My reviews for music released originally in 1979.
1. The Clash: London Calling (10/10)
Belongs with all the other classic double albums.
2. Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Rust Never Sleeps (10/10)
3. Satyagraha by Philip Glass (10/10)
This is the middle of Glass’ “portrait opera” trilogy (which aren’t really operas in the traditional sense, as they lack narratives) though I’m listening to it last. It is significantly more traditional – in terms of music, not conception – than Einstein on the Beach but I feel like it is still readily identifiable as something minimalist, in a way in which I don’t think Akhnaten is. (The latter strikes me as perhaps his most traditional / conservative work.) The opera still lacks a traditional narrative but its concept is way less idiosyncratic than Einstein on the Beach.
The music is some of the prettiest of Glass’ career, and I am tempted to say this is my favourite of his works (though I regard Einstein on the Beach as his greatest achievement). I am also tempted to view this as some kind of counter to Nixon in China, but that’s probably all in my head. I almost like them both equally.
4. Pink Floyd: The Wall (10/10*)
Yes it’s ambitious. Yes it’s pretentious. Yes it’s over the top. I don’t care. It can’t be denied. Getting Ezrin was the smartest thing they could do.
5. David Bowie: Lodger (10/10)
6. Motörhead: Overkill (9/10)
Close to the birth of The New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Read the review of Overkill.
7. James Chance and the Contortions: Buy (9/10)
Take English post punk, add some free jazz, some Pere Ubu and some Magic Band (specifically the slide guitar) and you get this record. New to No Wave (it seems), this is totally not what I thought this was going to sound like. I thought it was going to be Branca-eque de-tuned guitar industrial noise. The surprise is a pleasant one.
This is some energetic stuff that combines the confrontational nature of the most extreme punk of the day, with all that makes English post punk good, with a whole ton of other things I like. It’s pretty wonderful stuff and I regret that it took me this long to get to it.
7. The Pop Group: Y (9/10)
The artier, funkier, British Contortions. Read the review of Y.
9. Talking Heads: Fear of Music (9/10)
10. This Heat (9/10)
This is like some unholy combination of ’60s avant rock, early industrial music and the earliest post-punk. And that description really isn’t fair. Really, there’s little out there like this, especially so stylistically diverse. Usually experimental music is experimental in one or two ways; this manages to run a whole gamut.
Like little else.
11. The Raincoats (9/10)
Naive rock has already been a thing for over a decade before The Raincoats. But nobody (that I know of) had managed to connect the naive approach with the zeitgeist like these gals. And it’s this approach that makes them stand out from the other post-punk bands… because nobody sounds like them. It’s this blend of post-punk and naive rock that makes this record so engaging but also so seemingly unique. And the subversiveness of the lyrics (and that cover…) makes it all better.
12. The Fall: Live at the Witch Trials (9/10)
The Fall arrive fully formed, sounding only like themselves. Read the review of Live at the Witch Trials.
13. Tubeway Army: Replicas (9/10)
14. Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Live Rust (9*/10)
15. Frank Zappa: Joe’s Garage (9*/10)
16. Oliver Knussen: Coursing (8/10)
This is one of those pieces where the title fits the music as well as you could imagine. Think of something “coursing” through your veins and you get an idea of what this music conjures. A brief but every effective piece.
17. Gang of Four: Entertainment! (8/10)
18. Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures (8/10)
19. Public Image Limited: [Metal Box] (8/10)
20. Oliver Knussen: Symphony No. 3 (8/10)
The third symphony is a both brief and bonkers. It’s so brief I’m not sure that it really qualifies as a symphony in a traditional sense, except that it’s a three movement work for orchestra.It’s a lively and fun piece full of inventive moments barely held together.
21. Henryk Gorecki: “Szeroka Woda” (8/10)
“Broad Waters” is the only piece of Gorecki’s choral music I have heard with any real forward movement, with one movement practically feeling like a march in comparison. But things settle down. Like the “Wislo,” this has much more of a “song” feel than a religious service feel. Not sure if it’s based on anything like that, though.
22. Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Armed Forces (8/10)
It’s slightly overproduced but this actually sort of makes it fit in with what was going on in the world. Costello is more biting here (and more cohesive) which appeals to me. It lets me forgive some of the more bizarre flourishes. Like the past one, it feels like a step forward and a step back at the same time, which is okay I guess. It’s solid again but I still can’t see any of these as masterpieces.
23. The Jam: Setting Sons (8/10)
This is apparently an abandoned concept album. That wasn’t very apparent to me, before I read that somewhere online, but that could just be because I’m not paying attention.
The songs are strong again and the sonic palette is ever expanding (compared to their previous albums).
This is very well done but remains just not my thing.
Also, I detect a Bowie imitation creeping in.
24. Mauricio Kagel: Vox Humana? (7/10)
Listening to Kagel’s work, rather than watching it, is a bit of a problem, because Kagel’s work is often “theatrical” not just in the sense of being influenced by the theatre, but of having the musicians act out parts. Listening to the music online you miss that aspect. (Something big definitely happens 10 minutes in, when there is a giant scream.) That being said…
This piece sure reminds me of Berio at his most theatrical (in a good way). It is about a decade older than some of Berio’s craziest stuff, and so I must recognize that it’s not quite as daring, just because Berio was doing crazy shit like this in the ’60s. But it’s still my kind of bonkers “new music,” wherein the rules are thrown out the window.
25. Terry Allen: Lubbock (On Everything) (7/10)
Some folks will tell you that this is one of the Great Country Albums of All Time. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t think the songs are quite there, or because I secretly prefer country rock and alt country to traditional country, but I don’t really hear it.
What I do hear is a lot of songs (a lot of songs) that gently mock life in Texas in the ’70s. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re more corny. But for the most part, this is pretty straight forward country music that features reasonably clever and compelling lyrics, but no obvious standards (to my ears) and music that just isn’t risky enough for me to love it in spite of the lack of truly classic songs.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but I guess I wasn’t expecting something as traditional and safe as this.
It’s alright but I don’t think it’s a classic.
26. Donna Summer: Bad Girls (7/10)
27. Iggy Pop: New Values (7/10)
28. Robert Fripp: Exposure (7/10)
29. Joni Mitchell: Mingus (7?/10)
30. Supertramp: Breakfast in America (6/10)
The pianos date it but, otherwise, pretty solid vaguely arty, vaguely progressive, jazzy pop. Read the review of Breakfast in America.
31. Led Zeppelin: In Through the Out Door (6/10)
Synths shouldn’t replace guitars, no matter how much I like JPJ.
32. Van Halen II (5/10)
I do not like this band. Read the review of Van Halen II.
Not Ranked: Philip Glass: Einstein on the Beach (10/10)
I am a very big fan of John Adams’ Nixon in China from pretty much the moment I heard it. It seemed impossible to me that two seemingly diametrically opposed styles of music could be merged seamlessly. It’s safe to say it changed my (musical) life.
That experience is always shocking (in a wonderful way) to me, especially as I get older. I have been going out of my way to find supposed major events and touchstones in music history for about 15 years now, and every so often – sometimes every few months, sometimes less than once a year – I find something that I cannot believe I didn’t hear until I was [insert age here]. My life prior to listening to the thing now seems incomplete. That’s how I felt with Nixon in China. And that’s how I feel about Einstein on the Beach, another supposed minimalist opera.