It’s another week of 1001, hope you’ve all had a nice week since last we met. This week and next, we’ll be looking at the artists on the list who have two albums making the cut. I’ve written about all seven previously – check out the tags for more.
Belle and Sebastian, ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’
Both of B&S’s first two albums appear on the list, but nothing afterwards, which suggests that the list’s compilers were more interested in the act when they were an insular university project rather than when they became a proper band with singles and stuff. This one does sound a lot like ‘Tigermilk’ – similar arrangements, similar production, everyone playing rhythm and nobody playing lead. Yet while that album sounded like the work of insufferable wets and weeds, there are a few good songs here. ‘Stars of Track and Field’ has a dramatic chord change in the chorus, ‘Get Me Away From Here’ is a jaunty this-band-is-killing-us deal, and the title track at least has a compelling lyric. There’s also a ‘Telstar’ stylophone solo on ‘Mayfly’, which varies the arrangements a bit. Pretty good.
Depeche Mode, ‘Violator’
They’re from Essex, but there’s something faintly Manchester about this album: the New Order pulses and bass solos of ‘Enjoy the Silence’, the Morrissey echoes of the vocals in ‘Policy of Truth’ and others. This is the one with the hits – the bottleneck guitars of ‘Personal Jesus’ also appear, and it was the big DM album in the States. It’s fine, capably executed, but perhaps a bit heavy on songs at the same tempo.
Dire Straits, ‘Dire Straits’
Last time we looked at Dire Straits was ‘Brothers in Arms‘, a commercially successful album with a feeling of taking the money and running. On their debut album, things feel a bit more organic than the Fairlight-heavy ‘Brothers in Arms’, and there’s some interest in contemporary music: a Marley-ish jam (‘In The Gallery’) and a funk cut (‘Southbound Again’). Like John Martyn, Mark Knopfler’s gruff mutter is an acquired taste of a voice, and I think it’s the most offputting element of this album. Otherwise, there’s a quality to this album that indicates how they became dadrock staples.
The Jam, ‘Sound Affects’
Two big hits back-to-back here, both owing a debt to ‘Revolver’: ‘Start!’ (which appears here as *squints at notes* track 5) makes liberal use of the bassline from ‘Taxman’, and ‘That’s Entertainment’, which uses the backwards guitars from ‘I’m Only Sleeping’. Beatles lifts aside, the album’s energetic first half is full of urgency and vigour: ‘Pretty Green’, for example, sounds more like Blur than Ocean Colour Scene, while ‘Set The House Ablaze’ sounds like the template for Bloc Party. The second half’s meandering is less essential. I’ve come reluctantly to The Jam after being uninspired by Weller’s post-Jam career, but I’ve found their stuff a lot more enjoyable than I was expecting.
Elton John, ‘Madman Across the Water’
If you know – and who doesn’t know – ‘Tiny Dancer’, then you’ve got the idea of how this album sounds: a sort of ‘Ziggy Stardust’-ish piano-based glam, using many of the same musicians as Bowie (Wakeman, Herbie Flowers). Arrangement-wise, the most dynamic departure is the acoustic guitar-driven ‘Holiday Inn’ (inexplicably omitted from any of the chain’s advertising), which also features a sitar solo and ‘Dark Side of the Moon’-style soul backing vocals. The album is fine, but kind of felt like it was the same all the way through, especially in tempo.
New Order, ‘Technique’
Decamping to Ibiza during the late 1980s, ‘Technique’ is an odd mix of trebly guitar songs like ‘Love Less’ (no relation to MBV) and Pet Shop Boys-ish synth-and-sequencer cuts like ‘Round and Round’ – in consecutive songs. The overall effect suits Bernard’s wan vocals more than ‘Low Life’, and the songwriting on, say, ‘Vanishing Point’ is also an improvement. If you’re prepared to overlook some dated synth patches, this is pretty good.
Randy Newman, ‘Good Old Boys’
Newman’s first big album features the template he’s best known for: piano, strings and reeds backing up his Muppety voice and wry lyrics. Unlike ‘Sail Away’, there is some interesting stuff on this record: ‘Guilty’, for example, has the reeds playing dissonant notes which add diminished sevenths or something to the piano chords. If you’re a fan of Eels, you’ll probably get on with stuff like ‘Marie’, which sounds like the source for many of Everett’s more mellow pieces. How well you get along with this album, though, depends on your take on opener ‘Rednecks’, a sarcastic in-character song about institutionalised racism which nonetheless drops the n-bomb more often than an Ice Cube track. It’s very clever but it’s deeply uncomfortable hearing a white guy sing that word so often. Perhaps the intended effect?
Next week: Another round-up of the acts who appear on the list twice, after which we’re more or less into acts who only show up once.
Status update: 952 listened to (95%), 49 remain.