At first look, a compilation album from a band like Something Corporate seems pointless. Despite having quite the adolescent following, the SoCal piano pop-punksters’ canon consists of a mere two studio albums (three if you count the demo heavy Ready…Break) and a handful of EPs. But although you’re better off buying the records, Played In Space: The Best Of Something Corporate does what countless other “best of” albums have done before: salvages choice cuts from a body of work that is at times, overlong.
Now this isn’t to say that their albums are piecemeal. 2002’s Leaving Through The Window would have been damn near perfect if it had scrapped the last three songs, and that’s just what Played In Space does, although in the process gets rid of some of the best tunes as well. I would have much rather seen the frenetic urban melancholia of “Straw Dog” replace the pesky bully revenge tale “iF yoU C Jordan”, but you can’t argue with a band’s biggest hit, especially when it comes to a greatest hits package.
2003’s North was a little moodier and not quite as solid as Leaving Through The Window and the band knows this, opting to include only five of the album’s twelve tracks. Like its predecessor, some of the good stuff got lost in the shuffle (“As You Sleep” and “Only Ashes” come to mind), but Played In Space transforms a slightly above average sophomore slump into a flawless EP.
The second disc is an odds and ends collection, even though half of these “unreleased” tracks are rerecorded versions of old songs or cuts that have been readily available on the web for years. At nine and a half minutes and stuffed with tear jerking confessions of lovesickness (including a name drop of Jimmy Eat World), “Konstantine” is the band’s magnum opus and one of their most famous songs. We’ve heard it before and it belongs on disc one. The “Adam Mix” of “Woke Up In A Car” adds nothing new except some sappy, synthesized strings and an overreaching auto tuner, and the rerecorded “Forget December” sounds pretty much like the old version.
The two brand new tracks here, “Watch The Sky” and “Wait”, are hopeful signs for the band’s indefinite future, meatier than anything released by frontman Andrew McMahon’s current and more famous band, Jack’s Mannequin, finding their roots in space crunch guitars and the dusky pop punk that made Something Corporate so likable in the first place.
As far as the sound itself goes, keep in mind that this band isn’t for everyone. This is pure teen angst ridden piano pop in its most distilled form. McMahon’s voice, while sincere, is also whiny, pushing itself to comically high notes worthy of Weird Al Yankovic. But it’s also a powerful weapon, totally justified within the context of the music. Like it or not, his pipes pack an emotional wallop when accompanied with his sharp, bittersweet lyrics, which are a cut above anything penned by his former peers at Drive Thru Records (take notes, New Found Glory). Songs like “Fall” and “Cavanaugh Park” contain vivid imagery and precise storytelling that add to the honest yearning of his songwriting. It’s teen yearning, sure, and maybe we can’t relate to it like we could back in high school, but let go of your snobbery and you’re in for one tragicomic nostalgia trip.