Reviews of music released in 1989.
1. Lou Reed: New York (9/10)
He changes his lyrical focus and it works really well.
2. Pixies: Doolittle (9/10)
I think I like the predecessor slightly better but they’re both equally good.
3. Faith No More: The Real Thing (8/10)
Patton was still learning the full range of his voice (and still thinking he had to sing a certain way), and the Sabbath cover isn’t really anything to write home about (in that it’s straight up), but otherwise this is great.
4. The Tragically Hip: Up to Here (8/10)
This is the Hip I like
5. Mr. Bungle: OU818 (8/10)
This demo, their last before their major deal, starts out as a not very funny parody of a hip hop mix tape.
Most of the actual musical material made it to the debut, and a lot of it is somewhat close to the sound of said debut, minus the production: the sound is clearly not up the Warner debut quality but also there is ample evidence that the band needed a producer (as in a person who would edit their work and tell them what works and what wouldn’t). And that may seem like an odd thing given that their debut sounds like Zorn just let them do whatever they wanted. However, Zorn appears to have brought out their best in a way the actual band couldn’t. Despite the huge number of video, video game and home made samples on the debut, the actual tracks on the debut are significantly tighter and more dynamic. And that’s probably what’s the most glaringly obvious thing about this: the opening is immature and stupid and the remaining tracks are not quite there. (So, if you find Mr. Bungle’s debut immature, don’t listen to this.)
It’s interesting though. If Patton had never joined FNM, and Bungle had never got their major label deal, and, say, the band broke up after this record, I think this would be regarded very differently. But, given that they got their deal and went on to make three of the greatest avant rock albums of all time, it’s hard to look at this demo as much more than their (early) sound in embryo.
It’s still their best demo, though. Far and away.
6. Nirvana: Bleach (7/10)
Despite the near complete lack of songs, I really like this. It’s noisy and sloppy and generally wonderful. There are some serious problems in comparison to their later albums but this also has a charm that is missing from those. Fun.
7. “String Quartet No. 4 ‘ Buczak'” by Philip Glass (7/10)
The ‘Buczak’ feels a little less significant than his other quartets, perhaps because it is also so very much of his style. It’s the second longest, and so (at least to my knowledge) much more in line with modern quartet lengths. It just doesn’t stir me like some of the others. I can take it or leave it.
8. Various Artists: Passion – Sources (7/10)
On the one hand, this is a fine collection of “world” music, featuring all sorts of interesting pieces from different cultures. Moreover, it was released in connection to an “event” Hollywood film, meaning that this type of music got unprecedented exposure.
On the other hand, like all or at least most “world” music compilations, this compiles a bunch of un- or somewhat-related musical traditions and passes them off as one thing. Someone like me, interested in the history of music almost as much as the act of listening to music, is given no context for these performances. Worse, Gabriel cut some of these and overdubbed others, meaning that we don’t even get the actual performances. It’s like he didn’t trust us (and maybe CDs couldn’t handle the lengths). This is a bit like the Godzilla to the originals’ Gojiras.
I get that Gabriel curated this, and these are the performances that inspired his score, and so it’s his right to jump around like this; it’s a personal statement about his musical interests rather than some kind of authoritative statement about Middle Eastern and North African (and Indian???) music. And so I guess that’s why I’m being a little kinder than I’m inclined as it drives me nuts when westerners meddle with non-western cultural artifacts because the western audience supposedly cannot handle the original versions.
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.
Lukas Foss: Elegy For Anne Frank (??/10)
Not ranked: Age of Enlightenment Orchestra conducted by Sigiswald Kuijken: Paris Symphonies by Joseph Haydn (9/10)
This is a collection of all six of Haydn’s “Paris” symphonies and is probably as close as one can get to a definitive collection of Haydn’s music on two discs, as he wrote so many damn shymphonies (104 I
believe). The first symphony, No. 82 (aka “The Bear”), was
apparently written last. And that seems relatively apparent. The opening movement is rather striking . But it’s the finale where Haydn really goes crazy: there’s a drone, a drone! A DRONNNNNNNNNE!!! It’s not much of one compared to, say, what you would find in Indian music of the time, but then Haydn had no idea about Indian music. The drone apparently came from listening to bagpipes or something like them that would be played by street performers. I can’t get over this, I really can’t. This is the craziest thing I think I have ever heard in the Classical era outside of maybe some of CPE Bach’s stuff. Just bonkers.
The second symphony, No. 83 (aka “The Hen”) has some neat rhythmic ideas in its opening that separate it from a lot of other music at the time. It is a little less inventive in the later movements, but I gotta say that I love that opening. And the rhythmic invention comes back (a little) in the finale.
The third, No. 84 (aka “In nomine domine”) contains a few neat tricks and is generally pretty compelling. It’s a lot more conventional to may ears than the “first” two, but only because those
(especially the “first”) are so out there. Still, I like it a lot and you can sort of hear Haydn lightly playing around with conventions in a couple of the movements.
The fourth, No. 85 (aka “The Queen”), begins with one of Haydn’s patented borderline Romantic, dark openings, before moving into more of what we wold expect from a High Classical symphony. It’s apparently kind of pomo, as it references Symphony No. 45 (though I must say I missed that myself), and one of the movements is stolen from a folk tune which is, once again, very Romantic of him.
