<<<<< This way for #50 to #41 (also for the arcane exclusion rules).
A series in which I sit here growing steadily more inebriated whilst a conviction swells that I’ve got all the right records, but very much in the wrong order. Next episode out soon.
#40 Wire / Pink Flag “Pink Flag was a fractured snapshot of punk alternately collapsing in on itself and exploding into song-fragment shrapnel. The record’s minimalist approach means the band spends only as much time as needed on each song– five of them are over in less than a minute, while a further nine don’t make it past two. It’s clear you’re not getting a typical 1977 punk record from the opening seconds of “Reuters”, an echoing bass line that quickly comes under attack by ringing but dissonant guitar chords. The tempo is arrested, lurching along to the climactic finale when Colin Newman, as the narrating correspondent, shouts “Looting! Burning!” and then holds out the lone syllable of “rape” twice over descending chords, which grind to a halt over chanting voices. It’s all the bombast, tension, and release of a side-long prog opus in just three minutes.” – Joe Tangari, Pitchfork.
#39 Dubstar / Disgraceful In which the melancholic, kitchen sink thrust behind elements of the Smith’s theme palette is given a contemporaneous, hi-rise makeover. Morrissey himself receives a name-check in the excellent ‘The Day I See You Again’, but Disgraceful is neither coy nor copyist – by moulding ennui-laced strands of understatement around a pop sensibility it eschews backwards-glancing melodramatics. This is very much a mid-’90s record, for sure – many of the swerves and feints (and especially the synthetic drum loops) could only have been recorded there and then – but there’s a wistful charm to this; layers of mournful, minor-key synths that ape the string section (see breakthrough single ‘Stars’). Gentle guitar arpeggios hidden behind verse. Two intelligent covers – Billy Bragg’s ‘St Swithin’s Day’ and a version of ‘Not So Manic Now’, originally recorded by the somewhat feyer Brick Supply – that both develop from the original. And to top it all off, Sarah Blackwood’s hard-edged northern vowels – quite sexy in a certain, dispassionate light – feel incredibly well-suited to every song, all detached, even passive on occasion, a delivery that makes lines such as “I’ll tell you straight as we undress that things got better when you left” feel even more loaded.
#38 Siouxsie And The Banshees / The Scream “Some unique hybrid of the Velvet Underground mated with much of the ingenuity of Tago Mago-era Can… leaving spaces that say as much as the notes being played. Certainly, the traditional three-piece sound has never been used in a more unorthodox fashion with such stunning results.” – Nick Kent, NME
Scheduled for later in the summer; a proper piece on The Scream. A record that clamours for a closer attention.
#37 Portishead / Dummy Remote. Breathy. Disattached. The subtle undercurrent of unhinged danger – and that’s just Beth Gibbons’ voice, trapped for posterity on much of this via hand-held tape recorder and a Martini it’s almost too much effort to sup from. The brio behind Dummy is in how it treats it source material not as reverence, nor as passive backdrop, but an essence both minimalistic and organic; sure, some of its stylings are a give-away to time and place, but this is the sonic equivalent of a kiss from Nicola Six in an underground bunker as soundtracked by a strung-out John Barry – which is high praise indeed.
#36 Lloyd Cole & The Commotions / Rattlesnakes Poised, elegant, bookended by two tracks – ‘Perfect Skin’; ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?’ – that exemplify the warm, enfolding intelligence rampant in Cole’s back catalogue. Rattlesnakes is a loving embrace of a record. Of an ilk you yearn to return to.
