Friday, 13 June 2014

1001 Albums Update: 730 and Counting!

So here I am, perilously close to the three quarter mark! I'm also perilously close to finally being able to drive, having passed my theory and with just(!) my practical at the end of June to look forward to. The good thing about getting my theory finished is I've been able to get my head into some books other than the AA's Complete Test guide.

Firstly there was "Perfect Circle" by Tony Fletcher, a pretty good biography of one of my all time favourite bands, R.E.M. It makes for a rather nice journey through the band's history, although it's let down a tad by a few minor quibbles. Most are just fact checking issues, but one big gripe is that this is a new addition of a book originally released in 2002, and the author hasn't re-edited the events chronicled before said date in today's context. This makes for a slightly inconsistent read, but despite this I recommend any R.E.M. fan's take a punt on this if they can find it for a good price.

Also on a musical literature note, I've also finally made a start on the excellent "Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop" by Bob Stanley of St. Etienne fame. This book really is a revelation, as Stanley describes the evolution of pop music from the inception of the official charts to the (what turned out to be temporary) death of the 7" with resounding passion, verve and attention to detail. I'm currently up to the birth of punk, with another 400 or so pages to go. Once I've got through these 1001 albums I'd love to do a similar series going through the music Stanley chronicles in his book, to follow his journey through the ebbs and flows of chart music first hand and truly appreciate some of his observations.

But hopefully that'll be another story for another time. Let's see what I've managed to cover since Easter.

  • The Prodigy - The Fat Of The Land, Music For The Jilted Generation
Being a member of the Playstation generation, listening to The Prodigy can't help but make me think of Wipeout.

The Fat Of The Land was definitely the more consistent of the two, much more in keeping with the mental image I have of The Prodigy in their prime. "Firestarter", "Breathe", "Smack My Bitch Up", all scared the shit out of me when I was little but I think that menacing edge the group had gave them a great energy.
  • Elvis Presley - From Elvis In Memphis
"Don't call it a comeback"... actually, come to think of it, that's exactly what you can call it! Before this album, the post-military Elvis was stuck merely soundtracking the lame movies his manager Colonel Parker would coax him into; a far cry from his pre-military career where he was never more than a shake of the hips away from captivating America. This was the album that saw the return of Elvis putting some real conviction into his material, the closing track "In The Ghetto" in particular becoming one of his most renowned songs.

  • Doves - The Last Broadcast 
I used to be relatively on the fence when it came to Doves, but now I'm really coming 'round to their music - I've already gushed over "The Cedar Room" in a previous entry. "Caught By The River" from this record is in a very similar vein and has similarly made me curse myself for earlier dismissing the emotional edge the band are capable of producing. The opening of this album (after a brief intro) is simply immense as well - it's very rare to find an album with as good an initial run of songs as "Words", "Catch The Sun" and "M62 Song". Thumbs up all round.
  • Orbital - Orbital 2, Snivilisation
I was left very bemused listening to these, far too torturous for my tastes in dance music (despite a nice cameo for Lieutenant Worf from Star Trek). The kind of "dance" music you'd probably enjoy if you were completely smacked off your head on some kind of hallucinogens or something, but listening in the comfort of your home these guys definitely pale in comparison to, say, The Prodigy.
  • Queen - Queen II: To be honest I much preferred Queen when they either went a bit kitsch or were writing big stadium rockers, not when they were trying to be J.R.R. Tolkien like on this record.
  • Supertramp - Crime Of The Century: Poor Supertramp, being lumbered with the tag of middle class music fan's strumpet, what with being Princess Diana's favourite band and Jeremy Clarkson voicing an advert for their Best Of collection. Despite all the niceties of "Dreamer", it's a tag I just can't shake whilst listening to them.
  • Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True, Brutal Youth, This Year's Model, Armed Forces, Blood & Chocloate, Imperial Bedroom
Here's an artist I couldn't wait to cover, not just because of his incredibly cool voice that I'm addicted to imitating. Sparky, punky, angular guitars and hard-nosed lyrics are abound all throughout these records too. Imperial Bedroom was the only album that I felt didn't really stand up to the rest of the material on show. The others are stacked full of classics and I'm torn between which is my favourite.
I mean, do I go for My Aim Is True which has "Allison" (or in Costello speak, "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaalisuuuuuuuu-huuuuuuuuuun"), "Less Than Zero" and "I'm Not Angry"? What about Brutal Youth with "13 Steps Lead Down" ("Thu-teen steps lead deeeeeeoooown"), "Kinder Murder" and "All The Rage"? How about This Year's Model which has "The Beat", "Little Triggers" and "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" amongst its highlights? Or does Armed Forces edge it with "Oliver's Army" (which I've only just realised sounds like a definite inspiration for "Out In The Street" by Bruce Springsteen), "Two Little Hitlers", "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love And Understanding" and it's awesome artwork?
I really wished I'd found out sooner how consistent Costello's back catalogue was.

  • The Jam - Sound Effects/ The Style Council - Cafe Bleu
Two polar opposite sides to Paul Weller's career here. The sharp, snappy Sound Effects delights with the likes of "Pretty Green", "Start!" and of course the masterful, seething "That's Entertainment" that might just be Weller's best ever vocal performance. This is all in sharp contrast to Cafe Bleu which is much more like Cafe Blah in my book. You'd certainly never expect something as saccharine as "You're The Best Thing" from the Weller who appears on Sound Effects. Although there are occasional gems like "My Ever Changing Moods" buried within the naffness.
Also, being a huge R.E.M. fanboy, I couldn't help but think how similar "1,000,000" sounds to "But I'm Different Now" from Sound Effects. Surely a massive coincidence, I doubt The Jam's (considerable) influence stretched to early 80s Gerogia (The Jam's song came first).

