Van Halen
Best of, Volume 1
(Warner Bros.)

Warner Bros. has already released volume one in the Van Halen best-of series: It was called Van Halen, and it hit stores in 1978. Volume two, the following year, was called, well, Van Halen II; volume three was 1984 in, well, 1984. So this nonsensical hodge-podge is too little way too late--after the makeup and breakup with Dave that smacked of the cheap cash-in you always knew Eddie had in him way back when he took on Sammy Hagar and pretended no one could tell the difference. But we could: Dave had enough showmanship and charm to know better than to pretend he was a musician; Sammy was just a buffoon in balloon pants who couldn't sing any better than Dave and took himself just seriously enough to be considered dangerous by arena-rock standards. Any best-of that features Sammy--and this sucker has seven Van Hagar tracks--is not best-of at all.

Volume 1 emasculates the Dave-era VH by including "Eruption" without the obligatory "You Really Got Me" follow-through, by deleting "Beautiful Girls" and the Stooges rip "D.O.A." from the second album, and by including "And the Cradle Will Rock . . ." from Women and Children First, when "Everybody Wants Some!!" would have added a little life to these glum proceedings. You could nit-pick the thing to death: Since Warner is sending out publicity photos with Dave and not Sammy, why even include Hagar in the first goddamned place? And where's "Hot for Teacher" anyway?

But you'd be wise to boycott the album on principle alone: The new songs featuring Dave ("Can't Get This Stuff No More" and "Me Wise Magic") bury the lounge lizard underneath indecipherable vocal effects, and it's clear to anyone with half a brain (meaning: Dave) that Eddie and the boys lured him back without the intention of keeping him around.

The new guy's from Extreme, Dave's going back to Vegas, Sammy will always suck, and Eddie and Alex have cheapened the brand name one more time.

--Robert Wilonsky

The Beatles
The Beatles Anthology, Vol. 3

This third and final installment of Beatles outtakes and alternate versions, coupled with the release of a 10-hour video counterpart, brings an end to the latest chapter in the Beatles saga. Here's what the Anthology series has taught us about the stage of Beatlemania, circa 1996:

1. If there really were a Beatles reunion, it wouldn't get on the radio. For the past 26 years, people have been yammering for a Beatles reunion--even one where Julian or Sean Lennon stands in for their slain pop. Pathetic, right? Yet when we finally get to hear the surviving Beatles come together with John (albeit on poorly recorded home demos), commercial radio is so tight-assed that mod rock stations won't even break format for three and a half minutes to spin a new Beatles single!

"Free As a Bird" and "Real Love" charted No. 1 and 3 respectively, but only "lite" music stations deigned to play them. Worse, boneheaded classic-rock outlets steered clear of playing any Anthology cuts. Evidently they were afraid their listeners couldn't handle a song they hadn't heard a million times before--even an outtake of one they had.

2. These geezers aren't pissing about. Between the Anthology CDs and videos, the surviving Fabs were the third-highest-paid entertainers of the year, coming in just behind Oprah and Spielberg. The Beatles didn't even tour to become the top-grossing band of 1996--they just reminisced about touring. Jagger must be livid.

3. Paul did it. No matter what people say about Linda and Yoko or Allen Klein pulling the Beatles apart, this latest Anthology proves it was fusspot McCartney who became the resident Felix Unger of the group, driving everyone crazy with his incessant perfectionism.

During the time period covered in Anthology 3 (mid-1968 to 1970 breakup), each of the other three Beatles quit the band because of Paul's need to work a song to death. Anthology 3's diplomatic liner notes tell us Ringo was on holiday and "took a break from the White Album session"--bullshit! Anyone who watched Anthology's video counterpart knows he quit the band during a recording of Paul's "Back in the USSR," on which McCartney wound up playing drums.

And John, who announced his departure after Abbey Road was complete, originally suggested putting all of his songs on one side of that album and all of Paul's on the other. Listening to Anthology 3, you can hear Lennon's boredom as he breaks into square-dancing do-si-do's while Paul subjects him to the cloying "Teddy Boy." You can also feel the band members' collective dread when Paul suggests they try "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" one . . . more . . . time. McCartney also pushes his mates through three remakes of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," when the first rejected version here is more lively than the one ultimately released.

