For the Best of Us is a reissue of For the Rest of Us, an off-the-cuff EP the John Doe Thing project released on Kill Rock Stars in 1998. Even with five extra tracks, For the Best of Us is slim (just 35 minutes with a few throwaway tracks) and seems less like a discovery of a hidden treasure than Yep Roc cashing in on the minor success of X pseudo-frontman John Doe’s Forever Hasn’t Happened Yet last year. Like the other noisier releases that followed his promising country-based debut, 1990’s Meet John Doe, For the Rest of Us is a rowdy assortment of demo-quality barroom songs, spared from the mundane by Doe’s still-captivating shriek—such as when he howls “fuck it!” over the squall of “Bad, Bad Feeling.” For the Best of Us is just a footnote to the X legacy—more enjoyable than X member Exene Cervenka’s literary excursions, nowhere near as essential as the great documentary The Unheard Music—but not undeserving of a listen. After all, X’s leftovers are still tastier than the Arctic Monkeys’ entrees.
“A Step Outside” opened the original EP with a bluesy chorus equal parts country and crunchy, the overdubbed vocals acknowledging Doe’s classic duets with Cervenka and the simplistic but shimmery slide guitar shows just how great lo-fi rock can be. The rest of the EP maintains the melancholy mood but not the quality: there’s a pretty but forgettable instrumental called “Let’s Get Lost,” the merely okay slapdash rager “The Unhappy Song,” and the sparse ballad “This Loving Thing,” co-written with Dave Grohl. But the bonus tracks are better: “Criminal” and “Broken Smile” are both well crafted, grunge-influenced narratives and include some of the finest hooks on the record. A cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man” closes out the disc with a violent crawl not unlike some of Nick Cave’s spookier work to match the darkness of Guthrie’s lyrics (“Why does a vigilante man carry that sawed-off shotgun in his hand?/Would he shoot his brother and sister down?). “Vigilante Man” is the jam, and it’s quite a smart move on Yep Roc’s part, concluding a rather superfluous release with a track that makes the listener yearn for more.