August 6: Jeff Beck, Kate Bush, Killing Joke, Todd Rundgren, Steely Dan, Suede, X

Welcome back to another installment of the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die! It’s been a busy week: I’ve also had a review of Indietracks festival published here, as well as signing up to a couple of gigs with my own band. Still listened to seven albums as ever, though, with this week’s selection picked out of the many albums I was looking forward to hearing.

As always, feel free to start the discussion in the comments or on the social media platform of yr choice.

Jeff Beck, ‘Truth’

One of the best things about ‘Roger the Engineer‘ was Jeff Beck’s unpredictable soloing, and his solo album goes into further unusual directions, featuring blues, proto-metal, folk rock, weird riffing, psychedelic noise, bagpipes, and a version of ‘Greensleeves’, because why not eh? There’s a Who’s Who of 60s rock royalty accompanying Beck (some of which are actually The Who, but I’ll refrain from doing the Abbot & Costello bit): Keith Moon, Ronnie Wood, Rod Stewart, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones all show up. It’s mostly pretty interesting, although the final two songs let the side down a bit, being unremarkable blues songs with a combined running time of 12 minutes.

Kate Bush, ‘The Dreaming’

Recorded with no apparent thoughts about commercial potential or live performance, ‘The Dreaming’ features two singles optimistically extracted by Bush’s label, who gave up releasing further singles after neither of those two went anywhere. No wonder: this might be the weirdest album I’ve listened to on the list. A patchwork quilt of fragments, oddly-processed vocals, samples, didgeridoo and choirboys, with some Art of Noise style collaging and some Cardiacs-style quirk-pop, this album is freakishly unusual in a way that Emilie Autumn wishes she could achieve. All the hits are on ‘Hounds of Love‘, but this peculiar work is well worth a listen.

Killing Joke, ‘Killing Joke’ (1980)

There are two eponymous Killing Joke albums, but the one on the list is their debut from 1980. KJ’s interests on this album are all groove and riff, rather than necessarily adhering to a verse/chorus format: it’s mostly flange-y guitars, tribal drumming and singer Jaz yelling (although in a less hoarse, aggressive way than on, say, ‘Pandemonium’), with some similarities to contemporaries like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Public Image Ltd. An interesting debut, with tracks like ‘Requiem’ giving hints towards heavier, more violent albums in their future.

Todd Rundgren, ‘Something/Anything?’

Rundgren’s brain-nuking acid trip ‘A Wizard, A True Star‘ is one of the stand-out discoveries from this project, but before he got there, he sprawled his experimentation over a double album, with a different vibe on each side of vinyl. The first side is essentially poppy soft rock, the second a ‘cerebral’ set of weirdness, the third a patchy collection of heavy rocker and the fourth a loose, ramshackle collection of semi-improvised jams with a under-rehearsed squad of hacks. There’s too much of it, and listening to all 90 minutes is probably for diehards only. Still, it’s full of offbeat personality, and juidicious skipping means there’s some fun here (‘I Saw The Light’, ‘Breathless’, ‘Couldn’t I Just Tell You’, ‘Hello It’s Me’, ‘Slut’).

Steely Dan, ‘Pretzel Logic’

The band’s last album while they were still both a touring and recording proposition (they moved exclusively into the studio after this), ‘Pretzel Logic’ retains the two guitarists from previous albums, but is mostly Becker and Fagen working with a bunch of session musicians to create the polished sound they were after. Poor Jim Hodder, the band’s drummer, doesn’t play drums on the album at all! Unsurprisingly it’s highly competent and musically cohesive, with horns taking a more central role than on the other album I’ve heard (‘Can’t Buy A Thrill‘), but perhaps without the quirkly intrigue of that album. Still, unusually for a 70s rock album, it’s unshowy: a mere 34 minutes with no instrumental jams, virtuoso guitar trickery or vocal flashiness.

