The Best Of Semisonic, by Semisonic
This album is, to date, the only best-of collection of Semisonic, and it checks off most of the boxes one would want in such a collection. It includes selections from all of the albums that had been released up to the point of the compilation (not including any live tracks or anything from the 2020 EP “You’re Not Alone”), and it makes what are often very obvious choices. If one complaint could be made of the collection, it is that it could have included other songs, and been larger and thus even better because it would have more Semisonic in it. For example, including “Sculpture Garden” from the Pleasure EP, “Delicious” from Great Divide, “Made To Last” from Feeling Strangely Fine, and any number of songs from Chemistry like “I Wish,” “Suprise,” “One True Love,” or “She’s Got My Number” would have made this a better album, as would another soundtrack piece like “For The Love Of The Game.” If there is room for a future Semisonic compilation, it is in providing more obscure material from the music of the band, but for the moment, in reviewing the album that is rather than that which we might prefer, it is exactly the sort of compilation that one would expect. Here is a track-by-track review:
Closing Time: This is the obvious opener, the biggest (some would say only) hit of the group, the song that broke them into the mainstream, and the one song of theirs that is likely to be remembered by casual fans. It is a gorgeous song full of thoughtful and reflective lyrics and the band’s power pop style in its most accessible fashion.
The Prize: At this point, the compilation goes to the Pleasure EP and includes the first of two songs from that collection that were later included on the Great Divide album. This song has a pleasing approach, ending in a chaotic fashion that is impressive, and which demonstrates from the beginning that Semisonic had an ambivalent attitude towards the trappings of fame and celebrity.
Brand New Baby: The second of two songs from the Pleasure EP that were later included on Great Divide, this song is a 90’s track laced with heavy degrees of irony showing the narrator trying not to sound too broken up about his partner stepping out on him with someone after saying she needed a break in their relationship while acknowledging how much it hurts at the same time.
F.N.T.: Short for Fascinating New Thing, this song, a moderate rock hit from Great Divide, expresses the band’s romantic longings and the expression of the hope that a would-be partner who is fascinating for being new will remain fascinating when she is not new, a sentiment that is easy to endorse and expressed in a winningly quirky way.
If I Run: This song is one of the more striking in the band’s body of work, a song that expresses a longing and a desire to escape from the tensions and pressures of life (see also “Surprise” from Chemistry and “The Prize,” for example), but where the narrator finds himself tethered to life through his love of someone he doesn’t want to leave behind, which is either a noble sentiment about the power of love in making one more happy to live or a disturbing sentiment, depending on one’s attitude.
Across The Great Divide: Another upbeat power pop number, this almost title track of the debut Semisonic LP expresses the optimism of the band as well as a realistic sense of their being unknown, and it is an easy enough song to sing along with and cheer on, perhaps relating to the complicated label history that went into the recording and release of the album.
Singing In My Sleep: The follow-up to Closing Time, this was a moderate rock hit, and expresses a great deal of the nerdiness as well as the romanticism of the group as a whole, with its discussion of falling in love over a well-crafted mixtape (something that was a bit of a nerdy activity by the late 90’s) as well as its reference to Romeo and Juliet, and it is a beautiful and romantic song.
Never You Mind: This is yet another song that expresses the nerdiness of Semisonic as well as their interest in romantic themes, as it looks at an ill-suited couple that drives each other crazy and yet finds themselves together anyway. Most notably, the song contains a discussion of an infamous and terrible episode from the original Star Trek series in its expression of the misguided relationship, fitting but nerdy.
Secret Smile: This song, an independent hit that did particularly well in the UK and Mexico, among other countries, is another song that demonstrates the romanticist approach of Semisonic as a whole, providing a praise of a secret smile that the narrator’s partner has only for him. The song praises a partner for the good that they do in the narrator’s life, a sentiment easy to relate to.
Chemistry: The first single and almost title track to the band’s third album, this is a song that again deals with the favorite theme of love and relationships, perhaps unsurprisingly in a way that reflects on the disastrous experiments that people experience in the course of trying to find love. The song was a moderate international hit and a moderate rock hit, but it sadly failed to cross over, presaging the general commercial failure of the album itself.
Act Naturally: This song, a failed attempt at a Hot AC single, is another song that deals with romanticism in a way that frames the narrator as being a bit of a simp, which Dan Wilson’s whiny lyrics and the general nature of the music assists in building up that sort of impression. The song was not a hit at all, and is not even among the stronger or more notable tracks of the “All About Chemistry” album as a whole, alas.
Over My Head: An energetic and upbeat song that was an attempt at a soundtrack for the film “Summer Catch,” this song references Moby Dick and similarly mixes thought-provoking lyrics and nerdy references with an upbeat power pop song, demonstrating a great deal of continuity over the course of Semisonic’s career up to that point.
Overall, this is an album that hits most of the high points of the album, only weak when it comes to providing only two songs from “All About Chemistry,” but that album has few fans, alas, to complain about the slight, but otherwise provides a representative sample of great songs from a great band.