Monday, April 23, 2012

The Quarterly JT - Part 1, 1982

JT and I are at it again. This one is his brainchild. Basically, each quarter we’re covering our personal five favorite albums of a given year and then the next quarter we’ll tackle the top five of ten years later. For example, we’re starting with 1982 for Q1, which has passed, so Q2 and 1992 will come hard on, followed by Q3 and 2002 and then the top 5 picks of 2012 sometime in December. In January, we start all over with 1983. See how it goes? Pretty cool, right? And it’s all JT’s idea!!

Needless to say, 1982 was an amazing year for music, and we both had close to ten albums right off the bat without having to do much digging. With the likes of Springsteen (Nebraska), Prince (1999) and X (Under the Big Black Sun) putting out seminal efforts; not to mention some strong nods from Captain Beefheart (Ice Cream for Crow would be his last release), John Cougar Mellencamp (American Fool was his first of several huge as well as meaningful albums) and REM (Chronic Town, while only an EP, changed everything about music), 1982 had a lot to offer within many genres and generations (or for anyone who just loves all kinds of music). And with so much to choose from in such a wide variety, we both had to go with what we felt were personal and long lasting, maybe even obvious, favorites, and it’s quite possible that (most) any of our picks could drop down a notch and be replaced by one that is arguably no lesser, just not hitting our sweet spot at this given moment.

So, let’s dive in, with JT, per usual, going first…

Oh wait, I can’t remember if these were supposed to be ranked or not, but mine are in random order. 

  1. Violent Femmes- S/T  Releasing arguably the greatest debut album of all time, the Femmes came out swinging and recorded some of the best folk/indie rock songs ever. From the guitar/drum intro of ‘Blister in the Sun’ to the melancholy closer ‘Good Feeling’ there isn’t a single misstep on this album, which for the Femmes proved to be both a blessing and a curse as they would never reach this level of perfection again…but then again, not many bands could.
  2. Michael Jackson- Thriller This album has sold so many copies that they lost count, as the estimates range anywhere from 65 to 110 million sold and this didn’t happen on accident. MJ was in the perfect groove on this album…coming off of the stellar Off the Wall, which would’ve made my list for best albums of 1979 had we done it. All that you can say about Thriller, and this is by no stretch an overstatement, is that it is absolute pop perfection. Seven of the nine tracks were released as singles with every last one of them becoming pop standards. Unbelievable.
  3. XTC- English Settlement I’m a huge fan of pop music in all of its forms and while Michael Jackson was releasing one of the best mainstream pop albums of all time, XTC were quietly perfecting their own brand of angular, quirky pop rock. This album contains some of their best ‘singles’ but also their most consistent album tracks as well.  
  4. Prince- 1999 I love Prince and while this isn’t Purple Rain, Sign O’ The Times or Dirty Mind, it is still a pretty perfect album and contains some of Prince’s best singles (1999, Purple Rain, Let’s Pretend We’re Married and Delirious)...1999 serves as a reminder of just how amazing of a run of albums Prince released from the late 70s into the early 90s.
  5. The Cure- Pornography William and I have discussed this album ad nauseam so let’s just say that this is the best ‘goth’ album of all time and probably why, despite the fact, that Robert and co. haven’t recorded anything as dark or ominous in 30 years they are still thought of as a Goth band in many circles. 

And now me...ME! ME! ME!

The Church – Blurred Crusade – The Church’s sophomore effort was in some ways a bit of a 180 from their shimmering debut, the personal top 3 favorite, Of Skins and Heart. Chucking half an album’s worth of three minute psyche-jangle-pop tunes and replacing them with broader, more ambitious and drawn out mini-epics, that would become their preferred forte in another decade, The Blurred Crusade sounds like a band searching not for who they are, but where they want to be, and finding many worthwhile avenues to explore. And yet even as they push the boundaries a bit, they don’t lose the post-punk edge or chiming melody that made the debut so infectious. This is the same band, only covering new ground, doing more with a sound that was more obviously borrowed before (though heightened by some of the most excellent songwriting of the genre) and taking it to new limits. Not that the three songs that take on this vein (When You Were Mine, Field of Mars, You Took) are all that’s worthwhile. The more familiar sound of the debut gets a nice reworking as well, from the medieval croon of Almost With You, to the laid back “la, la” of To Be in Your Eyes, to the brief, haunting desperation of Secret Corners, there is much that loves to stick in your head and beg for a repeat listen. It would be another ten years and six albums before the Church really picked up on this vibe again, and when they did they threw away the manual and wrote their own. But the Blurred Crusade is a fantastic collection of cultivated pop immediacy and embryonic epic that is at once varied and cohesive, and a must listen for anyone interested in this band beyond “Under the Milky Way.”

The Cure – Pornography – Likely one of the few JT and I will both choose, and of course we’ve rather recently gone over this one, but it can’t be stressed enough the importance of this album as a cornerstone/place marker of where the Cure really went dark and fully embraced the “goth” image they were already flirting with over the past couple of albums – and has of course shrouded them ever sense, even when it really shouldn’t have. But, like most great albums, there are only hints of what was to come from previous efforts, with no logical follow up after the fact. Just as with Disintegration seven years later, it takes an aerial view to fit some of the pieces together and say “Yes, I should have been prepared...” Of course 30 years later this is all hindsight, and the fact of the matter remains that Pornography is a testament of how far you can push the limits of your angst via vision, create something that nearly tips you over the brink, and yet still manages to hold it all together. While on some levels this album may sound like one man’s post punk/pre industrial diatribe of emotional vitriol, it’s actually a well-crafted, articulate, often hauntingly lovely and surprisingly accessible collection of overdriven pop tunes, with everything turned up to 11 and all the stops thrown wide open. The drums hammer, the guitars drill, the bass throbs and Mad Bob wails like a banshee going through a bad break up. In short, it’s everything a Cure fan could hope for. And having said that, it’s not for the casual fan or first time listener, but it does represent what in many ways is quintessential Cure, while taking a snapshot of a specific moment, sound and attitude in their career that they never fully attained (or really even attempted) again.

