Pop Miser Summary: Follow-up to Martinis & Bikinis ('94).

Remixes of Phillips' previously released songs along with several new tracks.

There's a difference between a "greatest hits" package and a "best of"

collection. The former, logically enough, would represent a musician's most

popular work; the latter, her finest (at least in theory). Sam Phillips

hasn't sold many records and she's almost never played on the radio, so

Zero Zero Zero, a compilation of songs from the last decade plus some

new cuts and alternate versions, must be a "best of," right?

Oh, if only that were true. Sure, Phillips tries to skirt the issue by

calling the album a collection of "personal favorites." But that distinction

doesn't erase the fact that, even more than most compilations, Zero Zero

Zero lacks the sustained power of the artist's strongest albums -- her

1988 debut, The Indescribable Wow, and her 1994 album, Martinis &

Bikinis. It's representative of Phillips' offbeat approach; it's just

not representative of the finest examples of that approach.

Maybe Phillips was trying to downplay her pop sensibility by leaving off

melodic gems like "Baby, I Can't Please You" and "I Don't Want to Fall in

Love." She even re-recorded her wonderful "Holding on to the Earth" (RealAudio excerpt of new version), sacrificing the original's sitar-like guitars and propulsive rhythms for a monotonous, downbeat reading that goes nowhere.

Ah, but isn't that engaging in the worst kind of criticism -- criticizing a

work for what it's not, for what you'd like it to be, rather than what it

is? Maybe. But what's here isn't that compelling, though it does highlight

Phillips' quirky, almost cold, take on human nature. A new song,

"Disappearing Act" (RealAudio excerpt), opens the album with pulsing acoustic guitars and backward guitar loops, which lead nicely into the harmonies and psychedelia of "I Need Love." The string-heavy version of "Where the Colors Don't Go" (RealAudio excerpt) evokes Elvis Costello on the verses and the Bangles on the chorus. And "Black Sky," from Martinis & Bikinis, showcases Phillips' cool and creepy side.

But most of the remixes and alternate takes are either pointless or pale in

contrast to the originals. "Holding on to the Earth" might gain some quiet

tension, but at the expense of the life-or-death reeling of the lush

original. In fact, holding back seems to be Phillips' modus operandi for the

remixes here; both "Fighting with Fire" and "Flame" are toned down by losing

either percussion or instrumentation, but reveal no new emotional nuances in

the vocal performances. Neither completists nor neophytes (after all, who else buys "best of" albums?) will find much here to interest them.