Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve only recently watched the Depeche Mode documentary 101 (must-see viewing for any Depeche Mode fan). Although I’ve been a Depeche Mode fan since the early ‘80s, looking back I really didn’t give them the attention they deserved. I had also never experienced them live in concert and the documentary was sort of a wake-up call. Since then I’ve been exploring their entire catalog and have gained a new appreciation for their earlier work. I’ve been especially, pleasantly surprised by A Broken Frame – their first post-Vince Clarke album. Released in 1982, it’s largely considered the group’s weakest effort but in my opinion, the LP continues to be unfairly dismissed. It saw the band moving from the upbeat pop of Speak & Spell  to a more dark and melancholy sound, and contains some real electronic gems.

With Clarke’s departure, songwriting duties fell on the shoulders of Martin Gore. And although Alan Wilder was recruited to take Clarke’s place, he did not contribute creatively to the LP. The band felt they needed to prove they could move on without Clarke so Wilder was relegated to studio work and touring musician. (For the record, my favorite DM period are the Wilder years). Even though there are some definite poppy moments, such as “See You” and “The Meaning of Love,” as a whole, the album has a more mature atmospheric and moody sound. By no means their greatest work, A Broken Frame provides glimpses of great things to come.

My favorite song off the LP is the last track, “The Sun and the Rainfall.” From the beginning haunting drumbeat to the lovely chorus, it’s a standout on the album. I’m surprised the song wasn’t released as a single or as a fellow DM fan pointed out, hasn’t been included on some compilation.

 

Another high point is the second track, “My Secret Garden.” It has a great bassline and catchy synth work throughout.

 

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I wasn’t a fan of Devo’s in the early ’80s, probably because my older brother would play “Whip It” nonstop. It wasn’t until seeing the video for “Beautiful World” years later that things changed. I’ve since gone back and listened to their early catalog and count them among one of my favorite bands of the ‘80s. Released in 1980, Freedom of Choice was the band’s third and most successful album, reaching #22 on Billboard’s pop album chart. The album is made up of short, polished synth-infused songs. The 12 tracks clock in at just over 32 minutes. Although “Whip It” put the group on the map, I prefer the lesser-known songs off the LP like the electro “Snowball” and “That’s Pep!,” which sounds kind of like a new wave Hand Jive. In my opinion, the album is one of their best and ranks behind only 1978’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!.

The video for the title track has the group dressed as aliens singing about how ultimately freedom of choice is not what we want. It also has skateboarders, donuts, and Mark Mothersbaugh in a dog costume.

 

“Girl U Want” has the band performing in front of an audience of 1950s teenyboppers. Just as the video for “Freedom of Choice,” it’s quite a low budget affair and relies heavily on color saturation. I’m pretty sure they used up all their video production money on the video for “Whip It.”

 

Released on July 8, 1986, Lifes Rich Pageant is where R.E.M. really found their political footing. They also brought attention to environmental issues with songs like “Cuyahoga” and “Don’t Fall on Me.” The former being about the polluting of the Cuyahoga River and the latter about acid rain. It was the band’s most successful album to date, reaching #21 on the Billboard charts, and #43 in the UK. In my opinion, it ranks right up there with the best from the group and I remember being ecstatic that they played several songs from the album when I saw them in ’87. There were only two singles released from the LP, “Don’t Fall on Me” and “Superman,” but my favorite track is “I Believe.”

 

It took The Feelies six years to release their second album, The Good Earth. Received well by critics, the band traded in some of their trademark jangle for a more mature, developed sound. Championed by R.E.M.’s Pete Buck, they opened up for the band on a leg of the Lifes Rich Pageant tour. Although never reaching mass success, they did grab the attention of director Jonathan Demme who cast them as the high school reunion band in his 1986 film Something Wild. Watch for their interesting rendition of David Bowie’s “Fame.” Director Noah Baumbach also took notice of the band and featured the song “Let’s Go” from The Good Earth album in the 2005 film The Squid and the Whale.

