It was Valentine’s Day on Wednesday so in celebration I’ve brought you flowers, chocolates, and seven of the albums on the list with ‘love’ in the name. They may not actually be romantic albums but hey, at least it’s thematically consistent. Let’s roll.
Leonard Cohen, ‘Songs of Love and Hate’ (link)
It doesn’t feature any of Cohen’s most famous tracks, but this album feels closest to how I imagined him to sound when I started this project: singing in barely one note, minimal accompaniment, generally downbeat. There’s a mere eight tracks this time, the majority of which sprawl over six minutes, although more to get all the lyrics done: musically, ‘This Year’s Man’ barely changes at all. Joan of Arc features on two different songs: odd that the list would have two albums where that’s the case (OMD’s ‘Architecture and Morality’ is the other). This is our final of four visits to Len’s oeuvre; alas, the project has not converted me.
Derek and the Dominos, ‘Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs’ (link)
The legacy of this album is driven, of course, by the title track, whose riff immediately puts you in mind of three-disc “The Best Driving Anthems in the World…Ever!” adverts around Father’s Day (see also ‘Smoke on the Water’, ‘Born to be Wild’, etc). As everyone’s no doubt aware, ‘Layla’ also has a wild backstory: it’s a love song to George Harrison’s wife, who Clapton fell in love with while she was married to Harrison. Clapton made an advance that was rebuffed, and sank into heroin addiction. Then Patti ended up leaving Harrison (because Harrison was having an affair with Ringo Starr’s wife!) and marrying Clapton, but that didn’t last either. Romance, eh? It sucks. ‘Layla’ shows up late on this double album, which largely sounds like upbeat blues rock made out of the joy of playing together. Duane Allman shows up on virtually every track playing bottleneck slide guitar, and there’s a version of ‘Little Wing’ which is perhaps the second best song on the record. Guess what: it’s too long. And yes it is “dominos” rather than “dominoes”.
G Love and Special Sauce, ‘G Love and Special Sauce’ (link)
G Love is the name of the singer, guitarist and harmonica player, and Special Sauce are presumably the rhythm section. This is a ramshackle and not especially to my taste album from the late 90s in a peculiar position somewhere between Roots and The White Stripes: it’s semi-acoustic, sloppily-played blues which has a vague flavour of alternative rap. Initially it sounds pretty cool but it doesn’t last all the way through the 57-minute running time: I was tired of it before it finished.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Axis: Bold as Love’ (link)
The bassist gets a song (‘She’s So Fine’, sounding like The Who covering ‘Tomorrow Never Knows) and the drummer’s voice is the first one you hear on the album, but this is still Hendrix’s world really, dominating the songwriting and the arrangements even while putting more emphasis on songwriting and less on guitar chicanery. The best song is ‘Little Wing’ (a rare week where the same song appears on two different albums), the best guitar bit is the backwards solo on ‘Castles in the Sand’, and the UFO radio interview turned quadrophonic panning experiment of ‘EXP’ is the most sonically exciting thing here. ‘Are You Experienced?’ feels like the one with all the memorable hooks and tunes on, though.
Lenny Kravitz, ‘Let Love Rule’ (link)
Something of a surprise entrant on the list, the ‘Hunger Games’ star and old flame of Nicole Kidman is best remembered for ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way?’ and ‘Fly Away’, neither of which appear on this, his debut album. Picking up most of the instrumental tracks as well as the vocals, Len goes for a sound part Hendrix, part Funkadelic, part Prince: which is fine, but it’s difficult to replicate the jam band energy of the former two when it’s just you jamming with yourself, and he certainly doesn’t have the eccentric charms of the latter. Many of the songs here are just one four-chord riff stretched over five or even six minutes. Not recommended.
The Magnetic Fields, ’69 Love Songs’ (link)
I’d been putting it off because of how long it is, but this is finally the week I do this one: the only triple album on the list and, I think, the second longest album (beaten only by the quintuple-disc Ella Fitzgerald one and even then only by 20 minutes). Originally a synth-pop band, the Fields cover a huge range of styles here: acoustic folk, 30s musical ballads, experimental sound collages, anemic punk, accordion jazz played by Lemony Snicket… It starts to feel like a series of pastiches, but who can begrudge such an exhaustive commitment to making every song sound different to the one that precedes it, or the talent required to carry it off? Highlights include the banjo jangle of ‘All My Little Words’, the 60s girl group song ‘When My Boy Walks Down The Street’ (which sounds like Hunx and his Punx) and the murder ballad ‘Yeah! Oh Yeah!’. Really good.
The Modern Lovers, ‘The Modern Lovers’ (link)
This is an album recorded in 1972 (it’s referenced on ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’: “I heard the lovers/the Modern Lovers/they sounded very good/they sounded as they should”), but only released in 1976, confusingly a mere three weeks after ‘Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers’, a different album by the same singer/songwriter but with a different backing band. Richman’s solo career is the sort that’s critically acclaimed but in a way which doesn’t feature him making any more appearances on the list, but the Lovers are where it’s at. They’re from Massachusetts but sound as New York as Television, primarily through distilling the sound of the Velvet Underground and giving it a polish that makes it glisten without completely obscuring the scuzzy energy or abstract artsiness. Probably that’s due to their choice of producer; having written ‘Roadrunner’ – almost a cover version of the VU’s ‘Sister Ray’ – and a near-one-note song called ‘Pablo Picasso’, they compounded the joke by roping in John Cale to produce. I loved this album: the songs are great and the production is great. Well worth a listen.
Next week: it’s editor’s choice, so prepare for some random assortment of weirdness.
Status update: 770 listened to (77%), 231 remain.