The day was vernal, scoured by a breeze tinted with a faint, lingering warmth. The ridge, a giant fold in the landscape running parallel to the coast for as far as the eye could see, was dotted with pre-historic barrows, the resting place of a warrior caste writ high for birds of carrion. And I stood on this ridge, alone, experiencing the view amidst the low-scudding cloud, and it was if I felt alive, or perhaps more alive than usual, and the soundtrack to all of this came courtesy of my cassette Walkman, upon which Rattle And Hum etched its way across the vista.
Seriously; Rattle And Hum – what the fuck was I thinking?
The above would have occurred in 1989 (I think), as that acutely fishy exercise in Bono’s svelte ego wasn’t released until October ’88. And whilst I must have been a rather strange teenager indeed at that particular juncture (very little’s changed), it did occur to me during the manifold hours of research I engage in for this series that I haven’t listened to any of 1988’s significant albums for an age. This despite Lovesexy, my favourite Prince LP, and Green, my go-to REM album appearing in the record racks in this year.
Revisiting The Wonder Stuff’s début The Eight-Legged Groove Machine in particular was both highly evocative (I played it to death at the time) and intrinsically daunting, such was the degree of falling out of love with this band when more interesting sonic diversions came calling. Obviously I’d forgotten what a punchy, acerbic, and essentially angular record this is; catchy and caustic in equal measure, well-sewn with indie-pop hooks and youthful exuberance. The type of record that makes you hanker for a band pursuing similar veins rather than the folk-rock drizzle The Wonder Stuff subsequently signed up to.
The Stuffies supported The Mission on an early tour, Children being the latter’s definitive release. Of its time (perhaps), the smoky patchouli quality disguises the conventional rock pretensions encased within (John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin was on producer duties, and you can kind of tell). Plus there’s some seriously robust songcraft here; ‘Tower Of Strength’ perhaps being the best known, but tracks such as ‘Fabienne’ and ‘Heaven On Earth’ have a resonating quality – whilst I’ve always been particularly smitten with the cover of Aerosmith’s ‘Dream On’ (hey – I was fifteen at the time – I probably didn’t know any better).
As with every other twelve-month period filed under the Significant Albums banner, there’s a number of releases by the same old acts. My Nation Underground would be one; ‘Charlotte-Anne’ being the stand-out track from Julian coper’s fourth solo disc. Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk is another. Complex and wide in scope, I wouldn’t recommend starting here if this is a band you’re new to, but repeated listenings certainly reward.
I purchased Lovely by the Primitives on wonderful vinyl in 1988, purely on the recommendation of lead single ‘Crash’; it’s not an investment I’ve ever regretted. Eponymous début The House Of Love is bought on CD, because I was a teenage format whore – ‘Christine’ remains an astonishing slice of music. And then there’s Tender Prey by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. This is a record I felt guilty at not playing recently; the depths it travels (particularly on tracks such as ‘Deanna’ and ‘The Mercy Seat’) are utterly invigorating.
The 14th of March, 1988 must have been a pretty decent day. Not only were we presented with From Langley Park to Memphis by Prefab Sprout (‘The King Of Rock And Roll wares its swoontastic epaulettes proudly), but also Viva Hate, Morrissey solo territory. Vini Reilly from The Duritti Column was on Johnny Marr duty. And in terms of synergy between music and vocal, there’s a degree of misalignment visible at times. Certain songs really work – others, less so. But as a début solo LP released months after The Smiths imploded, there’s still so much wonderful.
And so to my personal choice for what made 1988 a year in which… Surfer Rosa, the first full-length by Pixies, has slotted itself into the musical lexicon as if permanent. A holy relic, like the bones of a saint. Mandatory at the indie disco, ‘Bone Machine’, ‘Gigantic’, and especially ‘Where Is My Mind’ are guaranteed floor fillers (the latter was also covered by a shabby little band I was once involved with, many years ago. I was dubious that this should be in our repertoire. Even more dubious when I was requisitioned to perform the song-length, falsetto harmonies – fucked my voice for weeks, that recording). I have a Pixies post vaguely planned for future diatribe, so I won’t shoot my wad right now, other than to say the grace and flow and neon-lit nuance behind this record is something dependably joyous. Aah-ooh.
Prince / Alphabet Street
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis / The Mercy Seat (Acoustic Version)
Prefab Sprout / The King Of Rock And Roll