 

There’s not much more to say about the Smiths’ third album, The Queen Is Dead. Released on June 16, 1986 to great critical praise, it has since garnered numerous accolades – #1 on NME’s 500 greatest albums of all time and #16 on Slant magazine’s top albums of the ‘80s. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t warm up to the Smiths until the ‘90s. Their mix of jangle pop and rockabilly didn’t appeal to me at the time. I eventually came to see the light and I’d be hard pressed to find a party playlist that didn’t have at least one Smiths’ song.

Since choosing one song off the album seemed too daunting a task, I’ve decided to focus on the songs highlighted in the Derek Jarman film. The film contains video clips for the songs “The Queen is Dead,” “There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” and “Panic.” Although not on The Queen is Dead album, “Panic” was released as a single in 1986.

 

One of the best things about doing this series of posts is that I get to highlight some lesser known albums turning 30 this year, such as Strange Times by the Chameleons. Released on September 1, 1986, it was the group’s third album. Critically praised upon its release, it produced what is probably the band’s most well-known song, “Swamp Thing.” The album also contains several bonus tracks, including a great version of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and a lighthearted take on David Bowie’s “John, I’m Only Dancing.” My favorite song off the album is a bonus track of the single “Tears.” It’s a haunting instrumental version that I prefer to the original acoustic.

 

I’ve come across several lists of albums turning 30 this year. There are some great albums on these lists, and at one time I owned quite a few in some form or other. With so much good music having come out in 1986, I thought it’d be fun to do a series of posts on songs from albums released that year.

The first song I’m starting with is Public Image Ltd’s “Rise.” It was the first single released from PIL’s fifth album Album, released January 26, 1986, and is reportedly about apartheid. It was the biggest chart topper by the band, reaching #11 on the UK charts, and placing #206 on NME’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Although I wasn’t old enough to go clubbing upon its release, I do remember dancing to this song years later. After a while, the dance floor turned into one collective up and down motion. May the road rise with you…

 

I was a big fan of The Church in the early ‘80s but lost track of them until the single “Under the Milky Way” came out in 1988. I’ve since discovered the band’s music from the mid ‘80s, and glad I did. The album Heyday, released in the US in January of 1986, in my opinion, is one of their best. It’s also probably one of their most overlooked. My favorite song off the album is “Tantalized,” by far the most fast-paced and hard-edged song off the LP.

 

30 Albums Turning 30 in 2016

Posted: January 2, 2016 in Albums, Alternative, General
Tags: ,

The folks at Sonic More Music took the time to put together a list of 30 alternative albums turning 30 this year. There are some true classics on here. What a great year for music!

I’ve recently succumbed to the vinyl trend, which means I’ll be spending way too much money on music I already own. Fortunately, I stumbled upon a stash of albums from my teen years that my mother had the good judgment to not throw away. Unfortunately, I soon realized I’d need to start expanding my collection. After purchasing a new turntable, the first “new” albums I bought were Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Darklands. Bypassing the temptation to purchase JaMC’s Psychocandy, I opted for their sophomore effort. After playing the album from front to back, the decision was a good one. From the opening guitar strums of “Darklands” to the haunting “About You,” the album still holds up.

The first song I heard from Darklands was “Happy When it Rains.” It was featured on MTV’s 120 minutes and was soon captured on video tape, and found lots of play on my cassette player. Tired of the electronic synth music of the mid-eighties, the Reid brothers decided to bring back guitar-based music. Moving away from the feedback and noise pop of their debut effort, Darklands was more melodic and was oddly simultaneously dark and optimistic. The album, recorded by the brothers with the aid of a drum machine, was a critical success. I’m sure it’s the first of many JaMC albums I’ll be purchasing in the near future.

One of my favorite songs from the album, “Happy When it Rains.” The video features the Reids at their moping best.

 

“April Skies” was the first single released from the album and reached #8 on the UK charts. The only single by the group to break the top ten.

 

I’ve been a fan of the Pretenders since I saw the video for the song “Message of Love” back in the very early days of MTV (it was the 19th song played on the channel’s debut). Their videos were in heavy rotation back then, and I looked forward to seeing every one of them. Though they would go on to greater fame later in the decade, my favorite period from the band is the early eighties (before the drug-related deaths of guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon). There was something quite magical about the original line-up of Chrissie Hynde, Martin Chambers, Honeyman-Scott, and Farndon that the mid-eighties lineup lacked.

