The Best Of
I’ve always been wary of “best of’s” and “greatest hits” collections. On the one hand, they can provide a succinct introduction to an overlooked band, or a perfect buy for an off and on fan of an artist, but on the other, it has always stunk of cash grab along the lines that Morrissey sang of in 1987 in “Paint a Vulgar Picture:”
“Reissue. Repackage. Repackage.
Reevaluate the songs.
Double pack with a photograph
An extra track and a tacky badge.”
Luckily, in this case, the twentieth anniversary of the band Drugstore has brought with it one of those worthy collections. This is the kind that makes a full statement of what the band have accomplished and can act as a very nice introduction to a band who have been mostly overlooked over all of these years.
This collection will not be included with my end of the year favorites. Just by the nature of its release, I will not listen to it as much as I will albums of new material. I already have at least some version of all but one of the 21 songs on the album. So, why do I have it? I purchased it, because I love this band and I am a collector, so the idea of a few new versions of old favorites sounded intriguing. In addition, I was curious to see what songs bandleader Isabel Monteiro, who carefully pieced this compilation together herself, would choose to represent her musical legacy thus far. I write about it now, because it is a lovingly crafted package and, as a long time fan, I truly believe there are a lot of people out there who are missing out on some really excellent music.
I first heard Drugstore in the spring of 1994 when I purchased their “Starcrossed” single, based on a review in the CMJ Music Weekly overseas section, and I was instantly smitten. The three songs on the disc were mostly acoustic, mysterious and lovely. Monteiro’s sultry Brazilian tinged voice was a welcome respite to the loud music of the times. It was one of the B-sides, “Accelerate” (included on this collection), turned out to be the early favorite, but overall, this one single alone solidified that I’d be buying the next and the next and the next. By the time 1995 rolled around, so did their debut. It didn’t matter that I already owned most of the songs already. It was on constant rotation. Their quiet and easy songs held a similar hypnotic sway as Mazzy Star, but Drugstore also held a spiky edge and buzz that would explode at opportune moments to prevent any potential monotony.
By the time, their sophomore album came out, 1998’s White Magic For Lovers, they clearly were a confident and inspired band. The spry and varied and carnival-esque collection was one of the best of that year. It was much louder and diverse and purely exciting. It also included their best known song, the duet with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, “El President,” about the 1973 overthrow of Chilean president Salvador Allende, as well as the confident warning of “I Know I Could,” (alternate version included here), the striking “Sober,” the mystical and absolutely shredding “White Magic for Lovers,” and the friendly opening welcome “Say Hello” (also presented here in a new recording).
By the time 2001’s third album, Songs for the Jetset, came around, the band had lost a lot of momentum. This was their third album on a third label and funding had been pulled on the recording before they were finished. The album was solid, but not as inspired as the previous and Monteiro walked away.
Thankfully, her interest in the music returned several years later, as Monteiro pieced together a new lineup and recorded 2011’s Anatomy (on yet another label), a very quiet and dark mostly solo acoustic collection (my 2011 #11 pick seen here), including the sinister flirtations of “Sweet Chili Girl” and the breathtaking “Clouds” (both included).
And now, we’ve got this collection (on a 5th label of all things), 21 songs deep, well rounded, and surprisingly cohesive, despite all of the changes the band went through over these 20 years. If you’re truly interested in checking out this band, I recommend you try your best to track down their exciting first two offerings, but this is a beautiful collection and a great place to start – and at least it’s readily available.
Now, the big question is what’s next? Is there more to come? I sure hope so.