October 29: The B-52s, The Beta Band, The Kinks, Kraftwerk, Joni Mitchell, Tom Petty, Sister Sledge

This week’s seven are united only by my having wanted to listen to them. The good thing about the 1001 is that it gives me an excuse to listen to these records. I’ve exercised uncharacteristic restraint by not listening to all the albums I was excited about straight away. This tactic that should yield dividends as we enter the final year of the project because there are still at least 60 albums I’m looking forward to: one in every six albums. So what are we listening to this week?

The B-52’s, ‘The B-52’s’ (link)

Best known for their peppy 1989 single ‘Love Shack’, the first album from the new-wave band features their second most famous track ‘Rock Lobster’. If you know ‘Rock Lobster’, then you’ve got a fair idea of the template used here: kind of like if the Cramps went surfing. It’s oddly minimalist, light on bass (they use a keyboard bass) and using the sort of keyboards that must have sounded ancient even in 1979. On songs like ‘Planet Claire’ you can see the influence on riot-grrls like Bratmobile as well as later post-punk, while the album closes with a cover of ‘Downtown’ that suggests the band are only vaguely familiar with the original. Both kitschy and catchy, this is a good album.

The Beta Band, ‘Hot Shots II’ (link)

I was a huge fan of the three EPs (later consolidated into an album called, um, ‘The Three EPs’), but the first proper album’s ramshackle doodlings put me off and I never went back to them. ‘Hot Shots II’ (surely ‘Hot Shots, Part Deux’) was an attempt to regain some of the lost ground, jettisoning their stoned ten-minute jam songs for conventional songwriting which fused indie-rock and contemporary Timbaland rhythms, relying on keyboards and Steve Mason’s monastic chant of a voice to hold it together. The album sounds okay but in cutting out the improvised shambling, they also lose their unpredictable spontaneity.

The Kinks, ‘Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire’ (link)

Originally meant to soundtrack a Granada sitcom of the same name, the Kinks found themselves back to square one when the sitcom’s funding was pulled, so put it out as an album instead. The album opens with ‘Victoria’, but Side A’s key song seems to be ‘Australia’, a seven-minute noodle that I found kind of unbearable as it twatted around to the point of overkill ‘Be Here Now’ style. There’s plenty going on here: for example ‘Yes Sir, No Sir’ includes strings, Motown brass, marching band oompah and blues lead guitar in a mere 3:46. There’s also elements of folk, Californian psyche and harpsichords. Yet I didn’t really like any of it.

Kraftwerk, ‘Man Machine’ (link)

Kraftwerk

Between ‘Autobahn‘ and ‘Man Machine’, Kraftwerk had expanded from a duo to a quartet, having presumably assembled the two drummer bots in the interim, and streamlined the sound to focus exclusively on metronomic electronica (so no flute or violin solos). This approach yielded one massive hit, ‘The Model’, which kicks off Side B, and contains five other songs in a similar vein. The deadpan lyrics and factory-setting dress sense have been easy material for parody, of course, but this feels like the pinnacle of this genre.

Joni Mitchell, ‘Hejira’ (link)

Joni Mitchell never lies, but she only caught my ear for the first time with the shocking ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns‘, her audience-alienating experimental album. This album is less hostile than that one, based on and written during a long road trip. As you’d perhaps expect for an album with that context, it’s sprawling and lyrical, most of its nine songs taking five or more minutes to unravel. What sets Mitchell apart from her contemporaries and imitators is her arrangements and rhythms; the album mixes in jazzy elements (Weather Report’s Jaco Pistorius brings the Bass of Doom on four songs) and country sounds (what sounds like a pedal steel on ‘Amelia’, Neil Young wheezing on harmonica on ‘Furry Sings the Blues’). This album’s unhurried, reflective air is best suited to a Sunday afternoon.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, ‘Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ (link)

We lost Petty a few weeks ago, of course, so a good opportunity to check out his only appearance on the list. Released in 1970, these ten tracks in 30 minutes kind of fall somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello, while sounding like an influence on bands as diverse as Razorlight (on ‘Rocking Around (With You)’) and Bon Jovi (on ‘The Wild One, Forever’). I wouldn’t typically go for this type of music but something about these simple, heartfelt songs impressed me. I’m not sure I was keen on Petty’s voice, somewhere between Neil Young’s wail and the yelpy, slurred Tom Verlaine-ish style, but the album is good.

