Hits and Misses

By Berkmann, Marcus | The Spectator, November 10, 2001 | Go to article overview

Hits and Misses


Berkmann, Marcus, The Spectator


My friend H has been on the phone, complaining about greatest hits CDs. He is a dedicated collector of records and CDs, who in the past few years has suffered an expensive divorce (less money to spend on records and CDs) and the theft of all his records and CDs (they must have brought a pantechnicon). The insurance money allowed him to replace his collection and refine it - several misguided purchasing decisions reversed at a stroke - and greatest hits CDs have enabled him to fill some important holes. `Swing Out Sister, for instance.' Swing Out Sister? `Yes, a few good singles, one not-bad LP, so I thought the greatest hits would be worth having.' But it wasn't? `No, because Swing Out Sister, like virtually every band in the history of pop music, have not recorded enough decent material to fill a 76-minute CD.'

He's right, of course. (I know, because he lent me that 76-minute Swing Out Sister CD, and halfway through I could feel the veins bulging on my forehead.) Everyone who is anyone, and many who are no one, have greatest hits CDs out these days, for no cult is too small to attract some commercial interest. I have bought loads of the things, and I bet you have too: it's the only way many listeners seem to consume music nowadays, since pop radio went off in the opposite direction. Just occasionally you find an artist whose career seems perfectly suited to the medium. Madonna's Immaculate Collection is perfectly named, as it was released at the very moment that she became no good at all, and so includes none of the bilge she has recorded since. Abba, Madness and Barry White all made wonderful greatest hits albums. `But then there's Talk Talk,' said H. `Here, take a listen to this.' And so I did.

Talk Talk's greatest hits are a classic case. Talk Talk, as few will remember, emerged in the early 1980s at the same time as Duran Duran, and on their first album made a similar sort of noise: tinny, facile pop that has aged as well as Michael Jackson. On album two in 1984 there were signs of development - in particular, a wonderfully angst-ridden number called `It's My Life' - although the electronic drums and swooshy synthesisers still make you think of Simon Bates presenting Top Of The Pops. …

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