Samiam's Orphan Works is a handy compilation for an aging punker (or any kid with a historical fondness for '90s emo and punk). Orphan Works collects alternate and live versions from what many might consider the pinnacle of Samiam's career, 1994's Clumsy and 1997's You Are Freaking Me Out, merely offering a variant look on a great deal of material from those records.
Orphan Works is split up in sensible halves: The first nine tracks come from the Clumsy era, with two sessions from 1994 sandwiching a four-song bulk from 1996. Then the next nine songs come from You Are Freaking Me Out's lineup, with two cuts from 1998 and the rest a live set from 1996.
The 3:34 of chugging opener "Ain't No Size That Small" breezes by swiftly to kick off the Clumsy side, leading into the tender, whimpering howl of "Capsized", which is given a decidedly more muffled finish here than the original. This is where the band establish this era's tone well: raw emoting within a roughshod, punk rock frame in the Horace Pinker/Farside realm. The up-tempo Rites of Spring-meets-Jawbreaker plow of "Regret" makes it a sure standout here, with louder vocals and an even quicker tempo than the original found on 1992's Billy. The 1996 sessions features a clearer recording overall than the first three tracks, with an alternate take on "Bad Day" that's actually even faster and ends at least 30 seconds sooner. The favorite "Stepson" is basically Pearl Jam playing emo-punk, and as one of Samiam's finest moments, here it stands out too, even if it's not terribly different from the single version besides a slightly different production feel. A redux of "Mr. Walker" (Billy) has the best, most crisp recording here, while this side closes with the album's first genuine B-side, "I Want More", a pretty rough but promising and aggressive bout of mid-tempo fierceness.
The You Are Freaking Me Out side starts off far more playful and rock'n'roll-oriented-sike, it's just "Search and Destroy" (Stooges). Then another cover, "Here Comes Your Man" (Pixies), an at-once sensible and interesting band for Samiam to tackle. The songs, tracked in Billie Joe Armstrong's basement in Berkeley in 1998, offer a break from the general, punky drama of the band's sound, and come off wonderfully. Then they get back into the normal swing of things with a seven-song live set from Amsterdam in 1996, featuring highlights like a searing, screamed version of "Stepson", the riffy shuffle of "Speed" and the clustered wail of "Time by the Dime". The recording's pretty damn good, too.
The retrospective essays in the liner notes are a nice touch; one supposes that including lyrics would be somewhat redundant. Like any collection, it has its relative ups and downs, but remains a warm and inviting overview of that era. It would be admittedly hard to recommend it beyond lovers of these few years of Samiam, which makes its appeal somewhat limited, but that audience should enjoy and appreciate this.