A list of reviews I’ve written about music released originally in 1982, the year I turned 1.
1. Lenny Breau: Live at Bourbon St. (10/10)
This is about as good as it gets for jazz guitar. Though it is fairly traditional (as opposed to anything free) given the era, that doesn’t matter as Breau’s technique is just absolutely amazing. He conquers both fairly traditional ballads and some relatively recent and more forward thinking (’60s) material. He manages to make it sound all of a piece, while constantly amazing with his abilities (like when he plays chords and lead at the same time). Young is no slouch either. Definitely one of the best jazz guitar albums I have ever heard.
1. The Dream Syndicate: The Days of Wine and Roses (10/10)
Yes, they rip off the Velvets. But in the ’80s people needed to do that. This album rules.
1. Glenn Gould: The Goldberg Variations by JS Bach (10/10)
Yes, again. The slight differences force you to think about the first version, and about adaptations in general (like the first version did). I mean, should we treat all these classical composers as so sacred you can’t alter their music? How can we even perform this music as they would have? Isn’t the truly musical thing to be inspired by them, to use them as a basis for further new music, as Gould does?
1. Sofia Gubaidulina: Sieben Worte (10/10)
“Seven Words” is, I think, one of the landmark chamber pieces of the 1980s. The piece manages to encompass multiple recent trends in music – touching on ‘Holy Minimalism’, other drone-oriented music and Gubaidulina’s own tradition, which seems vaguely “sonoristic”, and more traditional forms, all while using an accordion! And despite its semi-radical nature, it manages to be so emotionally resonant (in a way that so few avant garde pieces are). I have never heard anything like it. Amazing.
1. Mission of Burma: Vs. (10/10)
Somewhere in the mists of time, I wrote the following:
This is definitely a little overrated. I’ve heard about this band way too much to avoid preconceptions. The most shocking thing for me is how not particularly noisy they are. I mean they are noisy, but they are noisy in a contextual way only. I had heard so much about how loud they were I sort of imagined they were louder.
They are also far more post-punky than I had heard. I really don’t know where I got this information but I had these preconceptions.
So this is very solid and relatively loud American post-punk. I’m not sure it’s quite as important as everyone seems to think it is, as lots of bands were doing a slightly more jittery slightly less noisy thing in Britain at the time (and slightly earlier). And the Feelies were doing a much more jittery, far less noisy thing just down the interstate.
Anyway, I like it and I get its role in the 80s, but I can’t say that I’m blown away as yet.
That was flat out wrong. This record, and the EP that preceded it, are basically the invention of Alternative Rock, along with the Dream Syndicate and, to an extent, REM. This album is the point where post punk stopped being something recognizable as “punk mixed with some other stuff” and turned into the thing we know as alternative. It’s impossible to overstate this record’s importance.
6. Kate Bush: The Dreaming (10/10)
Probably the best “art pop” album of its era, if you can call this pop. Read the review.
7. Iron Maiden: The Number of the Beast (9/10)
The most Iron Maiden of Iron Maiden albums. Read the brief review.
8. Album: Generic Flipper (9/10)
Even if you’ve listened a fair amount of hardcore, the sheer noisiness of this record likely comes as a shock. At this point in my life I have heard this record 8-10 times and it’s still noisy to my ears. Something about slowing down hardcore makes it sound worse somehow. And, believe me, this is one of the poorest sounding records you’re ever going to hear. It tests your commitment to DIY and to amateurism as art.
But the lyrics are pretty good compared to the sound of the music. And that sound is nothing if not deliberate (they are really committed to sounding awful). And “Sex Bomb” is a true classic.
More about the sound: this album probably helped invent grunge and sludge metal (and anything else that prizes slowness and noise at the same time). Its influence is kind of incalculable.
9. The Fall: Hex Enduction Hour (9/10)
The Fall always sound like The Fall, but they sound like no one else. Read the review.
10. Angry Samoans: Back from Samoa (9/10)
Maybe this is too high for this record, the only virtue of which is offensiveness, but I suspect it’s a landmark. Read the review.
