Tis once again the season for the annual music industry cash-grab! You can expect to be bombarded with advertisements for Greatest Hits albums left and right, so here's a buyer's guide to let you know what you should avoid.

When most people think of holiday records, they experience a nauseous shudder. That’s fair enough, considering they’re probably imagining Ruben Studdard dressed like Santa Claus singing a sweaty duet of “Silver Bells” with the mummified remains of Olivia Newton-John. My nauseous shudder comes from something else entirely, though: Greatest Hits albums. Some people refer to a Greatest Hits album as the “gold watch” of the music industry, a final reward for a band on its way out. I prefer to think of them as the music industry’s equivalent of those game show booths where all the money blows around and you have to grab as much as possible.

The VerveThis is Music: The Singles 92-98

The Verve: Such A ShameEven while admitting that The Verve’s first two LPs were pretty good, I think it’s pretty much safe to say that they’re going to go down in history as failures. You may remember that they had one big hit, Bittersweet Symphony, which contained an uncleared sample from an orchestral re-recording of a Rolling Stones tune. The Verve was successfully sued for the use of the sample and forced to give up every dime the song earned; the songwriting credit was given to Jagger and Richards, and the publishing rights were turned over to the Stones. The tune appeared in a Nike commercial against The Verve’s will. You may be tempted to feel sorry for The Verve, but keep in mind that they brought this upon their own fool heads; they were warned that there would be trouble if they used the sample, but they did it anyway. You also may recall that they seemingly made up for lost revenue by placing the opening guitar strains of Lucky Man in just about every movie trailer of the year. That wasn’t even the only major lawsuit that they lost, either; they were originally known as “Verve,” but they had to change the band’s name to “The Verve” after being sued by the jazz label called Verve. While this may not sound like a big deal, it opened them up for a lifetime of being tragically mistaken for The Verve Pipe, which is perhaps the worst fate any musician could face.

Britney Spears - Greatest Hits: My Prerogative
As long as she’s covering Bobby Brown’s song, I think she should go ahead and cover his career. She already started as a teen pop sensation and moved into raunchier territory, so now all she has to do is get fucked up on drugs (perhaps already in progress), fade into obscurity, and beat up Whitney Houston. Ugh, let me end this awful thing before I start making the same jokes as Jay Leno.

Travis - Singles
Do you ever wish you could listen to Coldplay without your palms sweating and your heart rate soaring? Do you often have to turn off your Goo Goo Dolls records because you’re getting a little bit too worked up? If so, congratulations, you’re the world’s biggest pussy. The good news is that there’s a pop band specifically tailored to your special needs: Travis. After the euphoric Britpop period, UK audiences decided that it was time to chill out and spend the next six years or so listening to extremely bland music. Travis was on the vanguard of blandness, easily outdulling lesser bores like Embrace and Starsailor. They released four albums, which contained, if I’m being extremely charitable, a maximum of two memorable songs between them. This collection, unfortunately, contains many more songs than that.

Korn - Greatest Hits Volume One
Volume One? Give me a break.

Placebo - Once More With Feeling: Singles 1996-2004

Molko: Muppet?Go look in the mirror and see if you have any claw-marks around your ears from trying to rip out your own eardrums. No? Then you probably haven’t heard Placebo. This collection contains eight years of nasal keening from one of rock music’s greatest vocal annoyances, androgynous sex-muppet Brian Molko. I think his whiny American-Scottish voice is actually quite a clever trick, considering that it serves to violently distract attention from his lyrics: “A friend in need’s a friend indeed / a friend with weed is better / a friend with breasts and all the rest / a friend who’s dressed in leather.” While it’s sometimes necessary to preserve the memories of humanity’s lowest points in order to ensure that history isn’t repeated, I think Placebo should probably be filed away in the “pretend it never happened” drawer alongside the time you got drunk at your family reunion and hit on your cousin.

Neil Young - Greatest Hits
The last time Neil Young released a “best of” collection was in 1977, when he put out the three-LP set “Decade.” It’s been 27 years and more than 20 studio albums since then, and yet there are only five songs on Greatest Hits that weren’t on Decade. Are we to conclude that only one in four Neil Young albums since 1977 contained even a single decent song? Yes, in fact, we are to conclude this.

Robbie Williams - Greatest Hits
The world may see America as a nation of overweight rednecks, as a dangerous and power-hungry empire, or as a bunch of insane Christian zealots. Sure, all of that might be true to some extent, but at least we never allowed Robbie Williams to make it big over here. And for that, if nothing else, we can be proud to call ourselves Americans.

