Following on from the flood of generally interchangeable Alex Harvey/SAHB compilations that emerged during the 1980s and 1990s, Considering the Situation - at last! - is the first to actually sit down and figure out exactly what it is trying to do. Harvey's importance and influence have never been in doubt; neither has the sheer quality of the 20 years worth of recordings that preceded his death in 1982. Yet past attempts to corral this vast canon have always foundered around an obsession with the SAHB years. This collection, although it is still one full CD short of perfect, at least avoids that mistake.
The package is, sensibly, divided into two very separate halves. Disc one, "the early years," covers Harvey's meanderings through the 1960s, via the Hamburg veteran Soul Band, a handful of solo projects, his stint with the musical Hair and sundry short-lived band projects. It is not exhaustive - three of his period singles (and almost all the b-sides) are absent, while his four albums are barely scratched. Still it is difficult to quibble with a package that exhumes one previously unreleased (as opposed to simply hopelessly rare) Soul Band cut, plus two more tracks reconstructed from abandoned LP sessions towards the end of the 1960s - all the more so since those latter numbers, "Isabel Goudie" and "The Harp," are more familiar from SAHB's own canon than from Harvey's solo career. They join, incidentally, six other 60s-era songs that Harvey would later return to, most notably the so-evocative "Roman Wall Blues," reborn at the end of his life as "Soldier On The Wall."
Onto disc two and the bulk is devoted to a reasonably seamless survey of SAHB's eight albums. Rarities this time are at a premium - the aforementioned "The Harp," the non-album flip of the "Big Louie" single closes disc one, but there's no room for fellow b-sides, the live "St Anthony" or the immortal "Satchel & The Scalp Hunter." No out-takes or oddities either, and the absence of a few other SAHB classics - "Amos Moses," "Anthem" and "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" among them - may rankle. Similarly, the compiler's decision to follow conventional wisdom and pluck just one track apiece from the band's last two albums is one that should be questioned, all the more so since "Boston Tea Party" and "Water Beastie" both insist that those records demand some serious re-evaluation.
More disturbing is the complete absence of any reference to Harvey's final years, following the demise of SAHB. The album closes with a 40 second snippet from his Presents The Loch Ness Monster album (itself as elusive as the monster itself), but there's nothing from either the The Mafia Stole My Guitar or Soldier On The Wall albums, a failing that - more than any other - hamstrings the collection's claims to be "definitive."
Of course, such complaints are rendered academic not only by the vast riches that are included, but also by the fact that this collection even exists in the first place. How much easier would it have been, after all, for the label to simply slap together another SAHB best of, and save themselves the wealth of vault-scraping that surely comprised disc one? In terms of what it could have been, Considering The Situation is disappointing. But in terms of what it is, it's the greatest Alex Harvey compilation ever.