This is an album that makes no sense. Who exactly is it for? The fans? No, all forty-six of those already own all the albums and, with no new material here, could only conceivably buy it to complain about the ones not included. The critics? Nah, they were convinced from the very beginning and besides, critics hate greatest hits collections, it’s the second thing they teach you, after “thou shalt feel the overwhelming desire to hunt James Blunt down with a crossbow”. The fence-sitters? Well, The Beta Band didn’t really collect many of them. The record company? Possibly, but for the reasons detailed above, it’s hardly going to pay for that villa on the Costa Brava.
Made up from four tracks from The 3 EPs, five from Hot Shots II, five from the last record Heroes To Zeros and a self-explanatory two from that oft-derided eponymous debut album, it’s sixteen tracks which to the unsuspecting citizen would make the Betas out to be the model of consistency, because one howler (Smiling) in sixteen is a far better ratio than they’ve ever managed previously.
That howler is a prime example of the worst of the Betas, one in a numerous number of occasions (see also: Monolith, No. 15, Rhododendron) when they’ve seemed determined to confuse studio noodling with an actual song. It’s poke-you-with-a-stick annoying, and here, stranding it immediately after the magnificent It’s Not Too Beautiful (Rolf Harris vs. Pink Floyd in an epic battle to the death! In space! With lasers!) makes it worse; the Beta’s summed up in two tracks: gods one song, tone deaf vandals determine to sabotage themselves on the next.
Fortunately, elsewhere it’s just vintage Beta: Assessment is the best song U2 never wrote; sky-scraping guitars flung from atop a barren desert rock, Trouble spins a delicate filigree with plucked eastern strings, before the vocals creep in, treading lightly in case their presence might upset the balance and Dry The Rain with its two note piano motif and a ghostly discombobulated Mason muttering over the top, harmonising with himself.
For a band with no natural predators, The Beta Band were never quite what they should have been. Forever on the cusp of painting a masterpiece, only for at the final moment scribble all over it. Most notably She’s The One – simply the greatest song ever written for three chords and a didgeridoo until it spirals out to a cartoonishly sped up vocal refrain, taking the druggy mantra that insistently drives the song and reduces it to a sound effect for children�s TV.
Still, dancing on the grave years after the death is hardly going to help. The Beta’s were great, if wholly frustrating, and they died because not enough people cared, which is still fairly tragic. So if this collection helps preserve their influence and maybe make a few more friends, then it’ll have found its purpose.