In the geek hierarchy, the music geek does relatively well. Compared to say, film geeks and science fiction geeks, the music geek is almost a normal person. They have girlfriends and jobs and tend to live fairly normal lives, except for one thing: There is clearly one characteristic that imparts the music geek with sufficient abnormality to deserve the "geek" park of his name. That is, of course, the endless evenings and weekends spent poring over CD racks in record stores, that singular drive to root out every last piece of vinyl, every used, badly packaged compilation with that one missing track needed to complete the discography.
The B-Sides disc is the mortal nemesis of this individual. After all, half the fun of being a fan is those long hours spent in those stores, acting as what polite people would refer to as a "completist." But the B-sides disc takes that away; instead of rooting through used bins, accompanied by that comforting click of CDs and thump of vinyl as they flip through the racks, they have one nicely packaged CD which includes all those songs. Sure, it'll save some money (a lot, actually) but it does take away that thrill, that supplication to the hunter-gatherer spirit.
That said, not everyone is a music geek and Cocktails And Dreams does more than just compile a random mish-mash of songs to be loved only by that person, but instead provides a solid, coherent album and a well-appreciated entry in a solid catalog. Like many people, my first exposure to the Lawrence Arms was not their respectable debut releases, but their Fat Wreck Chords debut; a record that so wonderfully blended Chris' Schwarzenbachesque vocals with Brendan's snotty bark. Songs that oscillated between sensitive and snotty. Apathy And Exhaustion was a series of gems just made for a mixtape. And while the transformation between good and great happened suddenly, the groundwork was laid in two solid split CD releases. The first with Shady View Terrace saw the beginnings of that growth, but undoubtedly, their split with the Chinkees was so uniformly solid that it must have provided the impetus for Fat Mike to sign them to his label.
For many people who didn't hungrily search for those two splits, these solid songs were probably undeservedly unknown, and that would truly be unfortunate because tracks like "100 Resolutions" are among the best the band has ever written. Chris' assured vocals and poetic lyrics are backed up by a solid and dynamic instrumental section while Brendan's brash but straight up take on that distinctly Chicago style of punk rock on "Quincentuple Your Money" is so earnest and memorable.
Besides those two excellent splits, also present are tracks from various compilations, like their contribution to Uncontrollable Fatulence, Rock Against Bush Vol. 2 and OIL (though renamed to "Joyce Carol Oates Is A Boring Old Biddy" due to the percieved "stupid title.") In addition, the band recorded three new tracks to round out the record: the opener "Intransit" and the two closing tracks which include the terrific new recording of "Turnstiles."
Frankly, the only annoyance on the album is the frustrating need to again pack the three cover songs in the final track. Other than that, the album is sequenced remarkably well for such a disparate set of recordings and outside-of-the-home recorded cover tracks; they all sound remarkably consistent in terms of sound quality.
Typically, a compilation like this one would be best for the diehard fans, since B-sides are typically left off proper albums for a reason; however, for punk rock bands, the opposite almost always seems to be true; some of the best material of many great bands is buried on singles, 7"s and B-sides. Like Hot Water Music's Never Ender and Alkaline Trio's self-titled release, Cocktails And Dreams ranks among the best material the Lawrence Arms have committed to tape and stands alone not just as a set of odds and ends, but a worthy album in itself.