August 12: Badly Drawn Boy, Erykah Badu, Bjork, Elliott Smith, Lightning Bolt, TV on the Radio, Wilco

In our final sweep of the decades we come to the 2000s, the decade in which this version of the list ends (the list I’m using came out in 2006). You might think that this decade and the last sort of bled together and everything has sounded the same since about 2001, but I’m not so sure: a lot of these records sound like they’re from a different decade.

Erykah Badu, ‘Mama’s Gun’

Surprisingly, Badu’s best-known album ‘Baduizm’ is absent from the list but this one makes it in; my reckoning is that there’s a Roots fan on the selection committee as Questlove appears on the writing, production and drumming credits here. The material here is the sort of early 2000s soul played on live instruments that could veer into hip-hop or jazz without sounding awkward, while ‘Green Eyes’ even starts sounding like a Billie Holiday 78rpm. Sounded fine, didn’t sound crucial.

Badly Drawn Boy, ‘The Hour of Bewilderbeast’

BDB was breathlessly hyped by the music press long before his first album came out, comparisons with Beck and The Beta Band being common and an appearance on the NME Cool List after a mere 1 EP. Presumably the combination of being a talented songwriter on record and an inability to get shit together live rendered him cool, but whatever, his best-known and most loved record is this one. More than Beck or the Betas, though, it’s a English surrealist take on the Elliot Smith records, some of which sounds like the same sort of thing Gorky’s were doing, some of which sounds like Doves (the entire lineup of the latter band feature). Okay but only occasionally diverting, the record would probably be improved if not for Gough’s no-effort vocals.

Bjork, ‘Medulla’

From an album with no time spent on the vocals to one entirely based on them, this curio is Bjork’s a capella album, exploring the possibilities of the human voice and getting singers from a range of vocal disciplines to support (there’s two choirs, two beatboxers, an Inuit throat singer, a ‘human trombone’ and Mike Patton). Because much of the record involves a choir, or perhaps because of the cerebral concept, there’s something formal about the album, like a modern classical album. Odd that an album based on the expressiveness of the voice could seem so serious. It’s most alive on ‘Triumph of the Heart’, with its house beats and meowy rhythm track.

Lightning Bolt, ‘Wonderful Rainbow’

One of many heavy bands to have two guys with the same name (Winnebago Deal are another), Brian and Brian make aggressive bass-and-drums music in the same vein as Death From Above but without the sex or the white supremacist links. Sort of in the same vein as noise acts like Boredoms or Battles, there’s also a John Zorn-ish aggressive free jazz aspect to this pair. Stuff like this is more palatable in small doses – a nuclear bomb rather than a sustained bombing campaign – and this album has the good manners to finish up after 41 minutes.

Elliott Smith, ‘Figure 8’

Knowing how the story ended – this is the last album he released in his lifetime – it’s difficult to listen to this album’s lyrics without seeing some foreshadowing, even in its supposed lighter moments. Smith’s unusual George Harrison voice and melancholia is often wrapped in REM-style production which threatens to swallow the fragility of the voice, but just about avoids going all the way into kitsch. But in the same way that filters on Photoshop can’t lighten a black hole, the darkness at the heart of this album is never truly coloured by the arrangements.

TV on the Radio, ‘Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes’

I’d listened to some of this album but this is the first time I’d listened to it in full. Ostensibly a rock album, this is more like post-punk as imagined by Portishead or something: soundscaping using loops and Yeah Yeah Yeahs-ish guitar (the Yeahs’ producer, David Sitek, is in TVOTR). An interesting attempt to scope out the future rather than tying themselves to the present, it’s no wonder they got a rhythm section after this: the songs never truly kick in.

Wilco, ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’

Wilco have three entries on the list (including the Billy Bragg one), this being their last and most fondly regarded. Recorded during a time of turmoil – they changed record label and band members during this album’s recording, and conflicts over production led to another member leaving afterwards – this is quite the departure from the country, or folk, that they were doing. It’s a diverse, sprawling, noise-friendly album which throws the kitchen sink but never gratuitously. Probably the best album of the week.