Duran Duran – Rio – Another I’ve gushed about previously, but again, the importance of this album is that it illustrates the best of what New Wave had to offer, and why it was worth the hype, and how it made sense that it was as popular as it was innovative. Yeah, Duran Duran were the poster boys of everything chic and trendy in the early on 80s, but this was one of the rare times when that was a good thing. Sure, those dos and threads are a bit dated now (despite the retro wave comeback amongst the kids), but the music and the look, slick, sexy and sensational, all make sense when put within the same context. Yet removing the glitter and glam around the music still leaves the listener with a batch of songs that are brilliant, showcasing a lush, sophisticated but non-self-important style that is dance-worthy, thrilling and (especially on side two) emotionally stirring. Few albums could properly encompass the free for all abandon of monster hits like the title track or Hungry like the Wolf, the sinister undercurrents of Lonely in Your Nightmare or New Religion, or the ethereal pulse of the Chauffer, which I often think is the greatest song DD ever composed, and is easily one of the most compelling listens of all time. As with all these albums, it was a moment in production, skill and songwriting when every planet and star was exactly where it should be, creating a musical statement that was perfect for that time and yet transcends where it was for everywhere else it could and should be…which is in your player right now.  

Roxy Music – Avalon – The final album before Roxy Music’s second and lengthier hiatus, Avalon is the culmination of the sleek, refined and more lounge-centric approach that began well enough with 1979’s Manifesto, but got a little out of control with Flesh and Blood. The difference here is a reincorporation of some of the artier vibes from their initial run, though not in the visceral, angular way of standouts like Country Life or Siren, but in the more atmospheric, even cerebral moments that were highlights on For Your Pleasure and Stranded. But again, the “attack” is gone, and Avalon rarely rises above a mid-tempo croon as it slips and slides along silky textures of liquid bass, amoebic keys, slithering guitars and spiraling sax/oboe. This is of course the perfect luxurious backdrop for Bryan Ferry, the ultimate front man in both elegance and machismo, to swoon his way through tales of love’s losses and regrets. Avalon is an aural treat, a dream landscape evoking exotic settings, romantic interludes and a sensation of complete abandon. This is wonderful sunny day driving music with the windows down and your arm hanging out, or a backdrop for a cool night with a nice drink and the lights low while you let go of the day’s cares. As do all these albums, it stands on its own within the Roxy Music catalog and has no obvious successor amongst the countless artists/albums it has influenced; plus it’s the obvious example of what happens when the glam movement grows up and begins approaching music from a more mature point of view.

Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes – I know I said these weren’t ranked, but in many ways this may be the most important album of the year, decade and, in many ways, of all time. For 30 years the Violent Femmes’ self-titled debut has been passed down like a mantle, from older to younger sibling, from hip uncle to shy nephew, from cool and aloof senior to geeky but promising freshman, as a gateway into the world of “alternative” music. The first four tracks alone are the bullhorn for awkward teen angst and repressed, unrequited love, and the rest of the album is just as good in the exact same way. And yet despite the incredible shadow this album casts over the entire network of cult status music, not to mention the Violent Femmes themselves, it has never even been close to duplicated in style or attitude, from the folk-punk whine-along of Blister in the Sun to the truly heartbreaking strains of Good Feeling. Honestly, I can’t even think of a band or album where I can say, “Yeah, they’ve got an early Femmes feel to them,” which is part of the mysterious chemistry, not to mention brilliant set of songs (thank you, Mr. Gano), these three guys had at the time these ten tracks were recorded. It’s a classic among masterpieces, a moment when everything that was wrong made something exactly right, and I have no doubt will be expressing the complaints of the hopeless for the next 30 years and more.

Oh, and apparently these are in alphabetical order, so…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how I missed this post, but it's a cool idea. I'll be interested to see if your approach to the Top 5 changes when you move into a decade in which you had a personal experience with the music when it was brand new. Being that I have something like 15years on you guys, I found myself going through the 1982 Year in Music entry on Wikipedia and sorting albums into categories based on whether I now objectively think they are the best albums of '82 versus "boy, I loved that album back in '82." For example, I love Marshall Crenshaw's debut album, but I'm not even sure I heard it in the immediate wake of its release. I did, however, listen to A Flock of Seagulls (the debut) and Oh No! It's Devo quite often (and would still find them both to be enjoyable). Also, two big favorites of mine released albums in '82: Elton John (Jump Up!, a pretty good early '80s release) and Blondie (The Hunter, their less-than-satisfying-but-still-has-a-few-great-songs swan song).

Having said all that, here are five from '82 that I like a lot:

1. The Golden Age of Wireless (the original LP)-Thomas Dolby
2. Night and Day-Joe Jackson
3. Marshall Crenshaw (debut)
4. Imperial Bedroom-Elvis Costello
5. Friend or Foe-Adam Ant