May 27: Billy Bragg and Wilco, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sheryl Crow, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Husker Du, The Stooges, Style Council

Imagine if the 1001 Albums list was a map of a town. What would you see there? Would the main road be ‘Autobahn’ or ‘Highway 61 Revisited’? Would you walk down ‘Abbey Road’ or ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’? What else would be on the map? This week, we try to flesh out the map with some of the edifices, roads and establishments in the area.

Billy Bragg and Wilco, ‘Mermaid Avenue’

In which the folk mainstay and the alt.country gang attempt to put music behind a series of unfinished and unrecorded lyrics by Woody Guthrie: sort of like a 1998 version of ‘Journal for Plague Lovers’. The highlights on this collection are mainly Wilco’s: an attempt to bring the Guthrie sound into the 1990s and generally succeeding, although there are a couple of wrong turns that make it sound like Nizlopi. Okay but not urgent.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Cosmo’s Factory’

Somewhere between the swampy jams of the first record and the tilted-at-charts ‘Green River‘, this is pretty accessible but starts with a seven-minute bottleneck jam called ‘Ramble Tamble’ and has a wild Fillmore East version of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ which lasts over eleven minutes. This has a lot of elements I’m not generally keen on, and they had obvious influences on terrible bands I heard first like Reef, but I found this quite listenable. This is the last CCR album, both chronologically and on this blog, to appear on the list.

Sheryl Crow, ‘Tuesday Night Music Club’

I listened to this on Thursday due to inept planning: go me. This is the one with ‘All I Wanna Do’. You’d expect that track to open the album, but it staggers in hungover at track 9 like a libertine late for a party, immediately attracts a crowd and elevates the tempo of the album by about 30BPM. It almost feels glued on, as the rest of the album is a slow-motion alt.country record with some sleepy jazz elements and a disastrous rap-as-in-‘Rapture’-by-Blondie song called ‘The Na-Na Song’. Possibly she would have continued in this direction if not for the hit, which took her down a different path and probably for the best.

The Flying Burrito Brothers, ‘Gilded Palace of Sin’

This week could almost be an alt.country week, couldn’t it? This awfully-named band were another Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons deal (we covered a similar one in ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo‘), and follows a similar template of harmonies and prairie longing. Okay but not especially interesting.

Husker Du, ‘Warehouse: Songs and Stories’

Falling apart due to disagreements between songwriters Grant Hart and Bob Mould, Husker Du put out this double album and split almost immediately afterwards. Hart was going through a tough time: he was trying to kick heroin and he’d been diagnosed with HIV (ultimately, a misdiagnosis), so no wonder the band was disintegrating. Still, whatever conflict they were having isn’t necessarily reflected on the record, as they both play on each other’s songs. In fact the real victim is the child of the divorce, bassist Greg Norton, whose parts are often replaced by Mould or Hart. If Husker Du had been able to keep their shit together, maybe they could have been contenders, as at the time this would have sounded exactly the same as REM, and look what happened to them. As it is, their third and final report is a pleasant but overlong 68 minutes of trebly guitars and vaguely-recorded vocals which is best on the second disc.

The Stooges, ‘Fun House’

Iggy and the Ashetons’ template is scratchy riffs so repetitive that even The Fall would take umbrage. Here there are some concessions to varying the formula: a couple of songs on the second side have saxophone (albeit it sounds like it’s playing a different song), and some even have a clear verse/chorus structure, most notably ‘Loose’, with its riff on loan from ‘Kick out the Jams’. It’s odd that such a seminal band leaves so little impression on me: I can see their influence on The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Sex Pistols, Death in Vegas and many others, but I don’t think it’ll ever be the Stooges albums that I pick up to listen to.

The Style Council, ‘Cafe Bleu’

A sophisti-pop album made by Paul Weller and one of Dexy’s sounds like a curio rather than an essential listen, yet here it is as one of the 1001 albums you must hear before you die. The first half of this is mainly jazzy instrumentals, punctuated by a solo Weller track called ‘The Whole Point of No Return’ and a smokey bar cut sung by Tracey Thorn. The flipside is a bit more palatable, with Weller fronting soulful cuts in a more conventional band set-up. He’s not bad at it: you couldn’t imagine, say, one of The Clash or the Pistols doing the same, but somehow the Jam frontman gets away with it. What he doesn’t get away with, mind, is ‘A Gospel’: a rap track with all the credibility of Duran Duran’s cover of ‘911 Is A Joke’.

