New X anthology not the best primer to L.A. punk band’s career

A two-disc anthology of the great Los Angeles punk band X sounds like a good idea. The band was so prolific, and most of its material, especially the earlier stuff, was flat out brilliant. The only problem with this collection is Elektra did a much better one in 1997, which is still readily available, that outdid the usually unquestioned kings of re-issue, Rhino, at its own game.

Elektra’s “Beyond and Back” was the perfect X anthology, without “The Best’s” unhealthy eye toward representing its studio album material at the expense of quality of performance. “Beyond and Back” created the most vital portrait of X by sequencing admittedly low-fi demos and live recordings flawlessly with their studio counterparts, selecting the best and most exciting versions of each song. Sure, everybody wants to hear “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline,” but why settle for the relatively squeaky clean album version when the muddy, blown out version on “Beyond and Back” is so much more chilling? The fact of the matter is X was better live or in casual demo recording sessions than it is on the albums.

One unavoidable truth about the band that both anthologies reveal is its career breaks into two distinct halves, the good and the bad. The departure of founding member and guitar hotshot Billy Zoom, record company meddling and interpersonal problems all contributed to the distinct drop off in quality around 1984. This is illustrated vividly by the inclusion of X’s horrible cover of “Wild Thing” as the opener of the second disc. Its hair-metal production, lackadaisical playing and desperate attempts to use studio magic to tame Exene Cervenka’s non-radio-friendly vocals seems to plead to the listener, “Go no further.” Indeed, the second discs of both anthologies are best forgotten, whereas the first will likely convert anyone not familiar with X into X-fanatics.