Whatever: The '90s Pop & Culture Box
In case you weren't sure whether enough time had elapsed for you to be nostalgic for lattes, flannel, and the dot-com boom, the answer -- Yes! -- comes in the form of this seven-disc box set from Rhino, home to zeitgeist-capturing boxes chronicling the '70s and the '80s. Whatever ably surveys some of the decade's best, including Sinéad O'Connor's chilling "Nothing Compares 2 U," Aaliyah's sultry "Back & Forth," and Ben Folds Five's winsome "Brick." Less iconic tracks, such as En Vogue's rockin' slab of R&B "Free Your Mind" or 4 Non Blondes' towering Bic-flicker "What's Up" (their singer, Linda Perry, would go on to produce post-millennial hits for Pink and Christina Aguilera), surely will bring someone back to the days when the '80s unequivocally sucked. The set's heavy with tunes that introduced artists who continue to shape the fabric of popular music: Queen Latifah featuring Monie Love's "Ladies First," Tori Amos's "God," Ani DiFranco's "Not a Pretty Girl," Sarah McLachlan's "Possession," Weezer's "Buddy Holly," Moby's "Natural Blues." And while some of us could've lived a happy life without ever being reminded of Right Said Fred's runway smash "I'm Too Sexy," totally unselfconscious, libidinous cuts such as Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" or King Missile's "Detachable Penis" make us strangely nostalgic for the pre-Nipplegate era. Likewise, the '90s' seemingly endless supply of truly memorable one-hit wonders -- EMF's "Unbelievable," Deee-Lite's "Groove Is in the Heart," Jesus Jones's "Right Here, Right Now," and Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping," for starters -- will give this box a raison d'être for many, and happily the highs outweigh the few truly bad memories (Green Jelly's "Three Little Pigs," anyone?). For those who want to get their groove on, there's C+C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)," Kris Kross's "Jump," and Tag Team's "Whoomp! (There It Is)." What you won't find, thanks to the vagaries of licensing, are some of the decade's biggest names -- no Nirvana or Pearl Jam (though underground counterparts/predecessors Screaming Trees, Mother Love Bone, and Mudhoney nicely represent the Seattle scene), nor will you turn up hits from '90s giants such as U2 or Radiohead, Mariah Carey or Jay-Z, Sting, Snoop Doggy Dogg, or Missy Elliott. Rather, the box scores the '90s, rightly, as the beginning of today's atomized music scene, a Lollapalooza-like gathering of tribes and subgenres: power pop (Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend," Michael Penn's "No Myth"); funk-metal (Pantera's "Walk," White Zombie's "Thunder Kiss '65"); proto-neo-soul (Meshell Ndegeocello's groovy "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)," Des'ree's "You Gotta Be"); and indie rock with a definite West Coast bias. My Bloody Valentine, Pavement, and Urge Overkill still sound great, but the Gits, Tad, and Soul Coughing? Whatever also delivers fantastic packaging: It's housed beneath a coffee bean-filled cover (cozily wrapped in a corrugated cardboard sleeve) and contains a lavish 84-page booklet featuring several thoughtful essays, detailed track-by-track liner notes, and a photo-filled timeline reminding listeners of such cultural events as the advent of Microsoft Windows, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the death of Tupac Shakur, and the O. J. Simpson car chase. Admit it, you feel just a little bit nostalgic, don't you?
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Most compilations, even the titles from Rhino, suffer from having about 60% good songs you want and 40% filler (even worse when that filler is songs you don't know). Part of that problem is because they're limited by the genre it's placed in. "Whatever" by far is the first and best compilation I have ever seen, filling every single space with great songs from every genre of the 90s. Forget the fact that there's no BIG names like Nirvana or U2 or Radiohead or Pearl Jam--aside from licensing problems Rhino may have had, about 90% of us have those albums anyway. This compilation truly for those who want to remember the fun of the 90s in all its multigenre glory.