merits -- jesus, this thing is incredible. Lots of great songs that run through the myriad styles they've championed over the years; I might have chosen a significantly different line-up, but a pretty good number of their best tracks are here. (The only really aggravating omission is "A Shy Dog," a personal fave from way back; but otherwise, most of the key YLT tunes can be found here.) So if you don't know the band well, and want me off your back already, just buy the damn thing and discover why Ira, Georgia & James kick the asses of pretty much every indie rock band of the past couple decades. And if you DO know the band well -- ok, then you can stew along with me and decide whether to splurge for the 4 or 5 songs not already in your collection.


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