Sunday, February 29, 2004

I've been enjoying keeping this blog so neat and clean, but I HAVE to start writing about new music again. The 100 fave albums list will still be updated daily, mind you - I hate blogs that start similar ventures and don't deliver and THAT AIN'T GONNA BE ME, BUDDY! There's just going to be more than that on here. I've been listening too far too much good stuff to only talk about one album a day.

Favorite Ten Songs Currently Found On The Singles Charts On Billboard.Com (excepting those found my Top Ten Singles Of 2003, which I still love with all my heart)

1) Ying Yang Twins, "Salt Shaker" - Dave's bud was bitching about how this song is redundant and insipid after "Shake it like a Polaroid picture" but he's playing himself. Where that line is a nice little addendum to a classic slice of ice cold - a mere joke, this song is wholly focused on two ass pirates' quest for booty. Arrrr. Perkyulate! Will somebody tell me what "skeet" means? Judging by the chorus metaphor I have to assume it means that when her going gets tough, the tough get going! Ho ho!

2) Britney Spears, "Toxic" - that Britney's FOURTH ALBUM SECOND SINGLE does Kish Kash better than Kish Kash reminds met yet again that pop is one sweetly unpredictable place. This is the first song she's ever released that I want to hear again. And again.

3) Offspring, "Hit That" - see it has this discoey octave-jumping bass line and that makes it better than everything. They are so Weird Al with edge! The album tracks I've heard sound like sludgy "Defy You"-style crap but it's probable I'd buy their greatest hits before Green Day's.

4) The Darkness, "I Believe In A Thing Called Love" - I've still got my qualms about these guys, but even if I'd prefer pop-metal artists to pop-metal clowns, this is infinitely more enjoyable than anything else on rawk radio today. Though its screams novelty hit, I really hope that the unashamed glee of this song infects the US FM dial. I have heard the Cult's "Fire Woman" twice this week on WQWK.

5) Linkin Park, "Numb" - I'm shocked how much mileage these guys still get out of synthesizing Vanilla Ice, Alice Cooper and Depeche Mode. Every single is like a slightly different shade of blue, with lyrics that justify the fact that they're still whining. Wanna know how to do the Chester? Just sway forwards and back while clutching your shirt with one hand and pointing outwords with the other. And cry. In slo-mo.

6) J-Kwon, "Tipsy" - Irv Gotti's in the club getting tits...and this isn't even a Murder Inc. track! Oh, that beat. It will, it will, rock you.

7) Mario Winans & P. Diddy, "I Don't Want To Know" - Sean John's still pissed that J. Lo implied he's a suffocating boyfriend, and evidently he always gave you extra cheese (this unexpected pizza factoid is possibly the first thing he's ever said that I can identify with), the unabashed Fugees lift - DJ Shadow he ain't! - reaffirms that Diddly Dong Dingus McGee hasn't lost his touch. Coupled with the striking lack of confidence implied by Mario's pleas for his girlfriend to cheat discreetly, "Satisfy You II: Electric Boogaloo" turns out to be superior to the original (better than the Fugees track too!).

8) Ludacris, "Stand Up" - I still prefer him in a third verse cameo context (see "Holidae In," "Gossip Folks," "Yeah!"), but he's animated enough here that I don't miss the variety.

9) Limp Bizkit, "Behind Blue Eyes" - I don't know whether I'm laughing or crying, but I'll attest to the bountiful rewards of discovering L-I-M-P. My pain always feels so small when I hear this song, and I'm grateful.

10) Clay Aiken, "Invisible" - if he was invisible, he would just walk into your room! It's the love theme from The Hollow Man! Don't be offended Ruben fans, I haven't heard "Sorry 2004" yet. But could it possibly be this hysterically absurd, right down to the bombastic false ending?
#58) The Pretenders - The Pretenders (released in 1979, I bought a copy on used vinyl at City Lights - the cheaper of the two there - during my sophomore year of college)

Now this is new wave. It's still straight-up rock and roll in its spirit and irreverence (a new wave needs to come from the old water, you know), but the album loaded with bracingly novel elements, not the least being Chrissie Hynde. To paraphrase Ann Powers (since I don't have her SPIN Alternative Guide review handy), Hynde was one the first women in rock to project herself as neither a sex kitten or unflinchingly butch, but as a "hardheaded yet softhearted survivor." Everything about their music - especially Hynde's lyrics and impressively nuanced, agile voice - is quick-witted and unpredictable. "Precious" finds Hynde both beguilingly cryptic and rivetingly forthright in her declaration of confident lust, with alarm-like buzz guitars swirling around the rhythm section's thrilling pulse (and gawdamn is this song hot). Side one's closing cover of the Kinks' "Stop Your Sobbing," while beautifully played and conceptually perfect for Hynde, at first seems out of place due to its traditional song structure. Then side two's "Kid" and "Brass In Pocket" reveal that she's is just as capable of Davies' at writing casual verse-chorus-verse classics. The Pretenders' well-earned commercial success makes me even happier than the critical raves; I have no interest in something this inspiring being kept a secret.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

#59) Talking Heads - Fear Of Music (released in 1979, I got this on CD in 6th or 7th grade)

Since I first saw David Byrne sweating profusely and karate chopping his own arm on MTV as a wee tot, the Talking Heads have always appealed to me (my favorite muppet was Gonzo and my favorite word was "weird" so I was an easy sell). Back when they actually would play old videos I'd watch the station for hours wanting ONLY to catch "Burning Down The House" or "Once In A Lifetime," whose presence was actually not uncommon. Though my reasons for enjoying them have altered and probably increased over the years, my favorite full-length has always been Fear Of Music. Like Fugazi's The Argument and Pere Ubu's "Final Solution," the textures on the album feel cold and compressed, as Eno's ambient sonic additions add a sense of space already heightened by the layered, minimalist music (the music on"Mind" could almost be mistaken for the Neptunes). Most of the tracks are riddled with paranoia and anxiety, with only the nonsensical "I Zimbra," "Cities" and the fantastical country ballad "Heaven" as outlets of release (I'm not sure what "Electric Guitar" is aside from my least favorite track). "Mind" needs to start showing up on more mixtapes I make, Homer Simpson has a cameo on "Drugs," I wrote a horrible short story one summer based on "Memories Can't Wait" and the lunacy of "Air" and "Animals" crack me up every time. Most people shriek to the heavens about Remain In Light (which does have classics, don't get me wrong) but Fear Of Music is the one that I find the most consistent.

