Album Reviews

The Who “My Generation” (Decca, 1965)

If you put it down to a time, a band, an album… The Who’s MY GENERATION is the first punk album ever recorded: With heavy pounding on what had to be the most tortured drum kit at the time (on stage the group would shock audiences by smashing their instruments and demolishing amps and speakers), angry lyrics are screamed and stuttered over guitar feedback and power chords. Even the album’s cover, with the band’s four grim faces set in front of Big Ben rising into an overcast sky, leaves you with the impression that these guys are a cocky group of foul-mouthed wiseasses–especially the stiff-jawed blond one, who looks like he’d rather be shaking down a store owner for protection money, or simply just kicking someone’s teeth out (and, according to more than a few of the band’s biographers, Roger Daltrey often would use his fists to end differences, with Pete Townshend as well as others).

This was 1965 and very few then would’ve had the courage or the foresight to put this kind of sound to wax. Sure, the Kinks also got together with producer Shel Talmy a year before to pioneer a heavier “rock” sound with “You Really Got Me,” but they weren’t taking it any further; it was easy confusing that song with its followup, “All Day and All of the Night,” because they were basically the same thing with different lyrics. And as is always the case, it’s the total package of talent with promotion, image with attitude.

It also took real guts for a rising pop group in 1965 to make an album–let alone a debut album!–where 3/4 of the tracks are original compositions. Except for Dylan and the Beatles, nobody at the time was able to get away with doing this. The original UK album version contains three covers, James Brown’s “I Don’t Mind,” and “Please, Please, Please,” as well as Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man;” the US version dropped “I’m a Man” for the proto-psychedelic “Instant Party (Circles)”–yet another original! Pete Townshend was taking a big gamble with this record.

In addition to the awesome title track, MY GENERATION also includes “The Kids Are Alright.” Somewhat defining the group’s early sound, “The Kids Are Alright” bacame a staple number on the Who’s numerous compilations, and would provide the title to Jeff Stein’s 1979 documentary on the band.

Of the other numbers here, things start off with “Out In the Streets,” a weird hybrid of R&B styles with droning guitar feedback. Meanwhile, both “The Good’s Gone” and “Much Too Much” sound as if Keith Moon is barely able to control himself with the drumsticks as Townshend displays his prowess with power chords. Daltrey, naturally, just seems pissed off.

Two other notable tracks are “La La La Lies” and “The Ox.” The former obviously owing much to Martha Reeves & the Vandellas’ “Heatwave” (a song the Who covered on their next album, A QUICK ONE), while the latter is a sort of group effort instrumental composition, written by Townshend, Moon and Entwistle with famous session man Nicky Hopkins.

A brilliant and exceptionally aggressive album that layed the foundations for most things coming to rock music. —Caeser

Fripp & Eno “No Pussyfooting” (Island, 1973)

To say this album is the birth of ambient music is misleading. (No Pussyfooting) came out 5 years before Eno coined the term, and several years after the sonic experiments of LaMonte Young and John Cage (amongst others) that had influenced Eno in his “ambient” experimentations. This here album and Eno’s great Discreet Music are his early attempts in making music that was “as ignorable as it is interesting.”

In this respect, (No Pussyfooting) is ambient music. It exists in two spheres of appreciation: active listening and passive listening. The quality of ambient music is measured in it’s appeal in both modes, not just one or the other. In an active listening mode, this album is incredibly rich, textural and hyperactive. It is ironic to me that Robert Fripp’s most frenetic, wild and virtuosic playing of his career can be found on his first attempt at playing “ambient music.” To the attentive listener, both of these long gorgeous tracks are endlessly rewarding.

Eno takes care of the rest, making it “ambient” and loopy and other-worldly, making it a good passive listening experience. This music, as ideally all good ambient must be, can function as decor or as architecture as much as a the colour of a wall or the shape of a room. This music can be lived in, without paying any attention to it. How many times in a day do you notice the walls are off-white? This album can play as oxygen for your ears. It is, however, contrary to the off-white wall, stunningly beautiful and hypnotic.

Historically, (No Pussyfooting) is a true landmark, not only for its contribution to the genre, but as cornerstones in the careers or both Robert Fripp and Brian Eno. Fripp made use of the technology invented by Eno for this album (ie two Revox reel-to-reel recorders sharing the same magnetic tape, one recording with its erasing head removed, one playing) to create his own system of ambient guitar music he called Frippertronics. From Frippertronics, he moved on to more modern Soundscapes, but the point is Fripp never stopped being an ambient artist, creating his own singular vision of guitar loop music, strange and beautiful and totally Fripp. Eno, of course, went on the become the godfather of ambient music, with his own Ambient series of records, on to perfecting more studio skills to become one of the greatest producers of his time.

