Old and new albums of the month: July 2017
The picture on the sleeve is a comforting image, a message of love that translates to any language. Dylan didn't want to be a savior or a spokesperson for his generation, although his songs were important to many and used as protest music.
Best tracks: Blowin' in the Wind, Girl From the North Country, Masters of War, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, Don't Think Twice It's All Right, Bob Dylan's Dream, Talking World War III Blues
Led Zeppelin by Led Zeppelin (1969)
A strong debut. The opener Good Times Bad Times is a classic I was already familiar. Guitarist Jimmy Page is very talented. Bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John 'Bonzo' Bonham deserve praise too for their contributions. The last part of track 2 Babe I'm Gonna Leave You is memorable, I'm not even sure if it's drums or guitar. Dazed and Confused is quite haunting but overrated. Johnny Ramone credits Page’s down stroke style on Communication Breakdown as being the foundation for the sound of the punk rock group Ramones, with fast-paced heavy metal riffs the song is ahead of its time.
I Can't Quit You Baby is a reworking of Otis Rush's blues standard with an impressive, lengthy guitar solo.
Robert Plant has a distinctive vocal and is a charismatic lead singer, hitting those notes must take a lot out of him. The epic final track How Many More Times features Plant literally scream which is a powerful moment.
The plagiarism debates do take the originality down a notch, but in their defense every musician is inspired by something. While listening, I didn't notice any overlaps to other bands.
Electric Warrior by T. Rex (1971)
Became the best selling album of 1971. Would listen to while doing something else, just the music on its own doesn't quite work for me.
Best tracks: Cosmic Dancer (timeless lyrics). Bang a Gong (Get It On) & Jeepster (pop-friendly 70s classics but I find both a bit repetitive). Lesser known highlights: The Motivator, Life's a Gas, Rip Off
Quadrophenia by The Who (1973)
At roughly 82 minutes there's a lot to digest, even after a couple of plays I'm not sure where I stand. Not seen the film yet, which could change how I perceive the album.
Was already familiar with the closer Love Reign O'er Me, which was covered by Peal Jam for the Adam Sandler film Reign Over Me (2007).
Favorites tracks: Quadrophenia, Cut My Hair, The Dirty Jobs, Is It in My Head, I've Had Enough, Sea and Sand, Love Reign O'er Me
Raw Power by Iggy and The Stooges (1973)
Laid the template for punk rock. Has been called "savagely bombastic" and "perhaps the first record that could truly be called punk. Yet the songs have a beauty and complexity that make it more than that"
Best tracks: Search and Destroy, Gimme Danger, Raw Power, I Need Somebody, Shake Appeal
The New Age Steppers by The New Age Steppers (1981)
Recommended by C at Sun Dried Sparrows. An early 80s Dub/Post-Punk UK band, the very first album from Britain's avant-garde reggae label On-U Sound.
Opener Fade Away is the most memorable, a cover of the Junior Byles reggae original. ”The one who is always acting smart, but don’t carry the love in his heart, shall fade away” is a powerful lyric.
The rest of the album consists mostly of dark experimental instrumentals. Radial Drill surprisingly features the ring of a bicycle bell. Crazy Dreams And High Ideals has The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart on vocal but is too cold to enrapture. Tracks 5-8 are very good for the rhythmic melodies and atmosphere. Ari Up's vocal heightens the two songs she sings on (Fade Away, Love Forever), and I'm curious to listen to her other work with The Slits, especially the praised 1979 album Cut.
Author! Author! by Scars (1981)
Another early 80s obscurity suggested by C at Sun Dried Sparrows. I was lucky to find the full album on YouTube as it isn’t available on Spotify.
Competently arranged, gloomy Post-Punk. The spoken-word Your Attention Please is especially haunting, and would be perfect in the end credits of a nuclear holocaust film. The single All About You (which closes the album) is not as dark and has grown on me on subsequent plays. Definitely an album that could hold up to many listens. Everywhere I Go and 'The Lady in the Car With Glasses on and a Gun' are other high points.
The album didn't find a wide audience. I read in a review Author! Author! was "too pop for the punks and too genuinely arty for the Duran Duran crowd". The band’s vocalist Robert King on occasion sounds similar to Ian McCulloch of Echo & the Bunnymen fame, particularly on the moody Leave Me in Autumn, which is a strong opener.
