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The Best: Make the Music Go Bang

Dark, poetic, startling, loud, complex, clever, rebellious, political, beautiful -- X represented late 70s/early 80s Los Angeles the same way The New York Dolls exemplified early 70s New York and The Sex Pistols captured late 70s London. Equal parts punk aggression, rockabilly rage and urban angst, X were the beat poets of L.A.'s burgeoning punk scene. While contemporaries Black Flag called for "More Beer," X examined the world at large. Lyricists John Doe and Exene Cervenka crafted dark harmonies around his dead-on country tenor and her unschooled, passionate cry. Intertwined with the anchor of Billy Zoom's letter-perfect guitar assault and DJ Bonebrake's solid yet dynamic percussion, they showed that punk could be clever without losing any of its menace. Unlike 1997's Beyond and Back (an anthology mainly for completists, full of alternate tracks, demos and unreleased material), The Best... is a two-disk, 46-track sampler from X's eight original releases as well as from The Knitters, a Doe, Cervenka, and Bonebrake one-off country side project with The Blasters' Dave Alvin (the original X replacement for the AWOL Zoom). It's a fine introduction/re-introduction to a band still adored by everyone from Henry Rollins to Moby. Compiled by Doe, this largely chronological collection shows the growth of a band from the New Wave punk of 1980's Los Angeles to the country-tinged fables of 1987's See How We Are (where Lone Justice's Tony Gilkyson took over guitar duty). This is a compilation of nothing but highlights. Whether it's the tempting, adulterous call and response of "White Girl," the blue collar disenfranchisement of "The Have Nots," or the love-gone-terribly-wrong in Alvin's "Fourth of July," X were the harbingers of a tragic desperation, and the means of its redemption. The Best... is a reminder not only of how good X was (and still is when they feel like touring now that Zoom is back in the fold) but of how great music never sounds dated. X sounds as fresh, urgent and alive today as they did 20 years ago. Yeah, they made the music go bang and then some.

Track to Burn: "White Girl"
Grade: A--Tara Flanagan

Van Halen
Best of Both Worlds
Warner Brothers

First of all, the sequencing! This album opens with Eddie Van Halen's hammer-on rock call to arms that is "Eruption," before launching straight into "It's About Time," an insipid, neutered Sammy Hagar song (must be all that tequila!) that just dies. This is followed by another lascivious new Hagar track, "Up For Breakfast," -- a touching paean to morning wood -- and then yet another new one, "Learning to See." "What the fuck?" you ask yourself. "Where's Diamond Dave?" The limber one finally shows up on "Ain't Talkin' About Love," and by this point you're so excited to get rid of Sammy that you're willing to pick out all the brown M&Ms yourself -- which is exactly what you have to do since the band didn't want you to skip the Sammy disc, and alternated the songs' order throughout. (My advice? Burn your own disc). All the hits are here, however, whether you're a Van Halen Mach One fan ("Jamie's Cryin'," "Runnin' With The Devil"), or a Van Halen Mach Two Fan ("Why Can't This Be Love," "Right Now"). All you Extreme Van Halen Mach Three fans are shit out of luck, however -- Gary Cherone has left the building. Now if he'd only take Sammy with him.

Tracks to Burn: All of Sammy's. Like in an incinerator.
(Have you seen Junior's) Grades: Roth stuff: A- Sammy stuff: D+--Timothy C. Davis

Jesse Malin
The Heat

Malin, ex-frontman for NYC glam punkers D Generation, tossed the spandex and makeup in 2003 to become an Americana-obsessed, but citified, sensitive guitar strummer. It was a "Queer Eye" makeover of substantial proportions -- but one without artifice -- and worked so well for his solo debut that he's back with more just over a year later. The Heat's musically laconic, but darkly sweeping and emotionally edgy stories about life's losers evoke neither sympathy nor scorn toward the singer or his subjects. With his nasal twang that adds Tom Petty's wary enthusiasm to Jay Farrar's gray moan, Malin is a natural for this genre. His vivid, personal and compact descriptions of blue-collar lives ("We never had a baby but she got more tattoos") are as evocative as Springsteen's working class folks who were born to run to the promised land. Laid atop bleak, forlorn melodies, the combination paints a stark, sad setting that inter-war realist painter Edward Hopper would appreciate. And since honest Americana singer-songwriters aren't exactly burning up the charts, Malin's relatively newfound poetic street persona doesn't seem any more a bid for cover boy status than his lost and searching characters' lives might be.

Track to Burn: "Mona Lisa"
Grade: B+--Hal Horowitz

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