1988 in Music

A list of my music reviews for music originally released in 1988.

1. Talk Talk: Spirit of Eden (10/10)

Ever since I became a fan of the horribly named genre ‘post rock’ in the early ’00s, I always wondered where it came from. It has long seemed to me to have emerged from nowhere. What music from the ’80s could have possibly told us we would be listening to “rock” bands trying their hardest to make non-rock music or rock and non-rock music? It just seemed to me that something like Hex just came out of nowhere.

Now I know better. I only wish I had known sooner. I sort of wish I had someone to expose me to this when I was in my teens, instead of discovering it in my 30s.

That’s not to say that this is actually post-rock. Any attempt by us to dub it ‘post rock’ is erroneous: it’s too close to traditional rock music for one thing but, moreover, the genre wasn’t even named until the early ’90s. But the signs are all here: influences from multiple non-rock genres (cool jazz is the most obvious) and a definite attempt to break away from what was considered rock music at the time. And in addition to its clear path-breaking quality, the songs are also pretty damn great and the arrangements are near-perfect.

In short, all this is to say that this is one of the great rock albums of the 1980s. I wish I had known that sooner.

2. Pixies: Surfer Rosa (10/10)

It’s kind of hard to overstate the importance of the Pixies’ debut album, for both alternative rock and indie rock, and that’s rather crazy given how frequently those genres are defined in opposition to each other. Where is Nirvana without this record and this band? Where are all the Nirvana-copping bands without it? But where is “northwest” Emo without this record and this band? (Well, it’s considerably more emo, that’s for sure.) Putting aside everything but influence, this is one of the most important records of the 1980s – it greatly defined 1990s rock. (1990s rock is like Dinosaur Jr + Pixies plus more charismatic singers and cleaner production.)

But the other thing is that not only did this record crystallize their unique and hugely influential sound, but it also fun and goofy in a way that so much post-punk rock music is not. This is not a serious band and Black Francis/Frank Black has a playful eccentricity to his songs that helps endear you to what is otherwise a potentially inaccessible sound. I do think his songwriting improved as he aged, but there are still some pretty classic songs of his on this record.

An absolute classic.

2. Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation (10/10)

This is the record when Sonic Youth finally figured out how to write songs (sort of). Sure, they’d sort of done it before at times but never had they had so many that you could actually digest as songs, rather than as something more like compositions. And the fact that they do this on a double album, which I think it is safe to assume would have seemed like something impenetrable to anyone following them in 1987, is all the more remarkable. Yes, they were getting more accessible, but this is not an accessible band. This is the moment where they finally figured out how to take the things that made them so unique – the alternate tunings, the noise, the “unique” approach to singing – and made it proper rock music, instead of noise rock or post new wave or whatever want to call what they were making before.

4. Dinosaur Jr.: Bug (9/10)

Mascis has basically learned how to write songs, some of which might be pop songs in the hands of others. At the same time, they also record their most difficult, most alienating track and leave it for anyone who can handle it at the end of the record.

I should have something more eloquent to say about this but all I can right now is that it is as close to perfect as the band ever got, and so many alternative rock bands of the 1990s wished they could make this record, or a record like this, but none did.

5. Cowboy Junkies: The Trinity Session (10/10)

If it weren’t so clearly rooted in roots music (I crack myself up) this would seem to be the birth of slowcore.

It’s alt country not in the sense that it is mixed with alternative rock (though obviously there is some influence, given the Velvets cover) but in the sense that the approach is so alternative: one night, one mic, in a church, and played at an absolute crawl.

The result is unlike any other country album (I’ve heard) from the ’80s, or perhaps from the ’90s either. It is utterly unique and classic.

One of the great live albums of the 1980s and certainly a candidate for best country album of the ’80s. Fantastic.

6. The Pogues: If I Should Fall from Grace with God (10/10)

This was the first Pogues record I ever heard – likely the first one you heard too – and so, for a long time, it was the one that I cherished most. I have since come to prefer Rum Sodomy & the Lash but this is still a great record: it combines everything that is great about the band: reinvigorating Irish music with the spirit of punk but also a musical diversity that you wouldn’t necessarily expect if, say, your only exposure to this kind of thing was the Dropkick Murphys or what have you.