Steve McLaughlin on drums/percussion has produced, recorded and mixed the scores for more than 150 major feature films, including the Die Hard series and the Lethal Weapon series.
Hyæna by Siouxsie and The Banshees (1984)
Well-produced. I'm already tiring of it after three listens, probably doesn't have a lot of replay value.
Highlights: Dazzle (feat. 27-piece orchestra), Running Town, bonus track Dear Prudence (Beatles cover)
Superunknown by Soundgarden (1994)
RIP Chris Cornell. The band's breakthrough album. To be honest, I find it overrated, with the singles as the memorable moments: Black Hole Sun, My Wave, The Day I Tried to Live. Lesser known highlight: Head Down
Elephant by The White Stripes (2003)
Seven Nation Army is a modern classic. Tracks 2-10, 12, 14 are very good.
The White Stripes may just become one of my favorite acts of the 2000s. Still a few more albums remaining to explore.
De Stijl by The White Stripes (2000)
Patchier than White Blood Cells (2001) and Elephant (2003). Some tracks feel like filler, but still an enjoyable, heartfelt album.
Best tracks: Hello Operator, Apple Blossom (Beatles-esque), Truth Doesn't Make a Noise
Back to Black by Amy Winehouse (2006)
I prefer the jazz direction and personal lyrics of her debut. The more pop-friendly second album contains her biggest hits Rehab & Back to Black. Rehab has sadly lost its sting due to overexposure on the radio.
You Know I'm No Good and Back to Black are my favorite of the singles. A number of these songs aim for a retro production and could have been released 40-50 years earlier, a throwback sound to girl groups from the 1960s.
A well-made album, yet the big pop sound means it loses a sense of fragility and lived experience. Her first album made me feel something, her second rarely gives me that emotional response.
Lust for Life by Lana Del Rey (2017)
I feel she was in two minds here, with a desire to create something personal and retro, yet wanting to appeal to the commercial charts as well. Especially the second half of the album impressed me.
What makes the record different to her previous are the guest appearances. Begins strongly with the chill-inducing single Love, which also has an ambitious video set in outer space. The vocal is a bit samey on tracks 2-7 and many of those songs are lacking emotion and potency. There’s a whistle at the end of White Mustang which was a nice surprise.
God Bless America and When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing have political subtext and memorable choruses. Stevie Nicks was an interesting guest on Beautiful People Beautiful Problems, but sadly the cigarettes and life style have taken their toll on her voice. Tomorrow Never Came feat. Sean Lennon is the most pleasing of the duets.
Heroin and Change are hidden gems, sad ballads with beautiful vocal performances by Lana. The closer Get Free is ok but very similar to Radiohead’s Creep.
Nice to have new music from her and I found 6-7 stand outs. While uneven in terms of quality, it's a pleasant set of tunes. In a weak year for albums so far, I rank Lust for Life in my top 5. Hopefully tracks 2-9 are growers.
Everything Now by Arcade Fire (2017)
I was intrigued by the internet consumerism theme which is very zeitgeisty, although Pitchfork is right that the exploration of said theme feels half-baked. The music moves at such a fast pace so it’s difficult to catch my breath. Not a relaxing album.
Everything Now could be song of the year. Nothing I've heard this year is as epic as that piano kicking in at 0.45. Arcade Fire split the song in two on the album and I have no idea why. Signs of Life and Creature Comfort are enjoyable singles too, even if they turn out to be disposable due to their repetitiveness. Electric Blue is catchy but annoying. Put Your Money on Me might be a grower. We Don’t Deserve Love has a beautiful outro from the 4 min mark and onwards, though the electronic instrumentation in the intro may prove to be a stumbling block, we'll see. The middle section (Peter Pan/Chemistry/Infinite Content) is weaker. Not as strong as Reflektor and The Suburbs, but still a pretty good pop album.
Bad Baby by Sarah Jaffe (2017)
Her third album Don't Disconnect was forgettable, and unfortunately Bad Baby (her fourth) is also bland. It just wasn't for me. Lacking the memorable, deeply felt moments of her first two albums. This/That and S*** Show are well-produced and pleasant enough.
If you enjoy modern synth-pop such as Tegan and Sara's recent output, then Sarah Jaffe's latest could be for you.
What do you think? As always, comments are welcome