Various Artists – POPaganda

4 out of 5

Label: Global Beat Media

Produced by: ?

Ron English’s art doesn’t much appeal to me. It’s a bit too obvious; too in-yer-face clever. I’m not a big fan of compilations to begin with – I’m normally buying just to get that one unreleased track by one artist, and if I’m lucky, I’ll discover something new along the way – and then listening to a comp dedicated to something you’re not that into can make for a weird internal struggle: What does it mean about me if I like this album?

I’m sure you also experience these existential crises whenever you listen to select albums from your collection.

Given the above, POPaganda – a compilation celebrating the work of Ron English – has orbited my ‘to sell / get rid of’ pile multiple times. I know the Tripping Daisy song is amazing; I really like the Scissors song but I’ve never been able to track down any other material by the artist, so it’s sorta just a tease; and so: pile. Personal rules dictate that I have to relisten to album in that pile before proceeding with expulsion, though, which opens up a further problem with POPaganda: that it’s a damn good compilation.

What irks me about it, and what has me knocking it that star, is that it’s fucking indulgent. Mr. English ain’t dead – he’s still with us now (2020), and was obviously still with us in ’97 when this came out – and he even helped out writing some of these tracks, apparently. While the intention stated on Ron’s site sounds altruistic enough – he wanted some cool bands to make a soundtrack to his art – the end result is very literally 14 tracks (plus one remix) of people directly proclaiming Ron’s greatness. This factors in to that existential crisis. These songs are mostly amazing; at the same time, I can’t really push the album on to someone without qualifying the content. (Or, at least, that’s how I feel.)

I say ‘mostly’ because while the hit ratio of material that makes me want to check out what else they’ve put is quite high, there’s stuff on here I _know_ I’m not a fan of (Wesley Willis, Daniel Johnston), but that works really well within the context of the disc. And that’s sincerely not something I’ve experienced on other compilations. So I will make the assumption that the same would apply for listeners with differing tastes: maybe we disagree on which tracks are better, but there’s a seamlessness to the sequencing and album tone that makes it incredibly listenable. And yet, there’s also a wide range of quirk here, from Tripping Daisy’s tripped out psychedelic swirl of Frank Sinatra’s My Way (now named Cartoon Bikini) to Scissors alt-rock aggressions, the Sterelab-y pop of Eyeball, The Gefkens’ moody ‘Billboard’, and more. Even the remix of Wooden’s track works.

Thus does the album stay on my racks, forevermore. But look, Ron English’s art doesn’t much appeal to me…