Friday, February 27, 2004

#60) Pet Shop Boys - Discography: The Complete Singles Collection (released in 1991, I bought this on CD in middle school after listening to my babysitter's copy a ton)

I'm enough of a patriot to believe that most British acts that don't make as much of a chart impression here usually deserve their relative obscurity, but the Pet Shop Boys is one case where I think we were wrong (though we DID give mad love to "What Have I Done To Deserve This" and "West End Girls," both career highlights). I'm not going to make like some critics and say that the Pet Shop Boys were (and possibly are - I haven't heard anything they've done since '93) able to create infectious and intelligent chart-toppers UNLIKE their peers, but instead just note that these songs are infectious and intelligent. Heavy with double meanings without succumbing to Costello-like fits of pure effort, these songs manage to sound detached and bored and playful and sentimental and cynical, sometimes all within a single U2/Frankie Valli medley (which probably sounded a lot more irreverent before U2 went ironically "disco" themselves, and I can't say how cruel their rendition of "Always On My Mind" is since I've never heard Willie Nelson's or Elvis Presley's takes). Their sense of camp is always grounded in a certain moroseness, which keeps gregarious classic like "It's A Sin" from sounding too dizzy. The bonus tracks are unsurprisingly weak and I wish the hits from Very where included (maybe I should just BUY that damn thing already), but this is the rare compilation that highlights the breadth and intelligence of a groups work without sacrificing an ounce of accessibility.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

#61) The Kinks - The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (released in 1968, I used to borrowed this from my sister and bought it on CD for myself in 2000)

While concept albums can be a bit much, I'm a sucker for albums with a running thematic thread. Whether it's a mood or a specific subject, I like it when bands provide that sense of unity. It's definitely one of the reasons that this is my favorite out of the five Kinks albums I own (Arthur, which is great, is definitely more on the "rock opera" side of the coin). Most of the songs reflect a playful yet definite desire for the simplicity and calm associated with rural areas and the past. Unlike most pines for the good ol' days, Village Green is very lively. I'm irritated that my Rolling Stone Album Guide says this is the band's "quietest" work - Mick Avory's drums have plenty of forceful swing (his drum rolls on "Wicked Annabella" are the first thing you hear in my solitary slice of film school auteurism, Fat Tony's Cancer) and even at its most pastoral none of the songs feel particularly hushed (except "Phenomenal Cat," whose ultra-twee chorus creeps me out).

Perverse cynical portraits are Ray Davies' speciality, and my favorites here include "Picture Book," a self-conscious look at memento seekers that still finds room for a few "shooby dooby doo"'s, "Do You Remember Walter"'s vaguely homoerotic anguish over a childhood friend and "Big Sky," a song that recommends detaching yourself from the world's misery by pretending you're above it all like God. There's too much beauty in the melodies and his voice for Davies to sound like the asshole he may well have been, but I'm enough of a cynically conservative asshole myself that I probably don't need that comfort anyway.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

#62) Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance (released in 1978, I got it for Christmas as part of the Datapanik In The Year Zero box set in 199...6?)

These guys get called the epitome of post-punk, but just as Pulp is really more the last New Romantic band than Brit-pop, these guys are really the last of the art-rockers. Their earlier singles (esp. "Final Solution") are even better but I don't own the comp Terminal Tower in its entirety, so I didn't include that. I think they sound like Eno-era Roxy Music but less turgid. They're gooier in every detail - especially David Thomas's seal-like gurgles. Some of the most approachable "avant-rock" I've ever heard. Just don't ask me what any of it means.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

#63) Matthew Sweet - Girlfriend (released in 1991, I bought a copy on cassette around 5th or 6th grade)

The sound is pop-rock at its finest: shining melodies delivered forcefully yet without a trace of plod, performed with such casual confidence that there's no overt sense of commercial effort or retro-fetishism - despite the accessible, memorable songwriting. Though devoid of acrobatic feats, this is undobutedly a guitar album: Robert Quine gets the Oscar for his soulful noise-inflected solos, but Sweet, Lloyd Cole, Richard Lloyd and Greg Leisz more than earn their nominations. The music on Girlfriend sounds effortless and yet makes painfully evident how rarely this perfection is achieved (Sweet himself hasn't truly pulled it off since).

Being pop-rock, the music, as fine as it is, is used to bolster the emotion provided by the lyrics, which (except for solitary and relatively weak odes to God, lust and war) detail the emotions of someone who probably cares a lot more about a relationship than his partner does. As fits an album originally titled Nothing Lasts, every step towards happiness is immediately contradicted - the excitement of discovery detailed in "I've Been Waiting" and "Girlfriend" is immediately followed by the uncertainty of "Looking At The Sun" and "Winona." The indifference of "Day For Night" is followed by the bitterness of "Thought I Knew You," and "Your Sweet Voice" is rebutted by "Does She Talk?" "I Wanted To Tell You" may sound infinitely more joyful than "You Don't Love Me," but notice that the pride in the latter is replaced in the former by an acknowledgement of personal fault. This blow-by-blow struggle makes the defeat in "Nothing Lasts," the closing ballad, all the more arresting. I'm glad cover model Tuesday Weld demanded he change the name, though. Where Nothing Lasts makes his fatalism blunt, Girlfriend masks the subversion and gives the happier numbers equal credence. Weld is older than Sweet too, so whose to say she doesn't have the smarter outlook.

Monday, February 23, 2004

#64) The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground (released in 1969, I bought this on cassette back in 8th grade. It was my first VU full-length - I already had the best-of and my friend Patrick had the 1993 live album.)

I used to say I wanted to live inside of the guitar solo on "What Goes On," and anybody (un)fortunate enough to hear my four-track recordings should be able to attest to the influence of that multi-tracked wonder. Stunning and atypical in its calm beauty, this album would probably place a lot higher here if not for "The Murder Mystery," which I will always, always hate. The music always resonated with me, but time has only made songs like "Beginning To See The Light" (which my sister used to think was "I'm a guinea to see the light"), "Pale Blue Eyes" and "I'm Set Free" (possibly the most unsung classic to be found on their four albums) more affecting and impressive. Doug Yule and Maureen Tucker supply gentle innocence on the opening and closing numbers, and Reed himself sounds unusually guile-free, if weathered by heartbreak and loss. The Velvet Underground is the most rewarding of the sunglasses-free Reedworks (which usually come about once a decade).

