September 18: Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello, Led Zeppelin, Sonic Youth, Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan, The Who

This week, I’ll be looking at some of the artists who feature on the list most often, but whose output is mostly a mystery to me. It probably won’t surprise you that the artists who have most entries on the list are The Beatles, David Bowie and Neil Young (seven albums each). I’ve already listened to all the Beatles and Bowie, but we will be seeing a lot more of the following artists…

Leonard Cohen, ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen’.

One of four Cohen albums on the list, this one is his debut, which features two of his best-known songs in ‘Suzanne’ and ‘So Long, Marianne’ (like Lou Reed, Cohen liked naming songs after women). Recorded in the late 60s, this album is atypical for its era as it’s often quite stark and stripped-down, whereas a lot of singer-songwriter albums are drenched in strings and horns. Indeed Cohen had to battle with a producer keen to orchestrate his songs. It’s pretty good, but I bet there’s better albums in Cohen’s oeuvre and on this list. Fans of 80s goth will be pleased to know that not only does this album contain the track ‘Sisters of Mercy’ but, in a later track, the line “some girls wander by mistake”, later used by the Sisters for a compilation.

Elvis Costello, ‘This Year’s Model’.

One of a sextet of Costello albums on the list and, look, it’s not like I hate him – I think it’s difficult to do so – but six albums? It’s like having six Weezer albums, or six Squeeze albums. This one features ‘I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea’ and ‘Night Rally’, both of which trump anything on ‘My Aim Is True’, and the production and playing is clean, but I’m yet to hear anything essential in these albums.

Led Zeppelin, ‘Led Zeppelin II’.

There are five Zep records on the list, of which I’d heard just one (‘IV’). As well as the templated heavy blues, this one has all sorts of dynamic tricks up its sleeve: unexpected noise breaks (in ‘Whole Lotta Love’), drum solos (which could often be extended to 30 minutes live!), false fades and more. Aside from ‘Thank You’ – a sort of grandfather to 80s metal power ballads – this didn’t do a whole lotta exciting me, and has a song called ‘Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman)’: I mean, ugh. Still, although the bluesy squalls aren’t necessarily to my taste, you can’t fault the musicianship, and as far as legacy and impact goes it’s obviously an important album.

Sonic Youth, ‘Sister’.

I’d heard the intermittently-superb ‘EVOL’ so the earliest Sonic Youth album on the list that I’d not heard was its successor, ‘Sister’, which bridges the gap between the noise-rock of ‘EVOL’ and the MTV-bothering tunes-and-weird of ‘Daydream Nation’. Despite the fact that zillions of imitators have recycled the ideas herein, the source material still remains compelling, with Moogs, church bells and ear-splitting noise embellishing a surprisingly coherent album. Like any band this abrasive – Atari Teenage Riot, Melt-Banana – their sound feels more effective in doses less than a full album’s worth, but this is an excellent album.

Bruce Springsteen, ‘Born to Run’.

When Todd Rundgren first heard the ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ demo, he thought it was a hilarious parody of Bruce Springsteen, extending the joke by getting two of the E Street Band in to play on the album when he produced it. Listening to ‘Thunder Road’, it’s easy to see why he might have drawn that conclusion (‘Bat Out Of Hell’ does sound very much like an overwrought version of ‘Thunder Road’). Of course, one of the other stylistic innovations of this album – putting glockenspiel all over the place – has been pilfered by the Arcade Fire and others, meaning the imitators have plundered most of the main tricks here. This is okay, and the second half removes a lot of the elements in the first half that now seem cheesy, but I dunno, the Boss is still yet to show me the magic everyone else sees.

Steely Dan, ‘Can’t Buy A Thrill’.

The band have four albums on this list, starting with this, their debut. It’s an odd choice for a name because Steely Dan were a soft-rock band in the 70s: they knew full well they could buy a thrill in grams or ounces. It’s also a novelty in the band’s back catalogue as it features a different lead singer: David Palmer covers some of the vocals here and live due to Donald Fagen’s concerns about his voice. Anyway, whoever’s on vocals, the music is great, with piano noodles, Latin rhythms, screeching solos and more in the mix. It’s very accomplished coke-y soft-rock: I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this as much as I did.