11. Prince: 1999 (8/10)
Maybe 8/10 is too low. Prince likes different music than I do, but his amalgam is incredible. Read the review.
12. Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Imperial Bedroom (8/10)
A good left turn, keeps things interesting. Read the review.
13. Bruce Springsteen: Nebraska (8/10)
Somewhere in the mists of time, I wrote the following:
This is the only Springsteen album that really stands up to any of the hype. Springsteen has got to be one of the most overrated figures in rock music. I once listened to an interview where a critic said Springsteen single-handedly saved rock. This reviewer apparently was still stuck in the boomer generation and had never heard of punk. But that’s just one man’s opinion and another story altogether.
Here on Nebraska, he strips all that ridiculous extra stuff that had made his past albums sound orchestrated and gets straight to the songs. Now, I think there are far better songwriters in rock music than Springsteen, but this is his best collection. Every one is pretty decent to quite good; there are no songs that you skip over because they suck.
To me, this is how Springsteen’s songs should sound: it should be him and a guitar, with the occasional overdub where appropriate. His music recalls an earlier, supposedly simpler era and it should reflect that. As for the lyrics, on Nebraska they are very much concerned with the average person, and his/her lot in 70s America. To load these up with the same kind of overproduction as his previous albums would take away much of the meaning.
Anyway, the hooks are good, the lyrics are fine (though really not that exceptional), and he really does sound better singing into this tape recorder. In my opinion (though I’m sure all Springsteen fans will disagree) this is the only relevant album he ever made. And it’s the only one worth having.
So, that is harsh but I don’t know that it’s wrong. I have tried and tried to listen to The Boss and I find I come up against the same thing over and over again: Springsteen is a good songwriter (I don’t know that he’s one of the greats) but his instincts often give the worst of him, in terms of his sound. Nebraska is the only record I’ve heard of his where he doesn’t indulge his worst instincts as an arranger/producer.
I like these songs. They are good songs. Springsteen is a great storyteller and he likes to tell easily understood stories about the average person. This is why he’s so damn popular.
But my idea of great songwriting is not stories about regular people. That can be great – Springsteen has some great songs, including a few of these – but the truly great songwriters tell stories that aren’t just strict narratives, they get at you in other ways as well. Springsteen is a narrative storyteller pretty much entirely and rarely uses anything like the kind of complicated wordplay that Dylan made available. And I guess that’s why Springsteen’s songs have never completely won me over – he doesn’t speak to me like Neil Young does (or any number of other songwriters then and since) and he doesn’t advance the craft, rather he just works on his style and perfects it. For me to consider Springsteen an All Time Great, he would have to do something more than he does (or I’ve heard him do).
One other thing I’d like to address: I read a critic who claimed that Nebraska was one of the riskiest moves ever undertaken by a major artist. This is yet another (likely boomer) critic indicating his utter lack of listening breadth while extolling The Boss. Just listen to Kate Bush’s The Dreaming for just one example from 1982 of a major artist taking a much bigger risk. There are likely a legion of other examples not from 1982. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t struggle with Springsteen so much if I hadn’t been brought up in a society that decided he was The Greatest of All Time.
14. Siouxsie and the Banshees: A Kiss from the Dreamhouse (8/10)
It’s not JuJu, but it’s still pretty good. Read the review.
15. Raven: Wiped Out (8/10)
Supposedly their debut is better. I guess I should listen to it. Read the review.
16. The Cure: Pornography (8/10)
A dense, difficult expression of ennui and despair. Read the review.
17. King Crimson: Beat (8/10)
Beat really does feel like a retread of Discipline to me. I don’t quite mean that as a criticism as nobody else was making music like this at the time and it’s still very, very well performed, but it sort of feels like Discipline 2. 70s Crimson gets you used to the idea that every record will be different.
I still like this a lot, it just feels like it’s not quite breaking new ground.
18. Dead Kennedys: Plastic Surgery Disasters (8/10)
Too similar to their debut for me to rate higher. Read the review.