Sister Sledge, ‘We Are Family’ (link)

In which the Sledge trio are paired with Chic, and Nile and Bernard respond by making an album which may as well just be another Chic album: it’s got the same combination of killer singles and mid-side saggy ballads. Still, more Chic is hardly a bad thing, and Rodgers and Edwards gave some of their best ever songs to this album: ‘He’s The Greatest Dancer’, ‘Lost In Music’, ‘Thinking of You’ and the title track are all great. And when there’s only eight tracks, who can complain? The Spotify version dumps superfluous remixes onto the end: as usual, press ‘stop’ before you get there.

Next week: Hold your T-shirts together with safety pins and get a nose ring because it’s PUNK time.

Status update: 672 listened to (67%), 329 remain.

 

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June 7 – 50 Cent, The Adverts, Aerosmith, Big Star, Missy Elliott, The Kinks, Kraftwerk, Neil Young

50 Cent, ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin”.

This was on my ‘if I must’ pile due to repetitive singles ‘In Da Club’ and ‘P.I.M.P.’ and the dreaded tinge of Eminem producing, which usually guarantees tinny guitars and cheap synths. I blame Mike Elizondo, in-house musician for the Dre stable. Surprisingly, however, the album is generally an improvement on its two key singles. There’s an “everyone hates me, don’t care” defiance that you might expect from someone who’s been shot, but tinged with a metaphysical dread, while the Dre/Mathers production sounds motivated. Some gripes: the album tails off towards the end, and the haphazard sequencing makes it sound more like a home-made compliation than a coherent album (unusually for a rap album of its time, it’s light on skits and segues).

The Adverts, ‘Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts’.

I didn’t know much about this album going in, having forgotten ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’. Unusually, I warmed to this album as it went on, perhaps because it feels like the band’s playing and writing improves as it goes on (the early songs, including giveaway ‘One Chord Wonders’, betray the band’s punkish lack of musical chops). It doesn’t feel essential though.

Aerosmith, ‘Pump’.

A couple of great early songs and that’s it. You wouldn’t have thought that the same album would have ‘Love in an Elevator’ and a didgeridoo interlude, yet here we are (the album has three pointless interludes on unlikely instruments). The great, expensive-sounding production explains why this sold in such high volumes.

Big Star, ‘#1 Record’.

I listened to this a few weeks ago and forgot to add it to any other reviews. Sort of a predecessor to Weezer in its power-pop feel, this is occasionally quite lovely and occasionally quite sloppy, dependent on which of the two singers’ songs are being performed.

Missy ‘Misdemeanour’ Elliott, ‘Supa Dupa Fly’.

Producer Timbaland was the man in the early years of the century, and his childhood pal Missy his most charismatic foil. This album is fun enough but I think Elliott’s more immediate spoils (i.e. the hits) are on her later albums, none of which, alas, are on the list.

The Kinks, ‘The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society’.

In which the wonky pop act have a stab at Qualuudes-and-cuppa psychedelia, referencing steam trains and cricket as well as the titular village green. The album’s rarely dull and, as well as the obvious influence it had on Blur, you can see the shadow cast over early Of Montreal and (on the Mellotron-and-vocal track) Eels. Good.

Kraftwerk, ‘Autobahn’.

The first Kraftwerk album that sounded like Kraftwerk, even though the two drummer robots were yet to be assembled (sorry I meant “recruited”). ‘Autobahn’ is a delightful combination of synths’n’rhythm machine grooves interspersed with organic instruments (there’s an acoustic track on this album!). REAL MUSIC YEAH

Neil Young, ‘Harvest’.

Another album I came to with some reticience given the threat of harmonica, typically an instrument that serves as an avatar for a certain strain of dreary music (rootsy, ‘real’, male). However, there are seven of this guy’s albums on this list so in I went. Turns out I liked this album despite myself: the songwriting and his voice are strong enough to overpower the stench of authenticity in the arrangements. ‘Out on the Weekend’, ‘Heart of Gold’ and ‘Old Man’ are all familiar, but not in a way that feels cliche. Plus there’s a live track? What is this, ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’?