Neverending Randomplay #261-#270
Neverending Randomplay is a weekly Wednesday night/Thursday AM feature in which I let my J-River Media Center choose what we get listen to. My collection currently stands at 16,259 titles. The lion's share are rock of all genres, with a mix of pop, blues, country, pre-rock, jazz, reggae, soul, electronic, avant-garde, hip-hop, rap, bluegrass, trance, Afrobeat, J-Pop, trip-hop, lounge, worldbeat, commercial jingles, etc. filling it out. I don't influence the track selection in any way; whatever comes up, comes up. Jam Tags, 1-5 stars, follow each track.
261. Doves: Catch The Sun *****
Doves are a Manchester, U.K. band who pursue a guitar-rich style of British rock in the style of Stone Roses, Verve, Oasis, and Charlatans UK, somewhere a little farther along the continuum. "Catch The Sun" is a great mid-tempo rocker with a nice semi-depressive vocal, plenty of guitar crunch and chime, an unusually tuneful lead, a pleasingly solid sound, and an infectious, hummable melody; it has much of the mesmerizing texture that made the aforementioned groups so good. It is from their 2000 album Lost Souls on Heavenly records, easily one of the most enjoyable British rock albums of the 2000's (or the last good one of the 90's, depending on how you count your decades). Doves' major-label debut, Some Cities, was released in 2005.
262. Wilco: I'm A Wheel *****
Wilco's strange odyssey from alt-country-rock heroes, spun off from Uncle Tupelo, into some kind art-pop band pretty much was complete with the release of A Ghost Is Born; their first new album since the given-away-for-free Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. "I'm A Wheel" boasts not a whit of country influence; it's an edgy guitar-based number that recalls Television to a considerable degree; it's stripped down, but the guitar playing from Jeff Tweedy and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist/producer Jim O'Rourke give it a vaguely avant-garde, progressive sound; its forward momentum keeps it in punky territory. A Ghost Is Born, which was released in 2004 and peaked at #8, wasn't the leap forward from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot that its predecessor had been from Summerteeth. But it is another step forward, and a great consolidation of the band's strengths, particularly in the wake of guitarist Jay Bennet's departure.
263. Laurie Anderson: Let X=X *****
Big Science, from 1982, is either one of the most accessable avant-garde albums ever, or the road not taken by electronica; in fact, it's both. Brilliant from start to finish, it is an entirely electronic album save for Anderson's vocals, which alternately tell little stories in a spoken voice, or sing through a vocoder. "Let X=X", despite its wholly electronic instrumentation, including synthetic percussion, handclaps, and horns among otherworldly vocal distortions and cryptic, fragmentary storytelling, actually is warm and elegiac. Like all of Big Science, it is extremely compelling listening, cerebral yet real, an interesting balance between technology and humanity, which is the underlying theme of the album. Big Science has better moments on it, especially the title track, the fascinating "O SUperman" and the surreal plane crash epic "From the Air". All of it is good, an album well worth hearing. Anderson has been Lou Reed's romantic partner since the early 90's.
264. Eddie Rabbitt: I Love A Rainy Night ****
Brooklyn-born Eddie Rabbitt, who relocated to Nashville in 1968, flirted with real country and rock crossover success for a brief time in the late 70's and early 80's, at a time when such successes were rare. Rock listeners, including this one, generally gravitate towards his 1980 album Horizon, which was an excellent mid-tempo country/rock/rockabilly album that yielded his biggest hits "I Love a Rainy Night" and "Driving My Life Away". Of the two, I've always preferred the latter, although "I Love a Rainy Night" is pretty hard to resist, with its instantly familiar sounding chorus, its good guitar, and its superb rockabilly vocal from Rabbitt, one of his best. Horizon went to #1 on the country charts and #19 on the pop charts; his 1981 follow-up Side by Side was another #1 country, #22 pop album. He fell off the pop charts after that, and by the turn of the 90's, he wasn't charting country albums anymore, either. Rabbitt died of lung cancer in 1998.
265. The Tragically Hip: Pigeon Camera ****
The Tragically Hip have been around for a very long time now; their debut was in 1987 on MCA. That may come as a surprise to newer fans; the band never had any kind of radio or chart presence until the late 1990's; many may assume they were formed around then. In Canada, they're big; four of their albums have reached #1 on Billboard's Top Canadian chart; in the U.S., they've never charted higher than #134. "Pigeon Camera" is from their 1993 release Fully Completely, which predates their commercial success, but is probably their best album. On "Pigeon Camera", the main attractions are Gord Downie's voice and unexpectedly creative worldplay, which he delivers in a 90's-era Michael Stipe style. The guitars are nice too, in something of a Dire Straits kind of vein. It's not the kind of song that reaches out and grabs you, but its subtle pleasures are solid, if you let them in.
