January 15: RD Burman, Mike Ladd, Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck, Finley Quaye, Red Snapper, Shack, The Shamen

This week, I’m looking again at the least-heard albums on the list, according to survey respondents on Listchallenges.com. The most heard albums on the list are white rock classics like ‘Nevermind’ and ‘Revolver’, so you’d assume that the least familiar albums on the list are also the most exotic. Yet you’d be surprised. Delve in…

Rahul Dev Burman, ‘Shalimar OST’

This is a soundtrack for a English-language Hindi movie about jewel thieves which featured Rex Harrison alongside big 70s Bollywood stars. Although the singers are a rotating cast (including Burman’s wife Asha Bhosle), Burman’s hand is on the rudder as composer. As ‘Shalimar’ was intended for a Western audience, the soundtrack mashes classical Indian instruments (sitar, tablas etc) and Eastern tonalities with groovy 60s rhythms, filmic strings and smoky jazz. On ‘Countess’ Caper/Shalimar’, he combines Badalamenti flutes, French accordions and Mariachi trumpets. The best album this week.

Mike Ladd, ‘Welcome to the Afterfuture’

Having never heard of Ladd I had no idea what I was getting into here. Turns out that Ladd was a turn-of-century rapper and producer and that this is a largely instrumental hip-hop album. While it has ‘Illmatic”s smoky beats, and shares an apocalyptic futurism with the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, it also pauses for a ten-minute drum’n’bass jam (‘To the Moon’s Contractor’) and has a dreadful Nine Inch Nails/Miles Davis clusterfuck called ‘Starship Nigga’. Oddly, the two most upbeat songs are the final two, despite having the Public Enemy-ish titles ‘Wipe Out on the Wave of Armageddon’ and ‘Feb 4 ’99 (For All Those Killed By Cops)’. I guess Ladd was hoping for a new dawn in the new millennium. Wish not granted. This is okay but I’m not sure I’ll ever come back to it.

Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck, ‘Djam Leeli’

So Maal’s family expected him to become a farmhand and/or fisherman (sources vary), following his father’s footsteps, but hadn’t counted on the family griot Mansour Seck steering him in the direction of music. When Maal got a scholarship to Beaux-Arts in Paris, Seck came with him. This album, recorded in the late 1980s, is traditional Senegalese music, with Maal and Seck on vocals and acoustic guitar. Additional pleasant textures are added later on with electric guitar and idiophone. I won’t pretend to be an expert on this type of music; it seems quite charming, if too long.

Finley Quaye, ‘Maverick A Strike’

Fucking hell. Alright, let’s get through it. Quaye’s reputation, now tarnished due to recent erratic behaviour, is pretty much exclusively down to this album. Some of it sounds pretty good – the Bob Marley-sampling reggae-lite of ‘Sunday Shining’ is an undiluted version of Bruno Mars’s usual schtick, and ‘Even After All’ has at least dated well, even if it sounds like Gabrielle. There are too few songs though: most of the album is padded out with uncertain experiments in dancehall and dub which are melodically deficient, and Quaye’s Wyclef Jean-ish voice grates. Plus, of course, the commercial success of the awful ‘Your Love Gets Sweeter’ can be pinpointed as the rise to power of Jack Johnson: unforgivable.

Red Snapper, ‘Our Aim is to Satisfy’

These were a Warp Records act at the same time as Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada and Autechre, but while those dabbled in electronic soundscapes, Red Snapper were an aggressive guitar/bass/drums trio, occasionally augmented by rappers, who specialised in trip-hop and acid-jazz. While organically replicating breakbeats would have made for an exciting live experience, the wallpaper textures of the genres cause the album to fade into the background. In the late 90s I had a lot of time for Warp, particularly the compilation ‘We Are Reasonable People’, but their appearances on this list have been unremarkable.

Shack, ‘HMS Fable’

I remember this album being heralded as quite a big deal in the NME and Melody Maker when it came out in 1999, but this was a time in which British indie music was basically on its arse, leading to the rise of rap-metal initially and New York Television fans like The Strokes in 2000. ‘HMS Fable’ doesn’t sound much different to anything The Thrills were doing; it’s a Bluetones record with an orchestra. It’s not so much uninspired as uninspiring; there are creative steps here, such as the echo-chamber breakdown of ‘I Want You’, the “no! stop!” interruption on the otherwise-insipid ‘Beautiful’, or the tape-running-out sudden stop of ‘Streets of Kenny’ (albeit a direct copy of ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’). And ‘The Captain’s Table’ sounds so much like Super Furry Animals’ 2002 cut ‘The Piccolo Snare’ that it’s a wonder SFA got away with such brazen theft. But mostly it’s the same stuff that the Go-Betweens, The Triffids or Lloyd Cole did: just a pleasant guitar pop album.

The Shamen, ‘En-Tact’

Yes, amazing as it might sound, the geezers by the name of Ebenezer appear on the 1001 Albums, and it’s even the album with ‘Move Any Mountain’. The final album before Mr C joined and took them to Number One, ‘En-Tact’ still bears traces of the band’s original psychedelic rock incarnation: guitar breaks, cosmic lyrics. This is most prevalent in ‘Make it Mine’, which shares the honours for best track with the opener ‘Move Any Mountain’. Otherwise it’s largely instrumental rave which sounds like 808 State, which is fine, but why not just listen to 808 State? I don’t give ratings on here but if I did, the album would certainly lose points for the deluge of space-filling remixes tacked on at the end. I listened to the 1992 version; the 1991 version had different mixes.

Well, this wasn’t a great week. Thanks for joining us!

Next week: there are lots of bands on the list who have three albums, none of which I’ve heard. I’ll be rectifying some of that next week.

Status update: 388 listened to (39%), 613 remain.

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Author: JT Wilson

Listening to all of the albums in the '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' book (2006 edition).

3 thoughts on “January 15: RD Burman, Mike Ladd, Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck, Finley Quaye, Red Snapper, Shack, The Shamen”

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