For those who lucked into following Shoes from their earliest self-produced living room recordings though their major label stint on Elektra and back to self-production (including this year’s superb hiatus-breaking Ignition), this collection provides a pleasant, albeit non-chronological, whirlwind through numerous catalog highlights. For those who latched onto Shoes during their major label days, the band’s DIY origin will remain murky, as the set includes only one track from the seminal Black Vinyl Shoes, neither side of their single for Bomp, and none of their earlier self-distributed work.
That band’s early aesthetic is heard most fully in the Black Vinyl Shoes version of “Okay,” while the other early song, “Tomorrow Night” is taken from 1979’s Present Tense, rather than the more primitive 1978 Bomp A-side. Still, those two songs are a roadmap to everything that’s great about the band: winsome lyrics, hummable melodies, tight harmonies and deftly constructed layers of guitars, bass and drums. Half the collection focuses on the group’s three albums for Elektra, including the power-pop gems “Too Late,” “In My Arms Again,” “Curiosity” and “The Summer Rain.” Selections from their later albums for Instant, New Rose and their own Black Vinyl label show that the spark of their living room recordings was amplified by ever-improving home studio technology.
Given the length of the group’s career, it’s a reasonable compromise to omit most of their formative material, along with the odds and sods that have dribbled out over the years. As a record of the band, this is a good overview for less ardent fans. But one might still wish they’d saved the adjective “Definitive” for an all-encompassing box set that gathers their compilation appearances, non-LP singles, live appearances, demos, outtakes and sundry special projects. Perhaps they’re saving “Complete” for that one. In the meantime, you can pick up many of the obscurities in the band’s store, and start your pitiable, unknowing friends with this anthology of the group’s core commercial releases. [©2012 Hyperbolium]