Next week: We’re down to 56 now, so we’ll look at any artist with 2 albums on the list.

Status update: 945 listened to (94%), 56 remain.






August 5: Elastica, Massive Attack, Maxwell, Megadeth, Moby, Supergrass, Teenage Fanclub

As we move through the decades on 1001, we come to the 1990s. As I grew up in the 90s – I was 7 at the start of 1990, and 17 at the end of 1999 – a lot of my favourite music comes from the decade. Super Furries, Gorky’s, KLF, Pulp, Blur, Bikini Kill and others. My immediate mental shorthand for the decade is Britpop and the Spice Girls, but of course as with any decade, the breadth of music created in the era is a bit more diverse than that. Here’s seven that I never came to at the time.

Elastica, ‘Elastica’

Justine and the gang are best known for two urgent singles, ‘Connection’ and ‘Waking Up’ which sound so familiar that lawsuits were raised against both (by Wire and the Stranglers respectively, both of whom had a point). I took a while coming to this album because I wondered whether you needed to bother if it was so derivative. Turns out that you do. Sprinting through 15 songs in 38 minutes, the nonchalant cool in which they dispatch these songs suggests they could have knocked out another 15 hook-heavy, angular new-wave cuts and topped them with young cool cat lyrics without breaking a sweat. Turned out of course that they couldn’t – their second album took half a decade and its messy, hit-and-miss, sprawl isn’t for everyone – “I work very hard but I’m lazy/I’ve got a lot of songs but they’re all in my head” indeed. Anyway, this sounds a lot better than I was expecting.

Massive Attack, ‘Protection’

The last of two visits to Massive’s output (no ‘Mezzanine’ or anything after), this opens with the title track, which is probably the best thing I’ve heard Tracey Thorn do. When the very next track is ‘Karmacoma’, it feels like the album is limbering up for a home run. For whatever reason, though, the trio’s take on trip hop is hard to pigeonhole but also less beguiling than contemporaries like Portishead, and the album meanders a bit in its second half. It ends on a peculiar note, with a weird live version of ‘Light My Fire’.

Maxwell, ‘Urban Hang Suite’

Maxwell was a suave R&B singer and multi-instrumentalist whose songs often sound like a smoother take on the sort of sound that late-90s boybands tried to emulate, and which Du Jour lampoon in ‘Josie and the Pussycats’. Like D’Angelo or Anita Baker, Musze is soundtracking a grown-up seduction, tapping into Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’ era. Like them, it’s very sophisticated but not really to my taste.

Megadeth, ‘Rust in Peace’

It’s with reluctance that I’ve come back to Megadeth, not necessarily because of any shortcomings in their own competency but because I don’t find thrash especially thrilling as a genre. ‘Rust in Peace’, released at the very start of the 90s, still has some trappings of the 80s in the whiny pitch of some of the vocals, and the monochromatic arrangements make it difficult to tell where one song starts and another ends. They blast through the songs at a rapid pace though, and have the good manners to stop before outstaying their welcome. There’s also some suggestions as to where metal can go in the 90s: ‘Tornado of Souls’ has a vaguely RATM flavour in its breakdown (but not in its soloing), while the bass-and-drums only arrangement of ‘Dawn Patrol’ sees Dave Mustaine shift his vocal into a low-register growl that sounds like Marilyn Manson.

Moby, ‘Play’

Songs from this album were licensed so frequently for adverts that I didn’t really feel like I needed to hear 1999’s ‘Play’ in full: I could just turn on a TV or radio and I’d be bound to hear a cut from it at some point. 20 years removed, though, it’s easier to see how this combination of electronica and ye olde blues samples sounded fresh at the time, and the hooks on ‘Natural Blues’, ‘Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?’ and the ‘Jealous Guy’ echoing ‘Porcelain’ do sound pretty good. Inevitably it’s too long – 18 tracks, 63 minutes – but often sounds good. What it doesn’t sound like, of course, is techno, making Eminem’s homophobic dissing on ‘Without Me’ sound even more pathetic.

