Small town mentalities are the same everywhere. That was the one thing I immediately thought the first time I played this excellent compilation. Having lived in a small city all my life, the music of Soul Asylum speaks in terms which are absolutely unequivocal to me. People who is willing to do whatever it takes to be closer to the stars, people who know all too well how it feels to be just like anyone, mothers incessantly talking on the phone about these things they are afraid to discuss on public… it is the same here and everywhere. And the fact that my city (Montevideo) has a twin town in Minnesota is too good a point to miss.
In general terms, the band is remembered for the mega-successful “Runaway Train”, their one and only certified hit. Since it was the only time they really took the charts by storm, they have been relegated to the category of one hit wonders in the pages of history. They did have another Top 20 success with the song “Misery”, though.
Both songs are included here, of course, and the CD is enormously satisfying for the reason that cuts from their independent years flesh it out. Couple this with the unreleased tracks and live takes which are featured, and you have what I frankly consider one of the best compilations I have listened to.
The band has always been famous for its high level of onstage energy, and the one song that comes the closer to capturing it on tape is “Somebody To Shove”, a track that has some excellent wordplay (“In a world frozen over with over exposure/let’s talk it over, let’s go out and paint the town”).
Refined wordplay is actually commonplace here, with verses like these and “She starts wondering what they mean, do they just mean to be mean” shining through time and again. A personal favorite: “Well I’ve known you forever, we complete each other’s thoughts/ Ain’t like we never got in trouble, it’s just we’ve never gotten caught” (from the song “Close”)
Although their whole career is chronicled, it is the songs from the Columbia years the ones that will win you over. These include “Runaway Train”, “Misery”, “Somebody To Shove”, “Without A Trace”, “Black Gold”… if you are already familiar with the band’s music, it is going to be with songs from this acclaimed period.
If anything, the one message that factors more heavily here is how people in small communities become distanced the most, even when they retain full physical proximity. The (previously unreleased) “Lonely For You” nails that point home ineluctably, painting a picture of people who live through each day alone (doctors, taxi drivers…) and who become so engrossed in their professional lives as a form of escapism that they eventually forget what true contact and communication is.
There is frankly nothing to dislike in here. Even the liner notes are excellent, highlighting the band’s merits without sounding aggrandizing. I frankly enjoyed this disc immensely – any person who is sort of “stuck” in a little corner of the world will already know the words to the songs by heart, and the music plays a liberating role. It liberates the words from their weariness and resentment, and it carries them beyond the skyline. There is always a way to break out of “neither here nor there”. This CD is not an all-expenses paid ticket. Rather, it is a map for you to keep at hand. But a brilliant one at that.
Would I recommend purchase of this compilation: Yes
Do I feel like digging deeper into their catalog after listening to it: Yes