Sunday, February 22, 2004

#65) The Cure - Standing On A Beach: The Singles (released in 1986, I bought this on cassette in middle school but eventually gave it to my sister because it was a bitch to fast forward through all the "bonus" b-sides on side 2. My friend Lisa made me a CD-R of the album in college. Instead of b-sides the CD includes several singles not on the LP or tape. Of them, I'm most grateful for "A Night Like This")

In which the cranky singer of a Wire-inspired house party band notes that boys don't cry, then hears Joy Division, realizes they can cry and joins the group. Eventually he discovers pop and the band becomes New Order. Then he discovers happiness, becomes a lovecat and starts a jazz band. Finally he combines the jazz group with New Order and by the end they've warped into the Psychedelic Furs. It doesn't really flow but I don't really mind. It's probably Robert Smith's fault that so many boys aren't afraid to cry, and while there's definitely some upsides to it, its a shame he never told us how to stop. Galore, which covers the decade of hits that followed this comp, would probably be on my list if I didn't already own all the later full-lengths (I may buy it anyway someday).

By the way, if anybody wants to read the bloated reviews I wrote about a year ago (including one for this album), they better do it now. Out of simple embarassment, I'm going to delete a healthy part of the archive soon.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

#66) Neil Young - Tonight's The Night (released in 1975, I'm not sure where and when I picked it up on vinyl. Probably Arboria, probably early in college)

Tonight's The Night is really easy to either overrate (goddamn, it's not THAT much of a "dark night of the soul," and some of the worst moments is when it seems like Neil might be ACTING the part. He is smiling in every photo, you know) or underrate (the songs are really great). Ignore the hype and take it as what it is: moving, ramshackle performances of some of Neil's most noteworthy songs. Neil hands over the reigns much more than usual, letting guitarists Nils Lofgren and Ben Keith take solos in "Speaking Out" and "Lookout Joe" respectively, and including "Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown," an unusually groovy number sung by late Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, recorded years before the album's release (proving that for Neil to let you sing lead on his album, you'd have to be dead).

Despite the ramshackle vibe, the songs are clear, strong and well-arranged. Plus the band has Young's commanding presence (usually on piano) to lead them (most drunken garage bands don't). Young accidentally (?) sums up his style best on the title track when he describes his late friend Bruce Berry singing "a song in a shaky voice that was real as the day was long." Tonight's The Tonight sounds
like the aftermath of a long day: you're ruminative, sorta happy, sorta sad, and definitely about to crash. I don't know much about death yet, but I know all about being to tired to go to sleep.

(note: this is edited down from a review of Tonight's The Night I posted back in April)

Friday, February 20, 2004

#67) Fugazi - The Argument (released in 2001, I bought this on CD in Northampton, MA soon after it came out while visiting my sister)

I'm tempted to say that this album was an unexpected comeback, but if I hadn't sensed some real potential here I probably wouldn't have bought it. It was as if Fugazi looked around, realized that the mainstream had finally stopped paying attention and decided to merge their ever-growing musical vocabulary with the anthemic force of their pre-"alternative" work. It's not like they'd have to worry they were capitulating to some market anymore. The Argument is no mere "return to form" though, as they team a renewed sense of purpose with the most grandiose, imaginative production of their career. A second drummer, female back-up singers, pianos, cellos and what sounds like a goddamn sitar are used to excellent dramatic effect throughout. These elements never outshine the interplay of the original four piece (never does the album sound unnecessarily overdubbed or bloated), it's just that for once they're really using the studio. Maybe the lack of touring forced by the birth Joe Lally's and Brendan Canty's children made the band no longer see albums as merely a menu to a live performance's meal.

I could definitely complain about the "abstract" quality of Fugazi's lyrics, but - being a lifelong R.E.M. fan, it really doesn't bother me as long as the underlying emotion isn't hindered by it. So while Ian MacKaye's screams of "accessory" on "Epic Problem" sound a lot like "blame sister ray," there's no ignoring the righteous anger of his voice and the manic, propulsive energy of the music. The words that do rise out of their mushmouths say plenty anyhow - MacKaye is clear and surprisingly melodic on the opening "Cashout," "Ex-Spectator" and the closing title track, sounding as determined as ever to voice his protests against greed and ignorance, but not hiding the fact that, being over 40, the wear of having the same debates over and over is starting to get to him. That anxiety matches perfectly with the album's grey artwork and the music's cold determination. Of the albums that I tend to associate with winter (i.e. Portishead's Portishead, Afghan Whigs' Black Love), this is easily my favorite.

As always, Guy Picciotto sounds like he's having a bit more fun (his "Life And Limb" and "Nightshop" both feature handclaps, something that MacKaye probably never thinks to incorporate). On an album devoid of musical disappointment, my favorite track is his "Full Disclosure," which probably would have made the Modern Rock Top Ten had it been on System Of A Down's Toxicity. Sonic Youth-style buzzing guitars are followed by spirited double drums and Picciotto incoherently screaming for release. The cresting chorus releases the tension without dropping the musical intensity one iota, giving Picciotto a chance to voice his desire ("full disclosure/ coming sponsored by no one/ take me over/ and blow out my mind") before the sound drops out and the cycle repeats itself. The closing coda, featuring Picciotto harmonizing with Bridget Cross and Kathi Wilcox, may be the most genuinely joyful sounds in Fugazi's entire recorded history - a veritable victory lap. He may be singing for more than just one good rock song (unsponsored full disclosure not only implies artistic expression but a wish for less secrecy in general), but "Full Disclosure" is one of the rare songs that give as well as demand. This may be the group's last album, and I can't imagine a more suitable finish.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

#68) Yo La Tengo - Electr-O-Pura (released in 1995, my mom bought me the CD for my 16th birthday. It was one of the first things I ever asked for without ever hearing the group beforehand. The SPIN reviews I'd read of their earlier albums made me very curious)

I forget who said that the Hoboken trio Yo La Tengo was all about domesticated noise (hell, maybe it was me!) but Electr-O-Pura is the album where they show just how noisy they can get without ever losing any warmth. I blame Ira Kaplan's guitar solos for the fact that I can't help but interject heaps of reckless noise into my own noodlings. On "My Hearts Reflection" and "Flying Lesson" he sounds like Neil Young trying to utilize Robert Quine's tricks while being pushed down a flight of stairs. While all their albums from '89's President Yo La Tengo to 2000's And Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out are more than worth of purchase, Electr-O-Pura's the one where each track resonates emotionally; nothing comes off like a genre exercise or filler (ok maybe "False Ending" and "Attack On Love," but collectively they count for two minutes of the album so BLEH). The voices add up to little more than "bah bah bah" and vague declarations of love and obscurity, but Electr-O-Pura is all about sound. The distorted keyboards, soaring yet jagged guitars, rising climaxes, gentle lullabies and pulsing rhythms make the album feel like an amazing technicolor dreamcoat that only gets comfier with age.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

#69) Magnetic Fields - 69 Love Songs (released in 1999, I bought it the day AFTER it came out. The night of its release two of my friends who already were Stephin Merritt nuts purchased it and we listened to it in my dorm room straight through. I knew immediately I had to buy it as soon as possible. Ironically I haven't really bothered to hear much more of his work aside from the first 6ths album, which I already owned. The others seem a bit monotonous, which is pretty ironic when you consider their relative brevity.)

