When they signed to V2 in 1996, the 'Phonics were the perfect antidote to the inanely cheery Britpop bands who were overpopulating the charts. Jones's lyrics about life in the Welsh valleys, soundtracked by bulldozing riffs and manic drumming, wasn't a complex formula, but it managed to stand out from the crowd. Most of this collection's highlights come from their 1997 debut Word Gets Around, which their frontman accurately described as the sound of "three very young boys who wanted to kick the s**t out of everybody and take over the world".
The soaring rally cry of 'A Thousand Trees' and snarling guitars of 'More Life In A Tramp's Vest' haven't gathered dust over the years. Meanwhile, 'Local Boy In The Photograph' remains Jones's finest hour, chronicling a small town tragedy with a softness of touch that belies his prickly public image. It's a shame only four tracks from Word made it onto this album, but the desire to showcase the band's later commercial successes appears to have over-ridden common sense here. It's unlikely anyone would be sad to lose the whimsical 'Step On My Old Size Nines' or sludgy 'Maybe Tomorrow' for a couple more oldies.
The obligatory pair of newbies capturea the band's two different post-Word styles. 'You're My Star' is a characterless affair, all cheap effects and depressingly banal lyrics ("It blows my mind and sets my heart racing"). Quite how the same band can make the sinister metal stomp of 'My Own Worst Enemy', the sleazier younger brother of 'Dakota', is a baffling musical mystery. This divide between the sublime ('Bartender And The Thief') and the truly atrocious ('Devil', 'It Means Nothing') explains why the 'Phonics have never been acknowledged as a truly great band.
It's hard to imagine many of the current crop of commercial guitar-slingers (Pigeon Detectives, The Kooks) lasting a decade in the business and for that alone the 'Phonics deserve credit. However, instead of offering a glorious celebration of their career, this album is essentially a graph of their musical decline. It may have been a Decade In The Sun for the band, but many fans have been left wondering what might have been.