Ah, the CD sampler . . . the perfect way for record labels to effectively showcase their stables of talent as they search for the next diamond in the rough. Most sampler discs represent tremendous cost value as well, by providing the consumer with generous helpings of new music at a reasonable price. Such is the case with Lookout! Freakout Episode 3, the current collaborative release from indie labels Lookout! and Panic Button. Serving up 20 tracks in total, (14 standard and 6 bonus), the CD highlights the next wave of bands on the punk pop horizon, and gives listeners a chance to get in on the party before some major label swoops in and takes all the credit.
Overall, Lookout! Freakout Episode 3 is a fairly solid effort. Groups such as Bratmobile ("I'm in the Band"), the Washdown ("Worst Dressed up in Class"), the Mr. T Experience ("My Stupid Life"), and the Queers ("Psycho over You"), display their wares quite nicely, hinting at who the next Offspring or Rancid might be. Offerings from Moral Crux (the Ramonesesque "Window Shopping") and Complete Disorder ("We Must Do Something Now") dutifully pay homage to the punk culture of the '70s and '80s, while tracks by One Time Angels and Ben Weasel ("Yield and Survive" and "The True Heart of Love") are authentic hits in the making. All stay true to the overriding punk ethic by incorporating genuine safety pin snottiness into their brash sounds.
The strength of these bands and their respective songs is somewhat tempered by several decidedly weaker inclusions; The Enemies ("4am"), Communiqué ("Cross Your Heart"), and Yesterday's Kids ("Eighteen") are standard lightweight fare emanating from the Good Charlotte mold; American Steel ("More Like a Dream") and Pretty Girls Make Graves ("Speakers Push the Air") require significantly more time in the practice studio and a few additional singing lessons. Chalk them up as works in progress.
Among the featured performers, Lookout! Freakout's shining stars are without question the Pattern and the Oranges Band. Allotted two songs each, both groups demonstrate their musical abilities by delivering some finely crafted pop tunes. Of its pair of tracks, the Pattern's edgy "Fragile Awareness" is the most visible as it has been getting significant video airplay, however the stronger song may be "Ladies Speaking Out" with its faint trace of early Beatles. The Oranges' tracks "My Street" and "All That Money (You'll Get over It)" are stellar efforts in which the group surprisingly out-Strokes the Strokes. These two bands appear to be on the cusp of imminent breakthrough success, and should be closely monitored in the latter half of 2003.
With a running time of nearly an hour, the CD is not without a few glaring low points. The lone live track, Ted Leo's "Timorous Me", sounds like bad Counting Crows played through a 10-watt amp in a dorm room, while the Cost's "The Land of the Giant Bird" is horrendous sci-fi thrash at its most inept. The disc's most perplexing entry comes via the Smugglers; "Larry Where Are You" is a numbing bubblegum sing/strum along best described as the Archies on hard drugs. Truly bizarre.
As any sampler CD is bound to have hits and misses, the mixed results on Lookout! Freakout Episode 3 are to be expected and should not reflect negatively on the two labels' eyes for talent; even Sub Pop and Epitaph didn't hit homeruns every time they stepped up to the plate. It is after all, the brain trust at Lookout! that signed the wonderfully refreshing Donnas, giving the world its initial glance at power pop's reigning queens when they were mere princesses. Judging from the CD's better entries and the display of some certified talent in the fold, there's no reason to think that either Lookout! or Panic Button should not be able to launch a few more stars into orbit. It is only a matter of time, so turn it up and decided for yourself.