Many people listen to pop music, some people collect it, a few people sell it. A minority, like the protagonists of High Fidelity, do all three. Here we have a compilation of pop songs that comprises the soundtrack to a film about people for whom pop music is a soundtrack to their lives. Confused? Imagine the difficulty of choosing the songs. It had to be a meld that excluded the obvious and smacked of the eclectic. It also had to make a definitive statement about pop culture that would have second-hand record store boffins nodding their heads in appreciation, as well as to the beats.
Jangly guitars, apparently, was the decisive factor. When in doubt, go for jangly guitars. Even the obligatory Stevie Wonder has jangly guitars. Not a bad thing, not necessarily a good thing. But I expected more soul and less jangle, less jingle and more satin-smooth (notwithstanding The Velvet Underground's dual representation).
Nevertheless, intentionally devoid of hit singles, there are some rich discoveries here; particularly for those with a less-than-encyclopaedic knowledge of the oeuvres of The Kinks, Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello. The latter's anti-war ballad, Shipbuilding, is worth the price of the CD alone. If ever serious art and instant entertainment collided to form something marvellous this is it. True, Costello's nasal timbre sounds like its been processed through an elephant's proboscis, but he's still a fine vocalist, and a master songwriter. If a 20-song Costello album (Punch The Clock, on which Shipbuilding originally appeared) doesn't take your fancy, this might be the best option for obtaining this beautiful composition.
Sheila Nicholls' quirky ballad, Fallen For You, is the biggest revelation. Unfortunately, over-compression in the production mars an impeccably uncluttered arrangement, but it's still sublime. I'm not sure that her lyric isn't superficially attention grabbing, without saying very much: "I thought about you all the time/Walking round the Guggenheim/Like a rhyme/In my mind." But isn't that the essence of pop culture after all?
Unless, of course, you subscribe to the theory that true pop revolves around the lowest common denominator. Never fear, that gets a slot too, with Stereolab's La Boob Oscillator. Now there's some mind-boggling imagery.
Review published: 17/8/00