First off, the placement of this album on the chart is PURELY coincidental. I didn't even realize it till today. Chalk it up to my subconscious righteousness.

There's six tracks that really annoy me here and at least nine that I wish I'd written myself (especially "Long-Forgotten Fairytale" and "The Book Of Love"). If it wasn't for the other 54 amusing ditties that fill out this 3CD NON-compilation, I doubt it would have a chance of making this list (I might have even gotten rid of it by now). Curio-like without sounding overly austere, this monolith is more listenable and less tiring than any box set I own of similar length (and those competitors had decades to produce the material for it). Deftly hopping from satirical wit and genuine sentiment (except for those damn six numbers that annoy me), leader Stephin Merritt's songwriting achievement is unparalleled, in part because no one else would make such a self-consciously audacious attempt. While the textures are endearing and the vocal performances almost all commendable (ironically only Merritt - not the other three singers - ever sabotages the material), I anxiously await a deluge of cover versions. This stuff is timeless.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

#70) Half Japanese - Charmed Life (released in 1988, I bought it on CD at the HMV in Manhattan sometime in high school. I definitely considered it a find.)

When I finally found Charmed Life, it didn't really connect with the enthusiastic press it had received. Oh, I loved it immediately, but I didn't get why everybody assumed this music was so audacious and impossible to take. To me it sounded like Urkel making the high school jazz band take it to the bridge, becoming drop-dead cool without having to turn into Stefan (ok the Family Matters metaphor ends here). The sound was amateurish without revealing obvious musical limitations. The originals seemed just as timeless as the covers (I wouldn't have been able to figure out which track was by Chuck Berry) and the ten bonus tracks were surprisingly easy to wade through (though I'm glad the liner notes give the original track listing for when you want to program it). I really wish this wasn't the only Half Jap album I have that features a saxophone. I heard the 3LP-debut 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts a few years later and discovered the more infamous, atonal side of Half Jap, and finally understood why these guys were treated like freaks (man, I wish I could find the albums they released between that and this one). While Beasts is interesting, I wish Charmed Life was the album that got more press. It's universally accessible without a trace of commerciality and Jad Fair is enthusiastically youthful without any of the creepy infantility of much of his later work. That these guys didn't get a cameo in Revenge Of The Nerds is total bullshit.

Monday, February 16, 2004

#71) Pixies - Surfer Rosa (released in 1988, I bought it on used CD at Arboria during my junior or senior year of high school)

As implied by their proximity here, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle are almost equally impressive to me. Both weld slicing guitar hooks and a strong rhythm section (especially impressive for late ‘80s indie rock) with lyrics that make giddy pleasure out of abjection and gothic imagery - White Light/White Heat remixed by “Sugar Sugar” svengalis Kasenetz & Katz. One of the things that gives Surfer a slight nod is Steve Albini’s “production” (don’t call it that in front of him, though). He’s claimed the group was unusually willing to submit to his ideas, and it paid off in a searingly sweet sound that seems wholly unique despite the tireless efforts of numerous ‘90s artists to claim it for themselves (often by using – or better yet, submitting to – Albini’s merciless recording techniques). Black Francis’s most disturbing vocal performances are found here – his squeals and shrieks make him sound like the cutest piggy at the slaughterhouse. The song quality peters out near the end, but “Gigantic” is a much better Kim Deal showcase than Doolittle’s “Sliver” and I love the song about a superhero named Tony (and it’s called “Tony’s Theme”).

Sunday, February 15, 2004

#72) The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead (released in 1986, I seriously cannot remember where or when I got it on cassette)

Song for song I’d argue Morrissey’s solo career is much more consistent than that of the Smiths, but as far as this “juvenilia” goes, what’s worth having is definitely worth having. Ironically, it’s not the guitars that the Smiths sometimes have on the later stuff but the rhythm section – sometimes Andy Rourke’s bass is as attention-grabbing as Morrissey’s witticisms. Sprightliness is what these guys do best, and The Queen Is Dead is their most energetic work (Louder Than Bombs sadly separates the crooners from the rockers, making side two almost intolerable for me). “Never Had No One Never” bored me less back when I’d had no one never, but “Boy With The Thorn His Side” still entertains even if I don’t feel that misunderstood anymore. Any critic who doesn’t get a kick of out “Bigmouth Strikes Again” is either a jerk not enough of a jerk to be a good critic: at the very least they should appreciate the munchkin chorus (U2, which the music reminds me of, could never be this playful). More and more this album makes me think about previously felt emotions rather than current ones (only the Mozz’s cries of premature burial at the end of “I Know It’s Over” keep me from smirking), but the irreverent spirit of the title track and the sweetness of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” helps makes this album one of the most acute and least torpid cries of adolescent isolation I’ve heard. Judging by what I hear on the radio, there isn’t much competition afoot.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Counting down my 100 favorite albums of all time...

#73) Pixies - Doolittle (released in 1989, I picked this up at Arboria used on CD in high school)

Because I have the mother of all headaches, I'm just going to note that goth bubblegum is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Friday, February 13, 2004

#74) Stereolab - Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements (released in 1993, I got it on CD for Christmas sometime in high school)

There's nothing too intelligent I can say about this one. Aside from the 1995 compilation Refried Ectoplasm, this is the only Stereolab that consistently rocks (and, sorry, with a group this poised rocking means a lot to me). I'm a big nut for treblicious, jittery drone-rock of the "She Cracked"/"What Goes On" variety and this album is devoted to the stuff. Even when the churning grooves wind down, there's still great vocal melodies (as opposed to some belching sounds, which they HAVE resorted to). Most of the titles describe the sonic content rather than the lyrics (there's a reason). "Tone Burst," "Crest," "Our Trinitone Blast," and "Lock-Groove Lullaby" definitely deliver. "Jenny Ondioline" doesn't advertise its strengths, but its the one with the most sound-washes, hooks and grooves (Supposedly they're all stolen from Neu or something but I wouldn't know since the only Kraut-rock I have is Can). Anyhow I doubt Neu has French female vocals on top that are sometimes in English if you bother to listen to the syllables closely. With the gorgeous, chiming backdrops behind the voices on this album, I rarely do.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