Next week: A look at some of the artists who appear on the list twice, including one making their first appearance on the blog!

Status update: 868 listened to (87%), 133 remaining.

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May 20: The Beta Band, MJ Cole, Bebel Gilberto, Emmylou Harris, The Hives, Lambchop, Mylo

As the version of the book we’re using only goes up to 2006, the most recent records on the list come from the 2000s. In this age where historical artefacts from the past don’t disappear but just carry on floating around in cyberspace forever, 2000 doesn’t seem as remote from 2018 as, say, 1980 must have seemed from the perspective of 1998. Yet listening to these albums, I feel something which, if not a Proustian rush, certainly triggers memories of a vanished past where New Labour was still a thing, I had to go to the library to use the Internet and people wore really wide trousers. Let’s have a look what’s going on.

The Beta Band, ‘Heroes to Zeros’

This album, with its aesthetics-confounding title, was the last hurrah for the Beta Band, the promise shown by their unbelievable EPs never fully translating (either commercially or critically) on a full album. As the title suggests, this came out to more or less total disinterest and they bitterly split up not long after. It’s a shame, as this feels like the best of their three long-players: as well as the unusual combination of monk drones, folk guitar and electronic skittering that is the band’s usual sound, they add Krautrock jams (on ‘Assessment’), Siouxsie and the Banshees samples and a string section. As ever with them, a wasted opportunity.

MJ Cole, ‘Sincere’

I regret to inform you that two-step garage has made the list, although this is, I believe, the genre’s only contribution to the 1001 (unless you count Dizzee?). Garridge is an odd one: often it’s rough round the edges, harsh and uncompromising, but equally often it’s heavy on the Rhodes, the soul and the palatably smooth. ‘Sincere’ is definitely in the latter camp, occasionally delving into Chic Foundation pastiche and pausing for moody Bonobo-ish instrumentals. Cole’s album would have been greatly improved with better rappers: Nova Casper and Guy S’mone don’t impress, despite multiple opportunities to do so.

Bebel Gilberto, ‘Tanto Tempo’

One of the many Gilbertos on the list, Bebel is the daughter of Joao, who we’ve met before. Like her father, Bebel sings bossa nova, although this is a fair attempt at updating the formula, taking the inherent melancholy of the genre and backing it with William Orbit and Portishead electronica. Already 34 when this came out, Gilberto’s laidback approach also applies to her release schedule: only four more albums have come out in the 18 years since this was released.

Emmylou Harris, ‘Red Dirt Girl’

Harris’s second of two solo appearances on the list (she also appears with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt on a collaborative album, and on almost all tracks on Gram Parsons’ ‘Grievous Angel’), this late-career work notably features the great interpreter in the unusual position of singer/songwriter. Like the ‘Trio’ albums, this is a folky, reflective album given a shimmery, ethereal quality; I guess this must have been the popular style of early-2000s country before Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash defined the restrained austere sound of the American Recordings. Harris and her musicians sound great here, and this reflective album was a soothing late-night listen.

The Hives, ‘Your New Favourite Band’

At the time it felt like there was a lot to dislike about this band: they were a Rolling Stones-ish rock & roll band who looked like Alex and his droogs; they were yet another ‘The’ band; their songs were supposedly authored by ‘Randy Fitzsimmons’; they were on the execrable Poptones; they had that bloody awful NME headline of an album title. From the distance of 17 years, this album sounds better than it did at the time. Despite the nonsense swirling around them, there’s a refreshing lack of it on the record itself, with only the hit lasting more than three minutes. This means no time for solos, but just time for a mid-song ramble by Pelle, a song called ‘Absolute Schmuck’ and a keyboard-y instrumental called ‘The Hives Are Law, You Are Crime’. The list again falls foul of its own rules here: it says no compilations, but guess what this is.