Supergrass, ‘In It For The Money’

Seeing two Supergrass albums on the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die astonished me when I looked at the list but whisper it: they’re there on merit. They’re slicing up influences from before they were born, of course: the 60s organ on ‘Going Out’, the T-Rex thrusts of the title track. Yet the sound is definably theirs, and it’s surprisingly solid throughout acoustic downbeat cuts like ‘Late in the Day’ or gritty rockers like ‘Richard III’. Recording was tense, apparently, with Danny constantly pissing off to record the Lodger record, but they sound like a solid unit.

Teenage Fanclub, ‘Bandwagonesque’

The Fannies are kind of forgotten these days, but at the time this album was a massive hit, and Kurt Cobain regarded them as one of his favourite bands. As with many bands of the early 90s, they’re into loud distorted guitars and trebly production: sort of a noisy combination of Big Star, The Byrds and Orange Juice. Gerard Love especially sounds like Alex Chilton on, say, ‘December’. Some drab lyrics and lead guitar let the side down, though, and I didn’t feel especially inspired by this one.

Next week: we’re getting the Millennium bug as we wrap up our journey through the decades with the 2000s.

Status update: 938 listened to (93%), 63 remain.

July 29: Beastie Boys, Big Black, Terence Trent D’Arby, Steve Earle, George Michael, Cyndi Lauper, U2

This week’s 1001 continues our journey through the decades as we stop in the 1980s. While I usually think of synth-pop and New Romantic music when I think of the 80s, the reality is, of course, more complicated and diverse than that. This week’s seven give us a fairly broad picture of the era, I think. Let’s dive in.

Beastie Boys, ‘Paul’s Boutique’

Our final visit to the Beasties’ oeuvre is also the best entry of theirs on the list. It’s almost entirely comprised of samples, a move which actually gives the music a greater range and depth, and finally frees them from sounding like they’ve been recorded on a boombox. It also makes them sound like they were ahead of their time: there’s ‘That Lady’ by the Isley Brothers being sampled decades before Kendrick Lamar, and isn’t that the bassline from ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ four minutes into ‘B-Boy Bouillabaisse’?

Big Black, ‘Atomiser’

The only one of Steve Albini’s performance credits to make the list, Big Black were two guitarists and a bassist who made abrasive post-punk over a drum machine, over which Albini supplies unflinching lyrics about child abuse, police brutality and other grisly subjects. It sounds like a kind of lo-fi industrial, abrasive but surprisingly catchy. Either it runs out of steam or it becomes too much to stomach in one sitting by side B, but worth a spin nonetheless.

Terence Trent D’Arby, ‘Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby’

Like contemporaries Prince or Lenny Kravitz, D’Arby is a musician with no shortage of ego – he believed this album was as important as ‘Sgt Pepper’ – but also no shortage of talent, playing the majority of instruments on this album. He delivers a mix of soul, funk and gospel where he’s sometimes funky like Stevie, sometimes ripping loose like Michael Bolton. The smooth single ‘Sign Your Name’ is the only song I recognised, but the best thing is probably the Smokey Robinson cover ‘Who’s Loving You’. Much of this is dated now, but opener ‘If You Get To Heaven’ sounds like a modern piece by a Plan B or similar.

Steve Earle, ‘Guitar Town’

‘Hillbilly Highway’, ‘Good Ol’ Boy (Gettin’ Tough)’, ‘My Old Friend The Blues’… it’s fair to say that I came to this with a fair bit of trepidation, particularly after the last 80s country album I heard was the Dwight Yoakam debacle. Yet while it doesn’t overcome its Nashville trappings, the straightforward recording and eschewing of contemporary production cliches means that this has aged pretty well. Sounded okay, I will never come back to it.