#35 ABC / Lexicon Of Love “At its best, Lexicon of Love sounds not unlike Scott Walker fronting Chic. You might be forgiven for thinking that nobody in their right mind would want to mix hi-energy hedonist’s beats with existential crooning, but Martin Fry sounds very much in his right mind, high on his own wordplay as brilliant couplet after brilliant couplet trips off his silver tongue. Even the bits where he gets the female backing vocalists in and whispers to them don’t sound too cheesy. This is largely because there’s so much commitment in his voice that Lexicon’s songs – potential hits, every one of them – demand to be taken seriously. Philosophising like ‘Your Reason For Living’s Your Reason For Leaving’, set against elastic bass lines, runs a little deeper than the heart of Saturday night, and makes you forget so many of the rules: that disco is meant to be flippant, that it should have been dead by 1982, that an Eighties production like this isn’t meant to sound so lush.” – Tom Cox, The Observer
#34 World Of Twist / Quality Street Missing from this run through début LP territory is 1987 (What The Fuck Is Going On?) by the Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu. Partly because Bill Drummond’s 1986 solo album The Man is formal grounds for exclusion, and also… well, unlike their finest work, it’s a Situationist prank that doesn’t translate all that effectively in a musical context, the string of unauthorised samples that so riled the music industry (and Abba’s management) a means to an end. A much more successful début – far more subtle with its subversion – arrived via Manchester, which like a crafty market trader hawked its wares to all yet kept the finest merchandise for itself. World Of Twist dressed up, had fun, employed a nice lady named Julia to provide “swirls and sea noises”, delivered a ferocious live set, acted the goat, captivated a small but knowing following, recorded an solitary album that only hinted at so much promise, then duly fucked off, (half of the band reappearing a few years later as Earl Brutus, who were ever better).
#33 Pixies / Come On Pilgrim We can skip any is this an album? exercise; we’ve been beaten to it.
This is all about lyrical intensity, deconstructed then rebuilt across a framework that threatens to spin off toward hyperactivity. There are moments in this where Black Francis sounds like he’s about to kick off a bar brawl. Others where his wide vocal range hits stigmata. The Joey Santiago guitar lines (far too verdant to be called ‘riffs’) threaten to burn up in the desert sun, Kim Deal adds the coos in just the right moments, and it’s fuzzy yet tight, and coy, and over far too quickly; the EP / mini-album / whatever-you-want-to-call-it that Hüsker Dü must have listened to before thinking: “shit”.
#32 Mogwai / Mogwai Young Team If we’re content to label Mogwai as post-rock (the reality is not quite as simple, but there are better environments than here for the sub-genre categorisation debate – superior venues we know as bars), then MYT is the only album of its ilk to feature in this list. Previous work disqualifies Battles, Explosions In The Sky’s first LP fails to forcibly shake off that third on the bill in a Texas roadhouse vibe, whilst Godspeed’s début is perhaps a little too insular for these tastes. Which is a back-handed way of heralding Mogwai’s consistency – the Chemikal Underground logo on the sleeve a mark of quality. There’s a delicate, thoughtful nature to each guitar cadence. A seam of measure and restraint that’s so easy to blow on a first album, frequently punctuated by echoed speech bubbles way down in the mix (as well as an Aidan Moffat vocal that’s slightly higher up, but almost as impenetrable). And then the climax: ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’, a grinding, sixteen-plus minute bear-hug of a track that never loses sight of its objectives.
#31 Roxy Music / Roxy Music I wasn’t around in the monochrome soup we now know as 1972. In some respects I wish that I were, purely to witness Roxy appearing from out of nowhere to flick the switch marked COLOUR. A lounge band from some distant future; pure Art School, of course, but so much to look at as well as to listen to. The début was messy, almost deliberately placed off-kilter with its weird angles, uncontextual tape effects, and instrumentation all in the wrong sector of the mix – even the production has an unclean glamour about its person. Ferry’s lizard-smooth vocals work so well when backlit by knowing unorthodoxy, such as on ‘Ladytron’ or the warped Weimar that is ‘Chance Meeting’; there are moments all over the shop when Andy Mackay’s sax pops up with mischief smeared across its chops – and I haven’t even mentioned Eno or Manzanera yet; an album I’d struggle to define in 1,500 words, let along a tenth of that.
Dubstar / The Day I See You Again