August 9: 808 State, Fugazi, Gang of Four, Jefferson Airplane, ‘Tubular Bells’, Koffi Olomide, ‘Exile on Main Street’, ‘Graceland’, Nina Simone, Neil Young

808 State, ‘808:90’.

Containing their most famous song, ‘Pacific State’, this album both sounds exactly like you’d expect a dance record of its time to sound and pretty good.

Fugazi, ‘Repeater’.

Angry as hell 1990 underground punk which finishes with the almost perfect ‘Shut the Door’ (so of course there’s an extended version of the album with three superfluous tracks glued onto the end). It’s good, but the previous day, I had listened to its most obvious influence, which is…

Gang of Four, ‘Entertainment’.

All post-punk is arty, but there’s a certain branch of it which was snappy and angry rather than sprawling and/or gothy. Wire and Mission Of Burma are in this territory, but so too are Gang of Four. ‘Entertainment!’ takes a few tracks to get going, but starts delivering from ‘Damaged Goods’, the fourth track, and is pretty much brilliant from there.

Jefferson Airplane, ‘Surrealistic Pillow’.

This excellently-named album from the psych-folk sextet contains their big “hits” ‘White Rabbit’ and ‘Somebody to Love’. Nothing else is as good as those songs, but it’s a pleasant enough listen. Hard to listen to them without thinking of the awful crimes they went on to commit in the unspeakably terrible form of Starship.

Mike Oldfield, ‘Tubular Bells’.

The first album on Richard Branson’s Virgin Records contains the tune from the ‘Exorcist’, a Piltdown Man impression, a hornpipe and the guy out of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band reading the instruments. It feels like a lot of farting around that’s a bit too pleased with itself for my liking, but it’s unpredictable at least.

Koffi Olomide, ‘Haut de Gamme: Koweit, Rive Gauche’.

Okay but a bit naff-sounding, Olomide is a Congolese soukous musician known for his sharp dress sense and his Mark E Smith-ish habit of assaulting his collaborators (he is currently in jail). I feel pretty ignorant when reviewing this sort of music, but it didn’t do an awful lot for me.

The Rolling Stones, ‘Exile on Main Street’.

Generally regarded as their best album and a landmark in music and so on, this sprawls over two records of blues, country and soul. Still struggling to see the appeal of Mick and the gang though: this just sounds like white boys playing pub rock with harmonicas, honky-tonk piano and all the other trappings of by-the-book boredom.

Paul Simon, ‘Graceland’.

Speaking of albums everyone loves, this is the hipster record du jour and, in fairness, it is pretty good. No wonder Ladysmith Black Mambazo became stars off the back of it: their harmonies are the best thing on the album. Unusual to see later Nine Inch Nail Adrian Belew credited on a few tracks; what a strange career he has had.

Nina Simone, ‘Wild is the Wind’.

The voice is impeccable of course but the sedate pace that the entire album crawls by at makes this one a bloody slog. David Bowie’s cover of the title track was faster (probably a side-effect of the cocaine), elevating it to ‘mid-tempo’.

Neil Young, ‘Everybody Knows This is Nowhere’.

An early-70s album with Crazy Horse, this is the second of Young’s albums I’ve heard, and suffers a bit by comparison with ‘Harvest’. Still, there are three great songs on this album which, combined, last over half the running time of the record – good going.

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July 4 – 10cc, Nick Drake, fIREHOSE, Sugarcubes, Suicide

10cc, ‘Sheet Music’.

This was alphabetically #1 on the list so time to get it covered off. I only knew 10cc for ‘I’m Not In Love’ (I had forgotten ‘Dreadlock Holiday’) so this album’s style was perhaps unexpected. It seems 10cc were a pretty good 70s rock band with a willingness to try out new things. This is probably the most 1974 album of all time though, that is, a bit cocainey.

Nick Drake, ‘Five Leaves Left’.

You used to call me on your cellphone… wait, wrong Drake. Spookily released five years before his suicide, ‘Five Leaves Left’ is the sort of melancholy folk at which Tanworth’s favourite son excelled. I prefer ‘Bryter Later’, although that might be because I heard it first: perhaps if I’d heard ‘Five Leaves’ first I’d like that more.

fIREHOSE, ‘fROMOHIO’.

I listened to this album because I didn’t know anything about it. This awkwardly-capitalised gang were a Minutemen follow-on who fused punk with jazz and funk and this was their third album. It’s decent enough, but the lack of dynamic variety means the album is less than the sum of its parts. Shout out to Kira Roessler, guest guitarist on this record, who must be the first Oscar winner on this list (winning this year for sound editing).

Sugarcubes, ‘Life’s Too Good’.

