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Half Japanese: Greatest Hits

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Album Review

As Byron Coley says in his entertaining piece in the liner notes, "They have no hits by standards that Howard Cosell would appreciate." But by the time Greatest Hits came out, Half Japanese had gained an international fan base, released more records than many well-known bands have ever done, and had Kurt Cobain singing their praises. So even if the title is curious, the impulse behind the collection isn't and, given the scattered discography of the band, Greatest Hits is the perfect place for a neophyte to take the plunge. Two discs packed to the brim with Jad Fair and company's particular rock & roll vision means a lot of listening, but there's no pretense at any one way to give the release an ear — there's no chronological order, just a slew of songs that one can dip in and out of at leisure. Pretty much every album up to that point is represented at least once, from the original 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts set to 1992's Boo! and, while lineups and fidelity fluctuates wildly, not to mention the particular styles tried out, it's all clearly one particular approach at heart. Jad Fair's love-it-or-hate-it voice (and sometimes David Fair's more conventional approach) tackles everything from "My Sordid Past" to "Salt and Pepper" and back again, and his fluctuating crew keeps everything a ragged delight. For the hardcore, five otherwise unreleased tracks do surface. A cover of Jimmie Rodgers' "T for Texas" features Eugene Chadbourne as a duet partner, while the on-the-face-of-it surprising 1993 remake of Primal Scream's "Movin' on Up" becomes an enjoyable rave-up in the band's own garage-y way. "King Kong" makes for an amusing biography of said character, while "Amazing Clock" and "Identical Twins" are also enjoyable. David Fair's enjoyable and encouraging essay "How to Play Guitar" makes for a great final touch.


Formed: 1977 in Uniontown, Maryland

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Few of punk rock's founding fathers could have anticipated the extreme to which Half Japanese took the music's D.I.Y. ethos. Founded by brothers Jad and David Fair, Half Japanese were quite probably the most amateurish rock band to make a record since the Shaggs, all but ignoring musical basics like chords, rhythms, and melody. However, the brothers made that approach into a guiding aesthetic, steadfastly refusing to progress in their primitive musicianship over a career that lasted decades. David...
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