Released 15 years after the Blue Hearts' split, All Time Singles is a sprawling retrospective that succeeds, above all, in proving that the band, though widely hailed as patriarchs of Japanese punk, didn't really care much for punk in the first place. To be sure, Hiroto Kotomo's voice was a hoarse rasp that had the power to literally scratch the ears of an average lounge lover, and the band sported gang choruses, dirty guitars, and plenty of that unmistakable raw vigor. But the closer you look -- and the further you dig into the set -- the more obvious their rock & roll roots become. All Time Singles is full of melodic, even sentimental music that simply uses the punk approach to save on studio polish and restore the immediacy that genuine guitar pop should have at all times, without slipping into arena rock bombast. This diminishes the Blue Hearts' worth from a purist's point of view -- it's hard to label even their earliest, rawest stuff "true punk," and the rebel quality of All Time Singles is negligible -- but this approach also freed the band's hands to write some memorable tracks, and the group had some impressive results in this area. However, that doesn't make this collection a perfect treat: while some tunes, such as "Kiss Shite Hoshii" and the monster hit "Linda Linda," home in straight for the kill, others drag by. The band's style simply doesn't work over long periods of time: All Time Singles was best left as a single CD; granted, the two-plus-hours length allows some digging for treasures, and the band also took care to throw in some less conventional songs, such as "Blue Hearts Theme" and the strings-only "1000 no Violin" -- but all in all, the record bends under its own weight.
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