The bottom line. This record is fascinating, beautiful, weird, and totally unique, even when compared to other records in the genre. Fripp and Eno’s followup, Evening Star, was stellar as well, but sounds nothing like this. Nothing does. —Terence

Toyah “Anthem” (Safari, 1981)

How I used to fancy this woman; flaming red hair, cute lisp, Oxfam-reject garb, what a package. But for all my youthful fantasies I found it more than a little disconcerting when Toyah re-invented herself as a television presenter fronting an adult-orientated sex education and enlightenment programme. Bit like discovering the cutest teacher in school metamorphosed into an S & M dominatrix the moment she left the school grounds.

Anthem is Toyah’s finest hour. A new wave, post punk, pulp sci-fi mix which was so easy to ridicule but nevertheless memorable. I first saw Toyah singing “It’th a Mythtery” on Top Of The Pops and it was love at first sight. The album went straight to the top of my wish list and spent weeks on my turntable. It may sound very naive and downright silly now but, boy, did it hit a spot.

As a whole this type of early eighties synth pop hasn’t aged very well – particularly with all the space rock, fantasy punk angles that Toyah seems fixated on – but, playing this today, it still sounded fresh and innovative. “Masai Boy” with its accentuated drumbeat and Toyah chanting nonsense like “Rise o sun golden one” in the background shouldn’t work but is really effective. The almost progressive rock approach of tracks like “Marionette” and “Jungles Of Jupiter” is really surprising but again just has a conviction that eradicates any misgivings. The singles “It’s A Mystery” and “I Want To Be Free” remain as infectious as ever. Yes you can laugh at this stuff but it doesn’t make it any less compelling.

Long gone are my fantasies of meeting Toyah – she’d probably have eaten me alive anyway – but listening to Anthem brings them all flooding back but, more importantly, reminds me what a very good album this is. —Ian

The Jesus and Mary Chain “Psychocandy” (1985)

In many ways, Psychocandy is the purest example of noise-pop that exists. Noise-pop, that wonderful concept of combining sweet melody and bitter sound to produce the aural equivalent of either very aggressive sex or being beaten up in slow motion, depending on the band. The Jesus And Mary Chain are definitely of the former school.

One of the first things you’ll notice is the effortless, effortless cool that this band exudes. What is remarkable is that their whole Lou Reed-sunglasses-leather-Jack Daniels image is so contrived, and yet you can’t imagine that the Reid brothers could ever sing anything else when they drawl “I get ahead on my motorbike, I feel so quick in my leather boots.”

_Psychocandy_ isn’t heavy – the opposite in fact, in terms of sound. The noise, though cavernous thanks to recorded-in-a-cave levels of reverb, is trebly and harsh, putting off many of the Nirvana fans who come across the album – there’s no precedent here apart from among the avant-garde. The noise here has little to do with punk; the album sparks with energy, but it isn’t jump-up-and-down energy, it’s simply a deep, forboding sense of joy/hatred (and isn’t the confusion between joy and hatred the central tenet of all good music? Yes.) To cap it all off, Gillespie’s style on the kit here has accurately been described as “hit the drums then hit them again”, retard-caveman beats that go perfectly with the Velvet Underground/Beach Boys tunes.

Barbed wire kisses indeed. —Ignorantium

Wayne Shorter “Speak No Evil” (Blue Note, 1964)

Enough said? No, I’m afraid I can’t help but gush about my favorite jazz album.

I can’t figure why this album seems to sometimes be lumped in with the “avant-garde”, because all of it is eminently listenable. In fact, perhaps what makes this record so uniquely great is how consistently accessible and ear-pleasing it is, yet never shallow, commercial or boring. The tunes are uniformly fantastic, the charts always interesting, and the playing is wonderfully subtle and dynamic all around; perfect moments of musical interaction abound. Highlights include the irresistibly swinging “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum”, the intriguingly geometric and mysterious “Dance Cadaverous”, and the breathtakingly gorgeous ballad “Infant Eyes”.

