July 1: Tim Buckley, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, The Fall, Peter Gabriel, Pet Shop Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, The Smiths

In the second of a two-part series, we look at more of the artists who are represented three times on the list. Of course, we’ve met this lot twice already, so we’ll be saying farewell to them here. Let’s roll…

Tim Buckley, ‘Happy Sad’

Buckley had a decent-sized success with ‘Goodbye and Hello‘ but he almost immediately decided to move into murkier, more mysterious waters. This album is mostly a showcase for Buckley’s interests in the jazz sphere, and for his vocal acrobatics, and the songs follow unclear, freeform structures. There is a percussionist, but he’s mostly on xylophone, turning Buckley’s 12-string acoustic into the main rhythmic instrument. It’s a peculiar album that I’m not sure I fully vibed with.

Dexy’s Midnight Runners, ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’

The last Dexys album in their first run, the band had slimmed down to a quartet by this point, although the record is fleshed out with session musicians so you’d hardly notice the difference. It’s a loose, sprawling album with just seven songs in 46 minutes, often involving audible rambling conversations between Kevin Rowland and other band members, and in one case containing a lift from ‘Werewolves from London’ so shameless that they gave Warren Zevon a writing credit on the reissue. Those present report the recording was long and difficult, and there’s a feeling of general exhaustion about it.

The Fall, ‘The Infotainment Scan’

Recorded inbetween Brix Smith spells, but still with a loose eye on making records that might attract a wider audience, ‘The Infotainment Scan’ was their most commercially successful album (Top 10 in the UK!) even with no singles. Released in 1993, it sounds contemporary, with diversions into 808 State-style techno (‘Service’), songs with discernible choruses (‘Ladybird (Green Grass)’) and an abstract cover of ‘Lost in Music’. Maybe this is a reach considering what an autocracy the band was, but it sounds like the band must have felt that if the definitive Fall sound is Mark E Smith’s vocals, then that gives the band carte blanche to do more or less what they want underneath. A lot of this sounds pretty good, rather than having an ephemeral, whining quality.

Peter Gabriel, ‘So’

Gabriel has finally licensed his stuff to go on Spotify, which immediately makes this his best album for me as it meant I haven’t had to go down YouTube rabbit holes to find it. ‘So’ features big hit ‘Sledgehammer’ and small hit ‘Red Rain’ (based on a dream, with a metaphor somewhere between ‘Red Red Wine’ and ‘Raining Blood’). At the time it was seen as quite a big deal as Gabe took unfamiliar elements of world music, like the shakuhachi on ‘Sledgehammer’, and turned them into big 80s pop hits. Nowadays, mind, it feels kind of passe, self-serious doodlings on the Fairlight.

Pet Shop Boys, ‘Very’

While I never owned this album, I remember it being out in the shops in the early 90s, as it had an unusual CD case, ribbed for your pleasure:

very

The album is, it seems, Neil Tennant’s first album since coming out, most emphatically addressed by covering a Village People song in an apparently sincere way (‘Go West’, one of the band’s biggest ever hits). While there are still some sounds that haven’t aged well (the synth patches on ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ for example), I think this is my favourite of the three PSB albums we’ve heard. There’s some dry wit in ‘Dreaming of the Queen’ and ‘The Theatre’, and some great singles in ‘Liberation’ and ‘I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing’.

Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’

We’ve met Paul Simon three times with Art Garfunkel, and three times solo, but this is his last appearance on the blog. Teaming up with Art for the final time, this opens with the title track, the hymnal qualities of which I’ve always found difficult to take seriously. Beyond that, the duo’s interests appear to include reverb-heavy percussive sounds (‘Cecilia’ and ‘Bye Bye Love’) and unfamiliar elements of world music (‘El Condor Pasa’, a Peruvian song). As with their other albums on the list, they keep me guessing, although I don’t think this is the blowaway triumph that ‘Bookends’ is.

The Smiths, ‘Strangeways Here We Come’

Regarded by the band as their best album, there’s a conscious effort to move away from the jangling of their previous three records, with keyboards, strings, autoharp and harmonica entering the fray and even Morrissey himself tinkling the ivories on ‘Death of a Disco Dancer’. But the famous songs are famous for a reason: both ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ and ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ are close to the Smiths’ usual sound and are both nearly perfect slices of melancholy pop. Fey, wry and literate, the lyrics to this album are really on to something: what a shame we don’t know who wrote them.

