Remember the old music-industry joke, "What's the difference between the Titanic and (insert record label of choice here)?" That's right, darling, the Titanic had at least one good band. But just because scads of major-label employees continue to be shown the door, it doesn't mean the brass have refrained from inking deals with scores of useless bands and talentless songwriters you'll never, ever hear.
If only major labels had the cojónes to stand behind their rosters like Lookout! Records, and issue annual telltale compilations like this one, featuring one cut from each 1999-2000 Lookout! release. Can you imagine the six-CD orgy of bad music Universal or BMG would have to underwrite to compile all their loss-leader acts? The sheer embarrassing girth of it all might even startle their A&R people into actually listening to demo tapes again.
No such bloat plagues this small pop 'n' punk label from Berkeley, California. In fact, Lookout! enlisted seven acts from Panic Button, an indie label it distributes, to create a split company sampler of sorts. On the surface, it appears the label's cornered the market on mirthful minimalists (The Donnas, The Mopes, The Queers and The Groovie Ghoulies). Yet many of Lookout! Freakout's finest moments engage in neo-punk that owes more to the worldly Clash than the Bowery Beach Boy sounds of the Ramones.
Oakland's American Steel gets in the best use of a rockin' skankin' beat since Sublime subsided, mostly because of the joyously hoarse choirboy vocals that welcome the working week with disdain on "Got a Backbeat."
Mining similar territory is Warminster, England's Citizen Fish, who complain in Cockney about "Digging a Hole" and sound very much like The Jam if Paul Weller ever took a shine to Hüsker Dü instead of the Who. Moral Crux gets in some credible Class of '77 sonics (hand claps, Mick Jonesey background vocals, Chuck Berry licks) with "Bomb for the Mainstream."
More mainstream-sounding in name and in power chords is the Mr. T. Experience, whose "Tomorrow Is a Harsh Mistress" could have a second life as a Coors Light commercial if it weren't for the suitably nerdy singing of the talented Dr. Frank.
A few Lookout! bands that didn't release an album in the past year turn up with cameos in the bonus section of the set. Pansy Division digs out a 1997 demo of "Used to Turn Me On" with its heartfelt kiss-off ("You were so full of shit, I'm glad I got away"), while Black Cat Music comes up with the great Dookie track Billy Joe never wrote, "Wine in a Box" -- though I doubt he'd be clever enough to rhyme "pharmaceuticals" with "beautiful."
Clearly, Lookout! has done its part, giving you "Over 60 Minutes of Music" without one Van Gogh ear-shearing moment. The least you can do is turn a few of these bands into cash cows.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.