1989 in Music

Reviews of music released in 1989.

1. Pixies: Doolittle (9/10)

The slicker sound is a bit disorienting after their debut record, you can hear the band better, I guess, but I’m not sure whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, because Black’s songs are revealed for what they are – post modern fragments. If you find that appealing (and I do) then this isn’t a problem. But if you want something more, I suspect the greater light shone on the lyrics (the lack therefor, a lot of the time) is probably a problem. It certainly feels less fresh with the cleaner sound.

But I don’t mean to criticize it, I actually love it. I just don’t think it’s as great as the debut, both due to its production and because the Pixies have their format now. Some of the songs hear are arguably better than on the debut but, with the notable exception of “Here Comes Your Man.” the vast majority of them are very much in the Black Francis/Frank Black mode, some of which recall melodically songs on the debut.

But the band is excellent, of course, and their sound is unmistakably there’s, even if it’s very much a sound that doesn’t appear to allow for growth.

I don’t know how this got so negative. What I really mean to say is that this is the second best Pixies album, a little more professional and a little less fresh than their debut, but still wonderful.

2. Lou Reed: New York (8/10)

Lou Reed has so many albums where there are some good songs, some mediocre songs, and some songs where you feel like he didn’t even try. Then he has records where you listen to the songs and you think, in trying too hard, he kind of ruined some of them. Then you listen to some of his records and there are no songs. (Well, one of them anyway.) It is extremely rare, I find, that there’s an album where nearly all of the songs are good (for him). I know of only a few. This is one of them.

It is also his most topical set of lyrics perhaps ever. This is a pretty big left turn, as far as I can tell. And it mostly works. There are a few songs which I get confused as to his meaning (or wonder if he doesn’t quite know what he means) but, wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt, I wonder if there isn’t some craft or intention behind this. He was, after all, quite thoughtful at times and, at other times, perfectly willing to live in contradiction.

The music is conventional rock and roll. Occasionally Reed or Rathke elevate it a little bit, but this record could definitely use some Robert Quine, who had been fired at this point. Still, I like these melodies and performances enough to focus on the lyrics, the reason we usually listen to singer-songwriters without strong singing voices.

This may not be his best set of lyrics but it is among his most consistently strong track by track, and an interesting window into a different side of one of America’s great singer-songwriters.

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.

“Surprise Your Dead” continues to be my favourite track,

4. The Cure: Disintegration (8/10)

Well, I’m not sure it’s a masterpiece but it’s good. Read the review of Disintegration.

5. Beastie Boys: Paul’s Boutique (8?/10)

This is probably better than the rating I gave it. Read the review of Paul’s Boutique.

6. The Stone Roses (8/10)

I’m not sure I believe this is the first ever Madchester record, because it sure doesn’t sound like it much of the time, but it’s still a good record. Read the review of The Stone Roses’ debut album.

7. The Creatures: Boomerang (8/10)

Siouxisie and the Banshees without most the Banshees, resulting in an extremely stripped down and sparse sound. Read the review of Boomerang.

8. Kate Bush: The Sensual World (8/10)

If it was produced a little better, I’d rank it even higher. Read the review of The Sensual World.

9. Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine (8/10)

I can’t decide whether or not I’ve ever heard this before. My friend lent me The Downward Spiral in high school and I thought he maybe lent me this too, but I have no record of. But I must have heard it somewhere because I know at least one of the non-singles well enough that I must have heard it somewhere.

There’s a lot on the internet about how dated this record sounds compared to his later albums – which is true – and how Reznor himself is unhappy with it. A lot of people seem pretty content to dismiss it.

I don’t agree with that. I think it’s really easy to criticize this record 30 years later, in part because of what Reznor did later as a producer. (Subsequent NIN records all sound incredible, whether or not I like them.) But he had to start somewhere. And this start is pretty impressive, in my opinion.

His aesthetic is already pretty close to fully formed, he’s just a little more reliant on ’80s synthesizers this time around. He still manages to get most of the rest of his aesthetic pretty well down and it’s hard for me to imagine this record being by any other “band”.

Moreover, though I am not up on the transition from early industrial to more commercial industrial, I feel fairly safe in saying that I don’t know too many other people who were making music like this in 1989. Yes, at times this veers towards the darkest synthpop, but it never gets there, and none of those synthpop bands went this far into industrial (to the best of my knowledge) or got this diverse. And on the industrial side, basically everyone was making a racket, far as I know, and few if any had the melodic ability of Reznor.

Yes, there are a bunch of clunky moments, none more so than hen Reznor gets close to rapping. But I think there’s enough here for it to stand out among the synthpop and industrial of the day.

10. Pestilence: Consuming Impulse (8/10)

Great death metal. Read the review of Consuming Impulse.

11. Nirvana: Bleach (8/10)

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.


I wrote that some time ago. I don’t think it’s quite fair and I think this is better than I gave I gave it credit for. There are more songs than I thought and I like how heavy it is.