Lambchop, ‘Nixon’

I was thinking this was the electronic band who did ‘Gorecki’ but that’s Lamb, whereas these are an alt.country band whose previous record was called ‘Thriller’ (in ironic reference to their lack of commercial success up to that point). ‘Nixon’ was their breakthrough, and occupies a position in skewed Americana that reminds me, in some ways, of Mercury Rev’s ‘Deserter’s Songs’. It’s confidently delivered and effortless in its inclusion of multiple genres (there’s Curtis Mayfield, gospel, a Richard Hawley-ish cut called ‘The Distance from Her to Me’). As with Wilco, a band I knew nothing about prior to the project, but one I’m looking forward to exploring more.

Mylo, ‘Destroy Rock and Roll’

Along the same lines as Justice or Simian Mobile Disco, this is an early 2000s electronica album that aims to reach out to indie disco kids: fun but not dumb fun, danceable but not mindless. It’s kind of post-big beat, with a similarly magpie approach but without the maximalist vibe of the Skint mob, sampling broadly but not to saturation point like The Avalanches. It reminded me most closely of Girl Talk, the mash-up project, especially when his vocodered ‘Drop The Pressure’ gives way to ‘In Your Arms’ (sampling ‘Waiting For A Star To Fall’). It must have sounded incredible in 2006; it still sounds good now, and is still on the list on its most recent version.

Next week: If you made a map of a town, what albums would be on it? Edifices, roads, palaces? Well, next week, we’ll have a look at the imaginary street map of 1001!

Status update: 861 listened to (86%), 140 remain.

May 13: Girls Against Boys, Baaba Maal, John Martyn, Method Man, Fred Neil, The Only Ones, The Undertones

Today’s 1001 Albums adventure is another collection of albums heard by less than 5% of the listchallenges.com community. While some of these artists are relatively obscure, there’s some pretty big names in there too, so hopefully this isn’t too unfathomable a collection. Let’s roll…

Girls Against Boys, ‘Venus Luxure No 1 Baby’ (link)

I’d not heard of this act before I pressed play on the album, so it could have been anything as far as I knew. What it actually is, however, is a Fugazi offshoot with an unusual guitar-2 basses-drums line-up, adding an aggressive low-end heaviness to the insolent grungy indie style they work with. Released in 1993, you can see echoes of their style in later Deftones, Rival Schools and others, even if the two-bass line-up never caught on.

Baaba Maal, ‘Lam Toro’

Apparently designed as Maal’s crossover – not entirely successful – ‘Lam Toro’ is a mishmash of traditional Senegalese music, bad guitar solos (on ‘Minuit’) and dated Shaggy-ish reggae (on the single ‘Yela’). The unevenness doesn’t make for a satisfying listen, in spite of Maal’s best efforts vocally. This is exasperatingly difficult to find online, despite having been released on an Island Records subsidiary.

John Martyn, ‘One World’ (link)

The mumbly jazz-folk oddity is better known for ‘Solid Air‘, a hard-to-categorise 1972 effort. This is equally difficult to pigeonhole, being a kind of folk that incorporates elements of jazz and funk and then submerges them under a bunch of effects. It’s no surprise to see Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry credited on ‘Big Muff’, a loose dub-like funk in keeping with Martyn’s album title, but completely unlike any of the other folk albums I’ve heard from this time. Martyn, a stranger to me at the start of the project, is an interesting character.

Method Man, ‘Tical’ (link)

One of at least three Wu Tang solo projects on the list (’36 Chambers’ is the only full cast album on the 1001), this one is the one that sounds most like the band’s debut, not least because it too features the song ‘Method Man’. Apparently by design there’s cheap keyboards all over it, Emerson, Lake and Palmer are sampled, while a ridiculous version of ‘Mr Sandman’ sung by a choirboy is the most unusual gamble here. It’s competent but oddly unsatisfying.