Listening to this record is just non-stop joy for me, even when the songs are not about happy subjects (are they ever?). This is the kind of music I can listen to over and over again and never really get bored of. In addition, the original songs are nearly uniformly great and the covers are performed with way more energy than those Celtic rock bands of the ’70s would have done.
A borderline-classic.

Also: best Christmas song ever. Though you knew that.

7. Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (9/10)

I have stupid reasons for thinking this isn’t quite a classic. Read the review of Public Enemy’s second album.

8. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Tender Prey (9/10)

It’s funny that Nick Cave dislikes this record because I’ve long thought of it as the pinnacle of the earlier, punkier, more dangerous version of the Bad Seeds. Records before this always strayed too far away from melody, and the first records after this leaned to far into caricature, later albums lost the edge.

With years of reflection and way too many listens, I still think it’s probably the best record they put out in the 1980s, but it’s more flawed than I used to think. It’s the best set of songs, but a few of them, including the most famous one, hang around too long. That’s sort of the point, live, I think, but on a studio recording, where they’re a little neutered, it’s a little too much.

There’s still nothing like this blend of melody and menace, and some of the more interesting arrangements of their career (necessitated by members of the band regularly missing in action).

If you don’t know the earlier Bad Seeds, before Cave became a different kind of songwriter, this is the record to start with.

9. Living Colour: Vivid (9/10)

A pretty astounding debut, more memorable for its lyrics than even its inventive musical fusion. Read the review of Living Colour’s debut album.

10. N.W.A: Straight Outta Compton (9/10)

It’s hard for me to figure out what to do with this. But it has been incredibly influential. Read the review of Straight Outta Compton.

11. Ministry: The Land of Rape and Honey (9?/10)

I think this is a pretty big deal. Read the review of The Land of Rape and Honey.

11. The Lounge Lizards: Voice of Chunk (9/10)

12. The Waterboys: Fisherman’s Blues (9/10)

Great. Read the review of Fisherman’s Blues.

13. Metallica: …And Justice for All (9/10)

Metallica’s best material, produced horribly.

14. Dead Can Dance: The Serpent’s Egg (8/10)

I have heard nothing from 1988 or earlier like it. Read the review.

15. Queensryche: Operation: Mindcrime (8/10)

Sometime in the past I wrote this:

Yes, it’s cheesy, but it’s good cheesy.

Plus, the big thing for me is that, despite the sometimes silly story, the moral is right on the money. Few if any rock acts understand the pratfalls of these ideas, but these guys do. That in itself is very impressive.

They also did well to hire Kamen. That was basically pulling a Floyd: as the Floyd tapped Ezrin to make the Wall after Berlin, so did Queensryche get Kamen for this after the Wall. Makes sense.

Imagine a hair metal band performing a shorter version of The Wall with lyrics more in line with a punk band’s (i.e. more Animals than The Wall) and the plot more in line with a political thriller, and you get some vague idea of what Operation: Mindcrime sounds like. Some.

16. Soundgarden: Ultramega OK (8/10)

Not as good as their later records but still pretty good. Read the review of Ultramega OK.

17. Jane’s Addiction: Nothing’s Shocking (8/10)

Unlike the follow up record, I really like this one. The production’s better, even if the song’s aren’t. (Everything’s a little more raw and unhinged.)

Whether you think of this as hard rock or some kind of metal, there was nothing really like this being made in the late ’80s; funkier and way weirder than the Gunners but way louder and cooler than any other mainstream hard rock band at the time (that I’m aware of). I can hear a lot of ’90s rock in this record. And though a number of bands may have done this better, it sure sounds like these guys did it first.

18. My Bloody Valentine: Isn’t Anything (8/10)

I don’t love shoegaze. I don’t know if I came at it at the wrong time in my life or whether I just would have and never will like the aesthetic of noise plus bubble gum.

But I like this a lot more than the Jesus and Marry Chain; it’s a lot more musically interesting to me and certainly, from a production standpoint, it’s a mot more daring than just sugary melody plus buzzsaw guitar.

Maybe one day I will come to like this more than I do but I find, of all the shoegaze bands, I still prefer the ones closer to more traditional rock music – i.e. perhaps less innovative than My Bloody Valentine but closer to what I enjoy personally.

Ah well.

Still, it’s hard to deny this record’s importance.

