Rarities compilations never really work out to be quite as good an idea as they might seem, because in nearly all instances they’re a collection of songs that simply didn’t make the grade. It’s not often that you forget you recorded something ace, is it? Who can honestly claim that V.U. is their favourite Velvet Underground album? (*edit* Haha, plenty of people, it turns out. Bad example conjured in haste. And I suppose if any band was going to lose ace stuff, it’d be the Velvets) And who rates Free as a Bird as anything other than a demo polished within an inch of its life to end up sounding like a second-rate ELO number? Rarities are the last refuge of record companies that have run out of new track listings to make up yet another greatest hits compilation.
Shits & Giggles is the second Kleptones album to come out this year, and for want of a better phrase it’s a rarities compilation – 20 tracks dating back to 2004 that didn’t fit the albums.
Maddeningly, it’s excellent.
It really shouldn’t be. It’s hard enough to take one song, add it to another song, and not end up with a bad noise. Making a mash-up track tends to go like this: you get the idea that Song A would go nicely with Song B, and in your head it sounds fantastic. That’s because your brain’s really good at distorting reality and auto-compensating for differences in key, tempo, rhythm, timbre and a billion other things. Once you get beyond idle daydreaming and actually try to fit the things together, you need to be really lucky or really good – or a bit of both – to come up with anything other than an abomination.
Four albums – two of them doubles – plus an EP and two mix sets; that’s just showing off. To have enough left over to make another album is a statistical fucking impossibility. And yet here we are. 20 tracks rescued from the Kleptones vaults, and not a dud among them.
It’s a very different Kleptones album; stylistically it’s all over the place, like a Now That’s What I Call Music compilation from a parallel universe, made up of carefully blended songs that you’d never thought should fit together, but which really, really do. Grafting Elton’s Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting to Billy Idol’s White Wedding is something that should never occur to a sane human being. Pat Benatar and Kraftwerk shouldn’t be suitable bedfellows. And a combination of Ke$ha’s Tik Tok and Dizzee Rascal’s Flex shouldn’t be the catchiest damn song I’ve heard in months.
But yet again, it all works. In Shits & Giggles you’ll find more musical genres than are likely to exist in your entire music collection, living together in perfect harmony. The only track that even comes close to not working that well is the finale, Unwanted Whisper, and you have to love it anyway since it’s a shameless inversion of 24 Hours’ wonderfully cheesy Careless or Dead.
And before you even get to that there are nineteen great tracks that’ll have you thoroughly enjoying artists that you’d never normally listen to. I thought that dub wasn’t my thing, but a threesome of tracks about halfway through – The Clash and Red Hot Chili Peppers given a damn good dubbing – has me wondering what I’ve been missing.
Then there are the two missing tracks from A Night at the Hip Hopera; both of them great and omitted purely to keep the running time down to a CD length. That’s a real shame, particularly in the case of Kill, a merciless evisceration of music industry corruption that seems to me to be a natural companion piece to the album’s last track, Question.
I don’t know how he does it. Eric Kleptone gives the impression of not only knowing all the music, but also knowing how to cut it up, fit it together differently and come up with something special.
Every. Bloody. Time.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Download Shits & Giggles here, or just press the big Play button below and listen away.