#75) Husker Du - Zen Arcade (recorded in 1984, I bought it on CD at Vibes, a branch of the National Record Mart chain that closed up here years ago. I think I got it my senior year of high school)

Husker Du refused to believe that the brutality and cultural criticism of hardcore couldn’t be mixed beauty of psychedelia and songcraft, and we’ve been hearing echoes of their virtuous efforts in the field of “underground rock” ever since. While all of the trio’s full-lengths from this one on are worthwhile platters filled with classic tracks (my pick for least essential, Flip Your Wig, is many people’s favorite), Zen Arcade is the one that I find most consistently exciting. While the actual “concept” of the album - something about a boy leaving home - isn’t particularly defined (no biggie), its thematic flow keeps the less essential tracks from standing out as blatant filler. In fact, one of the stronger anthems on the album, “Turn On The News,” always kinds of bugs me with its relatively coherency. All the tracks before it, whether focused on revulsion, confusion or sadness, share a harried mixture of determination and naked fright. The double LP (single CD) was allegedly recorded in two days, and while it’s astounding that they crammed so many ideas and sounds into a single album (especially since only “Hare Krshna” sounds anything like a genre exercise), the recording time explains why the album sounds so sleepless and psychotic. I can’t say I expect other bands to put themselves in similar positions of self-instigated pressure, but it paid off beautifully here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

#76) Velvet Underground - Loaded (released in 1970, the last thing I bought in Bloomington, IN before moving the summer of '94 was a used CD of this from one of the many cool record stores downtown. When I got the Peel Slowly And See box set, I gave that copy to my sister)

Lou Reed says this isn’t really a Velvet Underground album, probably because that drum kit with hi-hat is not being played by Maureen Tucker. I can’t even say it’s the only great Lou Reed solo album in existence either, since Doug Yule sings lead on a couple tracks. What I can say is that Loaded is the only post-Pickwick evidence of Lou Reed playing in a pop band, and that I enjoy it a lot. If the “gray album” signaled a (however brief) abandonment of subversion and nihilism, then Loaded finds him taking what he has left – a great band, a hook-filled brain and a desire for romance, and just knocking off an album of winning tunes. That’s what pop bands do, right?

I’m curious how ironic this album felt for VU fans in 1970. The musical arrangements are solid but unchallenging, almost generic. The sentiments aren’t startling either: rock is good, love is good but losing it is bad, keep your head held high. The closest we get to controversy (and searing sonics, for that matter) is a dismissal of country life on “Train Round The Bend,” which has little of the acrid edge of the Talking Heads’ “The Big Country.” This actually makes Loaded all the more impressive if you think about it. It’s a rich, beautiful album despite the lack of perversity and musical jolts that were at one time the Velvets’ raison d’etre. And to Doug “Judas? George Lazenby? Cousin Oliver?” Yule’s credit, it was years before I realized that Lou wasn’t singing on every track.

Unfortunately, Reed’s ego was too fragile to take the managerial power struggles that followed its creation and spent the next decade being some kind of icon, getting spanked and wanked by producers way cooler with ‘70s rawk production than I am. The two discs of his box set devoted to the pre-rehab period can sometimes compete with the Velvets’ rarities comps (except when he’s redoing those rarities, which are always superior). I’m a little more interested in Lou’s Blue Mask-on mundane chatterbox stuff these days, probably because I read a lot of Robert Christgau.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

#76 will be up later today [scratch that, actually. I'm taking a day off, it's not like you don't have ENOUGH to read today], but I'm interrupting the count down to put up my comments for the Village Voice Pazz'n'Jop Poll, which just came out today. I got three good-sized excerpts in the mag itself (concerning the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liz Phair and Bush's scary-ass silent majority) and here's the whole rant that I sent them back in January:

2003: So what, I’m drunk

There really much in the way of obviously worthwhile social protest this year from where I sit in State College, PA (I’m pretty much waiting for the chance to vote against Bush) so while I was glad to hear from Ted Leo, the Drive-By Truckers, Liz Phair, Neil Young, Outkast and Northern State, it was the reckless hedonists: R. Kelly, Electric Six, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Junior Senior, and an endless stream of dance-floor filling crunkers who really defined the year for me – trying to have the best time of my life while waiting for the opportunity to vote against Bush.

While the Electric Six threw the best party (great music, everybody was happy and fuck if I didn’t walk away with a million anecdotes and in-jokes), the one given by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was the one where I fell in love. To be honest I was kind of drunk and the stuff we said to each other seems kind of incoherent and embarrassing when I tell friends. I remember jumping around the room with her to this GREAT music that was chaotic yet had snap, making funny faces at each other and pretty much knocking over everything, wrestling and laughing. I don’t think I ever felt so impulsive, so alive, so intoxicated by another person. Hell, I think we’ve been watching each other sleep, you know? I don’t think it’s always going to be like this (hell, first time I saw this girl I thought she was kind of obnoxious and uninteresting – maybe she’ll seem like that again once she stops wanting to be around me) but damn if that night isn’t going to be one of those amazing experiences that I look back on whenever I need to remember that I haven’t always felt alone.

If Fever To Tell was my new girlfriend, Liz Phair was an ex I hadn’t seen in awhile whose superficially SO DIFFERENT from when I last saw her (she’s totally tarted up and her new boyfriend looks like he’s actually upwardly mobile and probably has nothing interesting to say, oh fuck you Liz I bet you’re secret miserable now that you’ve entered the REAL WORLD) that it took me a long time to realize that she’s happier and more confident then I’ve ever seen her before. Sure her cynicism and bluntness was a lot more attractive when, like, she was in love with me, but if I actually stop thinking about myself for a second, I have to admit that she’s way too frikkin’ cool for me to be so possessive. I always feel awkward saying that having cool ex-girlfriends is, fuck, for the lack of a better word, educational. But in all reality I’m just lucky to know someone this honest, funny and observant.

Though I doubt I’ll support it, I’m incredibly curious when rap’s (or pop’s, same diff) current dancefloor obsession is going to inspire a “Disco Sucks”-type backlash. Maybe 50 Cent, Nelly, Snoop Dogg, et al will make a dialogue-free musical based around the Biggie/Tupac songbook. Maybe Victoria Beckham’s Roc-A-Fella debut will be the modern-day equivalent of the Ethel Merman Disco Album. Maybe Junior Senior and Electric Six will film “C-c-can’t Stop The Gay Bar.” Either way, this metrosexuality in da club seems like anathema to the Bush Adminstration and if GW gets re-elected I think we’ve got a serious case of Silent Majority coming. Hell, Toby Keith’s warning bells might sound a lot like N.W.A.’s did during the LA Riots. Don’t pretend they didn’t warn you.

