April 16: If I Must – The Darkness, Def Leppard, Everything But The Girl, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Morrissey, U2

Happy Easter everyone who celebrates it; to everyone who doesn’t, happy Sunday! This week, it’s time for another of everyone’s favourites, the If I Must week. Fortunately for me, but sadly for you, this will probably be the last of these: I’ve pretty much listened to all of the real horrors on the list now, so while there are still some that I’m dreading, there aren’t quite enough for more of these weeks. Luckily, that still leaves me with over 100 albums that I’m looking forwards to hearing, so there’ll be plenty of good stuff as we head towards the second half of the project. Seven of the ones I least wanted to hear first though: let’s get to it.

The Darkness, ‘Permission to Land’

Although their second album ‘One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back’ went platinum, The Darkness’s commercial and critical peak was their debut album. At the time, they were massive, but the fact that their jokey take on 70s and 80s hard rock was going Top 10 at a time when less retro British rock bands were completely absent from the Top 20 was a worrying sign for the genre. Anyway, this is front-loaded, with catchy singles ‘Growing On Me’, ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ and ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ all in the opening four tracks. The novelty’s worn off by the fifth track though: Justin Hawkins hasn’t got anything in his arsenal other than falsetto, at least one of the songs is nearly six minutes long, and given that the list already contains all the acts that The Darkness are aping (AC/DC, Queen, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi), you don’t need this.

Def Leppard, ‘Hysteria’

And indeed here are one of the bands that The Darkness are likely imitating. ‘Hysteria’ recorded over the course of a year packed with incident, including two of the band being involved in motor accidents: one, of course, cost drummer Rick Allen his arm. Consequently, there’s a fair bit of Fairlight jiggery-pokery involved with the drum tracks here. ‘Gods of War’ and ‘Love and Affection’ are probably the best songs here, but they all sound the same anyway: commercial 80s hard rock with massed backing vocals, helium lead vocals and synths. It seems mean to lambast such good-natured music too much: it’s okay, but this will be my last listen to it.

Everything But The Girl, ‘Idlewild’

Not to be confused with the Scottish band who did ‘When I Argue I See Shapes’, or the 2006 Outkast album, ‘Idlewild’ was the fourth album from EBTG, released in 1988. When we last looked at Tracy ‘n’ Ben, it was in their mid-90s dance incarnation, but before that they were making a sort of light coffee-table take on sophisticated pop, which I guess would have been popular with people who also liked The Beautiful South and Level 42. It starts with the band’s cover of Crazy Horse’s ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’, but it quickly recedes into background music: it’s so tasteful and restrained that it becomes a struggle to resist turning it off and listening to something more interesting. The dated production doesn’t help – tenor saxes and fretless bass everywhere – any more than the lyrics, where “they call you Jimmy, they call you James” is regarded as a good enough lyric for a repeated refrain. ‘The Night I Heard Caruso Sing’ is probably the best song here, vaguely like Slow Club’s last album; as a two-piece who trade vocals, Slow Club should see EBTG as a warning from history.

Iron Maiden, ‘Iron Maiden’

The line-up on the first Maiden album is different to their later ‘classic’ line-up: here we have Paul Di’Anno on vocals, Clive Burr on drums and Dennis Stratton on guitar, so no high-pitched extended notes from Dickinson and not much twin guitar riffing. The band don’t like the production on this (which they mostly did themselves) but I think the raw sound suits them: on ‘Prowler’ and ‘Running Free’, they sound sort of like ‘Destroyer’-era Judas Priest rather than the polished cheese (an Edam wheel?) of their later material. The album only sags at the midway point, with the instrumental ‘Transylvania’ and the waltz-time downer ‘Strange World’ both moves into areas the band don’t sound at home in. It finishes strongly, though, and overall this one is pretty good.

Megadeth, ‘Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying?’

This was Megadeth’s breakthrough album and is one of the big three as far as thrash is concerned (together with ‘Master of Puppets’ and ‘Reign in Blood‘). Dave Mustaine, the former Metallica guitarist, focuses here on political and global concerns rather than the Lovecraftian omens of his old band, giving the lyrics a then-topical feel. I’ve always found thrash a bit tedious though: no wonder nu-metal eschewed the multi-section, solo-heavy, five-minute-or-more template for something blunter, punkier and funkier. You can’t fault the instrumental skill, particularly on the guitar lines, but the style seems old hat now.

Morrissey, ‘Vauxhall and I’

Our fourth visit to Moz’s back catalogue, we meet him here in 1994, at a time when he’d stopped wanting to plough the same furrow he did with The Smiths but before he started making off-colour remarks about immigration, the Chinese and so on. I’m starting to think that perhaps his solo career is best regarded as having a great singles catalogue, rather than any crucial albums: here, the best song is the elegaic ‘The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get’, which even Boz Boorer’s mid-90s Noel Gallagher lead guitar can’t spoil. Elsewhere there’s a cinematic closer called ‘Speedway’ and what sounds like a clarinet section, but nothing that quite matches the single.

U2, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed ‘The Joshua Tree‘ and remember quite liking U2’s mid-90s output, or finding it interesting at least, but the release of the band’s 1980-1990 Best Of seemed to cause them to re-evaluate their output, hence abandoning the My Bloody Valentine and Nine Inch Nails experimentation and reverting to Soaring Anthem U2. Commercially it was a big success, but critically? Early on Bono feels like the weak point, both lyrically and vocally, while sequencing ‘Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of’ as track 2 is a mistake, as the song piles on instrument after instrument in a vain attempt to bring a dull melody to life. Elsewhere, ‘Beautiful Day’ borrows its middle eight from A-ha, ‘In A Little While’ sounds like Eels with its arpeggios and drum machine, ‘Wild Honey’ sounds like Van Morrison, and I’m sure you know what the rest of this album sounds like.  Pretty dull.

Next week: a type of album I’ve never generally been hot on – the live album! There are at least a dozen on the list; hit me up in the comments if you have any favourites.

Progress update: 478 listened to (48%), 523 remain. Nearly halfway!

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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).

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