This sprawling four-disc set -- something of a bookend to Rhino's encyclopedic punk collection, No Thanks! The '70s Punk Rebellion
-- digs deep into the history of what some call post-punk and others have dubbed indie-rock. It's a dauntingly large amount of territory to cover, but the producers have done so effectively, crisscrossing this country, as well as swaths of Europe, and cherry-picking both easily recognizable bands and equally worthy obscure names that might otherwise be consigned to rock history footnotes. The former category yields songs that have become standards -- including R.E.M.
's "Radio Free Europe" and the Smiths
' "This Charming Man" -- as well as surprising, under-aired material, notably the pre-fame Red Hot Chili Peppers
' "Hollywood/Africa" and the Cure
's "A Forest." While Left of the Dial
touches on virtually every subgenre imaginable -- hitting on hardcore with Minor Threat
's anthemic "Straight Edge," goth with Bauhaus
's "Bela Lugosi's Dead," and second-wave garage rock via the Lyres
' "I Wanna Help You Ann" -- the songs are mortared together so carefully that it all holds together perfectly. Even so, there are standouts, mostly those that don't fit easily into any readily identifiable category, thus flaunting the era's sonic variety. The Gun Club
's feral "Sex Beat," for instance, straddles Angeleno punk and Delta howl; the Feelies
' hyper-kinetic "Fa Cé-La" speeds up Velvet Undergroundstyle sonic grind, adding a heaping helping of buttoned-up suburbiana in the process; and Prefab Sprout
's "When Love Breaks Down" is a tip of the hat to Stephen Sondheim (perhaps as adventurous a move as one could muster in the '80s underground). More than anything else, however, Left of the Dial
proves that its contents -- particularly the Gang of Four
's revolution-funk call to arms "To Hell with Poverty" -- stand up every bit as well two decades on.