Wayne Shorter mixed-and-matched a lot with his ensembles as a leader, never recording an album with the same band twice, leading bands anywhere from a quartet to a sextet (and the odd octet). But on Speak No Evil he seems to have hit on the perfect band for his music. All props and praise to McCoy Tyner, who also recorded a lot with Wayne, but Herbie Hancock, with his inimitable subtleties and tonal shadings, is the perfect pianist to accompany Wayne. Elvin Jones on drums is a welcome addition to any lineup, needless to say. He really accentuates and underlines the *swing* inherent in the tunes here. The bright tone and spry exuberance of Freddie Hubbard on trumpet is a perfect counterpoint to Shorter’s somewhat melancholy lyricism. Ron Carter anchors the bass quite admirably with a lot of nice touches of syncopation, but he’s not as noticeable as he would later be with the Miles Davis Quintet.

I just can’t say enough about this LP. It is gorgeous, it is stunning, it is perfect jazz. —Micah

Nile Rodgers “Adventures in the Land of the Good Groove” (Mirage, 1983)

This album was an utter commercial flop in ’83; Nile Rodgers himself denounced it, stating he was too doped up to know what he was doing. At the same time, David Bowie loved it, and used it as a benchmark for the sound of “Let’s Dance”.

So what kind of album is this? At first listen it seems like Rodgers is doing a semi-serious take on 80s club music, but in his (recommended) autobiography he makes clear he was unsure of his artistic direction, feeling trapped by his urban roots but unable to take a step towards something completely new. This explains why his vocals sound so detached, even if the musicianship, mixing and arranging are top notch – as usual for any Rodgers-produced record.

In the end, none of it matters. Rodgers is too talented to make a bad record, even when doped up, insecure or semi-serious. “My Love Song for You”, the token ballad, is probably the best slow jam he’s ever written. “Yum-Yum” sounds like a 2012 R&B group doing their very best 1982 impression, and I mean that as a compliment. Expect eight cool, strangely addictive tracks with a very detached 80s vibe. —Kris

Fad Gadget “Fireside Favourites” (Mute, 1980)

One of the more interesting bands of new wave and synth pop, Fad Gadget combines a synth pop style with industrial aesthetics and sometimes disturbing lyrics. It’s really a shame that they didn’t make it bigger than they did, but it’s not at all surprising. Their sound wasn’t radio friendly, with occasionally harsh sounds and Frank Tovey’s unusual vocal style, but it was also probably just a tad too poppy for fans of bands like Throbbing Gristle and Einsturzende Neubauten (who they would later collaborate with). Without an obvious target fan, there was no way to market the group. The music is great, though, with Fad Gadget’s original sound being their biggest strength. My favorite of these songs is the music-hall meets industrial pop campyness of Fireside Favourite, but the more straightforward synth-pop of Pedestrian is also very good. The second half of the album is a bit more experimental than the first half with darker songs, but Fireside Favourites is quality throughout. It’s not quite a classic album, but Fad Gadget were pioneers and deserve far more recognition than they ever got. —Brian

Flying Saucer Attack “Chorus” (1996)

A singles collection, issued in 1996 compiling many of this British bands tough to find 45′s.
Founded in ’92, this band took “shoegaze” and bought it to such an extreme that you were no longer looking at your shoes in bliss, you were staring clean through your shoes, through the floor, through warm soil, into the molten/frozen core of the Earth. Sheet after sheet after sheet after blanket after pillow of feedback, with the most beautiful, elegantly sung/whispered vocals I have ever heard in my life. Every track swells, crests and recedes in a seemingly endless haze of soft white glows. When I was first exposed to this band in high school, the extremity of the basement production quality, coupled with my ear searching for debris to hang onto as the onslaught of noise cascaded out was comparable to the first times I heard Napalm Death’s “Scum” or the brutal intensity of Siege. The power of these recordings is unparalleled. I have owned this record for over 10 years, and with each listen, I detect a swirling, massive beehive texture, stinging and surging that I missed last time around. And the time before. Since those high school days, I have heard this band under the influence of more drugs than I care to mention in a work related review, but I will say this: They re-create the feeling of tripping more than ANY group from the 60′s I am aware of. Now will someone sell me a copy of their s/t LP sometimes called ‘Rural Psychedelia’ that I still cannot track down a copy of? –Richard

Nina Simone “Nina Simone at Town Hall” (1960)

