Greatest Hits Label: Rhino
Please forgive me, Lester Bangs, for the egregious use of a song title for the purpose of a pun that I am about to commit, but dammit, man, it was just sitting out there, begging me to use it. Here goes.
We hate it when our “Friends” become successful.
God, I feel so dirty.
Here’s the thing about the Rembrandts that history has forgotten: they were a damn good little pop band. Danny Wilde and Phil Solem could harmonize with the best of ‘em, and their tunes sounded like Crowded House, minus the paranoia. And yet, for time immemorial, the only thing the Rembrandts will be remembered for is that damn theme song to “Friends.” Pity.
With any luck, Greatest Hits will change that, though the fact that it’s coming out so long after the band’s sell-by date will not help matters. Still, this is a mighty fine compilation of Wilde/Solem songs, even digging up two from the Jurassic era of 1981. If there’s anything wrong with it, it’s that the album is almost too comprehensive. It’s more thorough than good, and with a couple of changes, it could have been great.
The first two tracks are from Great Buildings, a Rubinoos-style power pop band featuring Wilde and Solem whose sole album was released in 1981. The production is totally of the moment, but the tunes are definitely an indicator of things to come. “Hold On to Something” is an amped-up version of their trademark harmony-laden pop, and “Maybe It’s You” downright rocks. From there, it’s AAA pop, kids. “Just the Way It Is, Baby,” the Rembrandts’ first single, actually charted higher than that damned “Friends” theme. It’s also one of the more upbeat songs from their eponymous debut that’s included here. “Someone” was full-blown mush-o-rama, and “Save Me” goes for the “Say Anything” boom box moment.
Which brings me to my biggest complaint about Greatest Hits: they totally shafted Untitled, the band’s 1992 sophomore album. The band’s debut is represented six, count ‘em, six times, while there are a mere two songs from Untitled, a savage injustice in this writer’s mind. They chose the two songs well (“Johnny Have You Seen Her,” which just missed the Top 40, and “Rollin’ Down the Hill”), but how they saw fit to overlook “Hang on to Forever,” “Maybe Tomorrow” “One Horse Town” or “Sweet Virginia” is a mystery. Surprisingly, the songs from LP, the 1995 album that featured that damn “Friends” theme, have held up just as well. It almost makes me regret selling my copy of the album a few months ago. Had to do it, though. I need the space.
Then we get to the lost years, where Solem left the band and Wilde soldiered on as the last Rembrandt standing. By this time, the music scene was so hopelessly lost up the ass of rap-metal that Wilde didn’t have a prayer, and his better-than-you-think album Spin This went straight to the bargain bins. Wilde sounds spryer here than he has in years (particularly on “Shakespeare’s Tragedy”), perhaps in part to power pop’s brief revival in 1997. We close with two cuts from 2001’s Lost Together. Solem is back in the band, and things sound just as they did before, but as Bruce Brodeen will tell you, no one buys these kinds of records anymore. Classic pop is dead, film at 11. End of the Rembrandts.
It’s startling to think that, with the growing indifference to bands like the Rembrandts, Squeeze, Crowded House, Tears for Fears and anyone else that followed in the footsteps of the Beatles, this brand of pop music – bands that sound like the freaking Beatles – could very well disappear before we know it. That’s one of those the-survivors-will-envy-the-dead scenarios from my perspective, which is why it is the world’s imperative that records like the Rembrandts’ Greatest Hits be bought in record numbers. While I’m at it, may I also recommend Squeeze’s Argybargy, Tears for Fears’ The Seeds of Love, and Crowded House’s entire catalog. Come on, it’s for the good of mankind.