One of the most rubbish things about compact discs is their frankly boring anonymity. With records, they could come in a multitude of colours, shapes and styles to brighten up any turntable. With CDs, it’s a uniform silver where any artwork to separate it from the herd is buries within the apparatus of the CD player itself. Where’s the fun in that? There was a spate of shaped CDs in the early ’90s, but the accompanying warnings that such discs could destroy your equipment soon put paid to that as something that anyone would actually want.
So it comes across as somewhat cheeky that this 1994 Imaginary Records compilation proudly sells itself as coming on a Picture CD, even if the picture in question – a Warholesque rendition of tragic Carry On! star Kenneth Williams – is a bit of a corker.
Even stranger for this sort of thing, Fifteen Minutes is not so much a compilation, but a compilation of a compilation, as it the fourteen tracks served up here are culled from not one but three Heaven and Hell tribute albums dedicated to the Velvet Underground. So this disc serves as a sampler of the greater work, although it probably should be said that either by luck or foresight, this shorter collection is of the greatest attraction nowadays due to Imaginary gathering the most fondly-remembered artists of the time on this one (picture!) disc.
Of greatest interest to the casual listener will be the first track, where Nirvana tackle Here She Comes Now with customary aplomb – keeping the spirit of the original intact whilst making the song their own. Other international notables include the Screaming Trees (What Goes On), Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo (Stephanie Says) and Buffalo Tom with an especially captivating and powerful version of All Tomorrow’s Parties. With this being a British collection though, the focus remains on homegrown talent from various aspects of all things locally indie (and occasionally from Imaginary’s own roster, which is fair enough): Baggy faves New Fast Automatic Daffodils pop up with a jaunty period-take on I’m Set Free, whilst Madchester’s elder statesmen James deliver a polished highlight in Sunday Morning. Lady Godiva’s Operation is given a proto-industrial spin by scary/arty types Fatima Mansions, Liverpudlian miserablists Echo and the Bunnymen give Foggy Notion an assured workout, the Wedding Present do She’s My Best Friend in atypically restrained fashion whilst Ride (the archetypal “built up to be absolutely massive but never quite managed it” band) close in gently droning fashion with European Son.
Compilation tributes can be patchy affairs at the best of times, if only because they’re never going to please everyone all the time – and with so many different artists involved in covering a body of work so unique of its time, it should be a given that there should at least be a couple of songs on here that I don’t like because I may not be a fan of the song, the covering artist or the interpretation. But in all honesty, it’s all good from start to finish. For me, it’s a pleasant reminder of hanging out in clubs where a lot of conversations and playlists involved us trying our best to “out-hip” each other, and this compilation (and it’s more expansive and nowadays more obscure original 3-volume older brother) nicely ticks many boxes from that era.
In the present, it’s probably really only of worth to Screaming Trees/Mark Lanegan and Nirvana completists (and their contributions are certainly worth checking out), but there’s plenty of other quality tracks here to warrant listening from start to finish.