March 18: Barry Adamson, Aerosmith, Afghan Whigs, Anthrax, Joan Armatrading, The Associates, Bad Company

Welcome back to 1001 Albums for the 100th post! I’d like to thank everyone who’s followed it this far, through over two years of doing this. There’s still over 200 albums to listen to, too, so we’ve still got at least another seven months to go (after which I haven’t completely decided what will happen).

This week’s collection are unified only by their alphabetical position on the list, so a mixed bag of styles and eras awaits. Let’s jump in!

Barry Adamson, ‘Moss Side Story’ (link)

I’d enjoyed the jazzy electronica of ‘Oedipus Schmoedipus‘ so I was interested to hear another Adamson album, this one from 1989. This one is positioned as a soundtrack to a film noir, so it’s all spooky incidental music, strings piling up and doomy horns. Maybe this would be better in context, you think: yet there’s no actual film, it’s just a concept album. The chilling soundscapes convincingly recreate the genre he’s operating in, and I can see how it might have influenced cinematically-minded acts like Portishead, but it’s an exercise solely in textures rather than melodies. The bonus tracks include such inessentials as ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’, which is that show’s theme tune played straight on clarinet through a load of delay pedals. Not exciting.

Aerosmith, ‘Toys in the Attic’ (link)

The mega-selling bubblegum hard rockers surprisingly have three albums on the list. This is the earliest of the three, which features ‘Walk This Way’ (the original, prior to Run DMC’s involvement) and ‘Sweet Emotion’ (which sounds pretty good). There’s also a rockabilly swing single-entendre called ‘Big Ten Inch Record’ and an opportunity for Steve Tyler to do an Eartha Kitt impression on decent ballad closer ‘You See Me Crying’. Not yet playing for the stadiums, I can objectively see why this sold loads even if it isn’t to my taste.

Afghan Whigs, ‘Gentlemen’ (link)

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a single Whigs song before despite listening to Steve Lamacq forever: like Mark Lanegan, Greg Dulli has had a lengthy career which I’ve somehow managed to completely miss. Released in 1993, this album is a sort of romantic grunge, somewhere in the space between Grant Lee Buffalo and Suede. Not much about this jumped out to me I’m afraid: a bit DULL-I, a wit might say (and I’m sure many music mags made that exact pun). This is the only appearance by the band.

Anthrax, ‘Among the Living’ (link)

The last of the big thrash bands to make the blog, this album isn’t quite as impactful or devastating as the band’s chemical weapon namesake, but unlike the bio-warfare it’s pretty palatable. It has the same high-octane riffing as you’d see in a Metallica or Megadeth, but adds massed backing vocals of the sort common with more commercial metal bands of the era. It feels like a good execution of a style I’ve never been desperately excited by: it reminds me of going to rock nights when I was 18 and putting up with hours of thrash waiting for them to play something I liked, like Nine Inch Nails or White Zombie.

Joan Armatrading, ‘Joan Armatrading’ (link)

Although you’d think with a title like that it’d be her debut, this 1976 album was in fact Armatrading’s third. She was hailed at the time as a British, black counterpart to Joni Mitchell, and on songs like opener ‘Down To Zero’ you can see common elements. She’s clearly an accomplished vocalist, comfortable with any style that the album throws at her, but the album doesn’t leave much of an impression: her biggest hit, ‘Love and Affection’, sounds wretched here with its syrupy saxophone.

The Associates, ‘Sulk’ (link)

What if it was Soft Cell but instead of being recorded on borrowed equipment in a bedsit, it was recorded in a really expensive studio with a load of Sparks records for reference? This album is the answer to that question you may not have asked. It’s a severe, theatrical take on synthpop where Billy Mackenzie yelps in anguish and frolics over octaves while Alan Rankine adds gothy guitar lines and ominous synths (there’s a rhythm section, drenched in reverb, holding it down in the background). There’s ‘Party Fears Two’ and a bizarre cover of ‘Gloomy Sunday’ because why not eh? This must have seemed unusually overwrought and bleak even by synthpop standards. It’s like watching an outdoor theatrical performance during a blizzard: ornate and opulent but bracing and cold. A fascinating album with many astonishing elements, this expensive folly is worth hearing at least once.

Bad Company, ‘Bad Company’ (link)

Something of a supergroup with four accomplished musicians, Bad Company were the singer and drummer from Free, the lead guitarist from Mott the Hoople and, improbably, the bassist from King Crimson. They’re certainly more in line with the straightforward hard rock of Free than anything else, and the first couple of tracks in particular sound like they’re ready to go on a Fathers Day album. Despite the overfamiliarity of the sound, there’s something likeable and unfussy about tracks like ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ (not the Beatles song). Not bad, not an album I’ll likely play again.

Next week: This wasn’t the best of weeks, so let’s see whether the bands on the opposite end of the alphabet have any more choice cuts.

Progress update: 798 listened to (79%), 203 remain.


March 20: 13th Floor Elevators, Barry Adamson, Fela Kuti

The 13th Floor Elevators, ‘The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators’.

As you might have guessed from the album title, this lot were an acid-fried psychedelic group from the 1960s. This is more the frenzied California style of psychedelia (although the band were Texan) than the cuppa-and-Quaaludes English brand. It mostly sounds like everything else on the Nuggets set, although features the almost unique sound of the electric jug, which is often its most distinctive feature.

Barry Adamson, ‘Oedipus Schmoedipus’.

Adamson was a member of Magazine and the Bad Seeds. This record isn’t easy to categorise, but bridges the gap between – of all things – Portishead and Fatboy Slim, moving deftly between BBC-friendly acid-jazz/big-beat muzak and unsettling filmic pieces. Occasionally a pain, but never dull.

Fela Kuti, ‘Zombie’.

Just two tracks over 29 minutes, ‘Zombie’ is an impossible-to-pigeonhole combination of jazz, afrobeat and funk. A courageous attack on the Nigerian government, who took it so seriously that they invaded Kuti’s commune, beat him up and defenestrated his elderly mother. According to Wikipedia, ‘Kuti’s response to the attack was to deliver his mother’s coffin to the main army barrack in Lagos and write two songs, “Coffin for Head of State” and “Unknown Soldier”, referencing the official inquiry that claimed the commune had been destroyed by an unknown soldier.’ Music is serious business in Nigeria. Anyway, the music itself is great, matching the urgent anger of the lyrics. I like to think the brevity of the album is determined by Kuti’s need to immediately release the record: there wasn’t a moment to lose.