For the last few weeks, we’ve been finishing off the list alphabetically, which we’re continuing here with letters P-S.
The Pretty Things, ‘S.F. Sorrow’
Preceding The Who’s ‘Tommy’, this is generally considered to be the first rock opera. With nothing to compare it to, the kinks hadn’t been ironed out yet: much of the story was told through liner text in the sleeve. It didn’t succeed commercially either, which is often attributed to the pessimistic plot. With recording technology having become more sophisticated since then, this doesn’t sound very good to the 2018 ears. In fact it sounds awful: barely above the standard of a four-track demo, with guitar solos about three times louder than anything else.
Our last visit to the haphazard collection of R.E.M. albums on the list (no ‘Out of Time’ or ‘Up’) goes right back to the start, with this low-key debut album. The lyrics are often as oblique as the Cocteau Twins, putting the focus on the melodies. There are some hints to future work: ‘Perfect Circle’ is sort of a precursor to future piano-based songs like ‘Nightswimming’, for example. It’s fine, but I’m struggling to think of new things to say about them.
The Replacements, ‘Let It Be’
The only album on the list called ‘Let It Be’: take that, The Beatles! The Replacements were a hardcore band who, on this album, transitioned into something more melodic while retaining the hard edge to their sound. It’s kind of a jumble, with switches into REM jangling (Peter Buck appears on one solo) among the heavier stuff. Often, they make the pieces fit: ‘Sixteen Blue’ is a late standout with its John Hughes melancholia, and ‘Unsatisfied’ is the best song I’ve heard this week, a Pixies-ish slice of frustration.
Saint Etienne, ‘Foxbase Alpha’
‘He’s on the Phone’ was one of the first singles I bought, but I never explored the band’s back catalogue beyond that. The first real song on this record is ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’, a cover of the Neil Young song done in a Beats International style. The album is mostly defined by the tension between their tastes in 90s house music and their affection for 60s pop music, making it one of the more interesting albums in the house genre. The lack of a regular vocalist means the album meanders in the second half, and it’s no surprise they brought in Sarah Cracknell full-time after this (she’s a guest performer here).
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, ‘Next’
The band’s second album, logically enough from the title. This was a kind-of glam band founded by a singer who’d already had one fairly unsuccessful career in the 50s and 60s playing blues and rock & roll, and was already in his mid-thirties when he formed the band. While the backing is often bleedin’ awful pub rock, there’s something interesting here, whether it’s the fighter jet guitar of ‘Swampsnake’, the burlesque tango of ‘Next’ or the presumed irony of the jumbled ‘Last of the Teenage Idols (parts 1-3)’. Harvey’s affected yelps elevate this above the average but I think this is a curio rather than a must-hear.
Simple Minds, ‘New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84)’
Much like U2, Simple Minds veered more towards the stadiums as the 80s went on, and became more bombastic at the expense of their intensity. Like U2, however, they had a yearning to some of their material that puts me in mind of Zoo’s stuff (Teardrop, Bunnymen). Somewhere between Joy Division and ABC (‘Promised You A Miracle’ is pure New Romantic), this album manages to sum up what music had sounded like in the late 70s, what it sounded like in 1982, and what it might sound like for the rest of the decade. That means that some of it has definitely dated, but it mostly sounded fine.
The Soft Boys, ‘Underwater Moonlight’
The only appearance on the list from Robyn Hitchcock is the Soft Boys’ second and final album, recorded on the cheap and released in 1980. It’s a mix of punk, Canterbury psychedelia and Byrds albums: ‘Old Pervert’ is a hungover Television, ‘Queen of Eyes’ is the son of ‘Younger than Yesterday’, and ‘Insanely Jealous of You’ frames Hitchcock’s vocals and lyrics over a slow burn of ‘European Son’ rhythms. A clutter but a captivating one. This is also, I think, the only album with a UK Eurovision winner on it: guitarist Kimberley Rew wrote Katrina and the Waves’ ‘Love Shine A Light’.
Next week: we complete the 1001, going from S-Z with the last seven. After that, I’ll probably do a mop-up week of some sort and then… what would you like, dear readers? Obvious choices are:
- All the albums on the list which I’d already listened to before the project (121);
- All the albums that have appeared on the list since (68, although I’ve listened to 20 of those already)
Let me know!
Status update: 994 listened to (99%), 7 remaining.