Nina Simone at Town Hall is a magnificent showcase for one of music’s most versatile talents. Simone’s voice is remarkably expressive, but it’s not enough to have a strong instrument. It’s her ability to utilize her instrument for maximum effectiveness that makes her one of my favorite singers. On this live performance, she mostly explores the somber range of emotions, with unfaithful lovers being a prominent cause of the sorrow. On “I Don’t Want Him Anymore”, Simone sings volumes of emotional back-story into a six-minute song. At first sounding resigned as she gently spurns her lover while confronting his mistress, she goes on to outline the many ways that she adored him. Instead of bitterness, she betrays her true feelings of devotion as she recounts each small act of love, only to again ironically claim that she doesn’t want him anymore. The heartbreak is palpable, as it is on the song “The Other Woman”, which cleverly inverts our expectations by spending the back half describing how devastating it is to be the home-wrecker, not just the betrayed wife. Although Nina is widely recognized as a gifted singer and interpreter of songs, she is equally adept as a piano player, an attribute which is largely overlooked. Here, with minimal accompaniment, she really shines in this regard. Her playing is some unlikely hybrid of jazz, blues and classical, in which every note is as carefully played as her words are sung. This is a tremendous album for lovers of vocal jazz or torch songs. It’s definitely a late night album, due to its intimacy and the way it rewards your complete attention. Highly recommended. –Lucas

Pink Fairies “Kings of Oblivion” (1973)

If you are curious about inspired Motorhead’s unique sound, and have already explored MC5, The Stooges, Hawkwind and The Groundhogs, then go no further than this album. Larry Wallis and Duncan Sanderson later appeared on Motorhead recordings and the song “City Kids”, debuting here, is also featured on Motorhead’s 1979 LP On Parole. “City Kids” here is more stark than Lemmy’s amphetamine-enriched version, but no less powerful. ‘I wish I was a Girl” is a track worthy of the Groundhogs “Split” album in its inventiveness – but the raw power is undiminished. Sure it lacks a little something due to recording techniques in those days – a clear sense of perspective is needed, as this is music of its time and yet way ahead of it. “When’s the Fun Begin” is not one to listen to if you’re verging on a depression, but provides a nice contrast to the driving “Chromium Plating” and “Raceway.” Something about these tracks actually seems to contain the acrid smell and excitement of motor racing in a far less clinical way than say, Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” “Chambermaid” is quirky and may require several listens to pick up on the humour, and “Street Urchin” is the track that leaves you wanting more.

Kings of Oblivion is one of the best-kept secrets of hard rock – and an important part of its history. If you like your rock and roll “real,” it doesn’t get much more real than this. Just don’t go expecting Judas Priest, AC/DC or Black Sabbath; This is high-energy rock that truly belongs on the streets, and a landmark album in its genre. Truly a classic. —Fuuhq

Golden Earring “Moontan” (1973)

This 1973 outing is the album that raised Golden Earring to an international level of popularity, primarily on the strength of the hit single and enduring radio favorite “Radar Love.” However, there is much more to this album than just that hit.

It starts with a bang thanks to “Candy’s Going Bad,” a piece that starts off as a thunderous, pounding rocker but transforms midway into a bluesy instrumental mood piece. Other highlights include the hit single “Radar Love,” a relentless rock tune with a left-field instrumental break in which tribal drums duel with a big band-style horn section, and “Just Like Vince Taylor,” a guitar-slinging slice of boogie rock that pays tribute to the fallen rock idol of the title. The album also includes what may be the group’s finest prog effort in “Vanilla Queen”: this classic builds from pulsating, ominous verses dominated by synthesizer into a hard-rocking chorus and also throws in a stark acoustic guitar midsection before climaxing in a frantic band jam augmented by blaring horns and an ever-spiraling string section. Despite the album’s overall strength, not every song reaches these heights: “Are You Receiving Me?” recycles some hooks from the group’s past classic “She Flies on Strange Wings,” and the twangy country-pop of “Suzy Lunacy (Mental Rock)” is a little too poppy to gel with the rest of the album. However, even these tunes benefit from tight arrangements and a spirited, totally committed performance from the group.

The result is an album that retains its power today. In the end, Moontan is a necessity for Golden Earring fans, and a worthwhile listen for anyone interested in 1970s rock at its most adventurous. —Donald

Iggy Pop “Zombie Birdhouse” (1982)

Iggy’s pop punk stylings of Party take a decidedly weird turn on Zombie Birdhouse, plunging into warped New Wave territory with pieces ranging from the insanely catchy Run Like a Villain and The Villagers to the closing incoherence of Watching the News and Street Crazies (the former of which paved the way for future avant-Iggy works like the title track from American Caesar). Yes, there’s a prominent drum machine, and yes Iggy is batshit crazy on this, but that’s part of what makes it work – tossed aside as an irrelevance by the big labels, Iggy gets back to basics with an independent label and comes up with this triumph. It might be goofy, unusual, unexpected, and surprising, but isn’t that precisely what we want from Iggy? —Warthur