June 3: The Bee Gees, Fleetwood Mac, Jane’s Addiction, kd lang, Sepultura, Stephen Stills, Van Halen

Welcome back to 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die! This week, we’re looking at seven artists who appear on the list twice. It’s a rum collection, as you can see by the title: the only thing this septet has in common is their frequency on the list. Many of these we’ve met before: let’s see how they get on this week.

The Bee Gees, ‘Trafalgar’

The Bee Gees are enormously successful and had a career stretching over decades, helped along by regular cover versions of their work by acts like Take That and Boyzone. However, their best-known work is perhaps the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ soundtrack: in my head the Bee Gees are in those white suits and walking around to that killer ‘Staying Alive’ bassline. At the time of ‘Trafalgar’, though, that career resurgence was years off: this album came out in 1971 and still sounds like a 60s pop album, the sort of orchestra-heavy sound you might hear on, say, ‘Excerpts from a Teenage Opera’. Maybe it’s because the 60s were so long ago now, but it feels like a museum piece, while Robin’s tremulous voice I found hard to take seriously. The best song is the title track: it’s like ‘Abbey Road’ but with a lead guitar out of a Mike Oldfield record.

Fleetwood Mac, ‘Tusk’

Feeling constrained by the MOR hits of ‘Rumours‘, the Mac sprawled out a bit more on this double album. Stevie and Christine contribute much the same as they did on the previous album, but Lindsey’s tracks are where all the weirdness is: there’s clanking harpsichords, punkish bass (‘The Ledge’) and tracks that sound like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (‘Not That Funny’). It’s an unusual combination, more unpredictable than ‘Rumours’ and unsurprisingly less commercially successful. Well worth a listen, though.

Jane’s Addiction, ‘Ritual de lo Habitual’

Jane’s debut album, ‘Nothing’s Shocking‘, was a harrowing brood of a record which I enjoyed more than I was expecting. Listening to the first half of ‘Ritual’, you might think they’ve brightened up: the hard-rock tracks sound vaguely Chili Peppers, while the hit ‘Been Caught Stealing’ opens with dogs but revolves around its Bootsy Collins bassline. The darkness still gnaws at them, though: on the second half, Perry Farrell opens up about the heroin overdose death of his girlfriend Xiola Blue, aged just 19, and his mother, who committed suicide when Perry was just four. (Guitarist Dave Navarro also lost his mother early: she was murdered when he was 15.) The second half is darker and weirder musically, unsurprisingly: ‘Classic Girl’ is an odd combination of folk and raga-ish drone. I’m not sure this grabbed me like ‘Nothing’s Shocking’, but I’ve been caught offguard by how much I’ve enjoyed this act.

kd lang, ‘Ingenue’

“Where is your head, Kathryn?” Widening her scope beyond mere country and into cabaret, jazz and blues, lang was rewarded by the massive hit ‘Constant Craving’ which, unusually for a big breakthrough track, is the last track on the album. There’s something of a Gallic feel to this pleasant album, although I must admit my mind had wandered a few tracks before the finale.

Sepultura, ‘Arise’

Maybe it’s a surprise, maybe not, but there are two Sep albums on the list (I’ve heard ‘Roots’ already, so this is their only blog appearance). They gained a reputation in the 90s for groove metal, which brought them and Max Cavalera follow-up band Soulfly into the spectrum of nu-metal. That was still some years off at the time of ‘Arise’, though, which hints in that direction but which is generally a more familiar thrash sound in the same vibe as Metallica. I usually find thrash a bit of a drag, but at 42 minutes, this held the interest: ‘Dead Embryonic Cells’ is very good, while tacked-on European edition closer ‘Orgasmatron’ takes a one-note Black Sabbath track and turns it into something close to Ministry. Not bad.

Stephen Stills, ‘Stephen Stills’

Stills isn’t a complete stranger here on 1001 – in fact this year we’ve met him in Buffalo Springfield and in CS&N – but this is the first time we’ve covered his solo career. There’s a glittering variety of talent on show here: Jimi Hendrix, Ringo Starr, Booker T and Eric Clapton all pop in on session duty, while his other band’s Crosby and Nash make appearances on backing vocals. Yet while the soulful, gospel-flavoured tracks feel like an important early-70s album, I didn’t enjoy it very much. The most famous track here is ‘Love The One You’re With’, odd relationship politics aside, but the best track is ‘We Are Not Helpless’, the closer, with its sudden introduction of organ and tempo change. Stills appears a few more times on the list, with one more solo album and a CSN&Y album to cover before we complete the project.