The fifth, No. 86, is probably the least interesting to my ears, though the first movement changes time, so that’s something cool. Apparently he avoids being properly tonal in the very traditional sense, but as someone who grew up in the late 20th century, that’s kind of hard for me to hear.
The final symphony, No. 87, is usually thought to be the weakest of the batch but I actually like it more than No. 86. It has a pastoral quality to it that I guess I find lacking from much of Haydn’s
work (huge qualifier: that I have heard).
This is an excellent collection. And, aside from the fact that he wrote over 100 symphonies, and was one of the earliest to write symphonies, it’s a solid group of works like this (all written within a year or two of each other!) that makes it obvious to me why the man is known as the Father of the Symphony. I always thought I would be a Romantic and post-Romantic symphony kind of guy, bust listening to Haydn, especially to these Paris symphonies, has made me rethink my stance on Classical.
Not Ranked: Margaret Fingerhut: Paul Dukas’ Variations, Prelude, Sonata, etc. (8/10)
This is a quite surprising collection. Dukas – who apparently destroyed much of his output – used to be somewhat dismissed when it came to his piano music but I find what’s here – both the famous sonata variations and the less famous other two works – to be great, if not exactly life-changing. It’s fortunate that there are pianists willing to take risks and record things that are not considered standard. We don’t need 8 million versions of the Beethoven sonatas. We do need people to find stuff that wasn’t necessarily fully appreciated in its day and bring it to light. Fine stuff.
Not Ranked: Gianetta Baril, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra Conducted by Uri Mayer: Morawetz / Ginastera: Harp Concertos (8/10)
I have long loved the harp. Ever since I first heard “She’s Leaving Home” sometime in my tweens I was enchanted. And yet I have done a piss poor job of ever seeking out harp music. I can’t really say why exactly, I guess I was just too busy looking for other sounds (that of the cello, for example).
Ginastera’s Harp Concerto is flat out awesome. A work that manages to combine bot the late Romantic obsession with local folk music with developments that had occurred since the so-called “Crisis of Tonality”, the concerto is everything I hoped it would be: it is loud, it is challenging, it is clever, it is dynamic, and it’s mostly pretty fast. This is everything I love about modern “classical” music combined with an instrument I love but don’t spend enough time listening to.
Morawetz’s concerto is, unsurprisingly, minor by comparison. It’s typical of a Canadian release such as this to include a major composition by a major composer and pair it with a composition by a Canadian composer nobody has ever heard of. This is a major pet peeve of mine but I’ll take it to get to listen to something as great as Ginastera’s work. There’s nothing wrong with this piece, but it’s just not anything special, especially given everything that has gone before it. (And let us remember that it was written 10 years after Ginastera’s…)
Not ranked: Margaret Fingerhut: Variations, interlude et final; Prelude elegiaque; La plainte, au loin, du faune; Sonate by Paul Dukas (8/10)
This is a quite surprising collection. Dukas – who apparently destroyed much of his output – used to be somewhat dismissed when it came to his piano music but I find what’s here – both the famous sonata variations and the less famous other two works – to be great, if not exactly life-changing. It’s fortunate that there are pianists willing to take risks and record things that are not considered standard. We don’t need 8 million versions of the Beethoven sonatas. We do need people to find
stuff that wasn’t necessarily fully appreciated in its day and bring it to light. Fine stuff.
Not ranked: Sarah Walker, Thomas Allen, Roger Vignoles: The Songs of Henri Duparc (8/10)
For reasons I can’t quite articulate, I find lieder tough to get into. My first reaction is to be a little surprised that this guy’s status in the canon rests on this. But after a few listens, I can kind of see why. Kind of. I think I need to give it more time as I am tempted to think these are just not up to par with Schubert. But what do I know?
Not ranked: The Raphael Trio: Dvorak Piano Trios Nos. 1 and 2 (6/10)
This collects Dvorak’s two least regarded piano trios . I didn’t know that while I listened to it, and, now that I know, I’m not quite surprised. The music is certainly pleasant, but one can understand why people haven’t gone crazy over this music, which seems to me as if it could easily have been written in the earlier half of that particular century.
Not ranked: Capella Istropolitana: Symphonies Nos. 44, 88, 104 by Joseph Haydn (6/10)
This is a pretty arbitrary collection of three of Haydn’s symphonies, one from the middle period, and two from the end of his career, including his famous final symphony, the “London”. I have heard both 88 and 104 before. The performances are fine.
The “Trauer” is pretty good. The first movement doesn’t really fit the symphony’s nickname but is interesting and engaging. The second movement is where it gets interesting, with almost like a concerto gross type effect, only with a split between the strings and with the group playing off the beat (or whatever you call that in Classical). The third movement is the first time you really get a sense of “mourning”, at least to my ears, but even then, it really doesn’t seem to quite fit the nickname. Maybe it’s later stages. It must have meant something more to him, as he asked it to be played for his funeral. The final movement is upbeat again, but it relatively unconventional. This is probably one of his better middle symphonies with enough interesting stuff going on to keep you
The problem is with this collection – it’s hard for me to see why you’d package the 44th, the 88th and 104th together.