Next week: We’ve now reached the point where there are less than 100 albums remaining in the project! We’ll be dealing with some of the more obscure entries next week, as we look at albums that less than 5% of Listchallenges.com fans have heard.

Status update: 903 listened to (90%), 98 remain.

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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.

January 22: Tim Buckley, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Peter Gabriel, Roxy Music, Simon and Garfunkel, Yes

Welcome back to 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die! This week, I’ll be looking at seven artists who each have three albums on the list, but which I’d never heard.

Tim Buckley, ‘Goodbye and Hello’

I had Jeff’s dad down as a gloomy folky, so it was something of a surprise to hear him being so direct and engaged with a full band complementing him. Released in 1967, the album is far out even by the standards of the decade: ‘Pleasant Street’ twists Buckley’s androgynous falsetto into a wail of despair while ‘Hallucinations’ has a disarmingly cacophonic arrangement. The only wrong move is the title track: a preposterous, overloaded pomp-folk wander nearly nine minutes long. Some of the arrangements would have benefitted from some restraint (the choir on ‘Morning Glory’, say) but this is a pretty wonderful album.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Bayou Country’

Even though Creedence were from California, you can imagine boating through the Louisana swamps with this album playing, imagery supported of course by the titles. The best-known track on this album, and in CCR’s repetoire, is ‘Proud Mary’, which is also the song least concerned with heavy blues riffs, sludgy harmonica and Robert Plant wailing. I don’t generally care for this sort of sound, but some of the songs are good examples of the genre, such as ‘Born on the Bayou’. Other songs sound half-finished: ‘Keep on Chooglin” for example.

Dexy’s Midnight Runners, ‘Searching for the Young Soul Rebels’

All three Dexys albums from their original run appear on the list (none from their comeback). This is the first, which symbolically starts with a radio being tuned away from Deep Purple and the Sex Pistols. Like me, you probably think of Dexys in dungarees playing violins. We’ll come to that era later: on their debut, they’re all about brassy soul with organs and, of course, that Kevin Rowland yelp, surprisingly listenable over the course of an album. While the B-side can’t match the A-side (the A-side has ‘Geno’, for one), I really enjoyed this.

Peter Gabriel, ‘Peter Gabriel’ (I/’Car’)

Gabriel’s solo debut and the first of four self-titled albums, this album is unusually hard to find online, which is possibly the influence of anti-streaming Crimson King Robert Fripp, the album’s guitarist. While Fripp’s contributions here are among his most unremarkable of the decade, Gabriel himself has an abundance of ideas: ‘Down the Dolce Vita’ goes straight from orchestral bombast to clavinet funk, ‘Excuse Me’ features a barbershop quartet and the second track’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ was a legit hit. Nothing struck me as demanding multiple listens here, but it’s clearly the work of an imaginative songwriter. I look forward to hearing more Gabriel.

Roxy Music, ‘Roxy Music’

Brian Eno is on the list about a million times in some form. Of course he started off in Roxy, and this album sees him mostly in the background, manipulating the other instruments and adding spacey VCS3 effects. The sound is unusual enough already, blending artsy experimentalism with sexy glam rock and regularly using an oboe, an instrument rarely used in rock music. I’m not sure I was entirely convinced by this. Still, the good one is meant to be ‘For Your Pleasure’, which we’ll come to later.

Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’

Would it surprise you if I told you this album starts with ‘Scarborough Fair’? The duo’s third album was recorded with 60s regulars The Wrecking Crew (‘Pet Sounds’, ‘Forever Changes’ and so on) and is a pretty enjoyable folk-pop album. As you might imagine, it’s a very 1966 album: one song has the subtitle ‘Feelin’ Groovy’ and another is a cover of ‘Silent Night’ with Vietnam war footage played underneath it. The major bummer is ‘A Simple Desultory Phillipic’, an awful Dylan pastiche.

Yes, ‘The Yes Album’

When I was growing up, Yes had a kind of reputation for unbearable pomposity, probably thanks to fifth album ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’, an 81-minute, four track double album. Posterity has been kinder to ‘The Yes Album’, however, insofar as it sounds pretty damn good to these ears. Refreshingly free of excess despite the long song length, the album combines McCartney-style melodies, long solo guitar instrumentals, three-way harmonies and fuzzy organs and at 41 minutes it’s a concise introduction to the band.

Next week: I’ll be checking out all the reggae on the list. I’m sure there’s plenty!

Status update: 395 heard (39%), 606 remain