the cream & the crock
Rating: 5/5

The title of You Am I's instant-classic greatest-hits smorgasbord is a typical Tim Rogers gesture. He couldn't possibly consider disc two - "The Crock" - inferior to the tidy pile of singles that comprises disc one, but he'd rather make a pithy quip and go write another song than waste time arguing commercial feasibility with a bunch of suits.

The alleged "Cream" is indeed the dream compilation for the casual You Am I fan. Beginning with the frighteningly raw 1993 studio version of Berlin Chair, it casts its net over crackerjack rockers Cathy's Clown and Good Mornin', sensitive young drinkers' ballads Purple Sneakers and Heavy Heart, and caps it with a balls-out told-you-so: 2001's underachieving Who Put the Devil In You.

Middle-heavy with tracks from Hi Fi Way and Hourly Daily, it charts a pub band's uneasy fall into pop with Soldiers and Mr Milk, then turning its back on comfy chart positions with the delightfully roughshod Trike, Get Up and one of Rogers's most affecting moments of adult reflection, Damage.

It's chronological, save for the thematically pleasing finale of How Much Is Enough, which makes for a neat rhetorical question at the end of the first disc - the only one that will remain, one suspects, when this handshake with BMG is but a fond memory.

"The Crock" is ostensibly more representative of the band's taste, the upbeat tracklisting dispensing with chronology, opening with a couple of Hi Fi Way perennials and one of the band's finest curtain-raisers, Junk. It's a disc for the true believers, as Rogers would doubtless put it, ranging a ragged rarity from '91, Cool Hand Luke, alongside two new Stonesy twangers and under-appreciated gems such as Beautiful Girl and Gone, Gone, Gone. Also essential for fans are the acoustic B-side, Open All Night, and the band's version of Trouble, sung by Powderfinger's Bernard Fanning on the Dirty Deeds soundtrack.

It's almost pointless to reiterate the obvious about You Am I. Their unspeakably soulful, crashing and swaggering chemistry either makes your toes curl or leaves you cold. Rogers' priceless, self-deprecating turns of phrase - "This suit's been suckin' on me like a cheap cigarette", for instance - either make you splutter into your drink or go clean over your head.

It doubtless helps, too, if you happened to standing in a pool of beer and butts when any of the 33 songs first made you feel like you were in precisely the right time and place in rock'n'roll history. Either way, like an inspired local brew made to an age-old formula, this album comprises a great deal of what Australian rock fans have to be proud of.

By Michael Dwyer