19. Slayer: South of Heaven (8/10)

So it’s slower, so what? Read the review of South of Heaven.

20. Galaxie 500: Today (8?/10)

This is likely more important than I know. Read the review of Today.

21. Lucinda Williams (8/10)

22. Sabbat: History of a Time to Come (8/10)

A theatrical spin on thrash. Read the review of History of a Time to Come.

23. 808 State: Newbuild (7?/10)

Basically every time I sit down and listen to a seminal electronic album from the ’80s or ’90s, I’m at a bit of a loss, as there’s so much out there and I’ve heard so little of it. But that’s exacerbated here because nearly all electronic music I listen to is not dance music. I read that this is the seminal acid house record and all I heard is dated ’80s dance music.

I have no idea what to do with this.

24. Siouxsie and the Banshees: Peepshow (7/10)

I like this a lot, but they are sort of repeating themselves. Read the review of Peepshow.

25. Wire: A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck (7/10)

Well this is a surprise. Read the review of A Bell Is a Cup.

26. Tracy Chapman (7/10)

A little too ’80s but otherwise not bad. Read the review of Tracy Chapman’s debut album.

27. Cocteau Twins: Blue Bell Knoll (7/10)

Surprised how much I like this. Read the review of Blue Bell Knoll.

28. Suicidal Tendencies: How Will I Laugh Tomorrow If I Can’t Even Smile Today? (7/10)

This isn’t bad. Read the review of How Will I Laugh Tomorrow If I Can’t Even Smile Today.

29. Ice-T: Power (7???/10)

Good? I guess? Read the review of Power.

30. Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man (7/10)

Great set of songs. Terrible production. Read the review of I’m Your Man.

31. Prince: Lovesexy (7/10)

Less ambitious than earlier records, so less appealing to me. Read the review of Lovesexy.

32. Melissa Etheridge (7/10)

The production is not amazing, and the songs could be a little better, but on the whole this is both important and good. Read the review of Melissa Etheridge’s debut album.

33. The Sugarcubes: Life’s Too Good (7/10)

Not bad. Read the review of Life’s Too Good.

32. Mr. Bungle: “Goddammit I Love America” (7/10)

For me, this is the first Bungle demo that really sounds like Bungle, rather than a bunch of guys who would turn into Bungle later. A lot of that has to do with the presence of songs that make the debut, but they sound a lot better – more coherent, more obviously themselves instead of a Metallica- or Camper van Beethoven-wannabes, and just way more like the band I fell in love with.

This is still pretty rough – they were still a ways from refining their very unique sound (and you could argue the debut was still very unrefined) but most of the elements of early ’90s Bungle are here in some way or other, albeit in a very early, scatter-shot form.

33. Bad Religion: Suffer (7/10)

People tell me this is their best record. Read the review of Suffer.

34. Steve Earle: Copperhead Road (7/10)

I wanted to like this more than I do. A bit of a mixed bag. Read the review of Copperhead Road.

35. Eazy-E: Eazy-Duz-It (6?/10)

I have no idea what to do with this. Read the review of Eazy-Duz-It.

36. They Might Be Giants: Lincoln (6/10)

I think I just wasn’t in the right mood. Read the review of Lincoln.

37. Camper Van Beethoven: Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (6/10)

In the switch to major label, something has been lost. Read the review of Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart.

38. Happy Mondays: Bummed (6/10)

God Martin Hannett is an awful producer. Read the review of Bummed.

39. REM: Green (6/10)

When I first got into REM, my friends who got me into REM told me Green was the worst album. And so I didn’t listen to it for over 20 years. (Makes sense, right?) I do know a few songs from a mixtape a friend made me, but that’s less than half of the tracks.

I think you could say this is the second REM album where Stipe was singing “properly” (to hear him tell it) and that was both a good thing and a bad thing, since a lot of the appeal of their early albums is the mystery from the (nearly) indecipherable lyrics. That being said, it’s not like I dislike Stipe as a lyricist, he just seemed more profound when I couldn’t hear everything he said.

So Green finds them in a weird place. On the hone hand, some of the tracks feel like an attempt at following up the success of Document, only with a slightly more accessible sound – the lyrics are less obviously political and most of the songs have less of a deliberate difficulty to them (though “Get Up” has its arty moment). But on the other hand, a number of the songs see them embracing a kind of folk pop – that, we know now, would be more fully expressed on their next two albums – which they haven’t quite mastered here.