Fred Neil, ‘Fred Neil’ (link, see note below)

Available on Spotify rolled into a compilation called ‘The Many Sides of Fred Neil’, this is best known for ‘Everybody’s Talkin”, later a hit for Harry Nilsson (the album was later re-released as ‘Everybody’s Talkin”). It’s a folky record that’s okay but dull, which incongruously ends with an avant-garde attempt at a raga that goes on for eight minutes. It was the 60s, what can I say? The album opens with ‘Dolphins’, which serves as a clue to Neil’s future career: never keen on touring or promoting his work, Neil abandoned music in the 70s and spent the rest of his life working in dolphin conservation.

The Only Ones, ‘The Only Ones’ (link)

Woozy junk anthem ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ is a staple of punk compilations but the band’s three-album career is otherwise mostly forgotten. On this evidence, the band could do with re-appraisal, as this is one of the most dexterous punk albums I’ve heard. Featuring horns and keyboards augmenting the familiar two-guitar/bass/drums line-up, the band can make a three-minute song sound like an epic rock song, and Peter Perrett’s languid voice oddly works over whatever backing it’s given. The band are, apparently, still together following an appearance in a Vodafone advert and a Libertines endorsement, although the three albums are still all we’ve had.

The Undertones, ‘Hypnotised’ (link)

We covered ‘The Undertones’ last year, a just-about-competently-played punk album best known for ‘Teenage Kicks’. On ‘Hypnotised’, the band maintain the helium-Ramones energy of their debut but add a few more musical influences and a bit more musical proficiency that leads to a better album. It starts with ‘More Songs About Chocolate And Girls’ (a Talking Heads joke maybe?) and that pretty much summarises the lyrical thrust, while backing vocals, keyboards and ‘My Perfect Cousin’ all appear.

Next week: Hold onto your MySpace profile, set your MSN Messenger to ‘away’ and pause that DVD of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ as we’re going into the 2000s!

Status update: 854 listened to (85%), 147 remain.

May 6: Black Flag, Buffalo Springfield, The Flaming Lips, Mudhoney, Neu, Pet Shop Boys, T-Rex

Welcome back to 1001 Albums – a bit later than usual this week because I’ve been celebrating my birthday and seeing pals (and catching 60s electronica pioneers White Noise doing an idiosyncratic set in tribute to Delia Derbyshire’s birthday). This week it’s dealer’s choice, as a further celebration of my birthday. What did I choose to listen to? Let’s find out.

Black Flag, ‘Damaged’

I imagined a Black Flag album to be as brief as the Minor Threat one we covered a few months back and, while it’s true that few of the songs here break the three minute mark, the album is actually a relatively normal length: 35 minutes. Containing their two best-known songs in ‘TV Party’ and ‘Six Pack’, it’s a fast, aggressive and often barely audible thrash topped by Henry Rollins’ strangulated vocals (odd that a man with such a big neck would sound strangled). Very palatable despite the intensity, I actually think this album is a few songs too long: there’s 14 tracks here and a few knocked off might have been better.

Buffalo Springfield, ‘Buffalo Springfield Again’

Neil Young and Stephen Stills’ first band were already drifting apart at this point: Young’s ‘Expecting To Fly’ was recorded essentially as a solo song, and members were in and out of the band throughout the nine months the album took to record. It’s a charmingly whimsical psychedelic folk-rock which doesn’t quite hit the heights that Young scaled in his later solo career. There are some notable songs: ‘Good Time Boy’ is a funky soul song so incongruous with the rest of the album that I thought Spotify had started playing the wrong album, and ‘Broken Arrow’ features a jazzy clarinet and tape effects among other things.

The Flaming Lips, ‘The Soft Bulletin’

The Lips are objectively good but, as I’ve probably written before, the only time they captured my heart was on ‘Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz’. Perhaps the injection of a different lyricist willing to open her heart in a relatable manner is what the band needed, at least for me, as I’ve always found them less engaging than contemporaries Super Furry Animals, Mercury Rev or Sparklehorse. While there’s a lot of lysergic filler on this album, there are at least two glorious songs: opener ‘Race For The Prize’ and the heartfelt ‘Waitin’ For A Superman’.

