This week’s 1001 continues our journey through the decades as we stop in the 1980s. While I usually think of synth-pop and New Romantic music when I think of the 80s, the reality is, of course, more complicated and diverse than that. This week’s seven give us a fairly broad picture of the era, I think. Let’s dive in.
Beastie Boys, ‘Paul’s Boutique’
Our final visit to the Beasties’ oeuvre is also the best entry of theirs on the list. It’s almost entirely comprised of samples, a move which actually gives the music a greater range and depth, and finally frees them from sounding like they’ve been recorded on a boombox. It also makes them sound like they were ahead of their time: there’s ‘That Lady’ by the Isley Brothers being sampled decades before Kendrick Lamar, and isn’t that the bassline from ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ four minutes into ‘B-Boy Bouillabaisse’?
Big Black, ‘Atomiser’
The only one of Steve Albini’s performance credits to make the list, Big Black were two guitarists and a bassist who made abrasive post-punk over a drum machine, over which Albini supplies unflinching lyrics about child abuse, police brutality and other grisly subjects. It sounds like a kind of lo-fi industrial, abrasive but surprisingly catchy. Either it runs out of steam or it becomes too much to stomach in one sitting by side B, but worth a spin nonetheless.
Terence Trent D’Arby, ‘Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby’
Like contemporaries Prince or Lenny Kravitz, D’Arby is a musician with no shortage of ego – he believed this album was as important as ‘Sgt Pepper’ – but also no shortage of talent, playing the majority of instruments on this album. He delivers a mix of soul, funk and gospel where he’s sometimes funky like Stevie, sometimes ripping loose like Michael Bolton. The smooth single ‘Sign Your Name’ is the only song I recognised, but the best thing is probably the Smokey Robinson cover ‘Who’s Loving You’. Much of this is dated now, but opener ‘If You Get To Heaven’ sounds like a modern piece by a Plan B or similar.
Steve Earle, ‘Guitar Town’
‘Hillbilly Highway’, ‘Good Ol’ Boy (Gettin’ Tough)’, ‘My Old Friend The Blues’… it’s fair to say that I came to this with a fair bit of trepidation, particularly after the last 80s country album I heard was the Dwight Yoakam debacle. Yet while it doesn’t overcome its Nashville trappings, the straightforward recording and eschewing of contemporary production cliches means that this has aged pretty well. Sounded okay, I will never come back to it.
Cyndi Lauper, ‘She’s So Unusual’
Lauper had released an album as part of a band with no success, and was paired for this album with a band called The Hooters, who’d also had no success. The outcome? A whole bunch of hits (‘Time After Time’, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’). Funny how things work out. If you’ve heard the singles – and who hasn’t – you’ve got an idea of the helium-voiced new-wave that characterises the album. I’m not sure I’m as fond of it as many people seem to be, but it sounded decent enough.
George Michael, ‘Faith’
The first solo album from George symbolically starts with a cathedral organ performance on Wham!’s ‘Freedom’, before going into the Bo Diddley rhythm of the title track. It’s a pop album, so it’s front-loaded with hits before going into okay-but-not-as-good bits. However, the diversity is pleasing, from the Prince-y R&B jam ‘I Want Your Sex’ to the Harry Connick Jr-ish ‘Kissing a Fool’.
Our last of four U2 albums on the list is front-loaded with Partridge favourite ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘New Year’s Day’, the latter of which sounds like Echo and the Bunnymen, or The Cult or something. In fact, this is probably the album of U2’s that sounds most like its contemporaries, rather than their own combination of windswept sincerity and delay-pedal guitar. We’ve had at least two classics from the band over the 1001 project, but I was largely unmoved by this one.
Next week: of course, we get into the 90s.
Status update: 931 listened to (93%), 70 remain.