This week on the 1001, we’re looking at albums or artists whose names link to emergencies: be those crimes, fires or medical emergencies. So dial 999, 911, 000 or your country’s respective code, and let’s see whether any of these albums are as crucial.
Basement Jaxx, ‘Remedy’ (link)
I know, already reaching conceptually here but you’d need a remedy from a hospital right? The Jaxx song I always think of is the hard-to-like ‘Where’s Your Head At’, but this one, their breakthrough, features perhaps their more fondly-remembered hits ‘Red Alert’ and ‘Rendez-vu’ [sic]. Twenty years later, both sound pretty good, but the album they’re wrapped in meanders: perhaps better designed for playing at a party than for home listening.
Beastie Boys, ‘Ill Communication’ (link)
The album with ‘Sabotage’ on, this moves around thrash punk, shouty rap, lounge-y jazz and funk. Sometimes it’s the Beastie Boys themselves on instruments, sometimes it’s samples and drum machines. A lot going on here then: oddly what renders it consistent is the production from Mario Caldato Jr, even if that production means everything sounds like it was recorded in a dumpster (especially the band’s vocals). It sounds pretty good overall, with ‘Sure Shot’ the best track, and even finds time for a trailer for a spin-off record: closer ‘Transmissions’ runs like a preview of keyboardist Money Mark’s album ‘Push the Button’. One more Beasties album on the list to come.
Dr Octagon, ‘Dr Octagonecologyst’ (link)
That’s ‘Dr Octagon, Gynecologist’ rather than ‘Dr Octagon, Ecologist’. This is this week’s underground hip-hop concept album after we met Digital Underground last week: here, Kool Keith imagines himself as a Jovian surgeon, gynecologist and general curator of a surreal nightmarish hospital where unlikely (and mostly unsuccessful) operations take place. Dan The Automator, Kutmasta Kurt and DJ Qbert hold shit down in the background, creating a vaguely Wu-Tang sound with knackered vinyl, spooky samples, wah-wah pedal scratching and live instruments (Keith on bass, Dan on violin). Like ‘Sex Packets’, Keith focuses more on world-building than clear plot, but he gets away with it: this record still seems fresh 22 years later.
The Gun Club, ‘Fire of Love’ (link)
Kind of reminding me of ‘Wild Gift’ by X, this is a sort-of early rockabilly album released in 1981 which introduced Delta blues sounds to punk. It’s not as urgent as ‘Wild Gift’, adding a layer of goofy and possibly improvised sexuality to the lyrics (as well as lyrics like ‘She’s Like Heroin To Me’: a big statement for Jeffrey Lee Pierce, an opiates abuser). It’s fine but I doubt I’ll come back to it. The band’s stop-start career was terminated permanently in 1996 when Pierce died of a brain hemorrhage at just 37.
The Police, ‘Reggatta de Blanc’ (link)
With its fusion of reggae grooves and scratchy dub into pop-rock songwriting structures, this is along vaguely similar lines to the Slits’ ‘Cut’, but adding a commercial gloss and by necessity taking out the St Trinians camaraderie. Often, it sounds like a very tight rhythm section promoted to full band: Andy Summers rarely plays solos and the title track doesn’t even have words. The best thing on the record is opener and megahit ‘Message in a Bottle’, but ‘Bring on the Night’ feels like the sort of thing hipsters would go wild for if, say, Animal Collective put it out. Less accomplished when demonstrating inexpert skills on the piano, but the album mostly sounds pretty good.
Spacemen 3, ‘Playing With Fire’ (no official link available)
The only appearance for the Rugby member-fluid group often features no percussion at all and often submerges the vocals of J Spaceman and Sonic Boom under guitars and swooping effects. Mostly blissed-out and trebly, but sometimes heavy and distorted, this was a lot less tiresome than I was expecting given the band’s reputation as a drone act. Some of it does have the monotonous hypnotism of Krautrock, while Spaceman’s few-and-far-between contributions hint at his future with Spiritualized: closer ‘Lord, Can You Hear Me?’ featured on one of that band’s album’s too. This might have sounded mimsy and shoegaze-y with a full band, but by kicking out the stability that that arrangement might have offered, the band instead produce something more arresting and vital.
Spirit, ‘Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus’ (link)
It’s probably not Spirit’s fault, but this far into the project, this is the sort of album I’m getting weary of: competently played, vaguely psychedelic 60s rock (although actually released in 1970 juxtaposing rough-edged country with tinges of jazz, occasional piano interludes and wandering psychedelic noodles. I was kind of expecting this would be a concept album, but if there is a concept it’s not immediately obvious. Spirit don’t appear on the list again so no further opportunity to familiarise myself with their career; this album was mostly penned by the excellently-named Randy California (a pseudonym, although his real name is even better: Randy Wolfe).
Next week: For the final time, we’ll be doing an all-rap week.
Status update: 735 albums listened to (73%), 266 remaining.