'Discography,' the Pet Shop Boys' best


Pet Shop Boys (EMI 97097)


Greatest-hits compilations are like snapshot albums, covering the highlights of a career but missing the stuff in-between. That's why so many best-ofs seem disappointing; heard out of context, even the best album tracks can sound like non sequiturs. Unless, of course, the songs never connected with anything in the first place, as has been the case with the Pet Shop Boys' output. This duo is truly a singles' act, and its best work -- from the campy calculation of "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)" to the wry wit of "Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You)" -- needs no context to make its point. As such, "Discography" is perhaps the most satisfying title in the group's catalog.

Wall Matthews (Clean Cuts 712)


That Wall Matthews is a masterful guitarist ought to be obvious after a single hearing of "The Night Watchman" -- he finger-picks with such finesse that his performance takes on the sort of shading and dynamic range you'd expect from a piano solo. That alone would make "Gathering the World," Matthews' third album, worth hearing, but -- incredibly -- "The Night Watchman" is the least of its charms. Overdubbing layers of drums and percussion as well as guitar, Matthews weaves a rich tapestry of sound that's at once both familiar and foreign. Add in some soulful vocals (including a stunning rendition of the field holler "Go jTC Down Old Hannah" by Aleta Greene) and an exciting, eclectic song selection, and this album is surely worth gathering into your world.


Chic (Atlantic Re-Masters 82333)

Like most classic R&B; acts, Chic was less a band than a rhythm section -- but what a rhythm section! Few groups ever did so much with so little, and the spare eloquence of the typical Chic groove, with its melodic bass, chattering rhythm guitar and deft, driving backbeat, fueled countless '70s dance classics, including Freak" and the immortal "Good Times." Both can be found (for the first time on CD) on "Dance, Dance, Dance," an 11-song retrospective that eloquently underscores Chic's standing as the pre-eminent dance band of the late '70s.


Primal Scream (Sire 26714)

If all you know about Primal Scream is "Movin' On Up," you might think these young Britons have no ideas of their own. After all, the song is hardly coy about its debt to the Rolling Stones, evoking both "Sympathy for the Devil" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want" over its fashionable Manchester dance beat. Listen to the rest of "Screamadelica," though, and it quickly becomes obvious that Primal Scream has no ideas, period. An empty and annoying collection of house-style blips and beeps, the other tracks are so unlike the single as to seem like bait-and-switch.