A glittery but fairly by-numbers 80s pop album enlivened massively by singer, keyboardist and future star Bjork, whose distinctive voice is the album’s most notable feature.

Suicide, ‘Suicide’.

An abrasive exercise in minimalism that’s often distracting in its monotony. Who knows, though, what made the band decide that a song should sound like ‘Frankie Teardrop’, which bridges the gap between the Velvets’ ‘Heroin’ and latter-day Scott Walker. Also on Suicide: it’s odd that no trebly C86 band ever named themselves after Martin Rev’s real surname, Reverby.

June 7 – 50 Cent, The Adverts, Aerosmith, Big Star, Missy Elliott, The Kinks, Kraftwerk, Neil Young

50 Cent, ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin”.

This was on my ‘if I must’ pile due to repetitive singles ‘In Da Club’ and ‘P.I.M.P.’ and the dreaded tinge of Eminem producing, which usually guarantees tinny guitars and cheap synths. I blame Mike Elizondo, in-house musician for the Dre stable. Surprisingly, however, the album is generally an improvement on its two key singles. There’s an “everyone hates me, don’t care” defiance that you might expect from someone who’s been shot, but tinged with a metaphysical dread, while the Dre/Mathers production sounds motivated. Some gripes: the album tails off towards the end, and the haphazard sequencing makes it sound more like a home-made compliation than a coherent album (unusually for a rap album of its time, it’s light on skits and segues).

The Adverts, ‘Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts’.

I didn’t know much about this album going in, having forgotten ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’. Unusually, I warmed to this album as it went on, perhaps because it feels like the band’s playing and writing improves as it goes on (the early songs, including giveaway ‘One Chord Wonders’, betray the band’s punkish lack of musical chops). It doesn’t feel essential though.

Aerosmith, ‘Pump’.

A couple of great early songs and that’s it. You wouldn’t have thought that the same album would have ‘Love in an Elevator’ and a didgeridoo interlude, yet here we are (the album has three pointless interludes on unlikely instruments). The great, expensive-sounding production explains why this sold in such high volumes.

Big Star, ‘#1 Record’.

I listened to this a few weeks ago and forgot to add it to any other reviews. Sort of a predecessor to Weezer in its power-pop feel, this is occasionally quite lovely and occasionally quite sloppy, dependent on which of the two singers’ songs are being performed.

Missy ‘Misdemeanour’ Elliott, ‘Supa Dupa Fly’.

Producer Timbaland was the man in the early years of the century, and his childhood pal Missy his most charismatic foil. This album is fun enough but I think Elliott’s more immediate spoils (i.e. the hits) are on her later albums, none of which, alas, are on the list.

The Kinks, ‘The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society’.

In which the wonky pop act have a stab at Qualuudes-and-cuppa psychedelia, referencing steam trains and cricket as well as the titular village green. The album’s rarely dull and, as well as the obvious influence it had on Blur, you can see the shadow cast over early Of Montreal and (on the Mellotron-and-vocal track) Eels. Good.

Kraftwerk, ‘Autobahn’.

The first Kraftwerk album that sounded like Kraftwerk, even though the two drummer robots were yet to be assembled (sorry I meant “recruited”). ‘Autobahn’ is a delightful combination of synths’n’rhythm machine grooves interspersed with organic instruments (there’s an acoustic track on this album!). REAL MUSIC YEAH

Neil Young, ‘Harvest’.

Another album I came to with some reticience given the threat of harmonica, typically an instrument that serves as an avatar for a certain strain of dreary music (rootsy, ‘real’, male). However, there are seven of this guy’s albums on this list so in I went. Turns out I liked this album despite myself: the songwriting and his voice are strong enough to overpower the stench of authenticity in the arrangements. ‘Out on the Weekend’, ‘Heart of Gold’ and ‘Old Man’ are all familiar, but not in a way that feels cliche. Plus there’s a live track? What is this, ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’?

May 30 – ABC, Elvis Costello, Herbie Hancock, The Slits, The Who, Stevie Wonder

ABC, ‘Lexicon of Love’.

Well, since they’ve just released the sequel it seemed topical. The last two tracks seem superfluous, but otherwise this is a perfect pop album, mainly helped by crisp production and orchestration from the ZTT lot. ‘Valentine’s Day’ is the song I liked most.

Elvis Costello, ‘My Aim is True’.

Costello must be a favourite of one of the list compilers as there are six of his albums on the list: only the Beatles, Bowie, Dylan, the Stones and Neil Young have as many. Odd to think of Costello as mixing with that company. This album is okay, with good lyrics and pretty decent songs referencing 50s rock and roll and preceding 90s power-pop, but it’s not clear on this evidence why there are so many of his albums on here.

