Are you telling me that the world's largest record label (at that time, mind you), part of the world's largest media company (again, at that time) couldn't have easily rustled up a couple dozen Modern Rock tracks for each year in the decade known as The Eighties and just published straight volumes for 1980, 1981, 1982, etc.? And then repeated the process until the vaults were emptied? Nope, instead, they bundled the music of the decade into little two-year packages, condensing when they could have been expanding. Then they go back through, scooping up the odd tracks here and there, the ones they were not able to license or had forgotten about initially, bundling them into five-year anthologies like our third album today. Or today's vaguely titled first volume; tenth overall in Time-Life's Modern Rock collection if you've been playing along at home and caught the first three parts of this series.
Sorry I got all ranty and ravey up there. As good as this series is, I'm reminded as I listen and read the booklets accompanying each volume that it could have been so much better. One more gripe before we got on with it: What's with the dozen tracks per disc? The way these discs have all been so far, there is space for nearly an additional half-hour of music per disc - almost a whole hour per album! - whose potential is unrealized. Arion Berger and EMI/Capitol Music Special Markets do what they've done before on Modern Rock: Late '80s. What I do is listen to the album and then attempt to digitally recreate it using Spotify for sharing purposes. From the Kick-off track by INXS, I am already let down. Who listens to "Need You Tonight" and doesn't expect to hear "Mediate" immediately afterward? The cuteness of the second track soothes me a bit and while I like the tracks that follow, it isn't until I hear Flea's bass that I reach for the volume knob and point the little indicator straight up which is as loud as I can go without rattling the windows and shaking the knick-knacks on the shelves. After "Higher Ground", I dial it back down - you're welcome, NSA! - and listen to the rest of Disc 1. The second disc blasts off with "Simply Irresistible", a song I absolutely adore though it reminds me that in 1988-1989, my infant daughter would shake her chubby little self whenever this song came on, inexplicably climbing onto the coffee table and giving her adoring Daddy chilling glimpses into one of her possible futures. The high-energy continues with Squeeze's "Hourglass" before Morrissey comes moping in. Several more songs pass by before Faith No More's ironic rock rap ups the energy level again and this time the volume stays up through the next four tracks until The Alarm comes in (I'd like to sell them down the river!) and I turn it down again.
A new name shows up on the liner notes credit for Modern Rock: Early '90s. Billy Altman's name is unfamiliar to me but seeing EMI/Capitol Music Special Markets as the disc manufacturer is comfortably reassuring. Time-Life attempted then quickly abandoned a couple of Nineties-themed collections but Modern Rock: Early '90s starts off promising enough with seven tasty tunes from the beginning of that decade. And am I the only one that thinks Boy George should record an entire album with Neil and Chris from the Pet Shop Boys? Their collective take on "The Crying Game" is simply divine and makes a wonderful disc-closing track even though there's still room for six or seven more songs. The second disc also kicks off with a string of seven great songs before one of the few Pretenders tracks I don't care for comes on and breaks up the party. After that brief hiccup, the last four tracks on the disc make up the difference and Modern Rock: Early '90s gets
Secretly hoping for Ira Robbins, we are greeted with Arion Berger writing the liner notes for Modern Rock: 1980-1984 while Universal Music Special Markets fires up the disc pressing machinery. I am not the biggest Cyndi Lauper fan but I do like a few of her tracks and "Time After Time" is one of those tracks but like "The Crying Game" on the album above, it is a disc-closer, not a disc-opener. The next four tracks are instantly recognizable and appreciated though they sound years apart, you know what I mean? Skipped the Dutchie. The Fixx burned too bright, too fast and while they continued recording after 1986, I left them behind, feeling they had lost that delicate sonic balance of machine vs human that had attracted me in the first place. Their album Reach The Beach is an underrated classic of the Eighties and one of the few that was actually improved upon with an expanded edition. The four songs that finish up the first disc of Modern Rock: 1980-1984, which coincidentally are the years yours truly attended high school, are all among my most favorites and once they were done, I jumped back and listened to them again. Disc Two is a great tour through the diverse styles that made up Eighties Modern Rock though once again it sounds like there is more than a brief five-year period represented here.