VA – Respect: A Century of Women in Music [5CD Box Set] (1999)

Posted by Green on February 27, 2019as


Rhino’s five-disc box set Respect: A Century of Women in Music was surely assembled with the best of intentions, but it doesn’t quite work. First of all, any collection that focuses solely on “the female contribution” comes off as a little condescending, no matter how good the intentions are. Still, the concept has enough weight to make for at least an interesting listen. However, any compilation that spans nearly 100 years and every conceivable popular musical genre is bound not only to be incomplete, but too sweeping to be totally effective. The scope is impressive, as are the featured artists — think of any major female musician and they’re likely to be here, unless it’s Joni Mitchell (Kim Gordon and Kim Deal are also missing, as are several other similarly minded post-punk rockers and various pop and folk singer/songwriters, but no omission is as shocking as Mitchell’s) — but the overall effect is somewhat bewildering. Possibly that’s because the post-Beatles selections aren’t always spot-on — Patti Smith is represented by “People Have the Power” instead of any of her classic ’70s work; Liz Phair’s “Polyester Bride” is here instead of anything from Exile in Guyville; Fleetwood Mac is represented by Christine McVie rather than Stevie Nicks; and “Legs” is an odd choice for PJ Harvey — but Respect is ultimately undone because it bites off way more than it can chew. The first couple of discs work because, in a weird way, they’re working within their limitations — there’s a fairly distinct canon and not as many recordings to sample — but toward the end of disc two, the omissions, strange choices, and weird genre juxtapositions start to make themselves noticed. Make no mistake, there’s plenty of great music here, and for complete novices it will function as an introduction to some wonderful musicians. But as a historical document, Respect is too scattershot to instruct, and as a listening experience it’s too exhausting to absorb.

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