Mudhoney, ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge’

‘Superfuzz Bigmuff’ was an unexpected delight, the fuzzy distortion and dumb genius vaulting the anti-grunge barriers I normally build around me. I was keen to check out the follow-up, but alas it underdelivers by comparison: only when they bring the pedals out and weld on a B52s organ do they come close to replicating the majesty of that album. There are some good songs here (‘Who You Driving Now?’ was I think my favourite) but it doesn’t compete with Superfuzz.

Neu!, ”75′

Very much an album of two halves here: on the first half, Michael Rother plays ambient while Klaus Dinger taps gently on a drum kit, and on the second half, Dinger steps up to the microphone and guitar for a two-guitar, two-drummer set that puts the ROCK in Krautrock. Everyone loves the second half, whose European underground nightclub sound was an influence on ‘Heroes’ and more, but I really liked the first half too. Good album, overall, then.

Pet Shop Boys, ‘Behaviour’

One of three PSB albums on the list, this sounds like the one most vulnerable to ageing: perhaps because of how heavily the style was used as background music in the 1990s, perhaps due to some of the ancient synth sounds used throughout the album. The songwriting occasionally shines through the production, though: ‘So Hard’ is a rumination about adultery and ‘Jealousy’ is a West End-style album closer.

T-Rex, ‘The Slider’

The second and final T-Rex album on the list doesn’t sound too different from ‘Electric Warrior’: in fact dare I say that there’s probably no need for two of their albums on the list when they sound so similar. Not that the Bolan boogie doesn’t sound good: ‘Telegram Sam’ and ‘Metal Guru’ both appear here alongside lesser fare with typically Marc-esque titles like ‘Spaceball Ricochet’, and crude Ronson-like soloing on ‘Rabbit Fighter’ and others.

Next week: We hit some of the obscurities: it’s albums heard by less than 5% of the listchallenges.com community!

Status update: 847 listened to (85%), 151 remain.

 

April 29: Nick Cave, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, REM, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan

Welcome back to 1001 Albums, where this week it’s a party full of people we’ve already hung out with several times. Many of today’s star guests are making their final appearance on the blog, as we’ve now listened to everything on the list by them: we’re in the last six months of the project after all. Let’s get to it.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, ‘The Boatman’s Call’ (link)

Many of the albums we’ve been listening to of Cave’s involve a one-legged pirate murdering a dwarf at a carnival or something, but this album by the Antipodean vampire is less lurid and more sombre and romantic than usual. Written around the time of a brief and unsuccessful relationship with PJ Harvey, although not necessarily about her, the infusion of personal themes invigorates Cave’s writing. The best thing here is ‘Brompton Oratory’, in which Cave conflates religious ceremony and carnal desire in a classical Catholic manner. Also, what an opening lyric for an album: “I don’t believe in an interventionist God”. The only gripe is that maybe it’s too long for such a windswept album.

Miles Davis, ‘In A Silent Way’ (link)

Our final of four visits to Davis, but the third chronologically, this one has just two tracks, unravelling over eighteen minutes each. The first, ‘Shhh/Peaceful’, starts off like a jumbled 60s spy movie soundtrack and ends up like a precursor to Broadcast or DJ Shadow or something, gradually adding textures and sounds without perceptibly changing. The second, ‘In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time’, starts off sounding like Godspeed You Black Emperor before the trumpet and drums come in, making it sound more definably jazz. The sound of walking home late at night and unexpectedly seeing a shadowy figure bathed in streetlight, I’m not sure I completely understood this.

Bob Dylan, ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ (link)

Gradually transitioning between the all-acoustic sounds of ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ and the rock band line-ups of ‘Highway ’61 Revisited’, this features Bob doing half of one and half of the other. It features two of Bob’s best-known songs: ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ opens the album, and ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ appears in a sleepy, wistful guise rather than the Byrds’ jingle-jangle. Some of the lyrics on this are Dylan at his most Dylanesque: ‘Gates of Eden’ and ‘Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream’ (at least after the false start) are both rambling stories with no real chorus featuring surreal characters. Not my favourite of his, but in some ways his most representative.

