The Mommyheads

Finest Specimens

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Following the band's reunion in 2008 in both recorded and live ventures, the Mommyheads took the opportunity to look back over everything to create a handy one-disc compilation, drawing on their various albums as well as some live rarities and one-offs. As with any collection, Finest Specimens may cause debate among fans as to what should or should not have been included, but it's a sprightly overview as it stands, ranging from their thoroughly quirked-out debut effort Acorn in 1989 to a live take on "Needmore, PA" from 2010 that found the band happily able to maintain a sweet, delicate, but still focused performance style two decades on. (The concluding track, "When the Sun Breaks," has no date listed but if it's new, the harmony singing of the group hasn't lost a jot either.) In its own way, the best quality of Finest Specimens is showing how thoroughly the Mommyheads continued their tight, 1980s-derived approach through what was supposed to be the decade of indie-as-sloppy-understatement -- hearing songs like "Like a Brick" and "Wedding Day" makes it clear why they made sense on Simple Machines, with that label's own similar embrace of focused accomplishment instead of mess for its own sake. If songs like "Help Me," "Gravity," and "Worm" all seem to be a little out of time and place as a result, the dedication the band shows to an aesthetic defined much more by the Embarrassment than Weezer turns up winners more often than not. It's also something that any band can have a sweetly sung chorus that goes "Getting bitten by spiders…and I'm looking for an antidote!" that doesn't sound like a hopeless attempt to ape the success of an act like the Wiggles.

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