Van Halen, ‘1984’

Expecting a boring metal album, I was converted immediately to the ridiculous kids-screwing-about fun of ‘Van Halen‘, so I was looking forward to ‘1984’. The biggest song on here is ‘Jump’, the best song is probably ‘I’ll Wait’, and both feature Eddie’s new favourite toy, the Oberheim synthesizer. The rest of the band weren’t too pleased with his burgeoning interest in synth-pop, which means half the album sounds like what Eddie wanted and the other half sounds like what the rest of them wanted. David Lee Roth felt Eddie was more effective on the guitar, and on this evidence I dare say I agree with them, at least artistically. Still, bolstered by ‘Jump’, this album sold zillions, so what do I know? While it kept me guessing in the same way ‘Van Halen’ does, ‘1984’ didn’t hit quite the same spots for me.

Next week: I’ve got a taste for it with that Jane’s album, so let’s listen to some more American rock and see where that gets us.

Status update: 875 listened to (88%), 126 remain.

 

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September 11: ‘Abbey Road’, ‘Blood on the Tracks’, ‘Rumours’,’Forever Changes’, ‘Astral Weeks’, ‘Sign O’ The Times’, The Stone Roses, ‘Marquee Moon’

One of the advantages of a project like this is that it makes you listen to things that you’ve never quite got around to, allowing for gaps in your knowledge to be plugged. In this week’s update, I’ll be looking at some albums that almost always appear on Classic Albums lists, yet which I’ve never heard. Feel free to castigate me for not having heard any of these before in the comments.

The Beatles, ‘Abbey Road’.

A peculiarity: I had listened to all the Beatles’ albums between 1965-1968, even owning crappy odds-and-sods like ‘Yellow Submarine’ (although that does have ‘Hey Bulldog’), but had stopped at the White Album and not explored beyond it. Why? Because the blue double album best of had hardly inspired confidence in late-era Beatles, with crap like ‘Get Back’ and ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ stinking up the end of that record. It was, then, with some reluctance that I came to ‘Abbey Road’. This being their farewell album, however, the band made the effort, with Lennon and McCartney raising their games, Harrison bringing some of his most accessible songs and even Ringo putting in a shift with ‘Octopus Garden’. There are some false steps: ‘Come Together’ and ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ prove yet again that blues is not the band’s strong suit, and the hidden track ‘Her Majesty’ is superfluous. However, the concluding medley is a fitting finale for the 60s’ greatest band. Just don’t mention ‘Let It Be’.

Bob Dylan, ‘Blood on the Tracks’.

Like an overquoted movie like ‘Casablanca’ or ‘Psycho’, it’s hard to come to a classic Dylan album for the first time: even though you’ve never heard it before, it’s so familiar that you might as well have. This is the third album I’ve heard of Bob’s, and it’s the one that most closely matches the stereotype I have in my head of him (mind you, one of the other albums of his I’ve heard was the inexplicable ‘Christmas in the Heart’, probably the least Dylanesque of his albums). There’s a harmonica solo in almost every song, most of the songs are over five minutes long, and they’re often just vocals and guitar. This may not be a popular decision but this didn’t do an awful lot for me I’m afraid. Luckily for Zimmermaniacs there’s still plenty of albums of his coming up, so maybe I’ll be more swayed by those.

Fleetwood Mac, ‘Rumors’.

Notoriously made while hedonistically partying like mad in an attempt to forget that their relationships had disintegrated – it was the style at the time, Abba did it too – it’s incredible that this album features a song as jauntily poppy as ‘Don’t Stop’, even if it is a fairly lousy slice of honky-tonk corn. Despite the soap opera background, the band managed to keep their shit together enough to hit home runs on virtually every track here: each of the songs is a triumphant achievement, and, in the case of ‘The Chain’, a dull plod suddenly gets a song-saving injection of adrenaline midway through. Sure it’s cheesy and soft, but it’s artfully written and masterfully constructed.

