Hitless In Seattle

The Posies started in "failure" and ended in "success" — literally. Respectively, those were the titles of the first (1988) and last (1998) studio albums they made. In between was their best album, 1990's Dear 23, which successfully combined influences (Hollies, Hüsker Dü, Big Star) that they wore, like their hearts, on their sleeves. Amazing Disgrace, the title of their attempt to upgrade their sound with grunge (they were, after all, from Seattle), even had a song called "Grant Hart." That album was mostly notable for its truth-in-advertising title, but it provides the core of the setlist on their eagerly anticipated swan-song live album, Alive Before the Iceberg, recorded in Spain in '98.

Here's a live album the way live albums used to be. Think Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company's Cheap Thrills: loud, feedbacking, sweat-laden and nearly uncontrollable guitar solos, along with joyously out-of-tune bumps in a twisting, turning vocal road. Success or failure, the Posies had every right to rock (as they used to say) out. Co-leaders and songwriting partners Jonathan Auer and Ken Stringfellow got to play not only with, but as their heroes, serving as part of Alex Chilton's reformed Big Star, and the group also survived a decade in which Nirvana and hip-hop reshaped the sound of pop music. The self-explanatory "Everybody Is a Fucking Liar" (RealAudio excerpt), as well as their signature tune, "Dream All Day," blow it all to hell and back, and their raggedly unruly cover of Cheap Trick's "Surrender"

(RealAudio excerpt) shows that you really can have pop roots and still kick proverbial butt.

Perfectly complementing the new live album is a retrospective that does what compilations ought to: it skims off the best work from the studio albums and adds in a few hard-to-come-by "collector's" gems. Original versions of the nearly-a-hit "Golden Blunders"

(RealAudio excerpt) and the fiendishly catchy "Flavor of the Month" belong in every dream home, while worthy B-sides such as Posied-up versions of the Hollies' "King Midas in Reverse" (RealAudio excerpt) and Big Star cult legend Chris Bell's "I Am the Cosmos" show precisely where those aforementioned sleeve-dwelling hearts started beating. One only wishes that Dear 23's extraordinary "You Avoid Parties" was included.

Dream All Day gives us the Posies as introverted pop whizzes, while Alive Before the Iceberg gives us a band live and in extremis, teetering on the razor's edge of honed talent and sudden abandon. Together, these discs comprise a terrific and surprising coda to a long, improbable, altogether nifty career.