The Who, ‘The Who Sell Out’.

Five Who records on the list, here’s the second. On this one, the band pay homage to pirate radio with an album segued together with jingles and occasionally writing about products as if they were adverts – although this being The Who, the lyrics have an odd take (‘Odorono’ is about a woman failing to complete a romantic experience because she hadn’t used underarm deodorant). The segues and musical variety make this one a blast, with Moon’s drumming and the vocal harmonies standing out. The best-known song is ‘I Can See For Miles’, but there’s plenty of other treats on this day-glo Pop Art album.

Next time, I’ll be looking at some of the Australian albums on the list. See you then.

Status check: 280 listened to (28%), 721 remain.

 

 

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September 11: ‘Abbey Road’, ‘Blood on the Tracks’, ‘Rumours’,’Forever Changes’, ‘Astral Weeks’, ‘Sign O’ The Times’, The Stone Roses, ‘Marquee Moon’

One of the advantages of a project like this is that it makes you listen to things that you’ve never quite got around to, allowing for gaps in your knowledge to be plugged. In this week’s update, I’ll be looking at some albums that almost always appear on Classic Albums lists, yet which I’ve never heard. Feel free to castigate me for not having heard any of these before in the comments.

The Beatles, ‘Abbey Road’.

A peculiarity: I had listened to all the Beatles’ albums between 1965-1968, even owning crappy odds-and-sods like ‘Yellow Submarine’ (although that does have ‘Hey Bulldog’), but had stopped at the White Album and not explored beyond it. Why? Because the blue double album best of had hardly inspired confidence in late-era Beatles, with crap like ‘Get Back’ and ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ stinking up the end of that record. It was, then, with some reluctance that I came to ‘Abbey Road’. This being their farewell album, however, the band made the effort, with Lennon and McCartney raising their games, Harrison bringing some of his most accessible songs and even Ringo putting in a shift with ‘Octopus Garden’. There are some false steps: ‘Come Together’ and ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ prove yet again that blues is not the band’s strong suit, and the hidden track ‘Her Majesty’ is superfluous. However, the concluding medley is a fitting finale for the 60s’ greatest band. Just don’t mention ‘Let It Be’.

Bob Dylan, ‘Blood on the Tracks’.

Like an overquoted movie like ‘Casablanca’ or ‘Psycho’, it’s hard to come to a classic Dylan album for the first time: even though you’ve never heard it before, it’s so familiar that you might as well have. This is the third album I’ve heard of Bob’s, and it’s the one that most closely matches the stereotype I have in my head of him (mind you, one of the other albums of his I’ve heard was the inexplicable ‘Christmas in the Heart’, probably the least Dylanesque of his albums). There’s a harmonica solo in almost every song, most of the songs are over five minutes long, and they’re often just vocals and guitar. This may not be a popular decision but this didn’t do an awful lot for me I’m afraid. Luckily for Zimmermaniacs there’s still plenty of albums of his coming up, so maybe I’ll be more swayed by those.

Fleetwood Mac, ‘Rumors’.

Notoriously made while hedonistically partying like mad in an attempt to forget that their relationships had disintegrated – it was the style at the time, Abba did it too – it’s incredible that this album features a song as jauntily poppy as ‘Don’t Stop’, even if it is a fairly lousy slice of honky-tonk corn. Despite the soap opera background, the band managed to keep their shit together enough to hit home runs on virtually every track here: each of the songs is a triumphant achievement, and, in the case of ‘The Chain’, a dull plod suddenly gets a song-saving injection of adrenaline midway through. Sure it’s cheesy and soft, but it’s artfully written and masterfully constructed.

Love, ‘Forever Changes’.