Love, ‘Forever Changes’.

The final Love album with the original line-up, this one was lucky to feature them at all: they were so lost in LSD, smack and infighting that exasperated producer Bruce Botnick hired a bunch of ace session hands to back Arthur Lee on two songs instead. This tactic finally motivated the slackers to bother to learn Lee’s songs, and they’re on all the rest of the songs (the hacks’ tracks still made the cut though). Neil Young was invited to produce but backed out: no wonder under the circumstances. Anyway, the album’s disillusioned melancholia gives it a bit more weight than a lot of groovy flower-power albums of the era, but it is still very much an album of its time, almost like a time capsule from the late 60s. I think I prefer what I’ve heard of ‘Da Capo’, perhaps because it feels more ragged and experimental even if it’s less cohesive as an album than this one.

Van Morrison, ‘Astral Weeks’.

A few weeks ago I reviewed the Waterboys’ ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, where the artist’s best-known song (‘Whole of the Moon’) gave little clue that their best-known album would be folk-heavy and largely acoustic. So too with ‘Astral Weeks’, which sounds nothing like Van’s student disco fixture ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. This is a staple of ‘Best Album Ever’ lists, so it’s no surprise to see it here, but I’m not sure I get it. The songs are unacceptably long, frequently pushing at the five- and even ten-minute marks, and the musicians are audibly figuring out their parts as they go: they were told to play whatever they felt like and were in many cases recorded in one take, which gives it a doodling feel. The album lasts 47 minutes; feels longer.

Prince, ‘Sign O’ The Times’.

Speaking of albums that feel long. Of Montreal are my favourite band and it almost feels like I should have had a mandatory education in Prince as a result and yet, due to the Purple One’s absence from Spotify and so forth, this is the first time I’ve checked out one of his albums. Come on, Prince’s estate! Even The Beatles are there now! Maybe it wasn’t the wisest idea to start with the 80-minute album, a lot of which sounds very similar (side 2 especially is mostly minimalist Fairlight funk). Side 3 has all the hits, and it’s hard to dismiss an album with two songs as different but as good as ‘I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man’ and ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’ on the same side. Good, not great, and too long. There are a couple of other Prince albums on the list, which I’m expecting good things from.

The Stone Roses, ‘The Stone Roses’.

If you’ve known me for a while then you’ll know that Madchester isn’t exactly my favourite scene, and yet here’s the second album in three weeks from the early 90s Manchester era. Yay. Like ‘Twin Peaks’, the Roses had a big hit with the first effort, on which their reputation rests, despite a less successful second release, and are only now doing a third, 25 years later. Is the first album any cop, though? Certainly it starts off promisingly, with the moody ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, the dynamic ‘She Bangs The Drums’ and the glistening ‘Waterfall’, but the momentum isn’t sustained: the fourth song is just the third song backwards right? And the sixth is ‘Scarborough Fair’ for 50 seconds? And the eleventh is ‘I Am The Resurrection’ for EIGHT minutes? (The Spotify version really compounds the piss-taking by adding a ten-minute version of ‘Fool’s Gold’ on the end, but I won’t count that against the album.) It feels like a ‘good singles, bad album tracks’ album: not that this is necessarily a bad thing but it’s hardly the second best album ever or whatever.

Television, ‘Marquee Moon’.

You get eight this week because I can’t count. I’d tried to get into Television before, even seeing them play this very album at Latitude one year, but I never quite got it. Listening to it now, however, I wonder whether it just caught me at a bad time, as this album is ace. The angular melodies of ‘Elevation’ and the title track are up my street and even a slow-motion meander like ‘Torn Curtain’ is redeemed by a heartfelt guitar solo. One listen isn’t really enough to herald acclaimed nuances such as the lyrics, but you can see why turn-of-century hipsters like The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand were paying attention.

Next week, I’ll be listening to some of the artists who appear on this list most frequently. Do Steely Dan or Elvis Costello warrant four or more albums each on here? Only one way to find out.

Progress report: 273/1001 (27%), 728 remain.