Herbie Hancock, ‘Head Hunters’.

This 70s jazz album only has four songs, and three are overshadowed by 15-minute opening track ‘Chameleon’, a funk-driven vamp full of synth solos whose distinctive bassline is the best thing on the record. ‘Watermelon Man’ brings in African instrumentation to further the symbiotic relationship between Afrobeat and jazz/funk.

The Slits, ‘Cut’.

I’d never previously got on with the Slits when I heard their songs in isolation, but ‘Cut’ kicks all sorts of ass with its peculiar mix of post-punk and reggae fronted by a German woman singing in English and drummed by future Banshee Budgie. Spotify’s insistence on adding superfluous extra tracks paid dividends this time as the killer cover of ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’ was bolted on.

The Who, ‘My Generation’.

The debut album of the world’s loudest band occupies an odd place in history as it’s probably less known than the band’s later albums (‘Tommy’, ‘Sell Out’ etc) despite having two of their best-known songs (‘The Kids are Alright’, the title track). As you might expect, ‘My Generation’ has the rhythm section higher in the mix than most 60s albums, resulting in a fairly heavy bottom end. The album weakens only when the band resort to R&B/blues cliches, usually when a piano is involved, but they hadn’t invented their only language yet.

Stevie Wonder, ‘Innervisions’.

There’s a few of Stevie’s records on the list, but I’d put them off because his work seems to be split between good stuff, like student disco favourite ‘Superstition’, and anodyne harmonica-infected sap like ‘Isn’t She Lovely’. This album takes a couple of tracks to get going, but the real talk of ‘Living for the City’ turned the corner and the rest hit the spot on a Bank Holiday afternoon. Warning: the synth solos have dated.

May 25 – ‘If I Must’ List #1: Beck, Morrissey, Royksopp, Travis, ‘The Joshua Tree’

The thing with the 1001 Albums You Must Hear project is that, as well as a lot of albums I’m intrigued to check out, there’s a fair amount of albums I’m reluctant to listen to. Rather than put them off any longer, it’s time I covered some of them.

Beck, ‘Odelay’.

I’m sure my dislike for Beck is a surprise for some, given I like Eels and the Beta Band, both of whom did similar blues-n-sampler kitchen-sink records. Unlike those two, though, Beck always struck me as all-surface-no-feeling: the ironic detachment is at the cost of relatable content or melodic impetus. He couldn’t even get ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’ right! As for ‘Odelay’: the musical palette is always varied, but it’s a record to admire rather than love.

Morrissey, ‘You are the Quarry’.

There are four of Stephen Patrick’s solo albums on this list: perhaps more than even Moz fans would consider essential. ‘Quarry’ was preceded by killer single ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’, where the most dramatic chord sequence on the record is augmented/completely ruined by Morrissey’s tainted patriotism schtick: lyrics which leave a bitter taste when matched against later “I’m not xenophobic but immigrants” speeches. The most evocative lyrical image on the album is “you have never been in love/until you’ve seen the stars/reflected in the reservoir”, from second single ‘First of the Gang to Die’ (which sounds better here than it did as a single). The other bulbous salutations on this album are bogged down by leaden arrangements or titles like ‘All the Lazy Dykes’.

Royksopp, ‘Melody AM’.

Royksopp are another band who sounded on paper like a band I’d like (I like Air and Bent) but who never impressed me: despite the album title, ‘Eple’ and ‘So Easy’ have no tunes. The album is more palatable than I expected as background muzak, but it’s not exactly an attention-grabber.

Travis, ‘The Man Who’.

It’s hard to understand how this album qualified for this list given its obvious debt to other albums on the list (Jeff Buckley, Radiohead): in fact the album’s producer is ‘OK Computer”s Nigel Godrich, bringing along the same bag of tricks he used for that album. When they aren’t ripping off Thom, they can’t resist pointing out their sources (“what’s a wonderwall anyway?” indeed). The best song is the Ziggy-for-dummies ‘She’s So Strange’ but there is nothing essential here. This was a band whose previous album featured a song called ‘All I Want To Do Is Rock’: on this evidence, clearly not.

U2, ‘The Joshua Tree’.

Later efforts like Apple malware ‘Songs of Innocence’ and ego-driven political campaigns have soured people to U2, but here on ‘The Joshua Tree’, hit after hit are augmented by great Brian Eno production and top drawer musicianship. It’s easy to mock The Edge’s minimalist style, but it sounds refreshingly spacious compared to his five-note-per-second contemporaries. Dare I say it: this is a good album.

May 18: Anita Baker, Jean-Michael Jarre, Pixies, Elvis, Talking Heads

Anita Baker, ‘Rapture’.