The final Love album with the original line-up, this one was lucky to feature them at all: they were so lost in LSD, smack and infighting that exasperated producer Bruce Botnick hired a bunch of ace session hands to back Arthur Lee on two songs instead. This tactic finally motivated the slackers to bother to learn Lee’s songs, and they’re on all the rest of the songs (the hacks’ tracks still made the cut though). Neil Young was invited to produce but backed out: no wonder under the circumstances. Anyway, the album’s disillusioned melancholia gives it a bit more weight than a lot of groovy flower-power albums of the era, but it is still very much an album of its time, almost like a time capsule from the late 60s. I think I prefer what I’ve heard of ‘Da Capo’, perhaps because it feels more ragged and experimental even if it’s less cohesive as an album than this one.

Van Morrison, ‘Astral Weeks’.

A few weeks ago I reviewed the Waterboys’ ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, where the artist’s best-known song (‘Whole of the Moon’) gave little clue that their best-known album would be folk-heavy and largely acoustic. So too with ‘Astral Weeks’, which sounds nothing like Van’s student disco fixture ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. This is a staple of ‘Best Album Ever’ lists, so it’s no surprise to see it here, but I’m not sure I get it. The songs are unacceptably long, frequently pushing at the five- and even ten-minute marks, and the musicians are audibly figuring out their parts as they go: they were told to play whatever they felt like and were in many cases recorded in one take, which gives it a doodling feel. The album lasts 47 minutes; feels longer.

Prince, ‘Sign O’ The Times’.

Speaking of albums that feel long. Of Montreal are my favourite band and it almost feels like I should have had a mandatory education in Prince as a result and yet, due to the Purple One’s absence from Spotify and so forth, this is the first time I’ve checked out one of his albums. Come on, Prince’s estate! Even The Beatles are there now! Maybe it wasn’t the wisest idea to start with the 80-minute album, a lot of which sounds very similar (side 2 especially is mostly minimalist Fairlight funk). Side 3 has all the hits, and it’s hard to dismiss an album with two songs as different but as good as ‘I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man’ and ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’ on the same side. Good, not great, and too long. There are a couple of other Prince albums on the list, which I’m expecting good things from.

The Stone Roses, ‘The Stone Roses’.

If you’ve known me for a while then you’ll know that Madchester isn’t exactly my favourite scene, and yet here’s the second album in three weeks from the early 90s Manchester era. Yay. Like ‘Twin Peaks’, the Roses had a big hit with the first effort, on which their reputation rests, despite a less successful second release, and are only now doing a third, 25 years later. Is the first album any cop, though? Certainly it starts off promisingly, with the moody ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, the dynamic ‘She Bangs The Drums’ and the glistening ‘Waterfall’, but the momentum isn’t sustained: the fourth song is just the third song backwards right? And the sixth is ‘Scarborough Fair’ for 50 seconds? And the eleventh is ‘I Am The Resurrection’ for EIGHT minutes? (The Spotify version really compounds the piss-taking by adding a ten-minute version of ‘Fool’s Gold’ on the end, but I won’t count that against the album.) It feels like a ‘good singles, bad album tracks’ album: not that this is necessarily a bad thing but it’s hardly the second best album ever or whatever.

Television, ‘Marquee Moon’.

You get eight this week because I can’t count. I’d tried to get into Television before, even seeing them play this very album at Latitude one year, but I never quite got it. Listening to it now, however, I wonder whether it just caught me at a bad time, as this album is ace. The angular melodies of ‘Elevation’ and the title track are up my street and even a slow-motion meander like ‘Torn Curtain’ is redeemed by a heartfelt guitar solo. One listen isn’t really enough to herald acclaimed nuances such as the lyrics, but you can see why turn-of-century hipsters like The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand were paying attention.

Next week, I’ll be listening to some of the artists who appear on this list most frequently. Do Steely Dan or Elvis Costello warrant four or more albums each on here? Only one way to find out.

Progress report: 273/1001 (27%), 728 remain.

September 4: Dion, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, Abdullah Ibrahim, The Icarus Line, Elis Regina, The Sabres of Paradise, Nitin Sawhney

This week’s update takes a look at some of the least-heard albums on the 1001, according to Listchallenges.com. These seven are ones that had been heard by just 1% of the Listchallenge community.

