Whatever: The '90s Pop & Culture Box

Various Artists

Rhino, 2005

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Oh, I have been waiting to rip into this one for a long time. Three words, Rhino: What The Hell?

Seriously, don't fuck with my decade and expect me not to say something about it. I grew up in this time period, and I am still uncovering great songs from it. Snarky commentators on Internet boards and blogs choose to remember it as a musical decade of flannel, chick rock, boy bands and nu metal, and they need to be locked into portable toilets for a week or so listening to OK Computer and Ten and Under The Table And Dreaming.

Unfortunately, several of those lost souls apparently got jobs at Rhino as compilers, because they have slapped together their version of this decade onto seven discs. To me, this was a decade rich with innovation, a time that harkened back to the late '60s in its span of genres that brought people together while breaking new ground. This was the decade where hip-hop gained major traction among all youth instead of just urban youth, where electronic music became a viable art form and gained popularity, where rock went the opposite way of the '80s and became more introspective and less girls-booze-drugs-party Spinal Tap clichés, where country started producing national superstars on an annual basis, where boy bands and nu metal closed out the decade in depressing yet hyper-popular fashion, and where female singer-songwriters came out from the coffee shops and shadows and touched a nerve with listeners from both major genders.

All of this is the 1990s, and yet so little of it is present on Whatever. I get that licensing is a big issue, but you're better off not releasing anything than in just pretending the best and/or most popular bands of the era didn't exist, then offer pale imitations of them. To wit: Nowhere in this collection will you find Radiohead, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Green Day, TLC, Smashing Pumpkins, Eminem, Stone Temple Pilots, Metallica, Dave Matthews Band, Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Korn, Kid Rock, Tool, Shania Twain, NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, U2, Phish, Destiny's Child or Mariah Carey.

Think about that.

Instead, we get a bunch of second and third-rate grunge and alt-rock imitations, a pile of one-hit wonders and only a hint of the creativity and truly amazing, life-affirming music from this period. To the compilers’ credit, they manage to touch on the swath of genres that were all popular from the decade, so listeners will hear grunge, Britpop, electronic (back when it was called techno), R&B, hip hop, alternative rock, pop punk and a pile of inoffensive, crowd-pleasing rock or pop songs that everyone my age can still sing.

Seven discs of this are what you will pay good money for. Just the first two discs alone are depressing; the track list includes such luminaries as Michael Penn, Jane Siberry, Das EFX, L7, The Gits, Supersuckers and dada. Remember any of them? Me neither. The commercial side of hip hop is represented by MC Hammer, Kris Kross, Naughty By Nature, Queen Latifah and Ice-T, and the one-hit wonders include “Right Here, Right Now,” “Gonna Make You Sweat,” “Groove Is In the Heart,” “I Touch Myself,” “Walking in Memphis,” “Unbelievable” and, of course, “Baby Got Back.” At least someone had the decency to include Mother Love Bone’s “Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns,” Pantera, Ministry, the Lemonheads, Matthew Sweet, the Black Crowes and My Bloody Valentine.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Disc three starts with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ breakthrough “Under The Bridge” and features Stereo MC’s excellent “Connected” and an entry from Primus, but then quickly dissolves with forgettable dreck from Wreckx-N-Effect, Silk, Sugar, Green Jelly, Fastbacks and Helmet. Remember any of them? No? Shucks. Oh, and House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” and Dinosaur Jr. are here, plus 4 Non Blonde’s “What’s Up?” just to piss people off.

The fourth disc starts to right the ship with the Afghan Whigs, Gin Blossoms, Aaliyah, Pavement, Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan (“Possession,” an interesting choice), but also includes yet more unheard yawn-inducing cuts by the Posies, Tad, the Muffs, Belly, Guru and a not-great choice by the Juliana Hatfield Three. Also here is Salt-N-Pepa’s “Whatta Man,” a track from Ween and the Crash Test Dummies’ “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm,” which will piss more people off.

Disc five is probably the best one, what with Collective Soul’s “Shine,” Candlebox’s “Far Behind,” the Flaming Lips, Weezer’s “Buddy Holly,” Better Than Ezra’s “Good,” Blues Traveler’s “Run-Around,” Silverchair’s “Tomorrow” and Natalie Merchant’s “Carnival.” Ani DiFranco makes an appearance alongside Melvins and Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be,” and R.E.M. finally shows up, albeit with the wrong song (“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”), fitting the sonic theme here but not doing justice to a brilliant group. The theme from Friends is here too.

The sixth disc starts to acknowledge the second half of the decade with Oasis (“Wonderwall”), Jewel (“Who Will Save Your Soul”), Sublime (“What I Got”), the Verve Pipe (“Photograph,” a good choice) and Seven Mary Three. Yes, we also have Supergrass, Babes in Toyland, Stereolab, Ash, Primitive Radio Gods and Deep Blue Something (“Breakfast At Tiffany’s”), but then there’s Jamiroquai and Cibo Matto, so there you go. To piss people off, as per requirement now, is Joan Osborne’s smug “One Of Us.”

And finally, with one last chance to make it right, the seventh disc includes “MMMBop,” “Sex and Candy,” “Walking on the Sun,” “Tubthumping” “Bitch,” “Steal My Sunshine,” “Lovefool,” “Lullaby,” the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Slide” and “Kiss Me.” Oy. Nods are at least given to Sleater-Kinney, Fountains of Wayne, De La Soul, Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds Five, Everlast and Moby, but by then it’s too little too late.

You can be forgiven, after listening to this horseshit, that the decade was full of meaningless music and guilty pleasures, with little that has stood the test of time. Rest assured that the best music of the decade ranks alongside the best music of any decade ever, and so little of those artists and that spirit is found on Whatever that, once it’s over, you will find yourself shrugging and repeating the title. Apparently, it was easier to cherry-pick a bunch of Top 40 songs and fill in the gaps with little-known rip-offs than to release something worthwhile. Four or five good songs per CD does not a quality box set make.

Shame on Rhino for thinking that this is anywhere close to capturing what the ’90s was really like. Don’t waste your money.

Rating: D

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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