And it’s this odd fit that makes me agreement with the assessment of my tweenage friends 20+ years ago. I think Green is probably the weakest REM album between “Chronic Town” and when Berry left.

40. The Smithereens: Green Thoughts (6/10)

Meh. But at least it’s not Morrissey. Read the review of Green Thoughts.

41. Morrissey: Viva Hate (6/10)

Morrissey is an asshole. But the music is more interesting than I was expecting. Read the review of Viva Hate.

42. Crowded House: Temple of Low Men (6/10)

Not my thing at all. Read the review of Temple of Low Men.

43. Rapemen: Two Nuns and a Pack Mule (6/10)

Feels like Big Black with a drummer to me. Read the review of Two Nuns and Pack Mule.

44. Danzig (6/10)

Sounds like the ’70s recorded in the ’80s. Read the review of Danzig’s debut.

45. The Proclaimers: Sunshine on Leith (6/10)

A little too sedate for me. Read the review of Sunshine on Leith.

46. Enya: Watermark (6/10)

Well, it’s much better than I thought it would be. Read the review of Watermark.

47. Randy Newman: Land of Dreams (5/10)

One embarrassing hip hop parody away from being a poorly produced set of good songs. Read the review of Land of Dreams.

48. Ozzy Osbourne: No Rest for the Wicked (5/10)

Meh. Read the review of No Rest for the Wicked.

49. Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 (5/10)

If I had encountered this record in my twenties, I likely would have panned it and gotten very angry about nostalgia. If I had first heard this record in my thirties, I likely would have been a little more conciliatory, acknowledging that there were some positives and some negatives, and you would have got a more nuanced view than the one I would have delivered as an angry young man. But I first heard this record when I was 7, and for most of the next few years, it was on regular rotation in my father’s car. (Eventually, the sequel was there too, though I don’t think we ever listened to it much.) A substantial chunk of what appeals to me about this record comes from realizing that I know every song, and that I knew every song as a kid, when the world was easy and wonderful.

I’m trying to fight against that because I know adult me sees all sorts of problems with this record, so I am going to try to review it as if I had never heard before, though that is impossible.

I get that there is a great appeal in listening to/watching famous people you like have fun. There are loads of movies based upon this premise and likely the odd album other than that. And it sure feels like these guys are having a good time. Good on them.

But, from an artistic perspective, rather than a celebrity lark, this record has some major problems. Though the songs are mostly pretty damn catchy, not all of them are equally catchy. And the music is pretty much all rock and roll revival, the music of the teen years of Dylan and Harrison, and Orbison’s prime. But more importantly, the various parts feel stitched together and though the memories of the surviving members don’t claim that each section was written by the prominent vocalist singing it, it sure feels that way, as if it was stitched together from a bunch of different ideas.

The same is true of the lyrics, which sometimes feel like they were assembled in some kind of game akin to Exquisite Corpse. (This is most clear in “Dirty World,” where they just say whatever comes to mind, some of them are doing one thing, some are doing other things.) This is not always the case – sometimes the lyrics mostly fit together – but you can’t pay too much attention to them.

I think if that was that, I’d probably rate this higher. I enjoy this record when I allow myself to drift back into childhood and not think about it. But, in addition to the music being pretty damn retrograde, and the music and lyrics being casually or goofily assembled, there is the production. Anyone who has heard a Jeff Lynne-produced album from the 1980s or early ’90s knows what they’re in for. This is sanitized, pop rock and roll. I know these guys were mostly old at this point, but it does indeed feel like the old person’s version of the music they are trying to celebrate; it’s the memory of it, not the real thing. And the big surprise here is the presence of Dylan – is this the most cleanly produced record Dylan has ever made? It might not be, but it’s the slickest one I’ve ever heard. I would have thought he’d talk some sense into them, but he probably didn’t have much of a say (or didn’t care, seeing it as a joke).

Anyway, it would have been more fun if it didn’t sound so much like the ’80s version of the ’50s as filtered through guys who are getting too old for this.

50. Was (Not Was): What Up, Dog? (4/10)

I don’t know what this is, but I know I don’t like it. Read the review of What Up, Dog?

