[7 January 2007]
In a world that used to be swarming with rap-metal figureheads like Jacoby Shaddix and the infamous Freddie Durst, what better logical way could there be to attract the smart music listener than to market yourself as the flipside of those contemporaries? Enter P.O.D., who, while sounding similar, have strived admirably for an impression longer-lasting (no “I’d love to sniff those panties” here). Unfortunately, that era—or fad if you’d prefer—of music was not to last, and with their star power fading by the minute just as they’re beginning to develop, their record label has decided it’s time to rush a greatest hits into stores: hence the title Greatest Hits: The Atlantic Years.
By far the coolest feature about this compilation for the casual fan is the random order of the tracks; pulled from four of their albums (albeit neglecting their first two to come out swinging). The smoothness of the pairings showcase a freedom rarely seen in rigid, predictable chronological hits packages today, and enhances the different styles of P.O.D. through more than one dimension.
The bad news? While it keeps itself nobly to one eighty-minute CD, it leans uncomfortably close to a die hard project and isn’t really effective for those looking to check out the band for the first time. At seventeen tracks, it’s far too long, and even though all the hits are there (thankfully): sing-along chants like “Youth of the Nation”, “Will You”, and “Alive”, many others were not successes by any stretch of the imagination, including a demo (that’s right, a demo) tagged on the end titled “If It Wasn’t For You”, with a chorus that goes like this:
If it wasn’t for you!
None of this would ever mean a thing!
If it wasn’t for you!
Tell me what else would I believe?
Please, give us a break. The best content here is actually from 1999’s major label debut The Fundamental Elements of Southtown. “Southtown”, which opens the collection, is a distortion-heavy, energetic four minutes of instant head-banging. However, while the group’s guitar section is obviously influenced by the nü-metal revolution of the late ‘90s, lead “spitter” Sonny Sandoval pulls elements just as visibly from rap’s dirty underground: “Boom” being a very deliberate and bombastic name check on the crew’s touring schedule. And, with its all of one note and DJ scratching, it’s no wonder “Rock the Party (Off the Hook)” became their first hit at the time.
To try and prove that they do have a wider range and greater relevance than you might think, “Roots in Stereo”, from this year’s Testify, is thrown in, guesting up-and-coming reggae star Matisyahu. Their considerable contributions to soundtracks are all (questionably) included as well: “Satellite”, prominently placed on 2003’s Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, and a rather boring rendition of a song called “Sleeping Awake”, from the soundtrack to The Matrix. Now, Sandoval isn’t a great rapper—P.O.D.‘s superiority over the rest of the rap-core crowd is more in what he says than his repetitive shrieks or over-enunciations—but, that said, he should always steer away from trying to sing, as he does on the horrid “Truly Amazing”, taken from a disc of songs inspired by The Passion of the Christ. It’s unimaginative and plodding enough to drag the last quarter of the greatest hits into a coma.
Two new songs have been recorded for the session, and, best of all, they’re done well. “Going in Blind”, experimenting with piano for the first time, displays a new tugging-heartstrings sensitivity and deeper spirituality to the P.O.D. signature sound, so much so that it’s their all-time best ballad (the maudlin single “Goodbye for Now” and aforementioned “Truly Amazing” can’t really compete); and “Here We Go”, while it’s not quite as developed, is driving, basically uplifting, and the true closer to the compilation.
Greatest Hits: The Atlantic Years is an excellent bookend to some of the highs (and glaring lows) to the Christian band’s career so far. While it’s not quite impressive enough to hold value to absolutely anybody, what it is is a run-through of good memories plus a few extras that aren’t half-hearted throwaways for the fan. Besides, listening to something without stiff-necked step-by-step conventions make a “greatest” collection that much more pleasant. There are no self-degrading covers worked in here, at any rate, so at least it has that substantial fact going for it.