Dion, ‘Born to be With You’.

Dion was a doo-wop singer in the 50s with his group Dion and the Belmonts, and had had a number of solo hits in the 60s, but by the 1970s he was aiming for a more mature sound and recorded this one with Phil Spector in 1975. Spector acted as both producer and label boss for this and, typically, was a pain in both roles: his drinking and erratic temper made the sessions an ordeal and he held the release off for six months to build up anticipation that didn’t exist. Nobody paid any attention to this on its release, but later admirers include Jason Pierce, Pete Townshend and Jarvis Cocker (who sampled one of the tracks on this album for his own underheard solo album). This is largely a soul/rock album reminiscient of Spector’s work with Lennon. It’s okay, but its position on the list deserves questioning when there’s such little 50s/60s soul and Spector stuff on the list.

The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, ‘Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury’.

DHH were an American hip-hop band who toured with U2, Nirvana and others in the early 1990s and whose approach to names appeared to be the same as their approach to songs: i.e. as long as possible. There’s a clear Public Enemy influence on this record, in the vocal delivery, socially-conscious rhyming and the Bomb Squad-style backing. It is too long – I’d have cut the jazz vocal/guitar track and the Dead Kennedys cover, which on paper seem like they’d be the most intriguing cuts. Overall, though, this is a good album, full of ideas both musically and lyrically.

Abdullah Ibrahim, ‘Water From An Ancient Well’.

The crappy artwork and the album title might make you think there’s a naff New Age album here, but Ibrahim was in fact a South African jazz pianist. The last African jazz album I listened to was Fela Kuti’s confrontational ‘Zombie’; although South Africa in 1986 was a fraught place to be, Ibrahim’s work is more downbeat Duke Ellington numbers (and is instrumental anyway). The album has some highlights (the title track, ‘The Wedding’) but there’ll no doubt be better jazz albums on the list.

The Icarus Line, ‘Penance Soiree’.

The Los Angeles noiseniks were in a tough position during the recording of this album: the label weren’t interested, and guitarist Aaron North packed it in to join Nine Inch Nails once the record came out. The feel of decay and disintegration permeates the album, particularly in the dissonant shapes thrown by guitarists North and Alvin DeGuzman. It’s at its weakest when it reverts to routine hard-rock posturing: singer Joe Cardamome is especially guilty of falling back on 80s cliches that undo the collapsing Stooges sounds of the band.

Elis Regina, ‘Vento de Maio’.

Regina was a Brazilian singer who, at the time of this recording, was becoming a thorn in the side of the government: she was increasingly outspoken against them in public but they couldn’t jail her because she was so popular. While Latin pop can often sound like much of a muchness to ignorant northern hemisphere philistines like me, the feisty charisma and personality with which Regina infuses these songs really distinguishes them. The guitars often keep up as well, being bright and enjoyable. Although the sequencing is chaotic, this is a strong collection of songs. Depressingly, this was a late-era Regina even though she was only 32: she died in 1982, aged 36, of what Wikipedia describes as an “alcohol, cocaine and temazepan interaction”. This is her only entry on the list: her Antonio Carlos Jobim collaboration ‘Elis and Tom’ is hailed as the best bossa nova album ever, but does not appear here.

The Sabres of Paradise, ‘Haunted Dancehall’.

While this might sound like a splinter wing of the Islamic State (hopefully a collaboration with post-rock band Isis isn’t on the cards), the Sabres were in fact an Andrew Weatherall dub project. The album is very much an experiment in soundscapes: a cinematic sound that never receives a killer melody to go over the top of it. The atmospherics would make a fantastic soundtrack but with no tunes, this album belongs in the background. Also worth noting that this album’s dub stylings made it onto the 1001 but King Tubby and Lee Perry are nowhere to be seen.

Nitin Sawhney, ‘Beyond Skin’.

