Various Artists: Compilation – Songs In The Key Of X

Exactly where the blame lays for albums “inspired” by movies or TV shows, it has a greedy pernicious feel to it. Until a check is waved under someone’s nose and action demanded, nobody watches a TV show and says, “Hot damn, I gotta write a song about this.” These soundtrack albums are generally the home of toss-offs and second-run ideas. In conception and execution, they are mediocre.

Except, I think, this one. It may be personal (this came out when I was in high school and gave me my first taste of Nick Cave, the Dirty Three, Frank Black, William Burroughs, non-“Cars” Gary Numan, non-“School’s Out” Alice Cooper, and, um…P.M. Dawn). Beyond the individual tracks (and “Red Right Hand” is, of course, one of Nick Cave’s perfect little masterpieces and the Dirty Three/Nick Cave hidden track “Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum” is like a minor portrait of hell), there’s a pervasive sense of paranoia and mystery, with some of the show’s humor. Due to this need to establish an X-Files mood, and the peculiarly personal mood of paranoia, every song has a slight narrative thrust. This makes the CD feel like an album, not merely a compilation of “who’s alt-cool right now,” even though that’s clearly what it is. The mid-90s of Filter, P.M. Dawn, Danzig, Soul Coughing, and Foo Fighters could have made for a generic, NOW-style collection. This is not that.

It’s its own dark thing. Imperfect (my view of Elvis Costello was permanently damaged by his boring song here, and consequently I’ve never been into him), but a thing. Not a nothing.
Rating: B+

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