I have a love/hate relationship with greatest hit and compilation albums by mainstream artists. It seems like a great idea to present a sampling of a band’s collective works for newcomers to a particular sound. In the end, managers and record companies compile a list of recognizable hits and incomprehensible deep cuts that are poor representations of a band. The compilation album is a Frankenstein monster run amok in the record industry.
In the case of Yo La Tengo’s Prisoners of Love, I can get down with the premise of a compilation album. The two-disc set (I should have opted for the three-disc set with rarities, by the way) has been selected by Georgia, Ira and James along with the good people at Matador to reflect the band’s evolution. My experience with Yo La Tengo has been sketchy over the last five years with exposure through free form stations, mixed CDs and the limited mainstream showcase of the trio’s talent. Prisoners of Love gives me the full spectrum of Yo La Tengo before I make an investment in their complete catalog.
Both discs have been featured prominently in my car’s CD player over the last few weeks as I try to figure out my attraction to Yo La Tengo. I have concluded from Prisoners of Love that the success of Yo La Tengo in capturing a loyal fan base in the fickle indie scene comes from their dynamism. The first song on Prisoners of Love is “Shaker” which is a moody intro that sounds like it came from the upper echelon of garage bands. “Sugar Cube” has a poppy sound that is just rock enough to separate from the garbage currently on the radio. “Little Eyes” is a slow building song that would never work in a commercial setting due to the impatience of station directors.
The second disc features interesting tracks that confirmed my interest in investing fully in Yo La Tengo’s albums. The long introduction to “Blue Line Swinger” gives an ample run-up to a climax that is rarely achieved in today’s music scene. This song spans nearly 10 minutes but allows the trio to weave music and lyrics together in a way that is remarkable. I particularly enjoyed the band’s cover of the Sun Ra song “Nuclear War” which captured the spirit of this misunderstood artist. These tidbits, deep cuts and cult favorites would make even the harshest music critic hope for a day where good music would be the rule and not the exception.
This review is not meant to be a love fest. I know that I am expected to be a hater and a skeptic toward the music I write about. I have listened to a number of greatest hits albums and other offerings that have failed to deliver a full picture of the performers in question. The ability of Yo La Tengo to manage their own music and create a clear picture of their artistic vision makes Prisoners of Love recommended listening for anyone who needs a window into the indie music scene.