Sawhney is a British-born Indian whose collaboration with friend Sanjeev Bhaskar led to a radio show that eventually became 90s cultural phenomenon ‘Goodness Gracious Me’. No jokes on this album though, which applies Indian cultural influences to downtempo dance music. The range of sounds and influences present on the album – Satie-ish piano, Spanish guitar – means the album’s perhaps more intriguing than it sounds, although it strays into dull meandering more than once. Pretty good.

Next time, I’ll be looking at some of the heralded classics (according to music magazines at least) that I’ve never previously heard. I’m away on holiday next week but, all being well, a new update will still appear due to WORDPRESS MAGIC.

Progress: 265/1001 (26%)

August 28: If I Must special – The Bees, Mariah Carey, The Happy Mondays, Jamiroquai, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Simply Red, Paul Weller

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.

August 12: Requests edition – The Byrds, Dandy Warhols, Grandmaster Flash, Queen, Ride, Scott Walker, Waterboys, Muddy Waters

This edition is mostly driven by requests via Facebook (aside from the Byrds and Waterboys) – thanks to those who requested.

The Byrds, ‘Mr Tambourine Man’.

The 60s janglers were Bob Dylan’s protegees, as you can tell by the multiple songwriting credits on this album (including the title track, probably the Byrds’ best-known work). The band’s trademarks, at least at this point, were the distinctive sound of the 12-string guitar and their harmonies, which are showcased throughout. It does make the album sound very similar throughout, which makes me think there’s better Byrds albums to come, particularly when Gram Parsons shows up later. Still, at least it’s a very pleasant trademark sound. The album ends in an unlikely way, with a cover of ‘We’ll Meet Again’. It sounds exactly as you’d expect.

The Dandy Warhols, ‘Come Down’.

This was the occasional nudists and Brian Jonestown Massacre frenemies’ second attempt at a major label debut after Capitol rejected their first attempt for not having enough songs, resulting in a not-particularly-harmonious combination of stoner droners with power-pop interludes. At one point there are three or four space-rock numbers in a row, which are so slow that when ‘Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth’ comes along, it ironically feels like an injection of speed. The louche bohemians are better at the power-pop (‘Cool Like Kim Deal’, ‘Boys Better’, ‘Every Day Should Be A Holiday’), and of course it was this style which eventually made them millions in the form of Vodafone jingle ‘Bohemian Like You’.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, ‘The Message’.

Best known for the socially-conscious title track which closes the record, the Five (or Six I suppose) don’t seem entirely sure what their strengths are here, oscillating between party rap (the good opening tracks), electro experiments (‘Scorpio’) and abysmal ballads (most of Side 2). The Stevie Wonder tribute is especially bad: later hip-hop would pay tribute to Wonder by just sampling him (‘Gangsta’s Paradise’, er, ‘Wild Wild West’). Not enough fury, or enough Grandmaster Flash for that matter, since most of the songs were created by live musicians rather than from Flash’s turntables. You can’t argue with the title track though, a bona-fide classic from the early hip-hop era.

Queen, ‘Queen II’.

The album art (replicated memorably in the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ video) is probably more famous than anything on the album itself, which mostly takes place in a fantastical imaginary word called Rhye. Despite its grandiose lyrical conceit, the first half of the album feels like a standard rock album, but it completely loses the plot/massively improves with the ridiculous ‘Ogre Battle’, which is more akin to the preposterous operatic rock that would become the band’s trademark.

Ride, ‘Nowhere’.

Unusually for a shoegaze band, Ride were (yecch) all male, which is perhaps why their stuff on this album at least seems more boisterous and aggressive than My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, the Cocteaus etc, but at the cost of the twinkly beauty that often defines the latter trio, and results in some flat vocals that might have been better lower in the mix. The textures are fascinating though, and elevate the album above a lot of its peers, particularly the screeching noise breaks of ‘Dreams Burn Down’ and the piano/drum battle that closes ‘Paralysed’. This must have been wonderful at ear-splitting volume live. The album ends on a flat note with the dated ‘Vapour Trail’, which sounds like the weakest track but was nonetheless the single.

Scott Walker, ‘Scott 2’.

