La Musique Populaire's A Century of Songs is a home-taper's equivalent of the Sony Music 100 Years: Soundtrack for a Century box set -- an enormous and ambitious (but skewed) summation of 20th century popular music. LMP recorded A Century of Songs over the course of three years, interpreting songs from every year of the 20th century with irreverence, humor, and impressively accomplished and inventive arrangements. The six-disc box set features a crazy mash-up of styles and samples that collapses an entire century of music into a postmodern minute where big bands, new wave, indie guitar rock, vaudeville, disco, singing cowboys, funk and sound collage coexist and commingle. In LMP's Veg-O-Matic view of the 20th century, Bob Dylan sings "Yakety Yak," "Chattanooga Choo Choo" could be the theme from Soul Train, and the 1904 hit "Sweet Adeline" and Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" are the same song. There are too many highlights over the course of the set to list them all, but a few include: "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," which LMP recasts as a West Side Story-style gang fight; "I Found a Million-Dollar Baby (In a Five-and-Ten-Cent Store)" performed as a ten-minute-long Galaxie 500 guitar drone; and a vocoder version of the 1934 hit "Carioca" that sounds like what might happen if Daft Punk or Midnight Star fell through a hole in time. And what about the songs themselves? Far from offering a canonical view of popular music, A Century of Songs represents certain years with offbeat selections such as Howard Taft's presidential campaign song ("Get on the Raft With Taft") and a commercial jingle ("C. Howard's Gum Has the Power of Taste"). "Hits of 69" offers an A-to-Z (Archies to Zappa) summation of that year, and two original songs -- "A Century of Song" and "Does Anyone Remember a Century of Song?" -- summarize the box set itself. LMP's earlier releases, including the excellent Love Conquers Alda, mix Casio beats and retro flourishes into a quirky form of sunshine pop, but A Century of Songs goes much further in its eclecticism, achieving an inspired level of absurdity while reclaiming a forgotten heritage of song. The only disappointing thing about A Century of Songs is that more people won't hear it.
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