REM, ‘Document’ (link)

They go for everything full-tilt: upbeat jangles like ‘It’s The End of The World As We Know It’, callous break-up songs like ‘The One I Love’, vaguely pub-rock stompers like ‘Strange’. And it sounds like a 1987 album: drums high in the mix with reverb all over them, guitar a trebly jangle. I think this lacks the emotional immediacy of ‘Automatic For The People’, which is probably why that album sold loads more, but at least you can make out what Stipe’s singing. There is another REM album on the list, which we’ll cover this year.

Rolling Stones, ‘Sticky Fingers’ (link)

Our last of six trips into the Stones’ back catalogue. I’ve come to understand Mick and the boys as starting their albums in style (‘Gimme Shelter’, ‘Street Fightin’ Man’, ‘Paint It Black’) but not sustaining the momentum for a long-player. Here, we open with ‘Brown Sugar’, which did nothing for me. And yet! This may well be my favourite of theirs. ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ goes into a lengthy Allman Brothers jam, ‘Sister Morphine’ is a bleak wallow, and ‘Moonlight Mile’ is a stirring closer. It sounds more American than some of their albums (e.g. their psychedelic albums) but the sound suits them.

Bruce Springsteen, ‘Nebraska’ (link)

In the days of streaming music, having the unreleased demos bundled onto Spotify as bonus tracks is nothing out of the ordinary (‘Tommy’ has the entire album’s demos as extras); rarer, however, is the home demo actually being the album. The story here is that the Boss made the demo at home on a four-track in order to record the album in the studio with the E Street Band. However, when the band struggled to replicate the intimacy or the soul of the demos, the demo itself came out instead. And that’s how lo-fi was invented, everyone! I often find Springsteen stifled a bit by the cornball earnestness of the arrangements, and listening to this palatable album of stark, barely accompanied cuts, perhaps that was the problem all along. This is good.

Steely Dan, ‘Countdown To Ecstasy’ (link)

The first album on which Donald Fagen sings everything – although the previous singer David Palmer didn’t take it personally, appearing on backing vocals here. Music fans of about my age probably know this album best for ‘Show Biz Kids’, or at least its featured spotlight when sampled on Super Furry Animals’ ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’. But the two-chord vamp is hardly representative of the whole: the album’s mostly jazz-styled, harmony-heavy soft-rock which is familiar, but pretty good.

Next week: it’s my birthday week, so we’ll be doing EDITOR’S CHOICE. Even this far into the project, there’s still loads of albums I’m excited to hear. Hooray for self-restraint!

Status update: 840 listened to (84%), 161 remaining.

 

April 22: Elvis Costello, Devo, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Go-Gos, Pere Ubu, The Police, Public Image Ltd

This week on 1001, I’ll need you to move away from that punk era and into POST PUNK, and I want you to dispense with all of those old waves you’re so comfortable with, because it’s time for NEW WAVE. Loads of albums on the 1001 fall into one of these two categories, so a week dedicated to them is long overdue. Let’s have a look.

Elvis Costello, ‘Brutal Youth’ (link)

Like Neil Young with Crazy Horse, Costello seems more willing to sprawl loosely when he’s with his backing band (The Attractions, not credited by name here); unlike Young, he doesn’t seem to have spent his 90s exploring grunge, as we learn from this album. Running nearly an hour long, this would have benefitted from 20 minutes being cut off, at which point the songwriting – deftly constructed but written with a punkish energy – would have felt like his best album. Just one more EC album left.

Devo, ‘Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!’ (link)

I was kind of expecting this album to be weirder, especially considering it was produced by Brian Eno: like a Roy Liechtenstein version of the Residents. Reading about it, it seems like Eno expected that too: the Mothersbaughs weren’t, apparently, interested in experimenting or deviating from what was on their demos. Instead, then, it sounds like a lot of other new-wave: choppy, clean riffs and frantic yelping over the top, with the possible exception of a collapsed cover of ‘Satisfaction’ and the Bauhaus motorik of ‘Mongoloid’. Angular but tame. A bit of a letdown.

