Smash Hits, Volume One
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2010, Volume 17, #9
Written by John Metzger
Thu September 23, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
The concept that drove moe.ís 2008 endeavor Sticks and Stones was a noble one. Unfortunately, things didnít quite work as well as the band had hoped. Some outfits, it seems, need to contemplate their songs for a while before committing them to tape. Like the Grateful Dead and Phish, moe. certainly is a group that falls squarely into this category. In fact, its latest offering Smash Hits, Volume One further expounds upon this point.
The title to Smash Hits, Volume One is, of course, something of a misnomer. After all, moe. hasnít exactly seen its songs climb to the top of the Billboard singles chart, nor has the band enjoyed the kind of arena-friendly success that artists like Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake have had. Created in celebration of its 20th anniversary, Smash Hits, Volume One essentially charts moe.ís growth by taking stock of where it has been and viewing its catalogue from the perspective of the present.
Some might claim that the major-label system is too stifling to foster creativity. Yet, moe.ís best efforts ó No Doy and Tin Cans & Car Tires ó arguably were made when the outfit was signed to Sonyís 550 Music label. When the group decided to assemble a retrospective collection, however, Sony refused to allow moe. to utilize its old recordings. To solve the problem, moe. opted to remake six of its early tracks: Spine of a Dog, Rebubula, Buster, Yodelittle, Saint Augustine, and Mexico. The funny thing is that Smash Hits, Volume One might actually be a better album because of the approach that moe. was forced to take in order to bring the project to fruition.
For the record, none the newly pressed tracks on Smash Hits, Volume One were bent so far out of shape that they have become unrecognizable. Nevertheless, it certainly is true that the songs have benefited immensely from the time that moe. has spent with them. Over the years, some of the materialís rougher edges have been softened, and the fluidity of moe.ís model for improvisation has unearthed a myriad of additional textures that have since been woven into the fabric of these compositions.
Elements of Phish and the Grateful Dead still waft through moe.ís arrangements, and they probably always will. Still, moe. has given its songs more room to breathe, and with this, a plethora of other ideas, nicked from one place or another, is pushed into the gristmill and synthesized into something new. Brief passages from the updated rendition of Yodelittle pay homage to Rush and The Police, while Rebubula increasingly sounds as theatrically grandiose as The Whoís Tommy.
Unfortunately, the newer selections ó Captain America, Okayalright, and Tailspin ó fail to enter the same realm of infinite possibilities. For some reason, perhaps because they are relatively new additions to its repertoire, moe. opted not to re-record these songs. They all pack a thunderous punch, but they ultimately prove to have more bark than bite, largely because the band opted for boisterousness over spontaneity. Even so, Seat of My Pants ó a longtime staple of moe.ís shows that had never surfaced on a proper album ó places Smash Hits, Volume One back on track. In the end, if the outfit can build upon the strengths of Smash Hits, Volume One, moe. just might overcome the challenge that all improvisation-minded outfits face: how to capture the freewheeling energy of its concerts in a studio environment. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
Smash Hits, Volume One is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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