The Best Of

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An imperfect collection of a frustratingly uneven band, The Best of James is a tantalizing missed opportunity. James was always full of ambition and big ideas, from their early days as Smiths-like folk-rockers through their flirtation with baggy to their experimental dabbling with Brian Eno. Throughout it all, they hit as often as they missed, landing a handful of British hits and creating several more worthy album tracks. As album artists, however, they only occasionally were successful, as on 1993's terrific Laid. That's the reason why they are the perfect candidates for an 18-track retrospective like The Best Of. Too bad the compilers botched this disc. It's not that the collection overlooks their first two albums for Sire -- those had their moments, but they're not especially missed -- it's that they gather most of the best Fontana material (plus "Hymn From a Village," one of their early singles for Factory, and two new tracks), then throw it all in the air, not caring where each song lands. Since James changed drastically from album to album, this really is a block-headed move; it's difficult to listen to these songs out of chronological order, and the sequencing makes their achievements seem less impressive. That said, The Best Of is nevertheless recommended as a starting point because no other James album accurately conveys their eclecticism or their musical strengths; it's also nice to get all of these songs on one disc. Just be prepared to dig a little deeper -- or at least learn how to program the CD player -- if the collection sparks your interest.

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