Odds and Ends:
As I indicated in my halfhearted top ten list, I was much more into older music this year. That’s always the case, but was especially so when my collection grew so much. Eg, I went from having four Prince albums to having every single one from his debut up through Emancipation, rarely for more than $3 a disc.
Great year for reissues and there a bunch I still haven’t even gotten.
1) Replacements Reissues: Because I already had their midperiod peak albums, the real revelation was their early stuff. I had always figured it was just tuneless hardcore, but their debut, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, is fantastic. Young and snotty, sure, but it’s full of great shambling rock songs with insane energy, crazy solos (Bob Stinson really shines) and great melodies. The Uncle Tupelo connection is strong on this one.
2) Nick Lowe – Jesus of Cool.
I heard this record when I was a freshman in college but stupidly didn’t burn it then and spent the next few years searching in vain for a used copy (it was out of print in the US). They finally gave it the lavish reissue treatment this year. Nick Lowe was the in-house producer at Stiff, the British DIY punk label, and he produced the first several Elvis Costello albums. His debut album bears some resemblance to EC’s stuff (Nick Lowe also wrote “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding”), but it’s really a kaleidoscopic exploration of all the pop styles from that time, from Bowie to McCartney to the Jackson 5 and the Bay City Rollers (sometimes switching within the same song). That means it comes off as a little bit derivative, but that’s the whole point, and his lyrics are biting and clever (“Marie Provost” is the story of an actress who died alone in her apartment and contains the line, “She was a winner, but became a doggie’s dinner”). Highly recommended.
3) Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue.
A “lost Beach Boys classic,” this reissue could not have been done better. This album, easily superior to anything the rest of the band was releasing at the time (not saying much), it is also up there with anything the band released in the 70s (which is definitely saying something). It vacillates between orchestral grandeur and stomping boogie-funk (but it’s better than that sounds). You want uncompressed dynamics? This thing goes from heartbreaking, barely audible whisper to an orchestra fueled roar in a heartbeat. His voice is totally wrecked but that very much adds to the sort of world-weary, wasted feel of the thing. This had been out of print completely for decades (it was on CD for about five minutes in the 80s). The remastering is spectacular and really captures the aforementioned dynamics. And it’s loaded with bonus tracks, including a second disc with the work-in-progress follow up, Bambu, which just as strong as the Pacific Ocean Blue stuff.
This one is "River Song":
Artist I Couldn’t Stop Listening to This Year:
The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince
This merits a separate post or few, but basically starting when I downloaded the Dream Factory stuff that I posted about at the beginning of the year I went through several periods lasting weeks, if not months, at a time, when I listened to nothing but Prince. The most pleasant surprises were the really strong stuff right after his peak (which was Sign O the Times), especially Lovesexy, but also the Batman Soundtrack and the Prince songs on Graffiti Bridge (which has tracks by other artists too), and his first two albums which are usually written off by critics but are really just as good as Dirty Mind, his breakthrough.
Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet
I don’t write much on hip hop publicly because though I respect plenty of hip hop, I have absolutely no authority on the subject, and I don’t tend to listen to it much—I don’t really listen to music for lyrics and I tend to value harmony and melody over rhythm. But the beauty of stoop sales is that I can pick up stuff that I ought to check out but might not spend money on. I got this for like thirty cents and it blew me away—really one of the first hip hop albums I truly got into. The production was the key—the sampling is so creative. The best example is the chorus to “Welcome to the Terrordome,” which has about eight near-unrecognizable samples that somehow combine to make a series of hooks. It also helped that I was listening to this at the peak of primary season during the Jeremiah Wright controversy, so the lyrics were actually particularly resonant.
Best Group I Discovered Through This Blog:
Dr. K randomly posted that track from Out of the Blue way back and that motivated me to get their four peak-era albums, all of which are wonderful.
Paul Simon Album You Should Listen to Instead of Vampire Weekend:
No, not Graceland—Hearts & Bones, the album right before. Falling chronologically in between his sort of lame soft-jazz in the late 70s and his Graceland resurgence, it has an almost new wave sound (but in a good way), with a lot of the clean guitar lines that he took to the next level with the African musicians on Graceland. And the songs are beautiful-- check "Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War" and the title track.
Album That Was Much Better Than I Would Have Expected, or, at the least, Much Better Than My Brother Said It Was, Even if I Don’t Listen to It Much Because At the End of The Day, I’m Just Not Into 90s-Sounding Hard Rock, Well-Produced or Not:
Buckcherry – Black Butterfly
See, the thing is, Stephen King might like it, but—
Nah, just kidding, it’s GUNS N’ FUCKING ROSES!