Noel Engel’s more recent albums have been unsettling wanderings in avant-garde, hanging out with drone merchants like Sunn 0))), which was an unpredictable transition for one of the Walker Brothers. Still, even in this early solo outing, there are clues even among the lush orchestration and baritone crooning: the peculiar, uncommercial lyrics of ‘Jackie’ (a Jacques Brel translation), the urgent, nervy ‘Next’ and the weird echoes and dirge breaks in ‘Plastic Palace People’. ‘Scott 4’ is his famous one but this is worth your time.

The Waterboys, ‘Fisherman’s Blues’.

I picked this one out due to a fleeting obsession with ‘The Whole of the Moon’, the band’s grandiose 80s tribute to Prince and CS Lewis, to which this album bears no resemblance. Here, the band take their cues from Irish folk music and Van Morrison. It starts off well with the first four songs, but a lot of interminable songs (three songs here are over seven minutes long) bog down the album until you’re waiting for it to end. The longest track here is called ‘And A Bang On The Ear’ – this is not how you have sex, Mike Scott!

Muddy Waters, ‘Hard Again’.

Recorded in 1977, at which point Muddy was already in his sixties, this sounds like an overjoyed comeback album. Even the producer can’t hide his delight, whooping excitedly through one-chord opener ‘Mannish Boy’. It’s a blues album, so it uses every standard woke-up-this-morning riff in the genre, but the high standards of production and the overall sense of inspired fun makes it a good listen. It makes it sound like you’re in a great Beale Street bar listening to the best band in town.

Next edition will be an If I Must edition featuring some of the albums I’ve not been looking forward to hearing. This will be more fun for you than for me.

Current progress: 252/1001 (25%), 749 albums remain.

August 14: Abba, Nick Cave, Frank Sinatra, Tom Waits, Zombies

Abba, ‘Arrival’.

In many ways this is a typical pure pop album: great singles (five of them) dotted among bad album tracks. The all-treble production has dated, though, and with its low-in-mix drum machine and invisible bass, ‘Dancing Queen’ must be the least rhythm-driven song to have the word ‘dancing’ in its title. It doesn’t even have a tambourine! It’s unusual for a band whose songs were generally composed by a guitarist and a keyboardist to steer away from solos, too, so when one does turn up on ‘Happy Hawaii’ it’s a surprise.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, ‘Murder Ballads’.

One of many Cave albums on the list, this one has the big hit, ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’, with Kylie Minogue. Cave has a penchant for vaudevillian ham but his output is generally more enjoyable on the tracks where that’s curtailed. Overall, this imaginative combination of traditional songs and original songs is a fully realised world, concluding with a Dylan cover, ‘Death is Not the End’.

Frank Sinatra, ‘In The Wee Small Hours’.

I’ve always been suspicious of the reverence afforded to the Rat Pack: there’s something a bit self-satisfied about the whole thing, with the smug lyrics of, say, ‘That’s Amore’ being just one example. Trotting out teenagers on X-Factor to do ‘Mack the Knife’ in suits as if they’ve accidentally applied for ‘Stars in their Eyes’ is such a ridiculous concept that you might as well have them come out and sing madrigals. Anyway, this is the oldest album on the list and features Ol’ Blue Eyes being, well, blue. The melancholy air of the selections is informed by Sinatra’s divorce and if the pace never rises above somnolent then bear in mind the intended listening time of 2am. I doubt I’ll necessarily listen to this again but it certainly captured a mood.

Tom Waits, ‘Swordfishtrombones’.

The Beefheart-ish album title name and Waits’ eccentric turns on Sparklehorse and Eels albums made me think that this would be an obtuse listen but, although very unusual, this quirky not-quite-jazz was surprisingly easy on the ears, perhaps due to its sympathetic production and playing, allowing Waits to go wild over the top. A good album.

Zombies, ‘Odessey and Oracle’.

By the time this album came out the band itself was a zombie, long dead but still releasing the album anyway. I imagined this would be sort of Animals-ish R&B but instead it’s a day-glo 60s pop album evoking swinging Carnaby Street cliches. Pretty groovy.

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.