July 08, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

Thirty Years of Maximum R&B

Current Status
In Season
We gave it an A-

Even if the Who didn’t invent the art of self-cannibalization on Odds & Sods, its 1974 collection of B sides and outtakes, the band certainly perfected it during the last decade with incessant farewell tours and Tommy retreads. Perhaps no other group has devoted as much time and energy to alternately inflating and smashing itself to bits. Thirty Years of Maximum R&B, a four-CD boxed set that spans the foursome’s career from its first singles to its 1989 reunion tour, may be the most elaborate case in point. This time, the hits — ”My Generation,” ”Pinball Wizard,” ”Baba O’Riley” — are surrounded by studio-vault dregs like interview snippets and a 1967 Coke commercial done in the raucous style of Live at Leeds. Still, the remixes of masterpieces and cult favorites alike (like the funny ”Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand”) boost both the highs and the subtleties of Pete Townshend’s always astounding guitar. Even if there are no epiphanies here, the strong arm with which Townshend once sweetly mixed mod sentiments with Beach Boy harmonies and the manic drumming of Keith Moon still deliver a jolt of maximum pleasure. A-

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