It's telling that Do What You Want Be What You Are, Sony/Legacy's comprehensive, career-spanning Daryl Hall and John Oates box set, takes its title from a moderately successful mid-'70s single from the duo, written and recorded just as the group was hitting their creative stride. The slow Philly groove of "Do What You Want Be Who You Are" may have ...
It's telling that Do What You Want Be What You Are, Sony/Legacy's comprehensive, career-spanning Daryl Hall and John Oates box set, takes its title from a moderately successful mid-'70s single from the duo, written and recorded just as the group was hitting their creative stride. The slow Philly groove of "Do What You Want Be Who You Are" may have hearkened back to the duo's soul roots, side-stepping some of the outré pop experiments they had done just two years earlier on War Babies, but Hall & Oates took the title's sentiment to heart, blurring boundaries between rock, pop, and soul in a way that wasn't always easy to appreciate at the peak of their popularity in the '80s. During that decade, Hall & Oates were omnipresent, seemingly dominating every radio format and MTV, racking up so many hits that it was easy to overlook how "Private Eyes" wore bright, angular new wave threads, or how "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" pulsated on electronic rhythms, not to mention the duo's earliest folk-rock records. Do What You Want brings all this into perspective, rounding up all the group's big hits and sharply selected album tracks, enhancing the canon with several rarities ranging from early singles (Hall as a member of the Temptones, Oates as one of the Masters) to a host of live cuts from throughout the years. Many of the live tracks are mildly revelatory -- particularly the lengthy stretch of War Babies material at the end of disc one, which diminishes the Todd Rundgren influence and emphasizes Hall & Oates' muscular melodicism -- as the group's forté was within the studio, where they set the sounds of the time, from the lush early '70s to the synthesized '80s. This, too, is where the box shines, when it traces the duo's remarkable, restless progression from Whole Oates to Big Bam Boom, a narrative that takes up the first three discs of the four-disc set. Like many career-spanning boxes, this does lose a little momentum on the last disc, when the hits start to slow down, but by smartly balancing outtakes and unreleased concert cuts, this final disc makes a convincing argument for Hall & Oates' enduring strengths adding a fitting coda to a box that stands as a testament to the duo's considerable musical legacy. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi