Chicago's favorite sons The Smashing Pumpkins have unveiled a career retrospective just in time for the holidays. (Rotten Apples) The Smashing Pumpkins Greatest Hits is a two-disc set including a career-spanning first disc containing 16 of their best-known songs, along with two previously unreleased tracks. The set also includes a second CD called (Judas O) A Collection of B-Sides and Rarities with 16 more songs, most of them previously unreleased. A handful of the set's tracks are taken from Machina II: Friends and Enemies of Modern Music, a free album released only on the Internet for fans to download. Among the "Rotten Apples" are their groundbreaking guitar anthems "Siva," "Rhinocerous," "Cherub Rock," "Today," and "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," as well as their lighter, synth and string experiments in "Disarm," "1979," "Perfect," "Tonight Tonight" and the Stevie Nicks cover "Landslide."
Green Day returns for the second time this year with a release, but this time, it's a compilation album (possibly because last year's comeback after a three-year silence, Warning, never ended up dominating this year's rock radio waves). International Superhits! opens with two new tracks, a typically manic distortion anthem called "Maria" and a more acoustic head bopper called "Poprocks & Coke." After that, there are 19 more tracks that read like a how-to of punk-pop hit-making: "Longview," "Welcome To Paradise," "Basket Case," "When I Come Around," "J.A.R. (Jason Andrew Relva)," "Geek Stink Breath," "Walking Contradiction" and their biggest hit, the uncharacteristically introspective and mellow "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" all appear. "Warning" and the "Good Riddance" style "Macy's Day Parade" also appear.
Rockin' The Suburbs
Nobody captures the power of pop past (he loves the "ahhhs" of the Beach Boys and the wall-of-sound orchestration of Burt Bacharach) with the urgency of modern music like Ben Folds. And nobody quite manages the lyrical wit that he imbues in almost every bit of pop he writes (just witness the nasty bit of "catfight" fun he had in the writing of Fleming & John's one-hit wonder "Ugly Girl" a couple years ago).
The undisputed "piano man" of the now generation, Folds led the guitarless (but still heavy) trio Ben Folds Five through three critically acclaimed albums in the '90s and then packed up shop after a top 40 hit ("Brick") that had little to do with the musical and verbal lampooning that characterizes most of Folds' compositions.
This is technically Folds' second solo album; in 1998 he released an experimental synthesizer/groove disc under the monicker Fear of Pop that included some help from his friends Fleming & John, as well as William Shatner. But Rockin' the Suburbs is the first album to be released strictly under Folds' name, and except for a couple of guest shots, he plays all the instruments. So it's appropriate that this disc is something of a distillation and broadening of everything that has gone before.
Rockin' the Suburbs listens like a collection of distinct portraits; nearly every song sketches a character study of someone. It opens with "Annie Waits," a deceptively upbeat piano pounder that tells the bittersweet tale of a woman who sits every night waiting for that call from a friend that never comes.
Another deceptively peppy piano-pounder comes later in "Losing Lisa" where he sings of driving away his lover: "black tears are falling, falling down her face." Then there's "Zak and Sara," one of Folds' trademark Gen X character studies that starts with a great character painting image:
Sara, spelled without an "h" was getting bored
on a Peavey amp in 1984
while Zak without a "c" tried out some new guitars
playing Sara with no "h"'s favorite song
Later in the disc's titletrack he turns up the distortion and lays down a faux rap where he digs in at his generation again and makes fun of the posers and the whiners of the rock music biz singing of his white boy pain at being too uptight. He opens that track singing: "let me tell ya'll what it's like/being male, middle class and white" and later comments
I'm rockin' the suburbs
just like Jon Bon Joi did
I'm rockin' the suburbs
except that he was talented
Folds also offers up string-heavy quieter character studies in the lyrical "Carrying Cathy." And in the piano pounding "Not The Same," he references his old bandmate, Robert Sledge, while singing of a girl that escaped the party life to "find Jesus" and notes over and over that she was "not the same after that."
With plenty of delicate piano beauty as well as pounding piano and fuzz-tone bass anthems, Rockin' The Suburbs listens like the logical followup to the work of Ben Folds Five, from the Beach Boys bliss of "Gone" to the quietly quirky love ballad "The Luckiest" to the wry "evolutionary" portrait of a hippy who's turned into a cornerstone of the establishment he once fought in "The Ascent of Stan."