Hey Anthology

The Gin Blossoms bloom again with a greatest-hits collection, a reunion show and talk of a new album

When Outside Looking In: The Best of the Gin Blossoms hits stores on October 19, the first question on the lips of most people will be, "Why?"

Why would a band that broke up less than three years ago and with only two albums (and one EP) to its credit release a greatest-hits package? The short answer -- like everything else relating to the music industry -- is money. But the real story behind this strange turn is something a bit more elaborate and equally bizarre.

As a result of this year's industry-changing Seagram's-PolyGram merger, the newly formed Universal Music Group in turn formed a new entity, Universal Music Enterprises, devoted exclusively to exhuming catalogue material. Since its formation, UME has been plundering its vaults and those of its newly acquired labels for material to be repackaged, reissued and resurrected. In fact, the Gin Blossoms collection (slotted somewhere in between a Marvin Gaye greatest hits and a pair of Go-Go's reissues) is just one of several hundred planned retrospectives slated for the next few months.

Just south of nowhere: The jeans and flannel Blossoms in their late '80s heyday. From left, Phillip Rhodes, Jesse Valenzuela, Robin Wilson, Bill Leen, Doug Hopkins.
courtesy of Sara Cina
Just south of nowhere: The jeans and flannel Blossoms in their late '80s heyday. From left, Phillip Rhodes, Jesse Valenzuela, Robin Wilson, Bill Leen, Doug Hopkins.

For a band that's still relatively fresh in the public consciousness and whose members are still active and viable performers, being anthologized so soon must feel kind of odd, right? Well, none of the former Gin Blossoms were able to shed much light on that -- initially, at least -- as none of the band members or their management were aware of the plans for the greatest-hits collection until New Times contacted them about this article. In fact, former Blossoms co-manager Mick Brigden of Bill Graham Management (who currently represents singer Robin Wilson's post-Blossoms outfit Gas Giants) was told by an unidentified Universal rep that the album was in fact not coming out. This was an especially curious development considering New Times was given a full track list, description of photos, and a preview of the liner notes. While the bit of misinformation given to Brigden may not have been deliberate, such shabby deceptions are characteristic of most major-label business dealings. However, Universal's position in this particular matter was at least somewhat understandable -- although based on erroneous information.

The overriding purpose behind a project like the Blossoms' "best of" (or any similar repackaging effort) is to turn around existing product with an eye toward maximum efficiency and profit minus the hassle of dealing with the "creative element" behind the music. As a result, Universal's project team -- which was clearly under the false impression that relations between the band members were especially strained and fractious (they are not) -- thought they would be avoiding some unnecessary headaches by not contacting the group or its representatives until the project was a fait accompli.

Certainly the label was within its rights to do so, as Universal owns the masters and all related rights to the band's A&M catalogue. However, the apparent lack of consideration was taken as an insult and set off a flurry of angry phone calls from Blossoms management to those handling the project at UME. Ultimately, though, all parties were satisfied, or at least quieted after they were given a preview of the finished product.

Supervised by Andy Mackie, UME's senior vice president of A&R, the hands-on work for Outside Looking In was done by UME's A&R director Mike Ragogna, a reissue vet who has supervised boxed sets and retrospectives for artists including the Shirelles, Jim Croce and Harry Chapin. An avowed fan of the band, Ragogna elected to work on the project specifically, and his efforts were not in vain. Although it's certainly not flawless, the packaging for Outside Looking In has clearly been labored over and includes specially commissioned cover art, extensive liner and recording notes and dozens of rare or never-before-published photographs.

As for the track listing for the 14-song disc, the album includes all the group's singles, versions of "Mrs. Rita" and "Allison Road" from the band's 1992 EP Up & Crumbling, and several other selections.

A number of New Miserable Experience tracks like Jesse Valenzuela's "29" and Wilson's "Hands Are Tied" were considered but ultimately failed to make the cut. The same for "Idiot Summer" -- a song that Wilson and his reps made a last-minute appeal to be included on the collection. Written by Wilson and recorded for the Blossoms' 1989 San Jacinto debut Dusted, the song was altered slightly and credited as a band composition when it was rerecorded for the Wayne's World 2 soundtrack. Unfortunately, the song was passed over in favor of later -- and arguably lesser -- album tracks like "Not Only Numb" and "As Long As It Matters."

The only obvious non-album inclusion for the Blossoms best-of was "Till I Hear It From You," the radio hit penned by Valenzuela and power-pop tunesmith Marshall Crenshaw for the Empire Records soundtrack. The song was left off the band's sophomore record Congratulations, I'm Sorry -- an omission that undoubtedly hurt the album's sales and probably cost it the coveted platinum status upon its initial release (the album has since passed the one million mark in sales).

Outside Looking In's only real rarity as such is a live recording of the Bill Leen/Wilson number "Whitewash," a studio track on Congratulations, I'm Sorry. The version of the song as it appears on the compilation was taken from the "As Long As It Matters" maxi-single and recorded during a March 1996 performance at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University.

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