April 8: Bjork, Tim Buckley, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, The Fall, Peter Gabriel, The Smiths

This week, and not for the first time, we look at seven artists who have three albums each on the list. There’s not a lot else uniting these groups, so let’s jump straight in.

Bjork, ‘Vespertine’ (link)

I listened to Bjork’s Greatest Hits (from 2002) loads when it came out: apart from the mandatory new-for-the-album track, the newest tracks on the compilation all came from ‘Vespertine’ (‘Pagan Poetry’ and ‘Hidden Place’). Putting these tracks in the same space as ‘Big Time Sensuality’ or ‘Bachelorette’ served to underscore that she was going for something very different with her latest album: something which played less to the feet than to the brain. The main ingredients here are music boxes, harps, spectral choirs and barely audible Timbaland-ish rhythm skittering; it’s as if acting as a soundtrack to the planet Neptune (not The Neptunes). It’s easy to admire the uniqueness of the project and her UN amabassador-style attempt to unify incongruous elements in dialogue, but it’s certainly not immediately accessible.

Tim Buckley, ‘Greetings From LA’ (link)

I’d enjoyed Buckley’s ‘Goodbye and Hello‘ and, while I knew he did sex-funk albums later in his career I wasn’t expecting to actually hear any of them. Yet here we are, on this album with a mere seven songs, listening to Buckley trying to get sexy. It’s an unpredictable, Of Montreal-ish career trajectory. Let’s just say it’s not an organic fit for him: on the opener ‘Move With Me’, he sounds like a suburban dad doing the Rolling Stones on karaoke. There are some decent tracks. The second, ‘Get On Top’, is a War-ish jam which survives Buckley’s mannered wail mostly unscathed even in the face of his least subtle lyrics. ‘Hong Kong Bar’ is a country blues number comfortable enough to make it sound like the bar is Buckley’s regular watering hole. An unusual album but too abnormal to get the recommendation.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Green River’ (link)

The previous Creedence album on the list sounded like a fallen tree covered in lichen decaying in a Louisiana swamp. This one is sort of like a bayou version of ‘Crocodile Dundee’: it attempts to reach out to the wider world while not forgetting that it’d ultimately be happier drinking and wrestling alligators. Featuring both a Ray Charles cover and their most famous song ‘Bad Moon Rising’, it mostly sounds pretty good. There are some rumours that John Fogarty plays all the instruments on this, having secretly overdubbed his bandmates’ parts: I could believe it, I guess, but to me it sounds like four guys playing together.

Dexy’s Midnight Runners, ‘Too Rye Ay’ (link)

Deciding to evolve his band’s sound after ‘Searching For The Young Soul Rebels’, Kevin Rowland recruited two violinists, only for his entire horn section to decide to leave: something of a challenge, as the trombonist was one of the main songwriters. Rowland persuaded them to hang around long enough to get the album done, which proved to be the best decision for everyone as ‘Too Rye Ay’ was both creatively and commercially fruitful. It adds Kate Kissoon on backing vocals and brings in falsetto and Van Morrison influences (and songs), and the pay-off for the band is two of their biggest hits: ‘Jackie Wilson Said’ and, of course, closer ‘Come On Eileen’. Another good album from these.

The Fall, ‘Live From The Witch Trials’ (link)

The band’s first album, recorded in a day and mixed in another, established them as something of a weird sore thumb in the post-punk scene. In some ways they’re skinny and Wire-y, but they add Argos keyboard, remove choruses and often drone around one riff like they’re Neu or something. This version of the line-up doesn’t seem to have any skilled musicians, which means they eschew cliches (Bramah on ‘Music Scene’ sounds like John McGeoch without a flanger) but also restricts them: the imperial era with Brix still sounds more palatable to me. Spotify adds ‘Bingo Master’s Break-Out!’ and a minor-key vamp called ‘Dresden Dolls’, from whence the Boston duo’s name (at least in part).

Peter Gabriel, ‘Peter Gabriel’ (‘Melt’) (not on Spotify)

There are four self-titled Gabriel albums, none of which are on Spotify, which adds a layer of complexity to seeking them out online. Fans call this one ‘Melt’, more in reference to the artwork than a denigration of the musician. Anyway, this one throws in marimbas, bagpipes, Zulu-ish chants, Kate Bush, the dread Chapman Stick, some of King Crimson and Phil Collins – many of these elements are found in the same song. But while there’s usually something interesting going on in the arrangements, the songs themselves are oddly unengaging: none of the hooks, melodies or lyrics caused me to prick up my ears, and it felt long even though it’s only 45 minutes long.

The Smiths, ‘Meat Is Murder’ (link)

The Smiths’ second album (their first doesn’t make the list) came out in 1985 and in many ways sounds like a product of its age: the reverb-y drums especially are like opening a time capsule. Most of the lists I looked at – NME, Guardian, Stereogum – had this ranked as the band’s third or fourth best album, and despite a few well-known songs (‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore’, ‘I Want The One I Can’t Have’) it lacks the sparkling wit or dynamic immediacy of their best stuff. Although there’s a surprising rhythm-section-only outro on ‘Barbarism Begins At Home’, the standout is Johnny Marr, who almost never plays solos yet covers more melodic and rhythmic ground than Nile Rodgers.

Next week: I’ll be looking at another seven albums with body titles!

Status update: 819 listened to (82%), 182 remain.


May 7: Bjork, Garbage, PJ Harvey, Magazine, Shuggie Otis, Pixies, Slint

Welcome back to 1001 Albums! Hopefully you’ve had a good week. This week, it was my birthday, so to celebrate this it’s editor’s choice week. There are loads of albums on the list that I’d been looking forwards to listening to, so let’s check some of them out.

Bjork, ‘Debut’

I’ve got Bjork’s Greatest Hits, and have listened to it about a million times, but for some reason I’ve never explored her albums. Prior to her solo career, Bjork had played in ace punk band Tappi Tikkaras and art-rock combinations KUKL and Sugarcubes. On her inaugural solo effort, she eschews her guitar background for something more akin to contemporary dance music: some of the house beats serve as a clue to the album’s 1993 origin. Not that she sticks to any genre: there’s some gloomy jazz on ‘Aeroplane’, some Bollywood strings on ‘Venus as a Boy’ and, on ‘There is More to Life Than This’, an average dance saunter is interrupted when Bjork apparently goes outside and takes the song with her, the backing track still leaking ineffectually through a wall. Bjork’s magpie invention and her astounding voice carry the record, and killer opening and closing tracks (the timpani funk of ‘Human Behaviour’ and the Timbaland synths of ‘Play Dead’) are enough for a recommendation on their own.

Garbage, ‘Garbage’

Another one that I really should have heard at the time, this is essentially a pop take on the sounds explored by trip-hop and industrial, although it’s a pop album with an unusually sour, glum outlook: they’re only happy when it rains, after all. While ‘Garbage’ definitely sounds like an album of the 1990s, it’s aged pretty well: the up-tempo singles all sound good and even brooding closer ‘Milk’ sounds easier on the ears than it did as a single (although it’s not the version with Tricky whispering over the top). This is the band’s only entry: no ‘Version 2.0’ or ‘Beautifulgarbage’ alas.

PJ Harvey, ‘Dry’

Peej was a perennial Brit Award and Mercury Music Prize nominee for a career of pretty solid work, but her albums often meander or veer into abrasive, difficult territory that can make them a slog. Not so on ‘Dry’, her first album, made under the assumption it would be her last. Apart from some dissonant strings on ‘Plants and Rags’, this is mostly an accessible listen: perhaps the world has caught up to her, as you can see the roots of the Duke Spirit and The Kills in this music. The 40 minutes of this album are a breeze. PJ is on the list a couple more times, but I’ve already heard (and own) her other two appearances (‘Rid of Me’ and ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’).

Magazine, ‘Real Life’

Magazine were a post-punk quintet featuring ex-Buzzcock Howard Devoto, future Banshee John McGeoch and future solo artist Barry Adamson, and influenced artists including Blur, Mansun and Desperate Journalist. The album includes fantastic single ‘Shot By Both Sides’ (vibrant with Buzzcocks energy), the stop-start ‘Motorcade’ and plenty of keyboard-heavy punk-ish sounds. There’s plenty of imagination and weirdness here and, when it recedes into the background, it usually pushes itself back to the foreground with an abrupt change or wonky solo.

Shuggie Otis, ‘Inspiration Information’

Shuggie was only a teenager when he recorded his best-known song ‘Strawberry Letter 23’, but by the time he’d finished tinkering with this follow-up album, he’d reached his 20s. This is half an album of oddly constructed but lush songs like the title track or psychedelic drum machine tinker ‘Aht Uh Mi Hed’, and half an album of instrumental doodling on organ and guitar. I enjoyed it, although would have preferred a full album of vocal tracks.

Pixies, ‘Doolittle’

As I’ve mentioned before, I couldn’t remember which, if any, Pixies albums I’d heard, so played it safe and logged them all as To Be Listened. It seems incredible that I’d not come to the Pixies, but you know how it is: nobody plays you the record as they assume you know it already, and there’s always other stuff to hear first. Like, say, Pulp’s ‘Different Class’, this is so full of familiar tracks that it feels like a greatest hits: student disco classics like ‘Monkey’s Gone To Heaven’, ‘Debaser’, ‘Wave of Mutilation’, ‘Gouge Away’ and ‘Here Comes Your Man’ all feature. At their best, they mix abrasive elements – the distorted screeching, the screaming – with major chord 4/4 pop sensibilities, which make both the former and the latter more palatable. The second half is less fun, with more ‘Surfer Rosa’-ish noise and fewer melodies, but at least the songs are only like two minutes and it closes with the minimalist ‘Gouge Away’ (did they edit half the lyrics out?). This is essential.

Slint, ‘Spiderland’

In the last couple of weeks this album seems to have come up in conversation repeatedly, so time to get it covered. Slint were a bunch of teenagers who made tangled, slow-burning lo-fi whose influence you can see in Shellac, Idlewild and Mogwai. I think this is an album I admired more than I particularly liked: the intricate diminished-chord arpeggios and spoken mutterings are okay but I guess post-rock has conditioned me to expect a loud part as pay-off. Instead, you’re waiting for the beat to kick in, but it never does.

Next week, I’ll be looking at some of the African music on the list, and reaching the halfway mark on the project! Exciting!

Status update: 499 listened to (49.9%), 502 remain