“Are you a fan of the album, or the artist?” DJ Shadow once famously asked, referring to the fact that he’s spent the majority of his career living in the shadow of his monumental debut album, Endtroducing… No matter how brilliant or genre defying his follow up releases were, they still failed to capture the same mass attention and critical reception, mostly being labeled as “good, but still not on par with his first album”. Perhaps then that’s what makes this greatest hits compilation not only enjoyable, but nearly essential. You see, Shadow’s studio output since his 1996 debut album has only birthed five official album, and while he has a fairly impressive Discog full of compilation, remix, and live DJ albums, the majority of casual music listeners are only going to be judging based on what they can readily purchase at their nearest retailer. And let’s be perfectly honest here, almost any greatest hits album is going to be aimed at the casual music listener since the hardcore fans of the artist will most likely own the majority of his releases anyway.
So this brings us around to my earlier statement. What is it that makes this album essential? Put simply, when Shadow’s music is taken out of the context of an album and played side by side, the brilliance of his later releases becomes near undeniable. Entroducing… is given a brief two tracks, the stellar “Midnight in a Perfect World” and “Stem (Radio Edit)” respectively, but after that the album delves in to his more slept on releases. Private Press, The Less You Know, the Better, and the criminally underrated The Outsider are all mined for some absolutely fantastic music. The Outsider‘s “This Time (I’m Gonna Try It My Way)” holds up next to any cut off of Entroducing…, and “Six Days”, pulled from Private Press, may very well be one of Shadow’s all time best songs. Looking to further the value of this compilation even more, Shadow digs deep and turns up some absolute gems. “Lonely Soul (7” Version)”, for example, is pulled from the experimental Hip Hop collective UNKLE, and while the production is vintage Shadow, the vocal performance brings a completely unique flavor to this mostly instrumental affair. Likewise, hearing the album end on “Dark Days Theme”, which, as the title implies was the main theme song for a movie with the same name, is absolutely brilliant. Proving once and for all that DJ Shadow simply refuses to release inferior work, even when it’s for something that’s meant to linger in the background.
Normally I find myself leery when it comes to greatest hits compilations. Personally, I subscribe to the school of thought that albums are meant to be taken in as a whole, and not picked apart and re-assembled. With this in mind, I went in to Reconstructed with every intention of not liking it. I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong though, because this LP may have single-handedly shown me the light. Hearing Shadow’s more underrated music stacked right next to songs from his classics is nothing short of a revelation. There literally isn’t a single dip in quality here, and even the two new tracks, both of which are outtakes from The Less You Know, the Better, sound phenomenal. All the songs stand as equals, and considering they were made years apart, the cohesiveness this album carries is nothing short of amazing. No two songs ever sound alike, but there is that sonic fingerprint left behind that lets you know without a shadow of a doubt, this could have only been made by one man. So yes, I would recommend this to casual and hardcore fans alike, either as an introduction or a refresher course. One thing is for sure though, DJ Shadow may have finally answered his own question, because after this there’s no doubt that we are fans of the artist and not just the album.