  • George Jones - The Grand Tour: This was a slightly disappointing slice of country. It just sounded a bit dated to my ears; despite being made in 1974, this record was made as if nothing had happened in country music in a decade.
  • Cee-Lo Green - Cee-Lo Green Is The Soul Machine: Nice effort from Cee-Lo here. This was before his career truly took off as one half of Gnarls Barkley, but the man still draws a star-studded guest list, with Ludacris (on the ace "Childz Play"), TI, Timberland and Pharell (who originally wrote "Happy" with Cee-Lo in mind) all turning up to make this a real swish production.
  • Prince - Purple Rain, Sign O' The Times, 1999
Ah, at last we come to that purple pixie Prince. Probably the most casually eccentric man on the planet. Purple Rain was probably the album he most successfully channelled his artistry into a proper classic album, "When Doves Cry" being a masterpiece. Sign O' The Times is much more variable in quality, but the likes of "If I Was Your Girlfriend" and live recording "It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night" really sparkle.
My favourite, though, was "1999", the title track and "All The Critics Love U In New York" being stand outs. It's probably one of his more orthodox albums (by his standards), but when you consider it was made in 1984 it was still vastly ahead of the time.
  • The La's - The La's: 
It's an absolute crying shame that this is the only reminder we have of what a great band The La's were, and even more so that many people will only remember them for "There She Goes". The only reason this album even saw the light of day was because the record company got tired of perfectionist lead singer Lee Mavers fiddling with the album constantly and so they just put out the most recent demos they had. Such a jangley, rich insight into what could have been.
  • The Beach Boys - Today!, Pet Sounds: I've found the Beach Boy's vocals to be a bit too close to Frankie Valli levels of ridiculous to truly enjoy them, and Today! didn't really do much for me either. But certain moments on Pet Sounds like "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows" are works of unbridled genius.
  • Bob Dylan - Live 1966: 
It's unbelievable what a shit storm Dylan created when he began using electric instruments, apparently jeered off stage at the first show he used them. The audience for this live recording, at the Royal Albert Hall, were much more appreciative, however. A show of two halves, Dylan begins with a very raw, acoustic show revolving around sprawling narrative classics like "Visions Of Johanna" and "Desolation Row", before plugging in from "Tell Me, Momma" onwards and delivering blistering renditions of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" and "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat". A real treasure.
  • Pulp - Different Class, This Is Hardcore
Jarvis Cocker is a brilliant song writer. Even something like This Is Hardcore, which is largely seen as the album that killed Britpop, is not short of charm (well, it's not short full stop which is part of the problem). Different Class on the other hand is literally as the title suggests, a true cut above the rest. "Pencil Skirt", "Common People" and "Disco 2000" are all perfect examples of Jarvis' wry humour and exuberance. Also, upon listening to the deluxe edition of the album, I discovered there's a version of "Disco 2000" with Nick Cave on vocals. It's as awesome as it sounds. 

  • The Divine Comedy - A Short Album About Love, Casanova: These albums were both rather unassuming, and not particularly holding my attention, until HOLLSHITBALLS the Father Ted theme tune turns up on "Songs Of Love" from Casanova! I know the Comedy wrote it (as well as song for Europe "My Lovely Horse") but I had no idea they based it on one of their own tracks, I thought they wrote it especially.

  • Supergrass - I Should Coco, In It For The Money: Another pair I was looking forward to, and I wasn't disappointed. I Should Coco was always going to be a winner with the cheery "Alright" on there, while the heavier In It For The Money was equally brilliant with the immense "Richard III", "Sun Hits The Sky" and the trippy "Going Out".
  • Suede - Suede, Dog Man Star: I've got to be honest, these were completely disappointing. Didn't click with me at all, which caught me by surprise given how much I've enjoyed their most recent album.
  • Cornershop - When I Was Born For The 7th Time: It's so odd hearing the non-Fat Boy Slim version of "Brim Full Of Asha", but this was a pleasant listen nonetheless. Both The Beatles and their Indian heritage were clear influences, so it was no surprise to find the closing cover of "Norwegian Wood" performed in Punjabi.
  • Fat Boy Slim - Better Living Through Chemistry: Speaking of Fat Boy, here's a record that clearly sounds like someone just having fun with music and more specifically pissing about with a set of decks. Nice touches like ending side one with "Everybody Needs A 303", then reprising it right at the start of side two, were also really neat.
  • Living Colour - Vivid 
If grunge wasn't on the horizon I think this could have been a much more influential record. All black rock bands are very rare, especially ones with material as good as "Funny Vibe" and "What's Your Favourite Colour?" Oh, and they also happened to write the brilliant "Cult Of Personality", which you might recognise as CM Punk's entrance music in his last run in WWE. "IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME!!!"

  • Basement Jaxx - Remedy: Oh boy this album is full of memories right here. "Rendez-vu", "Bingo Bango", "Jump N Shout" and  "Red Alert" are all still pure sugar rushes of nostalgia for this listener. Thoroughly infectious.
Also proving to be enjoyable were
  • Pet Shop Boys -Behaviour, Actually ("It's a, it's a, it's aaaa... it's a sin!")
  • Willie Nelson - Stardust
  • Primal Scream - Vanishing Point
  • John Cale - Paris 1919
  • Waylon Jennings - Honky Tonk Heroes
While on the other hand I can't say I was particularly impressed with the following
  • Badly Drawn Boy - The Hour Of Bewilderbeast
  • Happy Mondays - Bummed
  • UB40 - Signing Off
  • Richard & Linda Thompson - I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
  • The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Next
Whew, that proved to be exhausting. Anyway, that's all for now, catch you later.