266. Red Hot Chili Peppers: Higher Ground ****
While nobody usually said so at the time, in retrospect Red Hot Chili peppers were a fairly important band. Original to them was the idea of blending punk and funk (and throwing in a little metal, too), an unlikely brew that looked horrible on paper, but somehow sounded okay when they hit their stride, with Mother's Milk in 1989. Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" helped break them on MTV, after five years of major-label releases on Epic that found few buyers. As covers go, it's a fairly interesting one; while it sticks to the essential arrangement, the hard rock instrumentation, and Anthony Kiedis' buzzed vocals give it some real character. Mother's Milk came on the heels of the death of founding member Hillel Slovak, who, frankly, wasn't missed; the album peaked at #52, and set the stage for their huge breakthrough Blood Sugar Sex Magik in 1991.
267. John Mayer: Come Back To Bed ****
Adult alternative pop/rock Mayer went all the way to #1 with Heavier Things in 2004. Interestingly, he has developed a large set of detractors who point to him as an example of a horrible act, in much the same way Dave Matthews Band is loathed by its detractors. Having no opinion one way or another on either, I can report that "Come Back To Bed" is, for the most part, a good listening experience. It opens with a nice languid guitar and Mayer delivers a fairly soulful Dave Matthews-esque vocal. The bluesy/jazzy horns on the chorus are a nice touch. It is definitely adult alternative; it's too mild for rock. But it does have a nice, smokey, late-night ambience. On the minus side (and perhaps the root of the anti-Mayer camp) are the lyrics, which just like Dave Matthews, seem to wallow in an overripe self pity in places. But the guitar and horns pretty much make up for that, and I've heard much worse. Not bad.
268. Television: Marquee Moon *****
Television was one of the key names of the New York City punk scene of the late 70's, frequent visitors to CBGB's and other Village area venues, and released one of the essential albums of all time, Marquee Moon, in 1977. A showcase of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd's stunning guitar interplay, the song is a 10:40 epic, full of angular guitar playing, a propulsive, shifting tempo, great punk vocals that are impressionistic and bizarre, a tight bass-and-drums rhythm section, and one of the greatest-ever extended guitar jams ever waxed, that touches on punk, psychedelia, and avant-garde; anything except blues. The overall effect of this song is very cinematic; its pleasures are both cerebral and sensory. Alas, Television only had one other album in them, Adventure, from 1978, which lacks the sublime highs of the debut this song is just one example of. Tom Verlaine embarked on an erratic solo career and has largely been absent from recording for the past 10 years. Televison re-convened in 1992 for a reunion album, but it failed to catch on.
269. Talking Heads: Take Me To The River *****
Contemporaries of Television during the 70's CBGB hayday, Talking Heads represented the intellectual, art-school variety of New York Punk, which means they weren't very punk at all except for their willful deconstruction and reconstruction of what rock was all about, which in their view was a polyrhythmic, staccato beast with profundo, absurdist lyricism delivered with emotional detachment. More Songs About Buildings and Food, their 1978 sophomore release, added another essential ingredient to this vision in the form of producer/keyboardist Brian Eno, who became a de-facto fifth member for three albums. With Eno, the band made use of their instrumental textures in extremely varied and rich ways, all three albums are arguably their best. "Take Me To The River" was a cover version of Al Green's gospel-soul masterpiece about either baptism, orgasm, or both depending on how you take it. David Byrne wisely doesn't try to take on Green with a soul vocal; instead he gives it his trademark hiccupy vocal that somehow gives the song an added dimension; Frantz, Weymouth, and Harrison are all at their very best. One of rock's greatest cover versions.
270. Radiohead: 2+2=5 *****
Radiohead had painted themselves into a corner by the time they released Kid A in 2000. They were originally beloved by their fans for being a great guitar-texture band. However, in an evolution comparable to Wilco's, Radiohead pursued an aggressive agenda of change on each album, so that by the time Kid A came out, they were almost unrecognizable, producing a challenging electronica/punk hybrid. A lot of their fans bailed, some new ones came aboard, and everyone else just held on tight for the ride. Hail to the Thief, from 2003, marked a reckoning of sorts; having gone so far out on a limb, far from its original roots, where could the band go from Kid A? The answer, based upon the evidence of 2+2=5 is a little backwards and a little forwards at one. However, this isn't the sound of a band spinning its wheels; while older fans will be gladdened to hear the ominous minor-key guitar playing that opens the track, signaling that the guitars are back, new fans will be pleased to know that 2+2=5 does what not enough of Kid A did; it actually reaches a crescendo and catharsis, instead of just implying them. Thom Yorke sings like a cross between Bono and John Lydon; the guitars are full of tasty discord. The crescendo it reaches is appropriately bizarre with its falsetto vocals and layers of guitar clang.
Neverending Randomplay is a weekly feature.
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