51. U2: Rattle and Hum (4/10)

In 2009, full of rage, I rated this 3/10 and wrote the following:

No matter what they might have wanted us to think, late ’80s U2 were not the next great American rock’n’roll band. One listen to this album and anybody can see that. But the style of music – and the style of clothes! Oh those cowboy hats… – on display suggests that they really thought they were. It’s hard to know what exactly they were smoking at this point. Many people (myself excluded) were ready to grant that the “roots” “experimenting” on The Joshua Tree gave them their best album, but here the obsession gets out of control.

I can’t say this is a horrible album (though I’m very tempted) because it’s made by talented people. But it’s as close to horrible as talented people can get, me thinks. And it seems to have happened because U2 believed their own press, and their own fantasy about being the next great American rock’n’roll band even though they were Irish… even though they had never really made this kind of music before. So the first thing they do is they try to throw themselves into the tradition of the do-everything rock double album (Blonde on Blonde, The White Album, Exile on Main St., Manassas, London Calling, Zen Arcade etc). Only they don’t have enough new material so they had to put live tracks and covers on it. And then they go one better: they actually put non-U2 performances on the album. Then they hire Iovine, a producer who, unlike Eno if not Lanois, has rock’n’roll true credentials, in the form of the Heartbreakers, among others. Then they bring in the guests: female vocalists, the Memphis Horns, Van Dyke Parks, Bob Dylan, B.B. King. B.B. King? If U2 can’t convince us themselves, well certainly B.B., Bob, and the Memphis horns tell us the truth: U2 are rock’n’roll. And just in case we the listeners aren’t totally sure, they record at Sun. They’re that rock’n’roll.

So the covers of “Helter Skelter” and “All Along the Watchtower” are downright horrible. You know a band is so popular it doesn’t matter what they do when their crowds cheer bad performances. This is why the Beatles stopped touring. They realized the audience wasn’t paying attention to the show. The other live performances are somewhat better (minus Bono’s *cough* “banter” *cough*)… on second thought, one is just as bad, but more on that in a second.

I appreciate the attempt to reinvent “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” I always like it when a band doesn’t stick to the studio version. But this version reeks of the whole album’s problem: trying to be so rootsy that it hurts. I mean, the choir sounds like it’s from another song. The song itself was never so soulful, so where does this choir get off noodling like it does?

“Pride” is fine, except for Bono announcing Edge’s studio-replicating “solo.” Is that really necessary? It’s a repetitive lick. It’s like Bono is yelling “Guitar lick!” in good ol’ rock cliche fashion. Ugh.

The nasty one, the original on the scale of the covers, is “Silver and Gold.” Everything is going along fine and then Bono starts explaining his lyrics. Apparently U2 fans are dumb. Apparently, Bono is not the poet he thinks he is, because as everyone knows, if you have to explain it, it’s not poetry. Then, in one of the most cringe-inducing moments in rock’n’roll history, he says, “Edge play the blues.” And what we get is decidedly not the blues.

“Bullet the Blue Sky” is also a problem. First, they demean Hendrix by making his iconic performance part of this mess. Then there’s Bono’s faux-American accent in the spoken-word section. Eww.

“Van Diemen’s Land” seems to be an attempt to the Irish is this “roots” onslaught…since, you know, the band is Irish. It’s fine, but that isn’t saying much. Anyway, they don’t let the song end, as it fades away to an interview about how important U2 is.

“Desire” is U2’s attempt at that very American staple: the Bo Didley beat. It sounds like that exactly: U2 trying to play a Bo Didley song.

“Hawkmoon.” Aside from the cache, is there any reason why Dylan plays organ on this song?

“Angel of Harlem” marks the next stab at an American staple. The Memphis Horns liven things up, as always. But the song is beset by the same problem that besets “Desire” – this is U2. They aren’t some road-worn roots band. The performance just isn’t anywhere near on the level that it (should?) could be.

“Love Rescue Me” is the same approach, but with soul. I love Dylan, but nothing about this is made more convincing because of his presence. Hell, I only know he’s there because it says so.

“When Love Comes to Town” is perhaps the one, of all these attempts at American roots, that rings the most hollow. It reminds me of those diva duet videos, where the divas are never in the same set, because they couldn’t stand each other. It sounds like that. King and the singers sound like they’re playing a different (better) song. Well, The Edge sort of sounds like he gets it. In the bridge anyway.