Echo and the Bunnymen, ‘Porcupine’ (link)

It’s a shame that the first Echo and the Bunnymen I heard was their awful, Liam Gallagher-on-backing vocals 90s comeback, because it put me off exploring their majestic back catalogue for years: like having a drunken fight in a Wetherspoons with a stranger who should by all rights become your best friend. In fact Echo were a high quality act: brooding, faintly goth, but poppy with great choruses. This starts with the hit ‘The Cutter’ and keeps at the same level of urgent, yearning anguish throughout: dark and moody but not so far off the deep end that it becomes impenetrable. Bringing strings, autoharps, harmoniums and marimbas into the mix, this must have seemed thrilling at the time. Now, you can see some of the trappings of the era, but it still sounds pretty excellent.

The Go-Gos, ‘Beauty and the Beat’ (link)

Belinda Carlisle of course had about 15 minutes in The Germs, but she struck gold (well, double platinum) with this outfit, whose sunny, well-produced jangle reminds me of the most poppy Blondie tracks. In the same way that Echo and the Bunnymen’s album sounds like it’s from Liverpool (because it’s raining all the time), ‘Beauty and the Beat’ sounds like a band writing songs in the California sunshine, and so they were. Guitarists Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin write the lion’s share. Carlisle’s sole co-write betrays her roots: it’s a Bikini Kill-ish stomp with the snot-nosed title ‘Skidmarks on my Heart’.

Pere Ubu, ‘Dub Housing’

Unavailable on Spotify. Ubu are one of those bands who became post-punk because they were more interested in sounding like Captain Beefheart than sounding like The Who: so while there’s songs with clear melodic structure here (‘Caligari’s Mirror’, ‘On The Surface’) there’s also meandering drones like ‘Thriller’ and ‘Blow Daddy-O’. Singer David Thomas’s bizarre delivery is the difference-maker, I think: much post-punk has barely controlled yelping at the front, but Thomas’s breakdown soundtrack isn’t controlled at all. Some of this sounds like early 90s lo-fi: so it sounds both ahead of its time and in the past at once.

The Police, ‘Synchronicity’ (link)

The guitarist gets a song (the Weill-via-Fripp ‘Mother’) and so does the drummer (‘Miss Gradenko’, tolerable), but this is mostly Sting’s tilt at the mainstream: and of course it paid off with super-hit ‘Every Breath You Take’. Unusually, the experiments are on the first half and the hits are on the B-side (‘Wrapped Around Your Finger’ and ‘King of Pain’ the others). But either due to the over-familiarity of the sound, a dislike of both Sting’s voice and some of the additional sounds (more sax, some of the synth pads), or both, I didn’t particularly care for this: ‘Regatta de Blanc‘ was further up my street.

Public Image Ltd, ‘Metal Box’ (link)

This album was famously packaged in a three-vinyl set trapped like sardines in a metal box, and once the listener had managed to wrestle the vinyl out of the box without snapping it in half, the music itself offers similarly few compromises. Johnny goes into the abstract, Keith mostly plays metal guitars which sound like knives being sharpened, and the overall impression is of an album easy to admire, but difficult to love.

Next week: We take a look at more of the most frequent artists who appear on the list, some for the last time!

Status update: 833 listened to (83%), 168 remain.

April 15: Devendra Banhart, The Byrds, Crowded House, The Faces, The Kinks, Paul Simon, Talking Heads

Today’s seven are united by either their album title or their band name referring to a part of the body. Loose and tenuous I know, but hey, there’s less than 200 albums left on the list and finding reasons to bring them together is getting harder. Some familiar names on here, as you’ve seen from the headline, so let’s go.

Devendra Banhart, ‘Rejoicing in the Hands’ (link)

With titles like ‘Tit Smoking in the Temple of Artesan Mimicry’ and ‘This Beard Is For Siobhan’, this is the weird guy at the acoustic open mic night getting a full length album. He’s got a strange, tremulous mumble as a voice, usually backed by his own fingerpicking and nothing else, which doesn’t particularly endear me. Yet there are some gems: ‘Fall’ is grounded by a rhythm section and topped with ghostly backing vocals, and ‘Insect Eyes’ is witchy folk with almost a raga drone. Not desperately necessary, but at least it wasn’t Newton Faulkner.