12. XTC: Oranges & Lemons (8/10)

Good, interesting progressive pop. Read the review of Oranges & Lemons.

13. Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 (8?/10)

It’s not my thing but I think it’s a landmark. Read the review of Rhythm National 1814.

14. Ministry: The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste (8/10)

Don’t love it as much as the two albums before and after it. Read the review of The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste.

15. The Tragically Hip: Up to Here (8/10)

What do you do with a well-played but generic blues rock album with excessively literate lyrics that come to be seen as one of the great statements by one of Canada’s most iconic bands?

I was not a serious music fan in 1989. (I turned 8 the day before this came out.) But I can imagine that serious music fans would have found it very easy to dismiss this record; like a less hip version of the Black Crowes with way better lyrics. If you ignore the next 30 years, it’s hard to think much of this record, aside that it is literate and well-played.

But the thing is, this band became incredibly important to Canada and its sense of identity. (Well, at least white, English Canada.) And at least four of these songs are “Greatest Hits” in this regard. (There is a music festival near where I live named after one of these songs. Seriously, that’s how big a deal this album is in Canada.)

In the interim, Gord Downie became, essentially, the Poet Laureate of (English) Canada, and the band became a must-see. (Though I somehow failed to see them live and only ever watched live footage of them in that massive national farewell concert.)

Unless you know Canada, and unless you know the band, it’s really, really hard to understand how that could have happened to a band that began as this generic bar band thing – in the 1980s!!! – with really good lyrics.

It basically defies conventional ideas about how music evolves. It is also possibly incomprehensible to any non-Canadians (and probably some people in Canada). And I certainly don’t have anything to say that would make it make sense. They’re Canada’s band and this started it. I don’t know why.

16. 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.

17. NoMeansNo: Wrong (7/10)

I want to love this but it’s just too derivative. Read the review of Wrong.

18. Pop Will Eat Itself: This Is the Day…This Is the Hour…This Is This! (7/10)

A brave fusion of hip hop and rock. Read the review of This Is the Day…

19. Galaxie 500: On Fire (7/10)

Too similar to the debut, for me. (I think.) Read the review of On Fire.

20. “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.

21. Neil Young: Freedom (7/10)

I have no idea why I didn’t review or at least rate this album the first time I heard it (a number of years ago now). I was just trying to listen to all his songs, so maybe I just didn’t have time to review them all.

For most of the decade Young had been recording un-Neil Young like records and, more recently, he had formed bands to specifically record in a given genre. In many ways, Freedom is the first “Neil Young” album he put out since Hawks & Doves. (That is not entirely true of course, but it works the narrative.)

As a return to form, it is very Neil Young. He has assembled tracks from a multitude of different sessions, as was his want, especially in the ’70s, and the result is all over the place musically, but well within the range of styles he performed during his peak, making it sound far more conventional than his single-genre records of the ’80s.

The set of songs is a little uneven, as there are some classics, near-classics and also some songs that just don’t hold up among his best work. The constantly varying sounds add to this experience so that I’m not sure that, once I’ve listened to this much more, I might feel very differently. It’s also a little long.

Still, I think most of us would rather listen to this than vocoder Neil Young or rockabilly Neil Young or whatever.

22. Madonna: Like a Prayer (7/10)

Madonna is better than I thought she was. Read the review of Like a Prayer.

23. Lukas Foss: Elegy For Anne Frank (??/10)

This is actually an extract from his third symphony, apparently. As you know, I kind of hate excerpts.

The piece begins with a reading from the famous diary, which seems apt.

After a couple of minutes, the music begins. As you would expect, there is a strong elegiac quality to it. It is quiet and subtle, which is not a bad thing. But eventually it builds to something much more dramatic, which does not feel so elegiac, but which almost suggests the impending doom of the Nazi occupation, or something like that.

That’s followed by more narration, which a little bit of music mixed in which gives some sense of hope.

I’m not a fan of excerpts but I guess this does what it sets out to do, which is to pair some effective music with diary readings.

24. Savatage: Gutter Ballet (7/10)

Super theatrical metal. Read the review of Gutter Ballet.

25. 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’ Gojira.

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.

26. Soul II Soul: Club Classics Vol. One (6?/10)

A super diverse R&B record which makes no impression on me. Read the review of Club Classics Vol. One.

27. Tom Petty: Full Moon Fever (6/10)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers without the grit. Read the review of Full Moon Fever.

28. New Order: Technique (6/10)

Like two entirely different records pieced together. Read the review of Technique.

29. Simple Minds: Street Fighting Years (6/10)

Fine just fine. But I’m not sure why I should care. Read the review of Street Fighting Years.

Not ranked:

Compilations, archival releases and new performances of old material.

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 symphonies (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.

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.

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…)

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.

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?

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.

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 interested.

The problem is with this collection – it’s hard for me to see why you’d package the 44th, the 88th and 104th together.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.