The world needs heroes, but there’s no denying that Justin Timberlake makes a shitty Michael Jackson ’83 surrogate. “Cry Me A River” ain’t “Billie Jean.” CGI and awkward pop-lock ain’t the moonwalk. Pharrell Williams ain’t Quincy Jones (though I’d settle for Williams realizing he ain’t Curtis Mayfield). 3 million sold in a year ain’t 20 million in two. “Rock Your Body” ain’t “(Don’t Stop) Till You Get Enough.” “Never Again” ain’t “She’s Out Of My Life.” When JT was riding beats courtesy of Wade Robson and BT and standing next to folks like Lance Bass he had a commanding presence. Standing next to Timbaland he’s Jerry Lewis screaming “LAY-DEEZ!” - a fascinating clown. The only thing coltish about him is that he whinnies. Anybody whose most assured vocal performances are from the cuckold’s perspective ain’t much of a stud.

To be fair, it could be argued that Conor Oberst is a shitty Bob Dylan surrogate, tainted by indie rock hermeticism the same way Timberlake is tainted by the Mickey Mouse Club (both are tainted by CD-age indulgence). But watching Oberst (and his mainstream counterparts in Good Charlotte) reinvigorate American rock with genuine artistic ambition and an urge for testimony devoid of Bono-style messianicism is way more interesting than waiting for Star Search contestants’ vocals to merit their beats.

As the previous paragraph makes clear, I’m a rockist. While I definitely prefer Lil Jon’s “Get Low” to Ryan Adams’ “So Alive,” I’ve avoided purchasing much crunk in fear of singles-plus-filler baiting while I bought Rock’N’Roll DESPITE being unmoved by the multiple tracks I heard. The promise of Strokes/Interpol inspired guitar power and eccentric, earnest rock hero shtick was too great for me to not be sated until I knew for SURE that the album was uninspired hackery. Which it is. That Adams’ sentiments are based on stuff that’s “really happening” doesn’t make them any less limp and cliché. I know it really happened but Seabiscuit is still Rudy as a horse.

The irony of Kish Kash’s clutter would be the same as if Let It Be was credited to Phil Spector instead of the Beatles. These are shitty remixes of great guest collaborators by the “artist.” Me’Shell Ndgeocello, JC Chasez and Siouxsie Sioux remind us how far Alicia Keys, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera have to go – they HOLD the screen - only to have their Oscar-worthy performances sabotaged by the overkinetic, shrill and jealous “auteurs.” Most of my peers don’t care because they’re not really into actors anyway. The prog-like fetish for technical achievement I find in “dance” music circles seems as ironic to me as John Ashcroft’s efforts to protect freedom.

Fuck Blur. Fuck The New Pornographers. Fuck the Kings Of Leon. Fuck Radiohead.

“Crazy In Love”: in which Beyonce confesses her love for Jay-Z, Jay-Z confesses his love for Jay-Z. It should be noted that Jay-Z doesn’t risk being upstaged by the trumpets.

“Ignition – Remix” took a while for me to appreciate. At first I was confused cuz everybody said it was a DANCE song, when really it’s an end of the night track, when you’re too drunk to do anything but smile and say “toot toot” while the credits roll. Plus I thought the song went too far into Kelly’s absurd hedonism until I noticed where he says he’s plowed (kind of explains how he’s kept from going insane with fear in 2002 – kind of explains how I did too!). But the Kelly number that knocked me out from the first listen was “Step In The Name Of Love – Remix,” the music is great, and you know somebody is falling in love (somewhere), someday it might be you so fuck it, step in the name of love. Hope springs eternal.

I’d like to make some wry comment about the absurdity of Snopp Dogg going from baddest gangsta ever to variety show host/AOL pitchman in ten years, but that’s way preferable to Kid Rock going from American Bad-Ass to most boring man on the planet in half the time.

I love how so many people don’t even notice that “Hey Ya” is the sound of someone trying to have fun right after dumping somebody they still care about. Everybody’s too busy shaking it like a Polaroid picture to tell him why we’re so denial when we know we’re not happy here. It’s totally bizarre to think of the Outkast album as being underrated, but damn if I feel like I’ve read a decent review of the thing.

Monday, February 09, 2004

#77) Sonic Youth - Sister (released in 1987, I got a cassette used from Arboria in high school and eventually picked it up on used CD from City Lights in college. I wanted to be able to play "Schizophrenia" on my radio show)

Though the albums before and after Sister are far more musically rewarding than anything by these dabble-happy parasites has any right to be, for my money this is the only time they kept their awe-inspiring guitar sounds fascinating the whole way through without letting their cringe-inducing voices get in the way. Thanks to the blurry production style, the songs are less indulgent and yet, for the last time, genuinely mysterious and alien. It's what arena rock shows are like on Saturn.

Thurston Moore is in particularly great vocal form, melding with both the uneasy beauty of "Schizophrenia" and "Stereo Sanctity"'s oceanic waves of anxiety. Save for the violent opening verse of "Catholic Block," he's never been able to make his voice sound as threatening as his guitar (even when covering Crime's "Hotwire My Heart" he's more cute than anything else). That tenderness highlights the beating heart underneath the guitar drama - his youthfulness keeps things from sounding like "art." That's not something that comes naturally to Kim Gordon, who thankfully sounds less stilted and hesitant than usual (especially when dueting with Moore on the panoramic ballad "Kotton Krown"). After the bloated victory lap Daydream Nation, the group decided to let Geffen Records brush the hair out of their eyes and help them "go pop." Unfortunately, the major label's bright lights revealed their age and they settled for a "sonic pension plan" (as Great Pop Things put it). These days just staying hip leaves them winded.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

#78) Rolling Stones - Exile On Main Street (released in 1972, I got a copy on CD for Christmas 2002)

I'm guessing this album might be a couple dozen notches higher if I do something like this again in five years (this is already my favorite Stones album to play when I've been drinking). It's rare that I ever get to hear this thing all the way through (it always got interrupted every time I tried to this week), so putting this somewhere closer to where you'd find it in a rock mag's list would be a canonical leap of faith I'm not willing to take (what value would such an act hold here anyhow?). One of the reasons its not higher on my list is one of the reasons its on it - every time I hear this some new element, some previously unparsed lyric or musical part, rises up from the murk and stuns me. Earlier albums may have strucker me harder immediately, but there's a near-magical richness to this music that rewards repeated listening. I'm not remotely done with it.

