Zero Zero Zero is the title of the second compilation album by Sam Phillips, released in 1998 on Virgin Records.
Zero Zero Zero, the new album by Sam Phillips just out on Virgin Records, is a collection of the artist's personal favorites from her work of the past 10 years. Call it a last glance over the shoulder as we strike out into the musical unknown of the next millennium. But the album is far more than just a retrospective. Of the 15 songs included, more than half are new songs, remixes, alternate mixes, or completely new versions.
"I've heard that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard has a rule that she never releases a book as soon as it's finished," recalls Phillips. "She puts it away for a year and a half or so, and only then--after a critical re-reading--will she allow it to be published. "Zero, Zero, Zero" is like a director's cut of my last four albums."
The compilation draws from her critically-acclaimed work of the past decade, including The Indescribable Wow (1988), Cruel Inventions (1991), the Grammy-nominated Martinis and Bikinis (1994), and 1996's Omnipop. Often listed among critics' year-end-favorites, "Rolling Stone" said "...Sam Phillips is a rarity--an artist who seduces and disturbs." And the "New York Times" cited her work as "...proof enough that the secular and the spiritual can intersect in strange and affecting ways."
Acclaimed for her "original and unsettling vision," as well as her harmony-laced melodies and evocative arrangements, Phillips' picks for this set show off not only her own work, but that of producer/husband T Bone Burnett and a supporting cast that includes Jim Keltner, Marc Ribot, Van Dyke Parks, and guest spots by Elvis Costello and Peter Buck.
The disc opens with a new composition suggestively entitled "Disappearing Act," which, midst a subdued but ominous tangle of backwards guitars and eerie ululation, gives fair warning that something has of late activated her "migrating interest in the disappearing act." But before she careens into the unexplored creative territory of the future, Phillips treats us to a richly diverse and astonishingly re-focused version of her work to date. Classic versions of "Cruel Inventions" and "I Need Love" are augmented with alternate mixes of "Where the Colors Don't Go" and "Lying." New remixes of "Flame" and "Fighting with Fire," plus a completely new version of "Holding On To the Earth," further plumb emotional and musical complexities begun in the originals.
"You Lost My Mind," written with Burnett before principal work had begun on Martinis and Bikinis and never released, provides yet another example of Phillips' now-patented ability to marry witty yet psychologically incisive lyrics to musical tracks that sound simultaneously retro and completely modern.
When asked as to how she decided what would go on this album, Phillips said, "it's a clarification, a restatement of what I had hoped to say all along now that I've got a bit more perspective. T Bone and I were talking the other day about the secret life of songs. They seem to lay dormant in you for a long time, or maybe they're gestating, until one day they pop out, sometimes fully-formed. The thing we tend to forget is, if it took two or three years for some experience to crystallize into that particular expression of it, then it only makes sense that we should give it another generous period of time to discover what the song is really about. I mean, I think truth is infinite, and therefore always immediately accessible ... though sometimes it takes a long time to realize it."
Thanks to this sort of re-envisioning and reconfiguring, the songs included here play like an album of entirely new material. The passage of time has indeed resulted in new perspective, and offers a portal on the musical explorations to come the other side of Zero, Zero, Zero.
A wrap-up of Sam Phillips's decade-long stint with Virgin Records that began in 1988 with the sublime Indescribable Wow, Zero Zero Zero offers marvels aplenty for anyone unfamiliar with the California singer/songwriter's sterling work. Moreover, there are enough nifty extras tossed in to make it a worthwhile purchase for widely scattered Phillips fanatics. Phillips and producer T-Bone Burnett (Phillips's husband) teamed on all the Virgin releases, lovingly sculpting magical variations on Magical Mystery Tour-style psychedelia. Phillips's helium-high vocals and intriguingly cryptic lyrics, however, are the essential elements in these dizzying pop concoctions. Zero distills new songs, remixes, alternate takes, and album favorites into an intoxicating label sign-off. In the end, one can't help pondering, What next? --Steven Stolder
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