The lyrics of “Heartland” tell us everything we need to know. They are consciously trying to evoke something, but this something is something they experience as foreigners. Try as they might, they’re not American. “Heartland”’s lyrics contain some words associated with traditional American roots imagery (“delta”) but it doesn’t sound remotely American. At least it sounds like U2…sort of. But Route 66 doesn’t go through the Mississippi Delta and I doubt it goes through Death Valley. Such imagery betrays a complete lack of understanding of the subject matter.

I don’t even know where to begin with “God Part II.” I want to yell at Bono just for having the audacity to try to write a sequel to one of Lennon’s best songs and the best post-Beatles song by a Beatle I know. But I realized I enjoyed Green’e’s Monsignor Quixote so that would make me more of hypocrite than I already am. I don’t think Bono gets “God.” Certainly, it’s the most forthright Bono has been up till this point. That would be refreshing if they had picked a different title. “God” is an amazing renunciation of nearly everything Lennon was famous for and was supposed to stand for. It remains one of the most amazing confessional songs around. It is as personal as it gets. In order to get there, Lennon used heroin and underwent primal scream therapy. Bono isn’t at that point. He isn’t personal. He is clearly projecting to characters. How dare he suggest his lyrics are anywhere similar. How dare he suggest that he knows what Lennon was thinking when he wrote that song. If you’re going to write a sequel to a poem, you should at least use the same form. Bono doesn’t even do that. “God II” is the most offensive thing U2 has ever done, and that’s saying something. Yuck.

So we’re left with “All I Want is You.” It’s typical U2, but it’s elevated by Parks’ wonderful string arrangement. It’s far and away the best thing on the album. It deserves a better album. It’s too bad it’s missing the brief piano piece from the single version, as that was pretty good too – and it makes you wonder about why they didn’t put it on this album when they were short of material. [Note: I didn’t realize that track was from a different, earlier record.] But at least the album ends a good note.

The only positive thing I can really think to say is that this album did serve some purpose. U2 failed at it’s bid to become the next great American rock’n’roll band – though apparently they didn’t fail at becoming the “biggest band in the world” (yuck) 15 years later – and they failed so badly that it forced them to undergo some much needed introspection. The result eventually produced U2’s best album and a whole period where they were actually concerned with pushing their musical boundaries while maintaining some semblance of their own sound at the same time. We could argue that Rattle & Hum, for all its problems, inadvertently produced U2’s most creatively fertile period. That’s something I guess.

But the album itself…it isn’t horrible. It’s average. The problem is it’s insanely phony.

So I was a little cruel. The best songs here are certainly not as bad as I led on and, with many more listens, I can tell you I don’t hate the record any more. But I do find it a giant mess and a giant mistake.

52. New Kids on the Block: Hangin’ Tough (3/10)

However bad I imagined boy bands to be, I can’t imagine them much worse than this. Read the review of Hangin’ Tough.

Not ranked: Willie Dixon: The Chess Box (9/10)

So Dixon is unlike pretty much all the other major figures in post-war blues in that he rarely led groups. He was more of a songwriter and producer (and, of course, bassist). He’s only the frontman on something like 5 or 6 of these songs. But he’s behind all the rest of them in the other ways. And that’s the really crazy and impressive thing about him: he had this huge impact on the blues and rock and roll, but he rarely took up that role that we would expect someone like him should have. There’s an argument to be made that he’s as important or more important than the Wolf or Muddy, in part because he had more stylistic range but also because he was so responsible for so much of what became iconic blues of the period. Fascinating.

Not Ranked: Les Arts Florissants: Madrigaux a 5 voix by Carlo Gesualdo (9/10)

How we remember the past is always fascinating. They say the winners write history and that’s fine when it comes to political violence, but how relevant is that to art? Why exactly was Gesualdo forgotten for a couple centuries?

Very briefly, the story with Gesualdo is that he was considered a minor Renaissance composer and then completely forgotten. When he was “rediscovered”, contemporary musicologists and composers were shocked to hear how adventurous his music was for the era; in fact little of the baroque and classical eras was this daring in terms of chord changes and the use of dissonance.