Cyndi Lauper, ‘She’s So Unusual’

Lauper had released an album as part of a band with no success, and was paired for this album with a band called The Hooters, who’d also had no success. The outcome? A whole bunch of hits (‘Time After Time’, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’). Funny how things work out. If you’ve heard the singles – and who hasn’t – you’ve got an idea of the helium-voiced new-wave that characterises the album. I’m not sure I’m as fond of it as many people seem to be, but it sounded decent enough.

George Michael, ‘Faith’

The first solo album from George symbolically starts with a cathedral organ performance on Wham!’s ‘Freedom’, before going into the Bo Diddley rhythm of the title track. It’s a pop album, so it’s front-loaded with hits before going into okay-but-not-as-good bits. However, the diversity is pleasing, from the Prince-y R&B jam ‘I Want Your Sex’ to the Harry Connick Jr-ish ‘Kissing a Fool’.

U2, ‘War’

Our last of four U2 albums on the list is front-loaded with Partridge favourite ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘New Year’s Day’, the latter of which sounds like Echo and the Bunnymen, or The Cult or something. In fact, this is probably the album of U2’s that sounds most like its contemporaries, rather than their own combination of windswept sincerity and delay-pedal guitar. We’ve had at least two classics from the band over the 1001 project, but I was largely unmoved by this one.

Next week: of course, we get into the 90s.

Status update: 931 listened to (93%), 70 remain.

July 22: Aerosmith, The Carpenters, David Crosby, Electric Light Orchestra, Janis Joplin, George Jones, Cluba de Esquina

This week’s 1001 takes us to the 1970s, which has yielded some of my favourite fruit from the project (‘Marquee Moon’, ‘A Wizard, A True Star’ etc). Let’s see what this Seventies seven have to bring to the table.

Aerosmith, ‘Rocks’

The third of an inexplicable three entries for Aerosmith on the list, this doesn’t feature any of the band’s best known songs, but does feature their characteristic hard rock without any of the commercial trappings of the mega-hits. I mean I guess it sounds about as fine as a hard rock album from 1976 is likely to sound: hard rock has never really been my bag and the 1001 has failed to convert me.

The Carpenters, ‘Close to You’

I’ve always associated Karen and Richard with schmaltzy MOR, only slightly offset by watching Karen’s goofy energy when playing drums. This album does feature some of their most famous easy listening cuts: ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’, and Bacharach/David’s ‘Close To You’. It’s only later in the album when the claws come out: the peculiar ‘Crescent Moon’ and the spiteful ‘Mr Guder’ are both strange deep cuts from the record. There’s also an awful cover of ‘Help’, performed at the tempo Lennon allegedly originally intended.

David Crosby, ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name’

This album’s origins lie in two key events: the recording of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album that preceded it, and the 1969 death of Crosby’s girlfriend Christine Hinton. It’s hard to get a grip on the album that came out, which is steeped in harmonies (Nash and Young both feature, along with Joni Mitchell) and peculiar, lengthy instrumental passages. In some places, like the intro to ‘Tamalpais High’, it sounds like a precursor to Slint. Elsewhere, it sounds like a contemporary of Devendra Banhart or Newton Faulkner. A strange one, and it didn’t impress everyone at the time (Christgau gave it a D+, calling it a “disgraceful performance”).

Electric Light Orchestra, ‘Out of the Blue’

A double album written in a burst of inspiration by Jeff Lynne and featuring their most famous song, ‘Mr Blue Sky’. If you’ve heard that – and who hasn’t – you’ll know what they’re about: a twist on 60s pop with orchestral strings. They’re often compared to the Beatles, but there’s also a Beach Boys element to it: ‘Across the Border’ sounds like it has the same melody as ‘Heroes and Villains’. There’s some really good stuff here – ‘Summer and Lightning’, ‘Mr Blue Sky’, and the weird pub-rock meets Bolero of ‘Birmingham Blues’. You can also hear echoes of this stuff on Super Furry Animals, among others.

