Sunday, 10 February 2013

1001 Albums Update: 346 and counting...

Before I run down what I've been listening to this past week (and a bit), I thought I'd mention the excellent series of programmes the BBC have been broadcasting this past week all about "The Golden Age Of The Album".
You can find a run down of the shows in the series here. The BBC Four shows "When Albums Ruled The World" and "Danny Baker's Great Album Showdown" were real treats in particular.

The former was a pretty good documentary about how the change in the physical format of the record helped shape the concept of albums (with 22 and a half minutes a side, you could do more than just the typical three minute pop record) and appropriately enough led to the idea of concept albums.

While Danny Baker's show could get a little bit nerdy about records ("The smell! The weight! The sleevenotes!"... alright guys, get a room.) the three episodes were a really great debate about what goes in to making a great album.

Both shows naturally brought up a lot of the albums I've been listening to thanks to the book. Speaking of which, this week I have mostly been listening to...

  • Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables: Fantastic bit of punk. "California Uber Alles" brings back happy memories of playing the Tony Hawk's skating games.
  • Megadeth - Rust In Peace, Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?: I know I've found mixed results when I've listened to the metal albums on this list, but these were really enjoyable, lived up to their tongue-in-cheek titles definitely.
  • Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway: I found this a patchier listen than Peter Gabriel's solo albums (which have really surprised me) but there's flashes of brilliance here. I know Genesis are almost the very definition of dad rock but when Gabriel was on board there was just no resisting moments like "Carpet Crawlers"

  • Slayer - Reign In Blood: And now we come to the flip-side of the metal coin. This just felt like substandard Metallica. Play your instruments real fast to hide the fact you're not playing anything interesting, add some vocals that go "RAAAAWUUUUUGH" in between, wash, rinse, repeat.
  • Fela Kuti & Afrika 70 - Zombie, Live (w/ Ginger Baker)
My first encounter with some real African music. Appropriately enough, I found Zombie to be very infectious (I know, I know, I'll get my coat...), and the live album with Ginger Baker (of Cream fame) was also a great listen with cracking rhythms, as you'd imagine.
  • Frank Sinatra - In The Wee Small Hours, Songs For Swingin' Lovers!
Fun fact: In The Wee Small Hours was the first album issues on 12 inch vinyl, which probably makes it the record that kicked off the album era. Being one of the first records that wasn't a soundtrack or classical piece whose songs had a thematic link probably helped too - and arguably made it the first concept album. Songs For Swingin' Lovers  is also excellent and influential in equal measure, including the simply perfect "I've Got You Under My Skin".

  • Louis Prima - The Wildest: Apparently this guy gets a bit of flack for just being a Louis Armstrong knock-off, but I really enjoyed this record. The bloke who played King Louis in The Jungle Book can't be bad can he?
  • The Magnetic Fields - 69 Love Songs: As the title suggests this is literally a (triple) album of 69 love songs. Nearly three hours long, this was a project of extraordinary breadth that stylistically veered from Leonard Cohen sorrow to Brian Wilson sugar. Extraordinary.
  • Suicide - Suicide: This was just plain weird. The weirdness peaked with the unsettling "Frankie Teardrop" which basically was the musical equivalent of being a pre-teen girl and having Jimmy Saville chasing after you.
  • Spiritualized - Lazer Guided Melodies, Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space 
I bought Songs In A&E not long after it came out and was rather disappointed by it, so I wasn't holding my breathe about liking these albums. However, they certainly had their moments, Ladies And Gentlemen... especially: the on-two punch of "Come Together" and "I Think I'm In Love" after the introductory track, and "Broken Heart" were fantastic.
  • Siouxsie Sioux & The Banshees - The Scream: Best cover version of "Helter Skelter" ever!

  • Ray Charles - Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music: Ray doing country music raised a few eyebrows at the time, but he most certainly pulled it off, his renditions of "Born To Lose" and "You Win Again" were especially sublime.
  • 2pac - Me Against The World: While I wasn't surprised that I found myself enjoying this album, I was surprised by the album's highlight: the unexpectedly touching "Dear Mama".
  • Wu-Tang Clan - Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers): Well this was rather disappointing. There are a whole bunch of great MCs in Wu-Tang, but this album was pretty much just everyone shouting their verses over barely audible and substandard beats. What a let down.
  • The Rolling Stones - The Rolling Stones: Their first album is predominantly a covers album, but try listening to this and then telling me they don't make the likes of Bo Diddley's "I Need You Baby (Mona)" and Chuck Berry's "Carol" their own. You can't can you?
  • Billie Holiday - Lady In Satin: Her voice was shot after years of heroin abuse, but boy Billie was as captivating as ever here. "I'm A Fool To Want You" is simply iconic (and was the real star of Channel's recent ad campaign featuring Audrey Tatou).

  • The Who - Tommy
Sublime. When I talked about how the LP drove the idea of concept albums earlier, this was a prime example. The only traditional whole song on here is "Pinball Wizard". Everything else is comprised of running pieces and overtures fading in and out of each other, a couple of which would later be fused together into the single "See Me, Feel Me".
  • The Cure - Pornography: Another gloom masterpiece from The Cure, this one an important precursor to Disintegration. The likes of "One Hundred Years" and "The Hanging Garden" stand up their with their best work.
  • The Black Crowes - Shake Your Money Maker: Great bit of post-AC/DC rock here. This was released in 1990 - I had no idea this band had been going for so long! I only knew them for "Before the Frost... Until the Freeze" before this.
  • Cat Stevens - Tea For The Tillerman: "Father And Son", "Wild World", the title track (used as the theme tune for Extras). Need I say more?
  • T-Rex - The Slider: Marc Bolan's often seen as more of a singles artist than an albums man, but this was still a great listen. "Metal Guru" is a classic.
  • Pink Floyd - The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn 
Pink Floyd are another band I'd assumed I'd hate but found myself enjoying. This was in their relative early days, when Syd Barrett was part of the band. Barrett wrote the majority of the songs himself and so much like the man himself this album's a bit inconsistent, but the much more focused side one is brilliant.

  • Stevie Wonder - Innervisions: 
Sublime stuff from Stevie here, made right in the middle of his early-mid 70s run where, post-Marvin Gaye Tamla Motwon realised how important albums were and Stevie had the creative juices to give them what they needed. "Living For The City" and "Higher Ground" (later slaughtered by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers for the Power Rangers movie soundtrack) are particular highlights.

  • Dr Dre - The Chronic: Good stuff, but what is it with early to mid 90s rap albums and those awkward interludes where we're supposed to believe they're having sex? Biggie & Snoop had these skits on their albums too. Some people's egos, eh?

 Others I heard which I enjoyed were
  • Miles Davis - Birth Of The Cool
  • Faith No More - The Real Thing
  • Van Halen - Van Halen
  • Ride - Nowhere
  • Fats Domino - This Is Fats
  • The Roots - Pherenology (Now I love Questlove for his music as well as just being awesome on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon)

while the following didn't make much impression:
  • Black Flag - Damaged
  • The Gun Club - Fire Of Love
  • Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden
  • Duke Ellington - Ellington At Newport
  • Thelonious Monk - Brilliant Corners 
So that wraps up another chunk of great (and not so great) music. I'm sure I'll power through another bunch soon! Catch you later.