I picked this one out purely because I didn’t know anything about it. It turns out that I did know the lead single, ‘Sweet Love’. The rest of the album is, alas, lesser versions of that song and the sort of electric piano-heavy, gospel-tinged soul that passed as cutting-edge R&B before Timbaland, Neptunes and BeyoncĂ© tore up the rulebook. Not great.

Jean-Michael Jarre, ‘Oxygene’.

‘Oxygene’ was met with critical apathy on its release for being tasteful, minimalist and primarily concerned with texture. Yet hacks went mad for Air and chill-out music less than 20 years later. I can only assume the advent of the pill comedown changed perspectives. Anyway this is often a pretty series of backing tracks that would sound great with a stronger top line. It still sounds pretty good; less dated and cheap-sounding than many of its descendents.

Pixies, ‘Surfer Rosa’.

I’m sure I have heard Pixies records before but I can’t remember which and to avoid doubt, I’m listening to them all again. Like probably all of their albums, this one oscillates between pop HITZ like ‘Gigantic’ and ‘Where is my Mind?’ and dissonant shouty rock. Trivia: I first heard ‘Cactus’ through the 2002 Bowie cover.

Elvis Presley, ‘From Elvis in Memphis’.

Like the Beatles, Elvis is such an omnipresent part of popular culture that it’s hard to listen to his stuff objectively; however, this is the sound of an artist at his showman peak. The music is sort-of brassy soul with a country feel. ‘In The Ghetto’, the closing track, is an obvious highlight, but ‘Long Black Limousine’ on the A-side is also ace.

Talking Heads, ’77’.

The debut album from the scratchy New Yorkers, ’77’ is a charming but oddly unvaried affair highlighted, of course, by ‘Psycho Killer’. The bonus crap on Spotify includes the version of that song with cellos: the band hated it, but the screechy Hitchcock strings sound pretty good to me.

205 albums listened to. Just 796 to go.

May 10: Buena Vista Social Club, The Doors, ‘Let’s Get It On’, ‘Automatic for the People’, Soft Cell, ‘Born in the USA’

Buena Vista Social Club, ‘Buena Vista Social Club’.

An album of mostly acoustic traditional Cuban music by an American guitarist and some local Cuban musicians. Suited the sunny weather we had for half an hour there; if none of it particularly jumped out to me, it’s probably my lack of familiarity with the genre.

The Doors, ‘Morrison Hotel’.

I’d heard the Doors before, of course, but not knowing any of their albums I picked one arbitrarily from the three (!) on this list. Perhaps the wrong choice: I prefer their brooding ‘Riders on the Storm’ stuff to their “ordinary blues band with jaunty keyboards” setting, and the latter is more prominent here.

Marvin Gaye, ‘Let’s Get It On’.

Gaye’s 70s were up there with Bowie’s in terms of wildly varied highs. Social issues album? Brilliant. Shagging album? Great. Divorce album? Excellent. This one is of course the sex album and is pretty marvellous.

REM, ‘Automatic for the People’.

I’m not sure I’d ever heard an REM album all the way through. This is a hard one to judge objectively as it sounds like a lot of alt.rock did when I was growing up: of course, that’s largely because of the success of this album with all its mega-hits (‘Everybody Hurts’ and ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight’ and ‘Nightswimming’ and etc). Like ‘Psycho’, you can’t experience it for the first time. Pretty good I guess.

Soft Cell, ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’.

In which a Lytham St Annes schoolboy makes a load of campy songs about sex with a bunch of knackered equipment; sounds familiar. It’s incredible that this stuff sold in the volumes it did, with the hysterical shrieks of opener ‘Frustration’, the atonal chords of Top Five single (!!!) ‘Bedsitter’ and the gauchely-named ghost-train freakout ‘Sex Dwarf’. This oscillates between pretty great (the other two big singles) and dreadful rubbish (anything with a saxophone, but then isn’t that always the way?).

Bruce Springsteen, ‘Born in the USA’.

In these post-Arcade Fire times, the Boss is the hipsters’ choice, but I’ve always wondered if I was listening to a different Springsteen: the rugged American Bloke with those corny 80s synths and that Courtney Cox video and that Bob Clearmountain stadium rock production is the cognoscienti’s favourite? Are you kidding? This is, of course, his most mainstream, with a hit every two tracks, and perhaps repeated listens might reveal more subtlety in his lyrics, and at least there’s no harmonica, but the appeal’s completely lost on me. Luckily there’s another four (!) albums of his on this list. Perhaps Stockholm Syndrome will kick in.

Project update: 199 albums heard (20%) – however, 145 of those I’d heard before I started doing this.