As compilations go, this one is super

The compilation album has long been a part of Latvian music history. In earlier years, very few groups were able to record full-length albums. In fact, unless you had the clout (and not to mention the Soviet sympathy) of someone like Raimonds Pauls, putting out an entire album was next to impossible. However, many compilation records were being released during Soviet times, the most well known being the long running Mikrofons yearly release. These would allow many bands that would normally not be able to get their music heard on a record to do just that, even if only one song.

Those days have passed, and now most any band that has a bit of money, a few songs and maybe a moderate amount of talent can release an album—visit your local šlāgermūzikas section to see this in action. So where does this leave the compilations? As record executives in the United States have recently realized, and as their counterparts in Western Europe have long since known, a compilation can be a good marketing tool. Put together a bunch of songs from many different artists on one album and maybe people will buy it for the selection… and then continue to buy albums of specific artists they like.

This idea is not lost on Latvian record executives either. SuperIzlase, released late last year, contains recent hits from the entire spectrum of Latvian artists from three of the major labels—UPE, Platforma and Mikrofona ieraksti. The executives realize that by working together they can promote their own artists with little cost but ideally with high return. Because compact discs in Latvia are expensive, few consumers will throw down their hard-earned money on a CD from which they haven’t heard any songs.

Reviewing such compilations is a difficult task, however, mainly due to the incredibly varied nature of the songs contained on one. Though I like to think of myself as a fairly open-minded music listener, there are certain styles of music that are simply not for me. So instead of critiquing the music contained on this record, I will do my best to describe what I hear and you can make your own informed decision about what you might like.

Many of the songs on this record I had known before even purchasing this record, probably due to the fact that in marketing terms, I fall into the category of “loyal rock fan.” In other words, if I have been a fan of a rock band for a while, and they release a new record, I am likely to purchase it, sound unheard, simply because I am loyal. Established rock groups are well represented on this record, with groups like Līvi (“Mana vienīgā ziņģe”), Prāta Vētra (”Īssavienojums,”  the Latvian version of their Eurovision hit “My Star,” but with different lyrics), Credo (“Dzīvē gadās arī tā”), Labvelīgais tips (“Es nav redzējis Tevi jau sen”), Bet Bet (“Es vaicāju mātei”) and Ainars Mielavs (“Labradors”). Igo also checks in with an uncharacteristically (at least compared to his newer material) hard rocking song, “Cerību laiks”.

Though already well-schooled in the subject of Latvian rock, I did learn a few things from this record, as there were groups that I was unfamiliar with, but enjoyed their songs. These included Tumsa (“Lietus dārzs”), Autobuss debesīs (“Sitiet bungas, mani mīļie”) and The Hobos (“Midnight Lover”). All three of these groups are now on my shopping list for the next time I return to Latvia.

But of course, it is not only rock. Dance and pop make up a bulk of this record as well. The album starts off with the A-Eiropa (or Austrum Eiropa) dance hit “Tuvumā, tālumā.” The group Braithouse contribute their dance song, “So Much Fun,” while Lilita Ozoliņa and Viesturs Dūle offer “Tu mans mīļais čipendeils.”

If “diva pop” (such Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston) is your bag, then you will most likely like Linda Leen and her song “Let’s Go Insane.” She is an amazing singer and has learned how to sing in English remarkably well. Dāmu pops also have a new version of their older song, “Varbūt rīt,” on this record, complete with new dancable beat and thumping bass line. However, I prefer the original version on the Mikrofons 1990 rokaptauja.

“Kiddie” or “bubblegum” pop (such Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears) is also alive and well in Latvia, evidenced by the Gunārs Kalniņš and Kristena duet “Baltā dziesma.” This song also proves the existence of some requirement that every compilation ever released in Latvia has to have a Raimonds Pauls song on it (which is not necessarily a bad thing sometimes).

Songs in a more humorous vein also are here: from Savādi gan there’s “Dzīve ir skaista,” while Reigani, Prata Vētra’s Estonian alter egos, have their song “Tere, tere traktors” (which also includes the lyric, “Bulle, bulle, buldozers”).

The only complaint I have about this release is that we are never told what album these songs can be found on. Knowing that would make shopping for further releases from these artists slightly easier.

Of the very many compilations released in Latvia throughout the years, I would count this as one of the better ones. The range and diversity of the artists makes this a good investment for anyone, even if you don’t know a thing about what music is popular in Latvia these days or are a dyed-in-the-wool, long-time music fan. Thankfully, the music companies got together for this compilation and even promise there will be another SuperIzlase in 2001. If it is as good as this one, then we have something to really look forward to.



Various artists

MICREC,  2000

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

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