Steve Miller Band’s string of radio hits from the mid-to-late 70s continues to dominate FM radio stations and jukeboxes across America. Any performer who can hit the bullseye of our collective subconscious in such a manner deserves serious props. Of course, Miller’s music is not about the brain’s left hemisphere. Rather, it’s more about the limbic system and everything below the neck. If stoner anthems like “The Joker” and “Fly Like an Eagle” don’t elicit a smile, it might be time to fire your overpaid therapist and just get laid. Yes, “Abracadabra” is a silly song if you listen to the words, but why the hell would anyone analyze poetry at this party? If you like hook-laden, guitar-driven melodies, dude-worthy musings, and airtight arrangements, this album should float your inner yacht.
But why would anyone need another greatest-hits compilation of Steve Miller songs? Improved sonics. Miller and remastering engineer Kent Hertz took tracks from the former’s most successful albums and did a superb job of refreshing each cut. Miller has helped recover the energy of the original sessions by stripping away a layer of film and grit I never realized present on the already decent-sounding originals. The greater clarity yields a vibrant, reinvigorated aural quality that brings listeners closer to the master tapes. Bass and drum tracks now jump out of the mix with startling force, and the impact of Miller’s multi-tracked guitar work feels even more propulsive.
One of the only flaws of Ultimate Hits concerns Miller’s questionable programming choices. For example, he begins the set with a meandering instrumental track, followed by an old cassette tape recording of Les Paul telling him that he’s a prodigy. It doesn’t hold up under repeated listening. Additionally, the song order throughout fails to match the heat-up-and-cool-down sequencing of Miller’s popular Greatest Hits 1974-78 collection. And while Ultimate Hits’ remastered sound makes up for the somewhat haphazard pacing, the momentum falters on side four. It starts with previously unreleased and echo-prone live renditions of “Living in the USA” and “The Space Cowboy” before moving on to lesser cuts like “The Window” that don’t belong on an album called Ultimate Hits.
Fortunately, both 180-gram discs are ruler-flat and the Capitol pressings are dead-quiet. The graphics on the direct-to-board cover are vibrant while the song-by-song credits and recording details on the inside of the gatefold provide a nice touch.
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