Best of's are funny old things indeed. Half the time they're released too early, prompting a second cash-cow outing later on, and the other half of the time they're ill thought-out, failing to sum up an artist's career and lazily slip into the 'radio hits' category rather than offer a true indication of their best work.
And as the summer becomes a distant memory and record companies search for the festive cash cow (turkey), it's time for another set of discs to eek out the remains of a band's career. Here are four that may interest you;
'In Time: The Best Of REM' is a long overdue summation of the band's time on the Warner Bros. label. Covering the group's best-known work and unsurprisingly concentrating on the mega selling 'Out Of Time' and 'Automatic For The People' LPs, it's largely a swift run through of the trio's singles with a couple of non-album tracks ('All The Right Friends', 'The Great Beyond') and newies ('Bad Day', 'Animal') thrown in. The whole album sits together well in a pop ballad/anthem style, but for keener REM fans, it's a fairly under-nourishing affair. Rather than offer a second disc of acoustic tracks and b-sides for the train spotters (who'll have them anyway), a double album including tracks like 'Drive', '_Country Feedback', 'You Are The Everything', 'I'll Take The Rain_', 'Pop Song 89', 'Be Mine' and 'Sad Professor', would have been far more satisfactory all round. Still, there's so much quality on the album, that it would be churlish to give it less than a 4/5.
'Suede: The Singles' is, as it says on the packet, all the band's singles nicely shoehorned onto one CD. The story of Suede is an easy one; they used to be great, and now they're merely passable. At best. Therefore, half this of collection of songs (peaking somewhere halfway through third album '_Coming Up' are magnificent and majestic ('New Generation', 'Animal Nitrate_', 'Stay Together'), strutting like a smacked-up peacock, whilst the other half range between average ('Electricity') and terrible ('Attitude'). Annoyingly, the songs are not chronologically arranged, although in this world of ipods and CD players, the skip button is always handily placed. DiS recommends you buy the band's first two albums and top it off with the unimpeachable '_Sci Fi Lullabies_' collection. Still, it's well worth a 3/5.
'Let's Make This Precious: The Best Of Dexys Midnight Runners' is a collection of the glorious soul pop of Kevin Rowland's ideologically fearsome young soul rebels. It's a great overview of one of the most underrated bands of the last twenty years. Like a proper best of, it contains the obvious
'Geno', 'Jackie Wilson Said', 'Because Of You' and of course, 'Come On Eileen' all sit at the start of the album - but it also contains wondrous tracks like 'Tell Me When My Light Turns Green' and 'Plan B'. An excellent induction into the world of Dexys and a fine CD in its own right. Buy. 4.5/5
The most satisfying of the quartet however, is the forty-song anthology that is 'Must I Paint You A Picture?: The Best Of Billy Bragg'. The Bard of Barking is an overlooked soul these days, preferring to continue reinterpreting the songs of his hero, Woodie Guthrie, but, like his ability for acute social comment, it doesn't mean that he's any less relevant or indeed, great. From his earliest raw, scratchy recordings ('New England', '_Milkman of Human Kindness') to musically more sophisticated songs like 'Sexuality_' and 'The Space Race Is Over', the fire is always undiminished, the lyrics ever compelling and involving. Plus he's written some achingly wonderful love songs to boot. And if you've never owned a Billy Bragg record, it's worth buying just for the timeless anthem 'Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards'. An inimitable 4.5/5.