Exile is easily dismissable as a mere "rock'n'roll" on first listen, especially when the universal praise reaches you before the music itself. Like I tell my friends in regards to Bob Dylan, don't expect some sort of consistent divinity and obvious wisdom - accept it at face value and then watch it slowly reveal its transcendence. I've had this for over a year and I'm still finding new facets (especially lyrically) in the first track alone! An album that feels like the work of a great band's muddled subconscious shouldn't be expected to resonate immediately anyhow.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

#79) Beastie Boys - Licensed To Ill (released in 1986, I bought a cassette copy of this at Wal-Mart sometime near the end of high school. It was cheap!)

As Rob Sheffield called it in the SPIN Alternative Record Guide, Licensed To Ill may well be "jerkdom's finest hour." The boys themselves claim "satire," but Rick Rubin's obscenely authoritive beats (the fourth Beastie if there ever was one) imply that's only half the story. While the guys are obviously making themselves into cartoons, it's their genuine thrill in living out their naughtiest fantasies that makes the album so remarkable. Sure, Ad-Rock doesn't mean it when he sings the hysterically doinky "Girls," but you can tell by the fun in his voice that he's getting off on pretending he does. It's a hell of a lot more fun to hear this masterpiece of tasteless trash than it is to hear his apology "Song For The Man" on Hello Nasty. His girlfriend Kathleen "She's Crafty!" Hanna's group LeTigre's best work also seems more inspired by the former's giddy musical irony as well.

Part of what makes me believe the guys when they say that songs like "Fight For Your Right To Party" were meant as jokes is how well they pulled it off. Eazy-E's rhymes on N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton are often more entertaining than those the by the rappers who wrote Eazy's because writing for a specific character outside their own personality freed them from self-consciousness and the desire for respactability. With Rubin feeding them some of his finest minimalist masterpieces (check out the musical arrangement for "Brass Monkey") and shameless sample thievery (Led Zep and Black Sabbath unite on the very first track), you can see why the trio were able to create such memorable testiments to juvenile assholery. I'm sure music reviews by the writers of Beavis & Butthead are nowhere as succinct and funny as the ones they wrote for the pair. While the later Beastie Boys albums are all rewarding (if bloated) works, its Licensed To Ill that remains the most memorable and timeless.

Friday, February 06, 2004

#80) Electric Six - Fire (released in 2003, I first borrowed a promo from City Lights and then bought a copy with the artwork as soon as they could get one in)

The trick is that while every song on Fire, the full-length debut from the only disco-metal band in business today (if I'm wrong, please alert me, I'll be grateful), none of them are ABOUT being weird. Unlike the usual absurdity-for-absurdity's sake shit that festers in the record collections of dateless nerds (check mine if you want proof), these songs are about being awesome, dancing, and finding other awesome people to hang around and have sex with. These songs are bonkers but emotionally expressive - yelling "3, 2, 1/I'm the bomb/ and I'm ready to go off in your shit," might not be the best way to introduce yourself to someone at the singles bar, but damn if tracks like "I'm The Bomb," "Electric Demons In Love" and "Danger! High Voltage!" don't express the devilish glee of just grooving on someone. That everything gets blown up into a apocalyptic boogie frenzy (a.k.a. "Nuclear War (On The Dance Floor)") just makes it even better.

The Electric Six are shameless about all the right things, ripping off great lines (courtesy of David Lee Roth, Arthur Brown, God knows who else) and great hooks (courtesy of Wire, Roxy Music, God knows who else), merging the power of rawk with the festive hedonism of dance music and over-the-topping it with leader Dick Valentine's beautiful bluntness ("And you know it gets hotter than a microwave oven/ when you and I commence the lovin'/ And you like what I'm doin'/ And I like what I'm doin' to you/ And everybody's happy, happy tonight!"). Last summer, I wanted to hear the sacriligeous surf-sickness of "Gay Bar" blasting out of car stereos the way I heard The Marshall Mathers LP fill the air three years earlier, but somehow this album didn't get past the hipster set (damn it). The bittersweet new wave beauty of "Synthesizer" was THE song of 2003 for me: I laughed, I cried, I lived, I died, I spent my days asking why - but I couldn't ignore their techno.

(props to the good folks on I Love Music, without which I may never have heard this)

Thursday, February 05, 2004

#81) Distillers - Sing Sing Death House (released in 2002, I taped the radio station's copy after seeing the video for "The Young Crazed Peeling," and eventually bought the CD itself from City Lights)

If I had to, I’d take this half-hour ripsnort over the entire discographies of Hole, Nirvana, Rancid, Queens Of The Stone Age, Patti Smith, Social Distortion and just about any other group tangentially associated with the Distillers. Swiping Courtney Love’s grain, Rancid’s boisterous bass-bolstered sound and jacking everything up a notch, this stuff achieves an anthemic quality that utilizes the lessons and techniques of the past while burning with a passion and relevancy devoid of nostalgia. Bandleader Brody (Armstrong…Dalle…she just uses her first name in the lyrics so let’s stick with that) is defiant in the face of emotional and physical pain, determinedly shrieking over the sonic carnage, making it hers just when it seems it would overpower a lesser singer. Brody’s heroic hunger to speak out and represent never comes off as pompous; this isn’t messanicism, just refreshing testimony.

As usual, the highlights for me are the pop songs – “City Of Angels” a caustic portrait of a “valley of unease,” Brody’s tribute to the suffrage movement “Seneca Falls,” and especially “The Young Crazed Peeling.” Right after “Seneca Falls” ends a chant of “freedom, rise up for me,” Brody asks us if we’re ready to be liberated and up and DOES IT, rapping out her autobio over some righteous Calipunk boing-boing, smirking for our sins and realizing that she’s got everything she needs. When it’s playing on my stereo or in my head, I do too. Half these compliments don't apply to the follow-up Coral Fang, but I don't want to think about that.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

#82) R.E.M. - Murmur (released in 1983, I bought a copy on cassette back in 7th grade, when I lived in Bloomington, Indiana. Hell if I can remember which store.)

