Strap yourself in – 1987 is taking us for a ride. Handbrake turns, 85mph in a residential area. And whilst I’m not going to suggest something along the lines of On New Year’s Eve, 1986, the patron saint of musicians did summon his flock, and did beseech them to strip-mine the mojo – because that would be rather silly indeed – this simply was a staggering year in terms of the breadth, cadence, and musical nuance delivered in vinyl form. (And CD. And tape). Such is the resonance this year holds continues to hold in the canon that formulating the appropriate words has taken far longer than usual. A difficult process of first listening, then attempting to evaluate the specifics behind how and why these disparate element connect. Because this music thing is a heady construct. And 1987 hit such heights that as a one-off, I’ll split this year’s significance into two parts.
(Also: blog posts should never be breaching 1,000 words…).
I’m also not going to claim that 1987 (What The Fuck Is Going On?) by The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu is the acme of sophisticated significance. Because it’s ham-fisted record (at least if you regard it head-on, ignoring the pernicious glint in its eye), reliant upon mucked-about-with (and unlicensed) samples to the point where it sounds like construction via boxing gloves. A pastiche. A sort of Fuzzy Felt art terrorism. Which is probably the point, this being a KLF Production – the genus of album created to trigger a reaction (and no doubt a smirk worn by the perpetrators). Pulled from the racks fairly soon after release once ABBA’s management caught wind of the jape (Drummond and Cauty were never going to win the resulting legal case), this is music as publicity stunt, unavailable unless a visit to eBay coincides with a generous raise in your pocket money.
Another band I find it genuinely difficult to write about is U2. It’s not sound, an aesthetic, a clinch sympathetic to my disposition. And whilst they won’t be mentioned ever again on these pages, there’s The Joshua Tree. Yes, that Joshua Tree. Garnering a mention because the opening tracks – ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’; ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’; ‘With Or Without You’ – work decidedly as a triptych. Obtrusively powerful, earnest and aware of the underlying dynamic, these three songs nonetheless carry the bulk and form of the monument. Something I wouldn’t care to trip over on my daily commute, but worth the infrequent fly-past on a wet weekend.
That’s the thing with Significant Albums; the reams of subjectivity can’t preclude mainstream albums. And whilst a prominent chunk of the year’s (many) important releases didn’t challenge the upper echelons of the sales figures – Heaven’s End by Loop and Secrets of the Beehive by David Sylvian being just two examples – I can’t ignore several albums with a higher profile. Love, the definitive Aztec Camera record, manages to blend sing-a-long commercial pop music with a twee, even effete panache (yes, I still know all the words to ‘Something In My Heart’… erm, moving swiftly on…).
REM’s Document is their most expansive record to this point; a finely-crafted balance between accessibility and a subversive eye for detail. Music For The Masses is one of those Depeche Mode albums that occasionally gets overlooked, despite a flourishing lyrical maturity and a discernible swagger behind the composition that puts to bed any reflex “insubstantial synth-pop” dismissal. And as the subject matter is (temporarily) waylaid by mainstream thoughts, Mainstream, the final album recorded by Lloyd Cole alongside The Commotions, belies its difficult genesis to soar – if not majestically, then at least with a liberal dosage of empowered, inviting nuance.
Mainstream. It’s such an ugly word (from the standpoint of semantics if nothing else). Albeit there are four albums from the above list that I purchased on day of release, which isn’t too shabby for a nipper. Tomorrow, part two: ten records less indentured to stances overtly-commercial (the Loop record excepted). Ten records that stand as some sort of dividing line between the smog of what came before, and the greedy riptides hewn from music as something fetishistic. Colour me (genuinely) excited.
The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu / All You Need Is Love
Loop / Straight To Your Heart
David Sylvian / September