Ken Double makes money by being an advertising copywriter and loses money by being in a band called Lawnmaster (free download of the album right here). He also co-hosts Vinyl Friday, an orgy of beard-stroking currently but not permanently homeless following the demise of the venue Happy. He loves the idea of popular music but not always the reality. He expends too much intellectual energy determining why this should be so. For some time now his listening habits have been dictated to by a Rega Planar 3 with a mildly annoying earth buzz. This return to vinyl has sent him back and forth in time, often to things he missed first time around. It’s certainly made buying music expensive again, just as it should be of course. Here are five albums he’s loving right now…
1 – Madonna, True Blue: The sound here is as 80s as perestroika, yet through hit and filler alike Madge’s commitment to song form separates her from the pack. The alpha and omega of her shtick is a work ethic bordering on mania. She couldn’t improvise if you showed her the notes (it’s either beyond her or beyond her refusal to leave anything to chance) but that allows her intelligence and charisma to bear down on the tunes. Pat Leonard and Stephen Bray are among her finest collaborators and here they shovel the pay dirt that forms the centre of the stonking Immaculate Collection. Only the message move Love Makes the World Go Around gets as far as trite.
Listen to the way she enunciates La Isla Bonita so it pops on the radio, the way she hard sells the contradictions of Papa Don’t Preach, the way the title track rocks a girl-group shuffle so naive it would have emptied the dance floors she grew up on. Most of all, check the exhilarating Open Your Heart, a mighty declaration of love as act of will – her will, of course. “Don’t try to resist me”, she instructs. Indeed.
2 – Wussy, Strawberry: It’s conceivable you may not want to send off for Funeral Dress, debut album and song-writing master class from Wussy pressed on dirty green vinyl, based entirely on my say so. I’m slightly miffed by your lack of trust but I can work with it.
Instead the latest from the heroes of Cincinnati, Ohio is called Strawberry and can be obtained on Bandcamp for ten worthless Yankee dollars. What you get is grizzled Chuck Cleaver from the Ass Ponys and his former/current bride Lisa Walker weaving songs about the strains of human interaction so vivid they feel like literature.
“Sad mid-Western Baptist girl writes “sorry” on the mirror/Crying in the bathroom on the first night of the honeymoon.” “I didn’t know what you had planned/Til you removed the ampersand/From in between your name and mine.” “Did you think you could really escape it/From the tallest bridge in the state of Ohio?”
It’s an unhappy record made joyous by melodies, electric guitars and human voices. Buy this, Funeral Dress or any of their other stuff and you’ll thank yourself forever. You’ll also have one up on Pitchfork who’ve ignored them for seven years straight.
3 – Pavement, Quarantine The Past: For a certain population cohort these guys were it. Postmodern indie kids who thought Kurt Cobain had it coming to him. They gravitated to Pavement, whose sense of irony inoculated them against a pop market that proved unwilling to be looked down on by dorks in polo shirts.
This meticulous compilation is the perfect excuse to transfer CD-era Pavement to double vinyl, and what a glorious evolution it documents. Choose to hear cynicism and you will, but you’ll miss the love, the slacker affection for classic American music and the intellectual virtuosity they just can’t hide. From the protean Flying Nun rip Box Elder to the sumptuous Spit on a Stranger off the underrated final album, you’ll note laughs, tunes, surprising poignancy and razor sharp wit in abundance, none of it dated a day. My wife, who wisely has no interest in meta-rock shenanigans and couldn’t tell you who Stone Temple Pilots were under torture, still hums Range Life whenever it comes on. That’s a trick.
4 – X, Wild Gift: LA punk got short shrift here, marked down by purist suspicions of Tinseltown’s motives. (Imagine that!) Yet this band and this album in particular have a big reputation. And Slow Boat had the good sense to get it in on vinyl.
Punk in the UK dressed itself up in myths of class struggle, but to X it looked a lot like the new Bohemia. On Wild Gift, John Doe and Exene Cervenka chronicle life on the fringes of La La Land, including but not limited to their own relationship. The hook “We’re desperate/Get used to it” embodies the theme. Special plaudits go to the nimble Billy Zoom who provides a precise and economical guitar fuzz that evokes that other great Hollywood punk, Eddie Cochrane. First time through, things will strike you as sprightly and competent. But by the fourth play each riff sets off a thrill of recognition as great, smart songs about personal politics pile up one after the other. Play I’m Coming Over at your next party and watch ‘em freak.
5 – Chuck Berry, Chuck Berry’s Great Twenty-Eight: It’s Chuck Berry kids. He fucking invented rock and roll. You wouldn’t be reading this crap if it wasn’t for Chuck Berry. Every single one of the 28 Chess sides herein cheats death itself. The palette may seem thin to ProTooled ears but from the giant strokes to the filigree touches the quality is monolithic, unrelenting. The Beatles and the Stones were formed by these very songs. It’s a four-side blueprint for immortality, each one with Chuck’s spitball guitar and Johnnie Johnson tickling the ivories til they giggle uncontrollably. Modern music? Load of rubbish.