My opinion of this album hasn't changed during the decade plus that I've owned it. All that's changed is that I've since heard over 75 albums that I like even more and instead of describing it as the most amazingly beautiful best music ever except for "We Walk" and "West Of The Fields," I'd describe it as gorgeous psychedelic folk disco except for "We Walk" and "West Of The Fields." Abstract and beguiling while danceable and warm (they even knock out their first classic probably-about-romance ballad "Perfect Circle"), Murmur went to #36 on the pop charts. That astonishes me today, especially since every new full-length has charted even higher (remember that Pavement, possibly the biggest indie band of the '90s, never got past #70 during its entire career). The most (lyrically) cryptic post-punk I've ever heard just happens to be the most commercially successful, not to mention the first I ever appreciated. It seems absurd now, but when I got this I really didn't see it as being that different from something like Out Of Time - it was R.E.M. and I loved it. Here's some earlier thoughts I've written up about the album.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

#83) Basehead - Play With Toys (released in 1991, I found it on used CD at the short-lived Disc-Go-Round next to Wendy's my freshman year in college)

Late-bloomer that I am, I owned an album about romantic frustration and excessive drinking before I had much experience with either. Time has made Play With Toys feel all the more insightful, innovative and impressive. When it was released the album's sound was frequently described as "Galaxie 500 meets De La Soul," but in hindsight it sounds like a darker, less glossy version of Sugar Ray's mix of clean guitar, drum loops and slacker yearning. The goofball buds get to do more than grin behind the singer here, though - some of the best songs on the album are interrupted by a deep-voiced friend who thanks bandleader Michael Ivey for capturing the romance of alcohol ("Ode To My Favorite Beer"), tries to get his mind off of a break-up ("Brand New Day," "Not Over You") or to note that Ivey's bringing up a lot of problems without finding solutions ("Evening News").

Ivey's responses to these intrusions are equally memorable, especially in "Evening News," where Ivey shifts from social commentary to a chorus of "Shake It Like A White Girl" while his friends bicker over whether the earlier verses had any value. Most of the album was recorded while Ivey was a student at Howard University and the album does a unparalleled job of capturing that collegiate vibe, utilizing hip-hop production styles in a lo-fi and autobiographical context. The next album, Not In Kansas Anymore was a muddled and conflicted follow-up, and by '96's Faith Ivey had found Jesus and lost all critical attention. Ivey may remain a bizarre footnote in the world of "alternative hip-hop" (a bizarre footnote in and of itself), but hopefully someone will reissue this out-of-print classic so that future generations of beer-bolstered, deep-thinking dorm rats can enjoy it.

Monday, February 02, 2004

#84) Warrant - Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (released in 1989, I found a copy on CD at a local store's closing sale that was two bucks BEFORE the half-price cutback. My joy over the find is tempered by the injustice of its lack of appreciation)

I have every reason to believe that this album is the apex of '80s pop-metal, in part because I can't imagine any of the other possible suspects could create such a consistently inspired burst of fun, nay, of LOVE. Not just one type of love either: romance, material love, sex, friendship, camraderie, pride in one's heritage - it's all here, along with Bon Jovi-worthy melodies goosed by a raunchier bounce, better hooks and a sense of humor that would made Bon Scott grin wide with admiration. Poison et al seem almost workman-like in comparison - this is the only uncut joie de aquanet I've ever heard.

The album opens on an absurdly trippy note, with Arthur Lee-worthy lyrics about 32 pennies in ragu jar and letting your shadow lead, not to mention an "ooh ooh" hook so playfully sexual that anyone concerned about their masculinity will immediately leave the room (good!). The comic raunch of "So Damn Pretty" (which should leave Jack Black foaming with jealousy) might offend kneejerk prudes, but at least bandleader Jani Lane rhymes "down on your knees" with "pretty pretty please" rather than "you're my favorite disease" (HI, Nickelback googlers!). Plus the awe-inspiring sympathy of "Sometimes She Cries" reaffirms that hedonistic glee isn't all Jani Lane is about. It may seem contradictory that the guy who wants to wear exotic furs on his feet in the title track later claims that he and the city don't mix on "In The Sticks," but, damn, he's just trying to give both sides of his internal dilemmas equal (and enthusiastic) time. Frankly, his appreciation for visceral, physical thrills helps make his sentimental side seem all the more genuine - he's less awesomely bombastic than David Lee Roth, but he's also less of a cartoon. "Down Boys," which might have been my favorite track just for that chiming riff alone, reminds me of my adolescent excitement about going to hipster hideouts but features none of the awkward self-consciousness such situations would inspire. I wish I'd been humming this number to myself in high school rather than whatever Lou Barlow mewl was bouncing around my noggin at the time (or at least I wish I'd had time for both back then).

Back in elementary school, me and my friends had no time for the inescapable humble weeper "Heaven," but we were prepubescent and far too aware of our geekiness to identify with these crotchrockets. These days the song leaves me misty-eyed and wondering why all the post-pubescent intellectuals assumed these guys were dumber than Robyn Hitchcock. Judging by the enthusiastic reception from pals who've heard DRFSR, I think Warrant is deserving of a Pinkerton-style reappraisal. That I can't find a copy of Cherry Pie or their later work anywhere in town reaffirms that the death (or at least shaming) of pop-metal might be one of the worst things to happen to rock ever.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

#85) Everything But The Girl - Walking Wounded (released in 1996, I got it on CD for Christmas that year)

This being the earliest Everything But The Girl album I own, I can’t really tell you how much the influence of drum’n’bass and jungle affected EBTG’s songwriting (which was probably pure supper-club Sade in the ‘80s, judging by the vocals). In fact, I can’t tell you much about those styles in general, since basically I just think it sounds like a drum machine that thinks its Gene Krupa. While I enjoy the solid dance-trance club whatnot that makes up the musical backdrop here, it’s really the lyrics and vocals that make the album such a stand-out for me. Though both sides are represented by the same voice, the credits reveal two similar yet distinct perspectives on a long-term relationship: you can see why they were together, but you can see why their relationship’s falling apart. Singer Tracy Thorn’s lyrics, while confused and wary, reveal the strength of someone willing to make a change. The words written by Ben Watt wear the bitterness of one whose been spurned, though he’s far too intelligent to claim innocence or powerlessness.

Once the personas are distinct, you can see how his resilient “Flipside” is undercut by her caustic “Big Deal," though both songs are effective even without realizing the contrast (it didn't hit me until years after I first heard the album). Thorn sums up the dynamic in the finale as “you play good cop, I play bad cop,” which not only points out their differences but also the fact that they’re both cops: every song represents a search for truth and desire for some semblance of order (there’s also a interrogative streak on this album, almost every lyric is rife with question marks). An impressively developed portrait of maturing romantics, Walking Wounded is one of my favorite “techno” albums in part because it never seems like the point of the album is techno.