Suede, ‘Suede’

By the time I got into music, Suede had already had a line-up shuffle and the hype around them from the music press had long since faded, even if ‘Coming Up’ was a commercial and critical success. In 1993, though, the NME were so high on Suede that there was a lot of expectation riding on their debut album, expectation which they mostly lived up to. Starting with ‘So Young’ and ‘Animal Nitrate’, ‘Suede’ shows a band who’ve done their homework: there’s something of Echo’s swoon, Smiths croon, the Spiders from Mars’s sass, that Husker Du-ish processed fuzz tone on the guitar, and a kind of “smart guys lost on the London bedsit scene” vibe that they share with the Pet Shop Boys. Yeah, this is a good album. ‘Dog Man Star’ is also on the list, but I’ve heard it already.

X, ‘Wild Gift’

The shortest band name on the list (no appearances for A), X were mainly driven by twin vocalists/husband and wife John Doe and Exene, whose shared harmonies and interplay gives the album a cohesiveness and unity of purpose. The music behind it is punk rock with a 50s rock’n’roll or country shuffle, which is a style that you still hear all the time among the double bass and sideburns crowd. Yet there’s a yearning and urgency about cuts like ‘Universal Corner’ that separates X from Z. Pretty decent.

Next week: we’ll be looking at some of the best pop music from the 90s and 00s (according to the 1001 curators anyway).

Status update: 588 heard (59%), 413 remain.

February 7: Beatles, Kate Bush, Can, ‘Bitches Brew’, DJ Shadow, Eno, Iggy and the Stooges, Incredible String Band

I’ve been working through the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Luckily I had a head start, having listened to 130-odd already, but that still leaves 871 that I hadn’t. While this means I will listen to a lot of good music, there also appears to be some total dreck: I am particularly reluctant to listen to three Def Leppard albums, a Bees record and ‘Slippery When Wet’. Sarah-Beth suggested I write about them, so here are some.

The Beatles – ‘With the Beatles’.

All the famous ones are on the list too but I’d already heard them. This one is from the point where things like ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ covers were still acceptable choices for album tracks. The only famous Fabs song on it is their cover of ‘Money’ (not the Pink Floyd song obv). Okay, not great, still a couple of years away from the real game-changers.

Kate Bush – ‘Hounds of Love’.

Hits on the A-side, dull concept stuff on the B-side. The hits have dated better than the Fairlight jams. Bat for Lashes was taking notes.

Can – ‘Tago Mago’.

Starts off as a normal enough 70s Krautrock album, but changes shape with the 18-minute ‘Halleluwah’, which adds curious sound effects and edits over the funk-trance jam like a King Tubby record or something. Everything on the second disc is abstract experimentation, often without a clear melody line. Pretty good in places.

Miles Davis – ‘Bitches Brew’.

I’d never heard this, but Angelo Badalamenti obviously has – the cumulative discordance and noisy horn blasts often present in his work clearly originate from this album. I’m a total jazz philistine so the wild cacophonies were beyond me; ‘Spanish Key’ is the track that made most sense to me.

DJ Shadow – ‘Entroducing’.

Too long, but still sounds fresh and holds up well even after 20 years or however long it is. I’d heard Shadow’s stuff with UNKLE and Quannum Projects but never his solo work. Good album.

Brian Eno – ‘Before and After Science’.

Eno’s 70s were pretty great all in all. This isn’t as good as ‘Another Green World’ or ‘Here Come the Warm Jets’ but is more of the quirky, off-kilter rock he did that decade. Also surely the only album of the 1001 to use the phrase “not a sausage”.

Iggy and the Stooges – ‘Raw Power’ (Iggy Pop mix).

The album’s always criticised for its mixing and production: Iggy’s mix was so rudimentary that the label insisted Bowie remixed it; there wasn’t much Bowie could do with it though as the recording was so poor. This is, however, the original Iggy mix. The guitar is too loud, Iggy is too loud, the rhythm section is often inaudible. This must have sounded fantastic at the time – it does have melodies and structure, despite initial appearances – but bloody hell.

The Incredible String Band – ‘The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’.

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci were always compared to ISB in their day; it’s possible that this was a derogatory reference. The ISB were a weird psych band from Scotland, so are contemporaries of the Canterbury lot. Without a rhythm section, these songs drift around and last forever, often sounding like extended sitar jams. Pretty dull.