Left of the Dial: Dispatches From the '80s Underground

In the decade before Nirvana made it safe (and commercially viable) to rock alternatively, the underground music world sporadically coughed up “quirky” bands like R.E.M. or the Cure into a mainstream bewitched by Madonna, Don Henley, and Bon Jovi, while the rest of the oddities were relegated to grubby college radio stations and that tiny parcel of airtime MTV gave Tim Sommer on Sunday nights to spin postmodern vids. This four-CD, 82-song collection does a fine job of cataloging the wildly disparate sounds of that vast subterranean scene. Sure, the Violent Femmes' “Blister in the Sun” and Joy Division's “Love Will Tear Us Apart” are predictable entries, but there are deeper cuts from the Smiths, Butthole Surfers, Dinosaur Jr., XTC, Gang of Four, and the Minutemen, plus welcome exhumations of the Feelies, Passions, the Go-Betweens, and Gun Club. Although some may squabble over which staples and obscurities are missing (whaddaya want, a 15-disc, $250 set?!), additional tracks from the likes of Minor Threat, Throbbing Gristle, the Sugarcubes, Beat Happening, and Kate Bush make for a well-rounded and satisfying five-hour alt-'80s flashback.

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