Filling in for DZ this weekend…
Typically, b-sides are b-sides for a reason. An artist writes 15, 20, or even 70 songs, and keeps the 11 or 12 best. Because of this, it’s pretty rare to find a b-side album worth what you paid for it (IF you paid for it), particularly not one that is solid, cohesive, and inspired from end to end. Sparked by the Green Day post a few days ago, I thought I would list my five favorite b-side albums in no particular order.
Compiling some great vintage material that tracks discarded songs from Dookie all the way through Warning, there are some real gems on here. Excellent covers of the Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting for You”, and “I Want to Be on T.V.” by Fang pay homage to Green Day’s Brit-rock (is it fair to call the Kinks pre-punk?) and California punk influences respectively. “Suffocate”, “Desensitized”, and “You Lied”, are all standout tracks as good as many of those off Dookie, Insomniac, and Nimrod.
2.) The Killers – Sawdust
Like Shenanigans, Sawdust is a chance for a great songwriting band to pay homage to its influences and also release some excellent material that didn’t quite make it onto the original LP’s. Singer Brandon Flowers clearly draws heavily from both Lou Reed and Ian Curtis, and he doesn’t waste any time making those influences clear, as the album opens with “Tranquilize”, sporting a guest appearance by none other than Lou Reed himself, and moves straight into a spot-on cover of Joy Division’s “Shadowplay”. Other highlights include, “All the Pretty Faces”, “Leave Your Bourbon on the Shelf”, and an entertaining cover of Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet”.
3.) Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
As if the original 22 tracks on Illinoise weren’t good enough, Sufjan Stevens released this b-side compilation of 21 more to top it off. If he ever intended to complete his quest to write an album for all 50 states, he shouldn’t have wasted this much good material on a second album for Illinois. The songs are, on the whole, a little quieter and more introspective than on Illinoise, reminiscent in places of earlier albums like Michigan and Seven Swans. The title track is a winner, along with “Springfield, or Bobby Got a Shadfly Caught in his Hair”, “Saul Bellow”, “No Man’s Land”, and all three alternate mixes of Illinoise hit, “Chicago”.
4.) Rivers Cuomo – Alone: the Home Recordings, (Vol. 1)
This isn’t officially a Weezer b-side album, but Rivers Cuomo’s reputation for being a control freak with his band certainly shows given his solo, home performances on all the instruments (the demo”Buddy Holly” isn’t lacking much). From a rockstar who so publicly admits his total lack of self-confidence, this record is completely worth it purely for his candor in offering a chance to see his unbridled silliness when no one is looking. Five ridiculous tracks highlight Songs from the Black Hole, the space odyssey Weezer album that never was. Additional favorites include “Wanda (You’re My Only Love)”, “Lover in the Snow”, and “This is the Way”, Rivers’ take on R&B that surprisingly works.
4a.) Bloc Party – Another Weekend in the City
The fact that I have to cheat on two of the five to come up with a list of five solid b-side albums probably says something about my premise for this post! This one isn’t technically a b-side album in the sense that it was never released, but for their second record Bloc Party had recorded enough solid b-side material to warrant this fan creation. In fact, the fan reviews almost unanimously (and I’d say, unfairly) considered these tracks better than the a-sides from A Weekend in the City. You can find assorted tracks scattered around the blogisphere and on iTunes, though it probably only exists in complete form on the torrent networks. See my first Mockingbird post on the track, “Cain Said to Abel” for thoughts on my favorite song from this collection. Additional hits include, “Rhododendron” and “The Once and Future King”.