19. Mauricio Kagel: Furst Igor Strawinsky (8/10)
I do not know Stravinsky as well as I should. So I have a hard time judging this requiem for him as a tribute to him, as opposed to just a requiem. It certainly has the weirdest opening of any requiem I’ve ever heard, starting with knocks on what sounds like wood. It gets much more requiem-like about a minute 40 into the piece, when there is a mournful vocal on top of the knocks and some reeds, which almost always sound mournful. My guess that there are some quotes of his music, but I honestly have no idea. It’s probably the most radical requiem I’ve ever heard but it’s still successful, I think. It’s not goofy like some of his other pieces, much more sombre.
20. The Birthday Party: Junkyard (8/10)
Not quite the equal of Prayers on Fire in my mind. Read the review.
21. Andy Summers and Robert Fripp: I Advance Masked (8/10)
22. Bad Brains (8/10)
23. Joe Jackson: Night and Day (8/10)
I really like this. Read the review.
24. Chrome: 3rd from the Sun (8/10)
25. Thomas Dolby: The Golden Age of Wireless (8/10)
26. Richard Thompson, Linda Thompson: Shoot Out the Lights (8/10)
Is this a pre-break up album? Read the review.
27. Roxy Music: Avalon (8/10)
Not my thing, but very well done. Read the review.
28. The Psychedelic Furs: Forever Now (8/10)
This album is likely better than this rating but, so far, it’s failed to move me. That being said, I think it’s probably pretty important. Read the review.
29. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Ice Cream for Crow (8/10)
A pretty good point to approach The Captain, actually. Read the review.
30. Slapp Happy with Faust: Acnalbasac Noom [Recorded 1973] (8/10)
So apparently this is the original album, which was rejected by their label and then re-recorded and released as the appropriate name. Then the original recordings were released in the early ’80s, or something like that.
I haven’t heard the polished second version of this record (self-titled Slapp Happy) so I cannot judge whether or not it was the right decision by the record company but my personal bias would say ‘probably not.’ What we have hear is catchy but odd-enough pop rock with utterly unique vocals and enough quirks to keep things interesting.
It’s hard to know what a record company would have been expecting from a trio backed by Faust, but this is remarkably commercial for that description. It’s very solid stuff, though it’s hardly as progressive as I was led to believe.
A note on the bonus tracks: at least one of them sounds like it was recorded in the early ’80s and doesn’t belong at all.
31. Adam Ant: Friend or Foe (7/10)
I like this. Just not sure if it’s that original. Read the review.
32. Accept: Restless and Wild (7/10)
Not sure if this should be higher, or lower. Read the review.
33. Philip Glass: Glassworks (7/10)
Glass freely admits that he wrote this set in order to attract a more diverse, perhaps even younger crowd, and that it was geared towards people being able to listen to it on walkmans – i.e. it would have to fit on a single tape, which would be a major problem for much of his work. And you can really tell, as this is the most accessible work of his I’ve heard outside of some of his film score music.
This is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, it’s an excellent entry point for anyone not sure whether or not they are interested. (However, the film scores are also pretty accessible.) And the music is pretty compelling.
On the other, maybe it’s because I started into Glass’ oeuvre by listening to more intense stuff, but this definitely feels slight – it feels like it was indeed intended to be accessible, and it feels sort of tossed off – pop Glass almost.
Though I’d recommend this to someone unsure of whether or not they want to listen to Glass’ bigger compositions, personally I feel those are far more rewarding listens.
34. The [English] Beat: Special Beat Service (7/10)
I like this, I’m just not sure how original it is. Read the review.
35. John Cale: Music for a New Society (7/10)
This might grow on me. Until then, I don’t love it. Read the review.
36. Lou Reed: The Blue Mask (7/10)
A decent set of songs, but not his best. Read the review.
37. Tank: Filth Hounds of Hades (7/10)
Too Motorhead to be original. Read the review.
38. Culture Club: Kissing to Be Clever (7/10)
Kind of impressed. Read the review.
39. Yazoo (aka Yaz): Upstairs at Eric’s (7/10)
Soulful, yes. But not my thing. Read the review.
