Continuing on from last week, here’s the last of the artists who’ve got two albums on the list. Something of a mixed bag of artists who otherwise don’t have much in common, as we’ll see.
Ice Cube, ‘The Predator’
As topical as you could want, Cube takes his title partially from ‘Predator 2’, takes his lyrics partially from the LA riots (which had finished just six months earlier), and joins the album together with interludes in which Cube attempts to contextualize the riots and his own music’s impact on the events. It feels urgent. In its use of samples, it also feels like an attempt to cover all rap music up to that point: it’s full of the standard Parliament and Isley Brothers samples, but there’s also room for Public Enemy, NWA, Beastie Boys, Malcolm X and Richard Pryor. This must have seemed essential at the time and still sounds pretty good now.
Spiritualized, ‘Lazer Guided Melodies’
The first Spiritualized album following the collapse of Spacemen 3, there’s a similar sort of shoegazey drone as you hear on ‘Playing with Fire‘, with obvious influences from Neu and The Velvet Underground (presumably Lou Reed was compensated for the liberal use of his choruses in ‘Run’). There’s some hints, though, of the later orchestra-and-gospel direction that the band would go in: there’s keyboards throughout and brass, strings and reeds emerge out of the mix as the album goes on. I’ve often found Jason easy to admire but hard to love; I could see myself loving this, though. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space’ is also on the list (of course), but I’ve already listened to that (I think I still own a copy).
Rod Stewart, ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’
It feels hard to take the first half of this album particularly seriously: Rod seems worn out during the title track/opener (luckily Long John Baldry and Maggie Bell add some oomph on backing vocals), and there are Stones-ish slide guitar versions of ‘That’s Alright Mama’ and, uh, ‘Amazing Grace’. The second half behaves itself a bit better, with certified banger ‘Maggie May’ and a very long but very pleasant song called ‘Mandolin Wind’ (more slide guitar, but the promised mandolin does eventually show up). It lives and dies, I guess, on whether you can take Stewart’s voice seriously as an artist after decades of ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ and so forth.
Stephen Stills, ‘Manassas’
The book credits it as Stills, the original concept was that Manassas was the band, so who knows whether this really merits its position in this week’s list, but here we are anyway. Released at the same time as ‘Harvest’ and a Crosby/Nash collaboration, this is a double album with one disc of bluesy jams and another of more esoteric material. Joe Lala’s Latin percussion gives a fresh texture to even the most routine stuff on the first record, but I got on better with the second; ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ is the sort of harmony-driven soft rock that Steely Dan would make their trademark, ‘Move Around’ sees Stills on the synth, and ‘The Love Gangster’ sounds like Hendrix. Pretty good.
The Temptations, ‘All Directions’
Another of Norman Whitfield’s weird productions for the band, the most notable stuff on this record is in its first half: ‘Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On’ could have been a gangster rap staple sample if it wasn’t a live recording, ‘Run Charlie Run’ has an alarming hook and a staccato brass riff, and ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ extends the Undisputed Truth song to 12 minutes. As with the other Temptations album on the list, relatively normal service resumes on the second half; who knows what would have happened if they’d held their nerve.
The The, ‘Infected’
The The are such a strange band: they’re somewhere between industrial and sophisti-pop, and I’m not sure if that’s a combination I like. It means that some of the stuff here sounds ahead of its time (the drums on opener/title track, for example), and some sounds very dated (the production on ‘Heartland’, for example). There’s plenty of interesting sounds on this record but the band’s output is more intellectually stimulating than emotionally moving. The album also has a film, of sorts: as with the music, it’s more interesting to read about than to actually consume directly, particularly given some of the bizarre events during filming.
Traffic, ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’
Traffic were kind of a blues-rock band with jazz elements who had abruptly disbanded in 1968, but who reformed equally abruptly in 1970 for this album. The long instrumental jams feel familiar – a lot of the 1001 sounds like this, to be honest – but the band’s repetoire expands with their ‘Wicker Man’ cover of the title track, a folk song of obscure origins about booze. Not bad, just overfamiliar. The band continued collaborating on and off for the next four years, with a brief mid-90s return.
Next week: We’ll be looking at some of the solo artists remaining on the list.
Status update: 959 listened to (96%), 42 remain.