With the history of recorded music up for digital grabs, it’s fire-sale time: Major labels are emptying their vaults so fast that CD-pressing plants must be doing triple shifts. This isn’t a bad thing, because: (a) everyone needs overtime in a screwed economy, and (b) fans get access to hard-to-find material. The only questions are: How good is the stuff? and How bad is your habit?
Pearl Jam freaks usually have it b-a-d, and after buying all the live discs the band have released over the past few years, many may be sleeping on the street, using their overstuffed Case Logic CD wallets as pillows. Still, one sympathizes: Pearl Jam can shine like the sun live but haven’t made a consistently memorable LP since their 1991 debut, Ten. And — thanks in no small part to Eddie Vedder’s well-documented aversion to popularity– the band’s best songs often wind up hidden on import-only singles or otherwise orphaned. Lost Dogs, which rounds up these odds and sods, is an uneven set, but it’s flecked with gold. The Hendrix-indebted power ballad “Yellow Ledbetter” is some of the best Pearl Jam music ever recorded; ditto the folk-rocking “Fatal.” Other throwaways find Vedder uncharacteristically loose, standing on the verge of having fun: the punked-up Motown cover “Leavin Here,” the back-porchy “Drifting,” and “Last Kiss,” a version of J. Frank Wilson & the Cavaliers’ ’60s novelty smash that became Pearl Jam’s biggest-ever hit. Unlike most collections of its kind, Dogs seems motivated more by good sense than greed; even the song about saving the whales is kinda kicky.
A Rage Against the Machine live album is also a perfectly sensible idea, since their studio recordings often sound like political rallies in search of a crowd. This CD documents the group’s last-ever gigs (Los Angeles, 2000), and the first half-dozen songs– including “Bulls on Parade” and “Calm Like a Bomb” — roll out like SoCal wildfires, hot as hell and basically unstoppable. Sure, you may question Rage’s politics. But their version of the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” is as passionate as it is presumptuous, and listening to the crowd’s mock-revolutionary howls of “What better place than here?! What better time than now?!” on “Guerrilla Radio” makes you wonder if a band like this could even exist on such a scale in our current cultural climate. And while we wait for singer Zack de la Rocha’s long-delayed solo joint and pretend to care about guitar trickster Tom Morello’s rockin’ but content-free Audioslave,Live reminds us just how much we could use Rage right now. To paraphrase “Know Your Enemy”: Their anger was a gift.