Welcome back to 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, where this week we’ll be looking at albums whose titles reference a body part. Yes, it’s another one of those tenuous theme weeks! Let’s dive in.
Ryan Adams, ‘Heartbreaker’
I wasn’t thrilled by ‘Gold‘, which felt stifled by over-production in its attempt to reach the mainstream. So this solo debut, justly heralded for its simplicity, was refreshing. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings appear here, as they do on ‘Gold’, and perhaps Adams was taking cues from them, or wanted to do something direct and stripped down following his band Whiskeytown’s last album. Whatever, it feels relaxed and the songs hit home.
Coldplay, ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’
Derided for diluting Radiohead’s sound in order to shortcut their way into the mainstream – not that translating Radiohead’s oblique style is necessarily a bad thing – Coldplay do have the occasional banger in them: had slow-burning anthem ‘The Scientist’ been recorded by Sigur Ros, it’d probably have been heralded as a masterpiece. Much of the musicianship here is a tastefully restrained arrangement staying out of the way of the melody: it’s unfussy but sometimes you wish for a burst of virtuosity, or at least something unexpected, to add some colour and prevent the album disappearing into the background.
Deep Purple, ‘Machine Head’
Not to be confused with the dreary thrash act who later took the album title for a band name, this is our final visit to Purple’s output. Perhaps I’m just desensitized to their style now but it feels pretty tame compared to the other albums: ‘Smoke on the Water’ lacks the crackling energy it has on ‘Made in Japan’, for example. While it doesn’t contain any drum solos, for which we should be thankful (although it does find time for a bass solo), I’d say ‘Machine Head’ is the weakest of the three albums on the list. As usual, the artwork is atrocious.
Flaming Groovies, ‘Teenage Head’
You can probably guess what this sounds like from the band name alone, but if not, this is a proficient if not terribly exciting take on rockabilly played at a thousand miles an hour and with slide guitar all over it. Sometimes it sounds unacceptably retro (the album came out in 1968 and has tendencies towards sounding like 1958), sometimes it sounds like proto-Sex Pistols. The Spotify version bolts on a load of covers of 50s hits such as ‘Shakin’ All Over’.
The Lemonheads, ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’
The only appearance on the list from this band is also Juliana Hatfield’s sole album as Lemonheads bassist; the band were already on their fourth drummer by this point; they are only a trio. It’s trebly, disengaged-sounding music from a band that sound like insolent slackers: ‘Bit Part’, half-a-dozen songs in, is the first one that sounds like there’s any passion involved, and the most pleasant texture is the pedal steel-ish slide guitar from guest Jeffrey ‘Skunk’ Baxter. It probably took loads of effort to sound this effortless, I know, but I prefer my music a bit more passionate.
The Mamas and the Papas, ‘If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears’
Never mind the toilet, the real aberration on the cover is the grocer shop punctuation (‘The Mama’s and the Papa’s’ indeed). Anyway, while this starts off with ‘Monday Monday’, the most dramatic song on the first half is closer ‘Go Where You Wanna Go’. On the stream, we get Side B opener ‘California Dreamin” straight after that: quite the one-two. The folky, vaguely psychedelic pop is a charming listen, as you’d probably have guessed.
Small Faces, ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’
A fairly early concept album, the first half is a selection of psychedelic rock workouts interspersed with gorblimey Cockernee knees-ups including ‘Lazy Sunday’, a sort of 1960s ‘Parklife’. The B-side is where the concept kicks in, as comedian Stanley Unwin tells a wittering story in his weird argot which doesn’t make a great deal of sense even in ordinary English, and in the pauses, the band play songs connected to the theme. It essentially reduces Small Faces down to Unwin’s backing band, and the songs aren’t great. This was a real disappointment: it just feels like a pissabout.
Next week: it’s Valentine’s Day, so let’s do a week of love-themed albums.
Status update: 763 heard (76%), 238 remain.