April 22: Elvis Costello, Devo, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Go-Gos, Pere Ubu, The Police, Public Image Ltd

This week on 1001, I’ll need you to move away from that punk era and into POST PUNK, and I want you to dispense with all of those old waves you’re so comfortable with, because it’s time for NEW WAVE. Loads of albums on the 1001 fall into one of these two categories, so a week dedicated to them is long overdue. Let’s have a look.

Elvis Costello, ‘Brutal Youth’ (link)

Like Neil Young with Crazy Horse, Costello seems more willing to sprawl loosely when he’s with his backing band (The Attractions, not credited by name here); unlike Young, he doesn’t seem to have spent his 90s exploring grunge, as we learn from this album. Running nearly an hour long, this would have benefitted from 20 minutes being cut off, at which point the songwriting – deftly constructed but written with a punkish energy – would have felt like his best album. Just one more EC album left.

Devo, ‘Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!’ (link)

I was kind of expecting this album to be weirder, especially considering it was produced by Brian Eno: like a Roy Liechtenstein version of the Residents. Reading about it, it seems like Eno expected that too: the Mothersbaughs weren’t, apparently, interested in experimenting or deviating from what was on their demos. Instead, then, it sounds like a lot of other new-wave: choppy, clean riffs and frantic yelping over the top, with the possible exception of a collapsed cover of ‘Satisfaction’ and the Bauhaus motorik of ‘Mongoloid’. Angular but tame. A bit of a letdown.

Echo and the Bunnymen, ‘Porcupine’ (link)

It’s a shame that the first Echo and the Bunnymen I heard was their awful, Liam Gallagher-on-backing vocals 90s comeback, because it put me off exploring their majestic back catalogue for years: like having a drunken fight in a Wetherspoons with a stranger who should by all rights become your best friend. In fact Echo were a high quality act: brooding, faintly goth, but poppy with great choruses. This starts with the hit ‘The Cutter’ and keeps at the same level of urgent, yearning anguish throughout: dark and moody but not so far off the deep end that it becomes impenetrable. Bringing strings, autoharps, harmoniums and marimbas into the mix, this must have seemed thrilling at the time. Now, you can see some of the trappings of the era, but it still sounds pretty excellent.

The Go-Gos, ‘Beauty and the Beat’ (link)

Belinda Carlisle of course had about 15 minutes in The Germs, but she struck gold (well, double platinum) with this outfit, whose sunny, well-produced jangle reminds me of the most poppy Blondie tracks. In the same way that Echo and the Bunnymen’s album sounds like it’s from Liverpool (because it’s raining all the time), ‘Beauty and the Beat’ sounds like a band writing songs in the California sunshine, and so they were. Guitarists Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin write the lion’s share. Carlisle’s sole co-write betrays her roots: it’s a Bikini Kill-ish stomp with the snot-nosed title ‘Skidmarks on my Heart’.

Pere Ubu, ‘Dub Housing’

Unavailable on Spotify. Ubu are one of those bands who became post-punk because they were more interested in sounding like Captain Beefheart than sounding like The Who: so while there’s songs with clear melodic structure here (‘Caligari’s Mirror’, ‘On The Surface’) there’s also meandering drones like ‘Thriller’ and ‘Blow Daddy-O’. Singer David Thomas’s bizarre delivery is the difference-maker, I think: much post-punk has barely controlled yelping at the front, but Thomas’s breakdown soundtrack isn’t controlled at all. Some of this sounds like early 90s lo-fi: so it sounds both ahead of its time and in the past at once.

The Police, ‘Synchronicity’ (link)

The guitarist gets a song (the Weill-via-Fripp ‘Mother’) and so does the drummer (‘Miss Gradenko’, tolerable), but this is mostly Sting’s tilt at the mainstream: and of course it paid off with super-hit ‘Every Breath You Take’. Unusually, the experiments are on the first half and the hits are on the B-side (‘Wrapped Around Your Finger’ and ‘King of Pain’ the others). But either due to the over-familiarity of the sound, a dislike of both Sting’s voice and some of the additional sounds (more sax, some of the synth pads), or both, I didn’t particularly care for this: ‘Regatta de Blanc‘ was further up my street.

Public Image Ltd, ‘Metal Box’ (link)

This album was famously packaged in a three-vinyl set trapped like sardines in a metal box, and once the listener had managed to wrestle the vinyl out of the box without snapping it in half, the music itself offers similarly few compromises. Johnny goes into the abstract, Keith mostly plays metal guitars which sound like knives being sharpened, and the overall impression is of an album easy to admire, but difficult to love.

Next week: We take a look at more of the most frequent artists who appear on the list, some for the last time!

Status update: 833 listened to (83%), 168 remain.


February 28: Adam Ant, Destiny’s Child, PiL, ‘Beggars Banquet’

Adam and the Ants, ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’.

A weird combination of tribal drumming, post-punk guitar and glam vocalist, nothing sounds exactly like this. It opens with two hits in a row, but the non-singles are also great too.

Destiny’s Child, ‘Survivor’.

Front-loaded with terrific hit singles, everything after track 3 is a bit hit or miss (‘Dangerously in Love’ appears, but is an anonymous ballad) and the last two songs (a gospel medley and the album’s thank yous over a cutting-room-floor beat) are a total waste of time.

Public Image Ltd, ‘Public Image’ (or ‘Public Image: First Issue’).

This sounds really fresh still, probably because everything sounds like it these days, but its abrasive drones aren’t always an easy listen. It makes sense that Banshees guitarist John McGeoch later joined PIL, as Keith Levene’s flangers-on-sustain guitar lines remind me a lot of McGeoch.

Rolling Stones, ‘Beggars Banquet’.

Perhaps the wrong choice of Stones records to start with, as harmonica-infested blues workouts are never my favourite things. A good track opens both sides (‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and ‘Street Fighting Man’) but a lot of the filler tracks sound like spoofs of country and/or blues cuts by Robert Johnson or Bo Diddley.