While their friends, contemporaries, and collaborators R.E.M., Let's Active, the dB's, the Rain Parade, and the Bongos all managed to score major-label deals and (at least) gain healthy cult followings, the Windbreakers seemed fated to be the great band that time forgot — while Tim Lee, Bobby Sutliff, and their various bandmates made a handful of brilliant albums (in particular A Different Sort and Electric Landlady), beyond jangle pop obsessives and a handful of tuned-in rock critics they labored in obscurity and never found the wider recognition they richly deserved. But anyone who wants proof that the Windbreakers' lack of popular success was never a matter of the quality of their work need look no further than Time Machine (1982-2002), a superb 20-song compilation that skims the cream from the band's catalog and adds two newly recorded tunes as icing on the cake. In a genre that demanded a clever melodic sense, both Lee and Sutliff had talent to spare as tunesmiths (as well as genuinely impressive gifts as guitarists), and they weren't afraid to delve into the darker waters of romantic disappointment and emotional turmoil in their lyrics (especially Lee, on the brilliant minor-key tunes "Changeless" and "You Never Give Up," and on Sutliff's gorgeous "Stupid Idea"). But even at their least cheery, the Windbreakers made music that boasted a soaring and life-affirming melodic beauty, and this material has stood the test of time exceedingly well. (The two new songs, recording during a brief 2002 reunion, thankfully show that Lee and Sutliff are both still in musical fighting shape, and they fit right in with the rest of the material.) While a couple cuts suffer from minor sonic glitches suggesting poor tape storage, musically Time Machine (1982-2002) never disappoints for a moment, and old fans looking for a trip down memory lane as well as younger pop enthusiasts interested in great bands of the past should put this disc on their shopping lists pronto. -AMG
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