In recent years, it appears that record companies have done everything and anything possible to ensure longstanding artists or those on the wane continue to sell their back catalogues. A perfect example of this is The Who. The group’s last studio album was in 1982, but that hasn’t stopped its label from putting out a glut of music. The record company has released several remastered recordings with additional songs and, in some cases, an entire album’s worth of unreleased or rehearsed material. Elvis Costello’s Rhino/Rykodisc partnership has also done similar things, with remastered and re-remastered offerings. Geffen’s brief but profitable relationship with Boston rock group Aerosmith has provided several such opportunities. After releasing a best-of album of hit singles as well as a recent double-live album, the company has decided once again to cull everything but the kitchen sink for this anthology. And while some fans may love the idea, a few others, regardless of their devotion to the band, may be left scratching their heads and asking why.
The set is divided into a “Left Disc” and a “Right Disc”. The “Left Disc” chronologically breaks down each album and the favorite or hit selections from each. The opening track from Done with Mirrors, “Let The Music Do The Talking”, sets things in motion with a foot stomping beat and a taste of what was to come, surpassing everyone’s expectations. “Shame on You” is similar but also features a sampling of Led Zeppelin’s bombast. With three selections from this album, the “Left Disc” concentrates mainly on the group’s two “monster” albums, namely Permanent Vacation and Pump. Although the disc and the songs within are highlights of a very distinguished career, it appears to be one of the laziest compilation-creating methods ever seen. It’s like receiving a homemade cassette from a friend, who instead of taking the time to create an interesting and eclectic mix of albums and songs, simply presses “Record” and walks away. One is grateful for receiving it, but on closer inspection, was any thought given to it? There is no thought to the disc, which is annoying. Six selections from each album ensue, all great songs.
The first of only two notable songs here, aside from songs such as “Rag Doll”, “Angel”, “Love in an Elevator” and “Janie’s Got a Gun”, happens to be the first rap/rock hit, “Walk This Way”. Although recorded in their first incarnation, the group revived itself with rap/hip-hop artists Run-D.M.C., giving it another dimension. Never released on an Aerosmith album, the song is a nice bonus. The other song comes from the Japanese version of Pump, “Ain’t Enough”. This barroom blues number starts off with a Mississippi Delta slide guitar and harmonica before busting out in a galloping rock melody, which sounds more grandiose than other selections which made the North American release. Lyrically the song is weak, but the musicianship puts it over the edge.
As bland as the “Left Disc” is in its ordering and selection, the “Right Disc” amply compensates with a mix of live, unreleased, acoustic and orchestral arrangements on recent hits as well as bonus tracks found only on European editions. There are also hard to find singles from deleted soundtracks, including the band’s cover version of The Doors’ “Love Me Two Times”, which appeared in the motion picture “Air America”. Staying true to the original, the group adds a bit of their own swagger into the mix, particularly guitarist Joe Perry’s guitar and Tyler’s harmonica. “Head First” is a return to their early heydays with a straightforward assault of guitar and drums. Unfortunately, “Livin’ on the Edge” is done “acoustically”, but still maintains the electric guitar during the bridge and solos, which is very confusing.
“Can’t Stop Messin'”, a b-side from the “Livin’ on the Edge” single, is a great three-and-a-half minute song, but goes an extra minute and suffers for it. The album then goes back into a ballad blitz with “Amazing”, “Cryin'” and “Crazy” respectively. Countrified singles such as “Deuces Are Wild” and “Blind Man” put the album back on its rock-oriented path, albeit slowly and deliberately, with their infectious choruses and arrangements. The “Right Disc” finishes off with four live tracks, but all have been released on A Little South of Sanity. Still, it’s hard to argue with a live version of “Sweet Emotion” given the crowd’s reaction near its ending. The collection as a whole is fine but might not be for everyone. There is nothing of note here that hasn’t been included on Big Ones, but for the avid fan needing everything, it’s worth the cost.