The Byrds, ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ (link)

The Byrds’ dispensing of their most familiar trappings – the 12-string Rickenbacker, the harmonies, a weird album closer – and diving head-first into country rock polarised their audience and was treated with suspicion by the Nashville contingent, wary of the hippies cashing in on their sound. It’s a brave move by the band, freshening up their sound by completely changing it, but I’m not convinced that the stetson and chaps suit them: ‘One Hundred Years From Now’ is good, and Dylan’s ‘Nothing Was Delivered’ sounds okay on the prairie, but the Louvin Brothers and Merle Haggard stuff is either inexpertly handled or just doesn’t suit the band. A bit of a disappointment.

Crowded House, ‘Woodface’ (link)

You know more Crowded House than you think, according to the old advert, and this is even true of the album art here…

Woodface

The only album to feature Tim Finn, this also contains mega-hits ‘Weather With You’ and ‘It’s Only Natural’, both of which were originally intended for Tim and Neil’s Finn Brothers project. As well as the semi-acoustic indie-rock of those songs, there’s an attempt at Great American Songbook composition on ‘All I Ask’ and, on the secret track, a jokey wah-pedal thrash song. The album sounds less dated than a lot of other 1991 albums, perhaps because it avoids the familiar production cliches of the era. It sounds fine and it sold a load but I’m not sure I’d seek it out again.

The Faces, ‘A Nod Is As Good As A Wink… To A Blind Horse’ (link)

Pub rock, basically, the weirdness of which is defined by who’s singing: Rod Stewart sings the no-nonsense boogie he wrote with guitarist Ronnie Wood, while bassist Ronnie Lane sings his more skewed compositions (keyboardist Ian McLagan gets more to do on Lane’s songs, including one co-write). The closer ‘That’s All You Need’ pauses for a Led Zep guitar freakout, then goes into a chorus with a steel drum, which is the most unusual thing here. I dunno, it’s pub rock, so it depends how you get on with that. For what it is, it’s accomplished.

The Kinks, ‘Face to Face’ (link)

I owned a Kinks best of as a teenager and listened to it a lot but only got round to their albums during this project. They’ve been slightly disappointing against my expectations, and I haven’t re-listened to any of them. This is our third of four visits to the band and is regarded as the start of their imperial period, moving away from the grungy Who rock of their early stuff into something more restrained and English. It features ‘Sunny Afternoon’, for example. The stand-outs are early: ‘Too Much On My Mind’ and ‘Session Man’ (about paid-by-the-hour musicians, this features a harpsichord flourish from jobbing musician Nicky Hopkins, who presumably saw the funny side). Another one that is just okay, this also features the band inventing goth with (at least the title of) ‘Little Miss Queen Of Darkness’.

Paul Simon, ‘Hearts and Bones’ (link)

The last Simon album before ‘Graceland’, this was a commercial and critical failure at the time, and it certainly feels like a minor album: in places, it sounds like Simon’s aiming to make a Randy Newman album using synths. There are occasional hints of world music that foreshadow ‘Graceland’, and Simon gives the last minute of the album over to Philip Glass for an ominous coda. This is our last visit to Simon’s solo career: just one S&G album left on the list.

Talking Heads, ‘Remain in Light’ (link)

At long last we get to ‘Remain in Light’, our last of four visits to the Heads and one of the most critically-acclaimed albums we’ll cover in 2018. Influenced by Fela Kuti and often based around one chord, it’s impressive how expansive the sound suddenly becomes as a result: the layers of percussion, choir vocals and Adrian Belew guitars sound massive. Best known for ‘Once in a Lifetime’, I don’t have many arguments against people who regard this as the best Heads album, even if I subjectively prefer ‘Fear of Music’. Arguments over the writing credits famously caused strains in the band’s relationships: they didn’t do another album for three years, and didn’t work with Eno again.

Next week: we look at some of the post-punk and new-wave albums on the list.

Status update: 826 listened to (82%), 175 remain. Into the last six months of the project now.