4. The common, primary criticism of the White Album is that the Beatles just act as each other's sidemen throughout. Disc one of the Anthology 3 double set is even worse. Its 11 songs are essentially glorified solo efforts, with one Beatle or another backing himself up via double-track recording. That makes this last installment of the Anthology series less magical than the first two. Half the time the studio work represented here was conducted, three of the foursome were elsewhere, either making a movie, producing some Apple artist or crawling into a bag at an art gallery.

5. The best moments here, like "Not Guilty," the "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" demo and the a cappella "Because," have already been widely bootlegged, so diehards are left to be delighted with the in-between-song cut-ups and slight variations on John and Paul's peerless vocals.

6. One leaves Anthology 3 with sad feelings. Not so much because four friends part company here (history tells us that the tarnished relationships were mended) as because the Beatles would not be there to save each other from artistic missteps like John's Some Time in New York City or Paul's Wild Life albums. No longer four Supermen, the solo Beatles entered a world where Kryptonite was king, and they became vulnerable. But who can begrudge their wanting to be human?

--Serene Dominic

Beautiful Freak

It doesn't take eels singer/songwriter E long to find the heart of the matter. He opens Beautiful Freak with this bruising question: "Rags to rags and rust to rust/How do you stand when you get crushed?" For E and his two bandmates, the answer comes in the form of this hauntingly gorgeous debut, 44 minutes of hip-hop beats, soul-pop song lines and fuzzbox production that calls to mind fellow hipsters Soul Coughing and Beck. Not surprisingly, Michael Simpson (one-half of the Dust Brothers recording team that's manned the boards for Beck and the Beastie Boys) shares production credits with E.

This disc's most ambitious songs present themselves as sonic collages composed of dreamy lyrics, chunky guitar, looped samples and loping drum beats. "Novocaine for the Soul" opens with the gentle tinkling of a Wurlitzer before E lowers the boom with a crunching guitar solo. Bassist Tommy Walter opens "Susan's House" with a thick, thumping bass line; drummer Butch Norton adds a jazzy, syncopated rhythm; and E finally kicks in with a tripped-out urban travelogue that reads like top-drawer acid poetry. Then the song gets really weird. It stops on a dime, falls silent, and is reborn as a sweet Randy Newmanesque piano interlude. Gradually, the drums and guitars start back up, this time with samples of kids cheering, canned sitcom laughter and roaring power tools.

The title track, a dark lullaby fashioned from E's gentle keyboard fills and edgy tenor, is the trio's most revealing. "You're a beautiful freak," he sings, "and that is why I love you." Take heart, then, freaks: With bands like the eels around to advocate, the freakhouse can be a pretty chill place to hang.

--Steven Almond

The Drag
Satellites Beaming Back at You

On this full-throttle, space-obsessed debut's epic centerpiece, "Fountainbleu," Drag front man Chance pleads "Hold on tightly!/Hold on tightly!/Around me!/Around me!" as if both parties to the embrace are doomed to drift through cold, endless space. If this exhortation sounds like a reprise of Ziggy Stardust's desperate "gimme your hands 'cause you're wonderful" cry, consider the eerie Jagger routine Chance pulls during the Drag's live shows. Surely, Chance clocked hundreds of hours studying video tapes of Gimme Shelter to learn Jagger's shuffle steps so flawlessly. His scowling vocals on tracks like "Superstar" and "Die a Little" might also remind you of Liam Gallagher, but the Drag's four instrumentalists are far more compelling than Oasis' boneheaded sidemen. Rather than just parrot British rock touchstones, the Drag throw in sonic splashes ranging from Hawkwind to the Left Banke to Echo and the Bunnymen. Like his early work with R.E.M., producer Mitch Easter buries enough subliminal harmonies and cellos down in the mix that it could be weeks before you find them all.

--Serene Dominic
The Drag is scheduled to perform on Friday, December 6, at Gibson's in Tempe, with the Ocean Blue, and Love Nut. Showtime is 8 p.m.


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