40. Rush: Signals (7/10)
41. Mauricio Kagel: Rrrrrrr… [excerpts] (7/10)
The pieces from Rrrrrrr… are all over the place in terms of style, starting with ragtime and running the gamut of styles, through pretty traditional to really avant garde stuff (a prepared piano, a “raga”). I like how Kagel turns music on its here but here I have to say I’m slightly confused; the idea of a piece that can be performed in parts or in wholes, by different instruments, confuses the hell of me. That’s the intention. But for once I feel like I’m the butt of the joke rather than in on it, which is a weird feeling. I like the music though.
42. The Clash: Combat Rock (7/10)
Combat Rock may be just as weird, flawed and imperfect as Sandinista! but it has two huge advantages over its predecessor.
The first is rather obvious: Combat Rock is slightly less than 1/3 the length of Sandinista!, which is just insane as it’s not like this record is particularly short. It’s a lot easier to listen to this uneven experimentation when it’s one LP long.
The other thing is that the best songs on Combat Rock are just better than the best on Sandinista!.
Both of those things add up to a lot. It’s as if the band had an editor this time (even if the reality is that they just didn’t have a lot of material).
As an aside: it’s so weird that Strummer felt like Jones and Headon were a problem musically when it feels like his contributions were just as mixed.
43. Descendents: Milo Goes to College (7/10)
A glimpse into the future of the California punk scene. Read the review.
44. Michael Jackson: Thriller (7/10)
Not my thing, but decent for what it is. Read the review.
45. Judas Priest: Screaming for Vengeance (6/10)
I don’t like something about these guys. Read the review.
46. The Jam: The Gift (6/10)
47. George Clinton: Computer Games (6/10)
It’s a Parliament record, really. Read the review.
48. Marvin Gaye: Midnight Love (6/10)
Dated and a little long on the jammy parts. Read the review.
49. ABC: The Lexicon of Love (6/10)
Better than it should be. Read the review.
50. Twisted Sister: Under the Blade (6/10)
Much better than I was expecting. Read the review.
51. Led Zeppelin: Coda (6/10)
As a teen, I was just happy for another Zeppelin album. But if I’ve fair, this is not only merely a rarities album (albeit one with mostly pretty good stuff) but it is a rarities album that somehow managed to omit some major rarities. For example, “Hey, Hey What Can I Do.” And at least five other songs that could have been released in place of a live version (or soundcheck or whatever) of a song we’ve already heard.
52. Lionel Richie (5/10)
Slick as fuck, and sappy too. Read the review.
53. Duran Duran: Rio (5/10)
I have no idea why people like stuff like this. Sorry. Read the review.
54. The League Unlimited Orchestra: Love and Dancing (3/10)
This is a series of “instrumental” remixes of the Human League’s Dare which aimed to capitalize on that album’s success. It’s not really instrumental – the vocals are kept on some songs – and the songs don’t really sound that different (though I guess that’s most remix albums).
It certainly doesn’t have a reason to exist. There’s nothing about this that is better than the original album, and there’s nothing about it that’s revelatory either. It feels like a cash grab and it’s boring.
1. REM: Chronic Town (9/10)
I cannot be objective about this EP.
REM was the first contemporary band I ever got into after spending my childhood listening to oldies; the first band that was still recording in my lifetime. (That’s not entirely true: I listened to The Nylons and Weird Al, so you could say the first “serious” band.)
I first heard this, like many fans who came to the band during their ’90s heyday, on Dead Letter Office. It quickly became my favourite early REM album.
I cannot divorce that experience of my youth from an attempt to review it now. It’s too important to my own personal musical journey for me to ever be critical of it. But in attempting to do that, I still think all five songs are classic early REM songs and, moreover, it is literally the epitome of the “punk Byrds” sound that REM introduced to the world. Really, you don’t need to listen to another REM album between this and Document if you’re wondering what the deal is. (I would encourage you to listen to those albums, but if you’re not a fan of the band and wonder why people were, just listen to this and think “1982.”)
I’m not sure it’s the birth of American alternative rock – there are too many other bands who participated in that (The Dream Syndicate and Mission of Burma, to name two) but it’s still a pretty important record.
In addition to being important, it’s great.