And I can confirm this with what little knowledge I have of both music theory and Renaissance music. To my ears, some of this stuff sounds like it could easily be early 20th century vocal music, written in tribute of the Renaissance, but aware of the romantic tradition and the crisis of tonality.

And that’s what’s so hard to get my head around: this sounds both really old and, at times, crazy progressive, and yet he was totally forgotten. It’s fascinating.

I’m not sure he’s the greatest Renaissance composer you’ll ever stumble across, but he sure was one of the nuttiest. I am going to keep looking into his work, as it’s really unique.

Not ranked: Philharmonia Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, The Nash Ensemble conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas and Oliver Knussen: Symphonies Nos 2-3; Trumpets; Ophelia Dances; Coursing; Cantata by Oliver Knussen (8/10)

This is a compilation. But despite that, I enjoy it. Read the review.

Not ranked: Philippe Herreweghe, et al.: Faure: Requiem (8/10)

I don’t, as yet, listen to a lot of Requiems. So I can’t necessarily say how it fits in to history. But I can say that I wouldn’t be offended if someone played this at funeral. (Of course I couldn’t be offended, and hopefully there won’t be that kind of funeral…) As I have said elsewhere Faure is someone who has a lightness to much of his music which I might normally detest – or at least get occasionally annoyed by – but for some reason I don’t. I can’t really explain it. I doubt it’s rational, but in his hands a lot of things I might otherwise get annoyed sound good.

The second mass on here seems to have been somewhat forgotten and I can sort of understand why. It’s not on par with the requiem.

Not ranked: Edith Piaf: The Voice of the Sparrow (7/10)

Not living in France at the time Piaf came on the scene, I have a hard time getting her voice as anything more than what it sounds like to me (something that is relatively unique, and obviously full of emotion). She certainly feels the songs but I cannot say one way or the other whether what impact she had, as I’m simply not familiar with French vocal music beyond Gainsbourg.

Not Ranked: Various Artists: Symphony No. 8; Ballade; Slavonic Festival by Alexander Glazunov (7/10)

I really don’t like these arbitrary compilations, where there’s one major work fleshed out with other smaller works, and when the performances are by different orchestras / performers, it’s all the more frustrating. But the 8th symphony is awesome – it’s everything I want in late Romantic ‘nationalist’ music. And the performance by the Ministry of Culture’s orchestra (what a Soviet idea!) is suitably bombastic, to my ears.

And surprisingly, I can see how the curator thought the ‘Ballade’ belonged with this symphony (though obviously I would prefer to listen to a complete set of the symphonies).

But frankly the ‘Slavonic Festival’ doesn’t belong at all. It’s of an entirely different mood and, unsurprisingly, from an entirely different time in Glazunov’s career. Frankly, it makes me not want to listen to his early works. It’s so ridiculously jovial.

Not ranked: Herbert von Karajan: Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 / Brahms: Symphony No. 3 (7/10)

At first this seemed to me like an arbitrary combination (something which I generally dislike) but for some reason the two works seem to mesh well together, and it’s not just because they were written within five years of each other. They seem (at least on my first listens) to strike similar tones and so the combination doesn’t appear so odd.

Not ranked: Various Artists: Grieg: Piano Concerto; Holberg Suite (6/10)

This is one of those extremely annoying compilations where there is virtually no information: we know the performers of the pieces but not when or where. Labels like Quintessence get their hands on recordings that don’t have copyright protection in North America and release these recordings to unsuspecting consumers (such as libraries). When someone like me listens to this music, it’s annoying to know so little. I don’t know the music and so I cannot really comment on the performances. (Though I can comment on the sound quality: it is shockingly good given the label.)

The Concerto is a definite crowd pleaser, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Apparently it has a lot in common with the Schumann, but I wouldn’t know about that. I like these kind of overwrought, “here’s how awesome I am at the solo instrument” Romantic concerti. I have a real soft spot for them. And so this really appeals to me even though it’s obviously intended for showboating (and not for the “advancement of the art” or what have you).

This “Holberg” is the orchestral version, so I just have to throw my music snobbery out and say “Gol, I wish it was the original.” That being said, and even though I am not really into classicism, I see a kind of bravery in making such unabashedly traditional music at the height of the romantic era.


James Brown: “Static” (??/10)

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