George Jones, ‘The Grand Tour’

Jones was one of Tammy Wynette’s husbands. At the time, their marriage was disintegrating, which they of course take pains to insist is not the case in dreadful closer ‘Our Private Life’. Of course, all the other lyrics and songs suggest the exact opposite (the title track is about a break-up, there’s a song defiantly titled ‘Once You’ve Had The Best’, etc). It’s a sophisticated take on country without any desire to cross over into pop, but it’s also too steeped in Nashville cheese to overcome my natural reservations about country. ‘She’ll Love The One She’s With’, despite having almost the same title, chorus and theme, is not related to the Stephen Stills song.

Janis Joplin, ‘Pearl’

The only solo album of Joplin’s to make the list sees the production and playing refined and polished in order to allow Janis’s own natural roughness to shine through. It’s a fine platform for her strong voice and personality, and gives us two of her best-known songs in ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ and ‘Mercedes Benz’. Unfortunately she was unable to capitalise: she died four days after recording ‘Mercedes Benz’, and one song on the album ended up going on there without any vocals.

Milton Nascimento and Lo Borges, ‘Cluba de Esquina’

This is a sort-of ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ deal where the musicians were a loose collective who gathered around the titular Cluba de Esquina: Nascimento and Borges are the singer/songwriters around which it rotates (they alternate lead vocals, but never appear on the same song). It’s a double album so it is – guess what – too long, but its roots in, or similarities with, psychedelic rock make it an easy enough album to appreciate even if you don’t speak Portuguese. You can see similarities with the dazed Californian folk scene, or in later shimmery mostly-acoustic outfits like Fleet Foxes.

Next week: predictably enough, we hit up the 80s to see what we’ve got left there.

Status update: 924 listened to (92%), 77 remain.

July 15: The Byrds, The Electric Prunes, Astrud Gilberto, Grateful Dead, Iron Butterfly, The Kinks, The Mothers of Invention

For the next five installments of the 1001 Albums, we’ll be going by decade, starting from the 1960s (there are plenty of 50s albums on the list, but by this point I’ve listened to them all).

The Byrds, ‘Younger than Yesterday’

The final visit to the Byrds catalogue in the 1001 is also one of their best, with elements of both the psychedelic peculiarities they’d been rolling with on e.g. ‘Fifth Dimension’ (‘C.T.A. – 102’, which sounds like there’s a gremlin on the wing) and the country tinge that completely took over on ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ (e.g. on ‘Time Between’). The most alarming song is the ‘Hamlet’-quoting raga drone ‘Mind Gardens’, but the best song is perhaps the most conventionally Byrds-ian, ‘My Back Pages’.

The Electric Prunes, ‘I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night’

The Prunes had a big hit with the title track, a ‘Nuggets’ staple written by Annette Tucker and Nancie Mantz and more famous than the band themselves. Looking to capitalise, the label stuck the Prunes in the studio but retained Tucker and Mantz as songwriters, much to the band’s chagrin. It’s probably unfair to dismiss the band as mere puppets for the songwriters, but the composers’ whimsical taste for cabaret, fairytale whimsy or brassy 40s Hollywood pop means this album is some way removed from contemporaries like 13th Floor Elevators. There are some genuine gems too: ‘Get Me to the World on Time’ is a psych-pop hit in the mode of the title track, while ‘Onie’ has a fragile ‘Femme Fatale’ quality.

Astrud Gilberto, ‘Beach Samba’

The last, I think, of the numerous Gilberto family bossa nova albums on the list. Astrud had sung for the first time on the Getz/Gilberto album,  and made a star of herself with ‘The Girl from Ipanema’. This album, the only one of hers on the list, is her fifth, released in 1967. It’s the sort of groovy lounge music that seems to have been common in hip apartments in the era, with occasional stabs (usually in the intros) of other sounds: nursery rhyme glockenspiel, marching band (‘Parade’) and even a duet with her young son. Slight – nothing here lasts more than 2:48 – but charming.

Grateful Dead, ‘American Beauty’

The impression of the Dead in my head was as Fillmore psych-jam experimenters, compounded by ‘Live/Dead’ doing exactly that. ‘American Beauty’, however, shows a different side to them. Seemingly inspired by hanging out with Crosby, Stills and Nash, the album features a sort of folky country rock, heavy on harmonies, and opening with ‘Box of Rain’, a lovely song. ‘Spanish Dance Troupe’-era Gorky’s certainly heard this record. (Must confess this is a bit of a cheat: only after I’d listened to it this week did I find it actually came out in 1970).

Iron Butterfly, ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’

Like the Electric Prunes album, the album and indeed the band are best known for the title track, a far-out jam which demonstrates how far you can push a song when all you’ve got is a riff. The rest of the album is unnotable: 60s rock with a particularly hymnal quality in the organ and monk vocals on some of the tracks. However, the album is 50% ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’, and that’s one of the crucial songs of the era.

The Kinks, ‘Something Else by the Kinks’

By this point Ray Davies was installed as producer as well as singer/songwriter. The production is hardly as ornate as, say, The Beatles: there’s something almost lo-fi about it. The songwriting is on point though, starting with a (possible) gay love song in ‘David Watts’, ending with ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and featuring harpsichords, piratical rags, Dave getting a single and more. One of their most interesting.

The Mothers of Invention, ‘We’re Only In It for the Money’

One of only two Mothers albums on the list (‘Freak Out!‘ is the other), this album, like Zappa’s later ‘Joe’s Garage’, is so driven by satire, peculiar experiments and viciousness that it’s hard to take any of it at face value. This complicates the attempt to critically appraise it, or even to get it, especially 50 years divorced from its context. Zappa and co seem to be swiping at 50s and 60s pop, left and right wing politics, and especially at ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ (the closing track seems to be a spoof of the chaotic crescendos in ‘A Day in the Life’, although it’s completely atonal). At the time, it must have seemed as edgy as, I dunno, Eminem, but the disregard for anything conventional means it’s hard to know whether repeat listens would bring it into focus or dull its edge. I’m glad I heard it, either way.

Next week: We are, of course, looking at seven from the 70s.

Status update: 917 listened to (92%), 84 remaining.

July 8: Coldcut, Joe Ely, Jeru the Damaja, The Mekons, William Orbit, Astor Piazollo and Gary Burton, Caetano Veloso

Hello and welcome to this week’s installment of 1001 Albums. I’m glad to see you here, your hair looks nice. Today we’re at the stage where there’s less than three months remaining in the project: the expected completion is October 7th. Once again, we’re diving into the remaining obscurities in the pile, as, according to, these have all been heard by less than 5% of the community there. None of these artists appear on the list more than once, and they have nothing musically in common. So what do we have? Let’s see.

Coldcut, ‘What’s That Noise?’

Somewhere between the early sample montages of Paul Hardcastle or M>A>R>R>S and the celebrity rolecalls of Gorillaz, Coldcut are going for something like a combination of underground hip-hop and house music here. However, with the revolving door of vocalists (as diverse as Lisa Stansfield and Mark E Smith, the latter even more unintelligible than usual) and their eclectic choice of samples, they also unintentionally invent big beat. The colourful sound is pretty good even now.

Joe Ely, ‘Honky Tonk Masquerade’

Released in 1978, Ely’s album sounds like traditional country writing filtered through commercial rock production, with the occasional touch that’s unfamiliar to Nashville (rare is it you hear an accordion or a Moog on a country record, but this has both). For me, country sounds better the rawer it is, so while this assured performance sounds confident, it also sounds a bit corny.

