A handy 19-track compilation of B-sides, stray contributions to compilations and split EPs, live recordings, and three re-recordings rounding things out, Cocktails & Dreams is both a boon for longtime fans and a perfectly fine introduction to the Chicago pop/rockers for the uninitiated. Unlike a lot of bands, the Lawrence Arms don't treat these stray tracks as an excuse to be half-assed, goofy (although one track is titled "Joyce Carol Oates Is a Boring Old Biddy," a sentiment to which a generation of English majors nods in assent), or needlessly experimental; silly title and all, "Hey, What Time Is 'Pensacola: Wings of Gold' on, Anyway?" is a powerful, punky rocker with a soaring chorus, a well-turned lyric, and a killer primary riff. The similarly impressive "Overheated" is quite possibly the band's best song yet. "Intransit," "Turnstiles," and "The Old Timer's 2x4," are equally fine (the latter two were first heard on Ghost Stories); they're catchy indie rock songs that don't sacrifice catchy melodies for punk rock power, featuring lead singers Brendan Kelly and Chris McCaughan's gruff but tuneful vocals and the whole trio's admirable musical muscle.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason