As the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die was voted by committee, there will inevitably be albums on the list that aren’t to my taste. Some of them are surprising choices which, on paper, looked like an excruciating listen. This week’s update is a collection of the albums on the 1001 that I was least looking forwards to hearing.
The Bees, ‘Sunshine Hit Me’.
Hearing their irritating Os Mutantes cover ‘A Minha Menina’ made me assume that this group was a novelty version of the post-Beck kitchen-sink style, a particularly aggressive form of the lethal virus that infected fin-de-siecle British indie prior to the Strokes. While ‘A Minha Menina’ appears here, the rest of the album is mostly competent, if go-nowhere, pastiches of the band’s record collection which as often sounds like Zero 7 as The Coral. Hardly essential but not the calamity I was dreading.
Mariah Carey, ‘Butterfly’.
The 1990s footballer’s favourite singer, Mariah Carey was newly-divorced and hanging out with Q-Tip and Puff Daddy during the run-up to this album, which seemed like it could yield some interesting results. No such luck, however. Carey still leans heavily on piano ballads – three of the first five tracks are dull low-tempo workouts co-penned by regular collaborator Walter Afanasieff. Where the collaborators do show up, they’re either invisible (Bone Thugs ‘N’ Harmony negligible) or relegated to the sidelines (Missy Elliott is hired but merely as co-lyricist on one song), while Carey trades in her Whitney-ish showstopper voice for breathy fluttering that’s barely intelligible. David Morales finally injects some energy into the album as late as the tenth track with a remix/reprise of the title track; perhaps he should have produced the whole thing.
The Happy Mondays, ‘Bummed’.
Like Joy Division before them, the Mondays were a Factory band paired with unruly producer Martin Hannett, whose contributions here drench the drums in echo and turn the treble up on the guitar as if he was producing a Slowdive record, while Shaun Ryder stomps belligerently in the middle like Mark E Smith. The results sound very dated now, with the possible exceptions of ‘Lazyitis’ (the most tuneful song here) and perhaps ‘Wrote For Luck’. Skippable.
Jamiroquai, ‘Emergency on Planet Earth’.
Coming into this album I knew I didn’t like Jamiroquai, but beyond the unlikeable antics of their frontman Jay Kay I couldn’t put my finger on why. Listening to this, their debut album, makes me wonder whether the BBC’s co-opting of acid-jazz as tasteful background muzak for its Sunday programming (‘The Clothes Show’ for example) means that the original edge is lost, that the sound is hard to appreciate on its own merits because it immediately brings to mind a certain feeling of bland wallpaper music. But then acid-jazz didn’t become jingle fodder because of its immediacy: there’s something a bit anonymous about this whole album. Weak melodies, lyrics that are swallowed up by Kay’s Stevie Wonder impersonating mumble, solos that are low in the mix, the whole thing feels unintrusive even though it’s a funk album! Given the six-minute jam-band running length of the songs, the musicians must be having fun but, unlike Parliament or the Family Stone, for example, this doesn’t translate onto the record.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, ‘Californication’.
The album which turned the Chilis from funky-junkie also-rans into the most overplayed band on the planet, ‘Californication’ also reminds you that RHCP have a hand in nu-metal insofar as they made white men rapping badly over rock riffs into an acceptable thing to hear on the radio; like war criminals they must be held accountable. On the opener, ‘Around the World’, Kiedis couldn’t even be arsed finishing the lyrics: as bad an opening track as you’ll hear this side of ‘Philosophy of the World’ and yet a single which went Top 40. Second track sounds like Muse and, look, you know how the rest of this album sounds. For an album with a song called ‘I Like Dirt’, the adjective I kept coming back to was “clean”: John Frusciante got clean, most of his guitar settings are clean, the Rick Rubin production is clean (too clean I’d say). Not a band I ever want to hear again; unluckily there is another of their albums on this list, but thankfully it is not ‘By The Way’.
Simply Red, ‘Picture Book’.
In which a bunch of musicians from post-punk bands try their hand at adult-oriented soul and the rest is history. As with most of the bands on this week’s update, the obnoxious frontman is the most distinctive thing about the band, but Mick Hucknall is after all a strong singer. He’s helped by the album boasting a then-contemporary sheen which means that the aping of 60s soul doesn’t descend into outright parody. However, the 80s production, no doubt great then, has dated badly, and a lot of the vocal arrangements (particularly the backing vocals) are flat-out terrible. There’s also little personality from any of the musicians other than the keyboardists, and the keyboard contributions are crap. ‘Holding Back The Years’ is, I guess, the best song on here. Nobody who reads this was going to listen to this album anyway. Make sure it stays that way.
Paul Weller, ‘Wild Wood’.
The Modfather appears on the list four times, with two Jam albums and, surprisingly, a Style Council album also appearing, but it was his solo album I was least looking forward to hearing. Weller’s work in this era has always been synonymous in my mind with tracksuit-y lumpen plod-rock, which isn’t entirely unfair given members of Ocean Colour Scene feature on the record and Weller features on ‘Champagne Supernova’, almost the set-text for 90s bloke rock. This album starts more promisingly than you’d expect, with Weller sounding motivated, but the wheels come off by track 5 with a plague of harmonicas and a bunch of pedestrian semi-acoustic slogs. With 16 tracks over 54 minutes, it is too long and boring, but at least there’s a variety of styles and the old git sounds like he’s up for it.
Next week, I’ll be looking at some of the least-heard albums on the list.
Progress report: 259/1001 (26%), 742 remain.