Jeru the Damaja, ‘The Sun Rises in the East’

Damaja was a Gang Starr protegee who was making East Coast hip-hop at the same time as ‘Illmatic‘ dropped. Like that album, it features drum loops off vinyl which still sounds as though it’s got two layers of dust on it. Unlike ‘Illmatic’, this one has jarring piano and organ shudders which could well be played live: either way, they don’t sound pleasant. This kind of feels like it’ll be lost in the passage of time, but Jeru goes hard during the album’s 39 minutes and this was well-regarded at the time.

The Mekons, ‘Fear and Whiskey’

Imagine the Pogues trying to keep the spirits up by playing ‘Fiesta’ in a nuclear bunker where all the booze has already been drunk. Nominally a sort of country rock album played at the speed of a crust-punk record, this crams ideas into every second as if death is imminent and it’s vital that every idea they have is put on record. I knew the Mekons through their unusual Kathy Acker collaboration ‘Pussy, King of the Pirates’, which came out in 1996 at the same time as the novel of the same name. Through that, I was expecting the Mekons to bring something leftfield. This, however, is easier to understand and many times easier to enjoy. A fantastic record.

William Orbit, ‘Strange Cargo III’

Orbit’s biggest commercial success was with Madonna, and his subsequent Ferry Corsten remodelling of Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’, but he’d already put out four of the ‘Strange Cargo’ albums by that point of which this is, duh, the third. The closest to his ‘Ray of Light’ stuff, and the best thing here, is the opener ‘Water from a Vine Leaf’, sprawling over seven minutes with Beth Orton on vocals. This album wears a few hats, not all of which are particularly exciting. Fine as background music.

Astor Piazollo and Gary Burton, ‘The New Tango’

You’d think with that name that this would be some vaguely unsatisfying combination of Latin sounds and dance beats, perhaps like that Suba album. Instead, it’s a legendary tango composer and bandoneon player collaborating with a jazz vibraphonist to run through some of Piazollo’s greatest hits. The smoother meanderings of the opening half were harder for me to digest than the second half, which sounds like incidental music from the ‘Addams Family’ movies of the early 90s. As I love those films, I jived with those tracks better. I don’t know enough about tango to know whether this is the paradigm shift in the genre that the title suggests, but fair enough that they tried to do something with it.

Caetano Veloso, ‘Caetano Veloso’

Speaking of Latin American musicians trying to progress a genre, Veloso here accidentally titled a whole movement when he took a title from an art exhibit to name one of his songs and all of a sudden the nascent movement was also titled Tropicalia. I’ve struggled to get on with the genre’s fusion of Latin rhythms and any-old-shit psychedelia, as I’ve mentioned in previous entries, and ‘Tropicalia’ itself initially feels like it’ll test the patience by starting the album with orchestral violin cacophonies and cowbell clanging. However, eventually it sounds like a Portuguese-language track off ‘Scott 4’. The orchestral accompaniment for Veloso’s whimsical ideas makes it one of the better versions of the style. The album is perhaps easier to appreciate in context: he was upsetting the government with his left-wing stances, but upsetting the left wing because he was making rock and roll; after going to jail for ‘anti-governmental activity’, he lost patience and moved to London.

Next week: We’re going to go by decade for a few installments, starting next week with the 1960s. Who knows what we’ll do after that.

Status update: 910 listened to (91%), 91 remaining.

July 1: Tim Buckley, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, The Fall, Peter Gabriel, Pet Shop Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, The Smiths

In the second of a two-part series, we look at more of the artists who are represented three times on the list. Of course, we’ve met this lot twice already, so we’ll be saying farewell to them here. Let’s roll…

Tim Buckley, ‘Happy Sad’

Buckley had a decent-sized success with ‘Goodbye and Hello‘ but he almost immediately decided to move into murkier, more mysterious waters. This album is mostly a showcase for Buckley’s interests in the jazz sphere, and for his vocal acrobatics, and the songs follow unclear, freeform structures. There is a percussionist, but he’s mostly on xylophone, turning Buckley’s 12-string acoustic into the main rhythmic instrument. It’s a peculiar album that I’m not sure I fully vibed with.

