Between 1975 and 1992, Joan Armatrading released 12 full-length solo albums of new studio recordings on A&M Records, 11 of which reached the British charts, along with ten singles. You might expect that a single-disc 1998 compilation drawn from this material and titled The Collection would present the artistic and commercial highlights of that substantial catalog. But if you did, you would be disappointed in this case. Spectrum Music, a British budget reissue division of PolyGram Records, which, by 1998, owned A&M, has drawn from only three of Armatrading's albums for this package: six tracks come from 1976's Joan Armatrading (among them the Top Ten U.K. hit "Love and Affection"), seven from 1977's Show Some Emotion, and five from 1980's Me Myself I (among them the U.K. chart entry "All the Way From America," but not the U.K. Top 40 title song). No explanation for this peculiar selection is offered, although in his liner notes Arthur Davis writes, "Since 1980, Joan Armatrading has continued to record with considerable success, but has rarely reached the commercial heights she achieved with the three albums from which this compilation has been assembled." That simply is not true. Armatrading's chart placements gradually declined over the 1980s in Great Britain, but her albums Walk Under Ladders (1981) and The Key (1983) made the Top Ten, and even her final A&M album, Square the Circle (1992) reached the Top 40. Longtime fans often feel that an artist did his or her best work early on, and Armatrading's music certainly changed in the 1980s, taking on more of a rock edge. But this is still an odd, unrepresentative compilation that doesn't even choose the best songs from the three albums it samples.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann