Imagine if the 1001 Albums list was a map of a town. What would you see there? Would the main road be ‘Autobahn’ or ‘Highway 61 Revisited’? Would you walk down ‘Abbey Road’ or ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’? What else would be on the map? This week, we try to flesh out the map with some of the edifices, roads and establishments in the area.
Billy Bragg and Wilco, ‘Mermaid Avenue’
In which the folk mainstay and the alt.country gang attempt to put music behind a series of unfinished and unrecorded lyrics by Woody Guthrie: sort of like a 1998 version of ‘Journal for Plague Lovers’. The highlights on this collection are mainly Wilco’s: an attempt to bring the Guthrie sound into the 1990s and generally succeeding, although there are a couple of wrong turns that make it sound like Nizlopi. Okay but not urgent.
Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Cosmo’s Factory’
Somewhere between the swampy jams of the first record and the tilted-at-charts ‘Green River‘, this is pretty accessible but starts with a seven-minute bottleneck jam called ‘Ramble Tamble’ and has a wild Fillmore East version of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ which lasts over eleven minutes. This has a lot of elements I’m not generally keen on, and they had obvious influences on terrible bands I heard first like Reef, but I found this quite listenable. This is the last CCR album, both chronologically and on this blog, to appear on the list.
Sheryl Crow, ‘Tuesday Night Music Club’
I listened to this on Thursday due to inept planning: go me. This is the one with ‘All I Wanna Do’. You’d expect that track to open the album, but it staggers in hungover at track 9 like a libertine late for a party, immediately attracts a crowd and elevates the tempo of the album by about 30BPM. It almost feels glued on, as the rest of the album is a slow-motion alt.country record with some sleepy jazz elements and a disastrous rap-as-in-‘Rapture’-by-Blondie song called ‘The Na-Na Song’. Possibly she would have continued in this direction if not for the hit, which took her down a different path and probably for the best.
The Flying Burrito Brothers, ‘Gilded Palace of Sin’
This week could almost be an alt.country week, couldn’t it? This awfully-named band were another Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons deal (we covered a similar one in ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo‘), and follows a similar template of harmonies and prairie longing. Okay but not especially interesting.
Husker Du, ‘Warehouse: Songs and Stories’
Falling apart due to disagreements between songwriters Grant Hart and Bob Mould, Husker Du put out this double album and split almost immediately afterwards. Hart was going through a tough time: he was trying to kick heroin and he’d been diagnosed with HIV (ultimately, a misdiagnosis), so no wonder the band was disintegrating. Still, whatever conflict they were having isn’t necessarily reflected on the record, as they both play on each other’s songs. In fact the real victim is the child of the divorce, bassist Greg Norton, whose parts are often replaced by Mould or Hart. If Husker Du had been able to keep their shit together, maybe they could have been contenders, as at the time this would have sounded exactly the same as REM, and look what happened to them. As it is, their third and final report is a pleasant but overlong 68 minutes of trebly guitars and vaguely-recorded vocals which is best on the second disc.
The Stooges, ‘Fun House’
Iggy and the Ashetons’ template is scratchy riffs so repetitive that even The Fall would take umbrage. Here there are some concessions to varying the formula: a couple of songs on the second side have saxophone (albeit it sounds like it’s playing a different song), and some even have a clear verse/chorus structure, most notably ‘Loose’, with its riff on loan from ‘Kick out the Jams’. It’s odd that such a seminal band leaves so little impression on me: I can see their influence on The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Sex Pistols, Death in Vegas and many others, but I don’t think it’ll ever be the Stooges albums that I pick up to listen to.
The Style Council, ‘Cafe Bleu’
A sophisti-pop album made by Paul Weller and one of Dexy’s sounds like a curio rather than an essential listen, yet here it is as one of the 1001 albums you must hear before you die. The first half of this is mainly jazzy instrumentals, punctuated by a solo Weller track called ‘The Whole Point of No Return’ and a smokey bar cut sung by Tracey Thorn. The flipside is a bit more palatable, with Weller fronting soulful cuts in a more conventional band set-up. He’s not bad at it: you couldn’t imagine, say, one of The Clash or the Pistols doing the same, but somehow the Jam frontman gets away with it. What he doesn’t get away with, mind, is ‘A Gospel’: a rap track with all the credibility of Duran Duran’s cover of ‘911 Is A Joke’.
Next week: A look at some of the artists who appear on the list twice, including one making their first appearance on the blog!
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