Whatever: The '90's Pop & Culture Box

This Tuesday, July 26th, Rhino Records is going to release the 7-CD box set Whatever: The '90s Pop & Culture Box . This follows two other Rhino decade collections: Have A Nice Decade: The '70s Pop Culture Box , and Like, Omigod! The '80s Pop Culture Box . Those first two collections were very well done, although the '80's box wasn't quite as well done as the excellent '70's box. Critics have been panning Whatever, and when I look at the track listings it's not hard to see why. There are plenty of cool tracks scattered about the 7 discs, but they don't represent their decade's pop or culture too well. No one can deny the importance of grunge to the music of the '90's. But there are no tracks by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, or Bush to be found on the whole set. That's probably because the bands wouldn't allow the use of their songs. As a result, the grunge era is represented by such lesser-known Seattle bands as Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, Afghan Whigs, the Gits -- you get the idea. There is a good sampling of the many alternative bands that had hits during the decade. Still, was "What's The Frequency, Kenneth" the best REM song available? I won't mention which song was used to represent the band L7, but surely a better one could have been chosen. There are definitely some alt-rock gems in this collection, i.e. Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend" and the Flaming Lips' "She Don't Use Jelly", but there are far too many essential ones missing. There's nothing from U2's Achtung Baby or Alanis' Jagged Little Pill. Nothing from Beck, the Cranberries, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Radiohead, Stone Temple Pilots, Smashing Pumpkins...I'm sorry, which decade are we looking back at again?

This may sound like a strange complaint, but it looks as though Whatever could have used more bad songs from the decade. Have A Nice Decade had lots of awful songs on it, but hey, that was the '70's for you. That set illustrated its decade remarkably well, and even had sounds from news broadcasts and such in between songs. Like, Omigod! did a less thorough job of encapsulating the music and culture of the '80's. It contained a lot of cool new wave from the decade that evoked the time to some extent (many of those tunes were already offered on Rhino's Just Can't Get Enough CDs) and just enough cheesy pop and fad reflections to be successful in its goal. In the liner notes, one of the producers of Whatever says that he and his colleagues had too much "reverence" for the decade to dwell on kitsch, so the set only contains a minimum of decade-defining embarrassments. We get M.C. Hammer, Right Said Fred, and Snow. But no Vanilla Ice, no Billy Ray Cyrus, no Spice Girls.

Too much reverence for the '90's? I'm gonna hurl. (A little early-'90's lingo for you there). In any case, Whatever is one pricey box set. The two previous collections were worth it, but I don't know if I'll be shelling out for this one. I do have many good memories from the '90's, but Whatever is not likely to evoke many of them.

Various Artists - Whatever: The '90s Pop & Culture Box