Various Artists – The Solution to Benefit Heal the Bay

Various Artists
The Solution to Benefit Heal the Bay

First off, I have to say that I’m a sucker for good causes, and Heal the Bay is certainly one of those. Taken verbatim from the liner notes, “Heal the Bay is a non-profit environmental group dedicated to making Southern California coastal waters safe and healthy again for people and marine life.” I’m not a nature freak or anything, but I don’t like to think that by the time I’m 80, there might not be any natural, non-polluted beaches around. Well, OK – that and the fact that I’m a sucker for fish. Don’t ask.

In order to raise awareness (as well as funding) for the Heal the Bay project, Mojo Records put together a two-disc casserole of artists from various genres (wisely enough, to attract fans of many musical backgrounds to this project). As is the case with any hodgepodge compilation, some of the 27 songs here are brilliant, while a few others merely sound like cast-off tracks that were never really meant to be heard. Still, everyone’s heart is in the right place for this project, and as a whole, the discs are more than listenable.

Blink 182’s live “Dammit” takes a comic bent, featuring an ‘intro’ that teases fans who only know the band’s radio singles, and then vaulting to the chorus of Skee-Lo’s “I Wish” later in the song. Weston’s “Liz Phair” is fine piece of pop songwriting, and Hepcat’s live “Positive” plays well, thanks in part to an incredibly smooth saxophone solo. Goldfinger adds to the punk-pop mix with “The End of the Day,” while the Dance Hall Crashers serve up another tasty helping of their dual-female vocals with “The Real You.” Less Than Jake offers a heaping plateful of standard ska/punk with “History of a Boring Town,” while Lit’s “Cadillac” and Fenix TX’s “Speechless” lend the compilation some guitar based pop sensibility. Bad Religion hops on board with a surprisingly poppy “Lose as Directed,” and The Pilfers “Why” sounds like Zebrahead with Shaggy on vocals. The Ernies’ “Here and Now” sounds like the Foo Fighters with a DJ (although the strange ‘talk’ vocals earn points for a distinctive sound), and Reel Big Fish cover Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly” in typical RBF ska/pop style.

Not everything is guitar-oriented, as the comp offers a surprising amount of decent rap and beat-oriented stuff as well. Ozomatli’s “Super Bowl Sundae” re-mix sounds a bit out of place after the first few pop/punk tunes, but its funky groove deserves mention nonetheless. David Holmes’ “Gritty Shaker” is a really dreamy, yet danceable beat track (ala the Chemical Brothers) with a killer horn part, while DJ Z-Trip and That Kid Named Miles’ “Sound and Motion” grooves along a very beat-oriented tip.

Still, the best moments of the discs come from some of the lesser known artists. Midtown’s “Just Rock and Roll” comes off like Rocket From the Crypt with an attitude, although the end harmonies of “God, I wish I could hate you for the rest of my life” are as nice as they come. Ugly Duckling’s “Lay It On Ya” drops lyrics like the second coming of De La Soul and the Dream Warriors, while Styles of Beyond’s “Part II” had my head bouncing in my cubicle at work with a style very similar to Royce Da 5’9″ of Eminem’s D-12 posse. Thievery Corporation’s “Indra” has a really cool atmospheric vibe with a beat that plays out like a brainchild of Enigma and DJ Shadow.

The biggest standout tracks, though, come from a few more rock-based tracks. Jealous Sound’s “Priceless” sounds like mellow version of Knapsack, and is quite possibly the best song on the compilation. Really nice guitar tones blend with the singer’s plaintive voice, creating a crescendo that builds up to a unique-sounding guitar solo. The Killington’s “Thursday” is another stellar track along the lines of Fireside and Starmarket, blending emotional vocals with a really crisp guitar sound. The Surfers’ “Ghost” is about the last thing in the world I expected to hear on this compilation, with a straightforward rock sound not unlike Train or the Black Crowes. The track winds along with a piano as a guide, finally leading to a swelling guitar solo. The other true stand out track is Paul and Lara’s “Picturella,” which sounds like a catchy surf-music take on early 80’s guitar pop.

The one thing that does bother me about this release is that I know for a fact that quite a few of these tracks have been released on a fairly wide basis before being included on this set. To me, compilations are much more appealing when they deal with unreleased, exclusive or hard-to-find material. Still, Mojo Records has done a bang-up job here, as there are really only a few stinkers out of the 27 tracks. Beware, though – this collection is definitely very scene-oriented. You’ll probably be really happy to hear this if you’re into the Mojo sound; otherwise, you’d be better off heading elsewhere in the CD store.