Creed - Greatest Hits
Actually, take back what I said about being proud to call ourselves Americans. I think Creed’s success more than balances out Robbie’s failure. As if post-grunge music wasn’t unbearable enough already, Creed had to come along and throw Christianity into the equation. It’s not even the fun kind of Christianity, with clapping and potlucks and love and celebration, it’s the fucking morose Passion-of-the-Christ struggling-with-faith Christianity that makes all of us heathens just want to vomit pea soup in the faces of the believers.

Amy Grant - Greatest Hits 1986-2004
Oh no, I take it back, the potlucks-and-clapping brand of Christianity is every bit as bad as the other kind.

Sixpence None the Richer - The Best of Sixpence None the Richer
Actually, this is the worst sort of all. Have you ever had a friend who said to you, “hey, you should come to this potluck with me, there are going to be a bunch of cool people there and some really interesting lectures”? And were you unsure what to say, because you didn’t really think your friend was a serious Christian, but you were worried about accidentally agreeing to go to something that might be about Jesus? Such is the nature of Sixpence None the Richer’s music. Plus, even aside from being secretly Christian, they only had one song that anyone’s ever heard, so fuck them for putting out a “Best Of” collection.

John Mellencamp - Words & Music: Greatest Hits
I’d rather die.

Along with these greatest hits packages, we’re also seeing quite a few high-profile reissues lately. There are too many of them to cover, but I’ll at least mention a few that have had some publicity:

AFI - AFI
A desperate plea to the Hot Topic masses to recognize that AFI existed before their tenure as MTV’s favorite pop-hardcore goths. It’s an interesting beast, this one; it’s sort of a “greatest hits before they had any hits” collection. There aren’t really too many bands that languish in relative obscurity for years and then suddenly hit it big, but this certainly isn’t the first example of such an album. Perverse UK chart-toppers Pulp managed to remain obscure for about ten years before finally recording a song worthy of being ironically covered by William Shatner, and they too released a “before they were stars” collection. American audiences will recall that platinum mega-genius Kid Rock was a nobody for quite a long time before he was a somebody and then a nobody again, and he was certainly not above releasing a collection of gems from his largely unheard back catalogue. I’m not sure what the point of this history lesson was, honestly, except to point out that AFI really aren’t that clever. Of course, you could tell that just by looking at them.

Nirvana - With The Lights Out
After a prolonged legal battle over who has the right to exhume Kurt Cobain’s corpse and make it dance for money, we have finally been blessed with a box set of rarities which documents Nirvana’s peerless history of shitty outtakes. Let this be a lesson to all you aspiring musicians: don’t die after you become really famous, or your subhuman harpy of a wife will publish everything you ever deemed unworthy of release in order to feed her addiction to pills and attention.

Jobriath - Lonely Planet Boy
It seems like only yesterday I declared that nobody would ever hear about Jobriath again after I declared him the worst rock star of all time. Well, unfortunately, I am forced to eat crow. Our old pal Morrissey has taken it upon himself to reissue some old Jobriath tunes so that a whole new generation may despise or ignore them. I might actually buy this to laugh at it, but please be warned that only bad music professionals should attempt such dangerous listening.

Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: LA’s Desert Origins
This is the tenth-anniversary reissue of Pavement’s second album, beloved by all who shop in thrift stores for reasons other than poverty. Much like Nirvana’s set, this two-disc edition is loaded with shitty outtakes; luckily for Pavement fans, all of their songs sound like shitty outtakes to begin with, so this might as well be another full album of A-list Pavement material from the band in its prime. Of course, to anyone who isn’t already convinced that Pavement is good, it’ll sound like a bunch of indie dorks making it up as they go along.

Manic Street Preachers - The Holy Bible

Richey James, after carving "4 Real" into his arm to prove some sort of a point.Another tenth-anniversary reissue, this is a deluxe edition of what many consider to be the only decent album by a band which is nonetheless famous for some reason. Contrary to my nature, I might actually advise picking this record up if it becomes domestically available, because it’s an amusing example of insanity on record. Richey James, the band’s notoriously wacko self-mutilating lyricist and rhythm guitarist, disappeared shortly after the making of this record and was never heard from again. Much as I loathe the myth that insane people make more compelling records (Syd Barrett’s solo career, I’m looking at you), The Holy Bible is a unique case. You see, James’ band-mates were convinced that he was a genius, even though much of what he wrote was basically nonsensical semi-political gibberish filled with half-comprehended literary references, extreme sexual insecurity, and obsolete radical slogans. The singer/guitarist, James Dean Bradfield, was forced to hem these bizarre lyrics into coherent melodies, resulting in a totally unique style of singing in which the words are drastically mispronounced and mangled to fit the song’s tune and the lyric’s meter. We’re left with a laughable goofball of an album; the lyrics are basically incomprehensible and the music is stranded between the Manics’ old Guns n’ Roses influences and a half-developed post-punk sound. Although the record is most certainly crap by any objective standard, something tells me I’ll never hear another album like it.

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