Various Artists

Propaganda

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Offbeat cover art sets the tone for this irreverent compilation of mostly new wave artists (subtitled "A Blatant Attempt to Influence Your Musical Taste"). The cover features the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong and his Red Army comrades kicking out the jams to an adoring throng of their constituents. (Two featured artists get sly visual billing; one spectator wears a Police armband, while another has a T-shirt sporting the Reds' name.) This record could almost be considered a showcase for Joe Jackson, who'd gotten to a fast start off his breakout hit, "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" Sizzling versions of his own "Throw It Away" and the Chuck Berry standard "Come On" merit a spin, but "Don't Ask Me" -- as the title implies -- is a leaden sounding I've-got-no-answers critique: It's also previously unreleased, but not terribly noteworthy. David Kershenbaum is the prime force behind this compilation; he produced Jackson's tracks and the Reds' gut-crunching "Joey," one of the standouts here. The Police roar through their live tracks in an early display of the form that would make them stars, while the Granati Brothers' "Go Crazy" is enjoyable boogie ear candy and Squeeze pulls off a convincing disco turn on "Slap and Tickle"'s tale of seething sexual frustration. On the other hand, the pallid pop contributions from Bobby Henry, David Kubinec, and Shrink aren't distinct enough to separate them from countless other skinny-tie-merchants-come-lately. The compilers' strategy seems plain enough: Tempt listeners away from Top 40 schlock without scaring them witless. How well this strategy worked is debatable, considering this album's status as a bargain-bin evergreen. The live tracks are the only excuse for not leaving it there, and even then, the show that yielded the Police's contributions has been released. If you collect dozens of similar compilations, one more won't make a difference; otherwise, use caution before spending that dollar.

Track Listing

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