In the throb and throng of British indie, the single consistent thread -- apart from the brawls, name-drops, cat-calls, band-history revisionism, only-cry-when-others-can-watch sensitivity, and the stunning knack to claim your music is either "better than the Beatles at the height of orgasm while the deity of Vishnu looks on and invites you to experience periodic annihilation" or "s'alright, I suppose" -- is the cover track. Doesn't matter if you're headlining Wembley or playing the toilet circuit, you're not a true indie band until you release that ubiquitous interpretation of some rusted-out song of old. So where does one start in this massive, 40-strong compilation of bad guitar pop, shambolic experimentation, homage, and insult?
How about in heart of the matter -- the second disc has the best treats anyway. With a reviled yet strangely delightful take on "Maggie May," Blur once again demonstrates their guttural gifts for pop and, not to be outdone, Kingmaker gets sent out on a rail unleashing the same Buzzcocks spunk that Supergrass would get lauded for years later. Okay, so the disc also doesn't have Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine's finest hour. Or Marc Almond's. But EMF's "Shaddup You Face" is a gawdawful two-minute caterwauling piece of trash that's even more shambolic than the Fall. Fantastic, in other words. And even an early-blooming Suede slithers through "Brass in Pocket" with a gentle, spectacular grace.
Mind you, the first disc is arguably the worst: Teenage Fanclub only shows their precarious plagiarist side on "Mr. Tambourine Man" and the Mission all but butcher Blondie's randy "Atomic." Only St. Etienne and Welfare Heroine walk away with any sort of dignity in the matter (the latter condensing Peter Sarstedt's overblown "Where Do You Go to My Lovely?" into an unguarded lament that would make Tyler Durden cry). With such an expansive compilation, there will invariably be crap, but this is a bit much.
Ah, but lo -- the last chapter is somewhere in between the above two discs, showing just how uneven (Elektric Music, Tin Machine) and worth-the-voyage (Cud, Sinéad O'Connor, Manic Street Preachers) spotty compilations like this can be. Albeit with Bob Geldolf doing the unpardonable sin of destroying the urge to ever hear the Kinks again by covering "Sunny Afternoon" with about as much compassion as watching linoleum curl. But that's what you get with British indie: self-importance, foolishness, and often an unspoken instinct to completely riddle music standards with brilliance. Perhaps some traditions aren't so dangerous after all.