My favorite album from the group is their self-titled debut, released in 1980. The album is a mix of hard rock, punk, and pop, and the songs move seamlessly from raw rock to lyrical beauty. Although “Brass in Pocket” was the most successful single, I preferred other songs such as “Kid,” “Stop Your Sobbing,”and “Tattooed Love Boys.” The album debuted at #1 on UK album charts and made the top 10 on the US charts. Rolling Stone ranked the album as the 155th best album of all time, and 20th best album of the ‘80s (Slate Magazine has it at #64 of the ‘80s).

One of the best songs off the album is “Tattooed Love Boys.” It’s three minutes of pure energetic rock, and has a great guitar riff by Honeyman-Scott. The video is smoky and sweaty and fits perfectly with the song.

 

“Kid,” the second single from the album, shows Hynde’s emotional range as a singer. It reached #33 on the UK charts and music critic Stewart Mason stated that it was “probably the Pretenders’ masterpiece.”

 

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ debut album, Rattlesnakes, turned 30 yesterday. I wasn’t much interested in the group back in the ‘80s. Their brand of folksy alt pop and whimsical guitar didn’t appeal to me at the time. As I got older, I found my way back to the band and, specifically, this album. Upon its release, Rattlesnakes received mostly positive reviews. Among all the synthesized music coming out of the UK, it was a breath of fresh air. The album is a delightful mix of irresistible guitar hooks, a bit of blues, and some good storytelling. Rattlesnakes has gone on to make many critics’ best of the ‘80s lists and is considered a defining album of the UK “jangle scene.”

Lloyd Cole wrote most of the songs for the album and was heavily influenced by Bob Dylan, along with his English and philosophy studies. There are philosophical and pop culture references throughout, and the name of the album is a reference to the Joan Didion novel Play It as It Lays. Although the lyrics were considered witty and intelligent at the time, they now seem a bit naïve and adolescent. Cole admits to now being a bit embarrassed by some of the lyrics but claims it was the writing of “a very young man.” The album never charted in the US, but reached #13 on the UK charts and had minor international success. The group would go on to release two more albums before disbanding in 1989.

“Perfect Skin” is the debut single. Here’s a live performance with Cole singing about a girl with “cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin.”

 

The album’s namesake, “Rattlesnakes,” was the third single and gives reference to Eva Marie Saint, Simone de Beauvoir, and the film On the Waterfront.

 

U2’s The Unforgettable Fire was released 30 years ago today. The album was very important to me growing up, and still continues to resonate with me. Although Boy might be my favorite album from the group, The Unforgettable Fire is a close second. I have to admit, I don’t listen to much of U2’s post ‘80s music. When I do add them to playlists, it’s mostly material from their first four albums (“Gloria” currently being the song of choice). To some degree, they were my favorite band during this time. In retrospect, my appreciation of their earlier work has waned but at one time they were my rock & roll heroes.

Partially recorded in Slane Castle in Ireland, The Unforgettable Fire is U2’s fourth album. It was a big change from the previous War, with its militaristic sound and pulsating guitar. Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois were brought in to produce the album (after the mutual parting with Steve Lillywhite), ushering in a more atmospheric and experimental sound. The whole second side of the album has a dreamlike quality that flowed like no other previous recording. The biggest hit off the album, “Pride (In the Name of Love),” is the only song that sounds like a traditional U2 song. It peaked at #3 in the UK, and reached #33 on the US charts.

The lead song off the album, “A Sort of Homecoming,” shows how much their sound had changed. Instead of the hard drumming sound of War, it has a soaring, rhythmic quality with a toned down guitar. Although not on the video clip below, the album version has Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders on backup vocals. She also sings backup for other songs on the album but is credited as Christine Kerr, having been married to Jim Kerr of Simple Minds at the time.

 

“The Unforgettable Fire” is the most orchestrated single off the album. Back in the mid-eighties, MTV started showing world premiere videos and this was one of them. I remember eagerly anticipating getting my first glimpse.