Dexy’s Midnight Runners, ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’

The last Dexys album in their first run, the band had slimmed down to a quartet by this point, although the record is fleshed out with session musicians so you’d hardly notice the difference. It’s a loose, sprawling album with just seven songs in 46 minutes, often involving audible rambling conversations between Kevin Rowland and other band members, and in one case containing a lift from ‘Werewolves from London’ so shameless that they gave Warren Zevon a writing credit on the reissue. Those present report the recording was long and difficult, and there’s a feeling of general exhaustion about it.

The Fall, ‘The Infotainment Scan’

Recorded inbetween Brix Smith spells, but still with a loose eye on making records that might attract a wider audience, ‘The Infotainment Scan’ was their most commercially successful album (Top 10 in the UK!) even with no singles. Released in 1993, it sounds contemporary, with diversions into 808 State-style techno (‘Service’), songs with discernible choruses (‘Ladybird (Green Grass)’) and an abstract cover of ‘Lost in Music’. Maybe this is a reach considering what an autocracy the band was, but it sounds like the band must have felt that if the definitive Fall sound is Mark E Smith’s vocals, then that gives the band carte blanche to do more or less what they want underneath. A lot of this sounds pretty good, rather than having an ephemeral, whining quality.

Peter Gabriel, ‘So’

Gabriel has finally licensed his stuff to go on Spotify, which immediately makes this his best album for me as it meant I haven’t had to go down YouTube rabbit holes to find it. ‘So’ features big hit ‘Sledgehammer’ and small hit ‘Red Rain’ (based on a dream, with a metaphor somewhere between ‘Red Red Wine’ and ‘Raining Blood’). At the time it was seen as quite a big deal as Gabe took unfamiliar elements of world music, like the shakuhachi on ‘Sledgehammer’, and turned them into big 80s pop hits. Nowadays, mind, it feels kind of passe, self-serious doodlings on the Fairlight.

Pet Shop Boys, ‘Very’

While I never owned this album, I remember it being out in the shops in the early 90s, as it had an unusual CD case, ribbed for your pleasure:


The album is, it seems, Neil Tennant’s first album since coming out, most emphatically addressed by covering a Village People song in an apparently sincere way (‘Go West’, one of the band’s biggest ever hits). While there are still some sounds that haven’t aged well (the synth patches on ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ for example), I think this is my favourite of the three PSB albums we’ve heard. There’s some dry wit in ‘Dreaming of the Queen’ and ‘The Theatre’, and some great singles in ‘Liberation’ and ‘I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing’.

Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’

We’ve met Paul Simon three times with Art Garfunkel, and three times solo, but this is his last appearance on the blog. Teaming up with Art for the final time, this opens with the title track, the hymnal qualities of which I’ve always found difficult to take seriously. Beyond that, the duo’s interests appear to include reverb-heavy percussive sounds (‘Cecilia’ and ‘Bye Bye Love’) and unfamiliar elements of world music (‘El Condor Pasa’, a Peruvian song). As with their other albums on the list, they keep me guessing, although I don’t think this is the blowaway triumph that ‘Bookends’ is.

The Smiths, ‘Strangeways Here We Come’

Regarded by the band as their best album, there’s a conscious effort to move away from the jangling of their previous three records, with keyboards, strings, autoharp and harmonica entering the fray and even Morrissey himself tinkling the ivories on ‘Death of a Disco Dancer’. But the famous songs are famous for a reason: both ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ and ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ are close to the Smiths’ usual sound and are both nearly perfect slices of melancholy pop. Fey, wry and literate, the lyrics to this album are really on to something: what a shame we don’t know who wrote them.

Next week: We’ve now reached the point where there are less than 100 albums remaining in the project! We’ll be dealing with some of the more obscure entries next week, as we look at albums that less than 5% of fans have heard.

Status update: 903 listened to (90%), 98 remain.