I am always looking for a new blog series here over at Off The Tracks. I’ve counted down my record collection, I’ve celebrated Authors I Admire and The Movies of My Life and many other things – great guitarists and the best drummers and many of these series’ carry on – though some have to end. The Vinyl Countdown started at 2000 and seemed an impossible chore. I’d never count them all down. But did. I also did the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die challenge where I checked out all the albums I’d never previously heard from that list.
Ladies, I’m married.
Fellas, don’t be jealous now.
But as the long winter evenings fly by, I look for a new series to start. And then see where I can take it.
One that I never thought would last has cracked on to its first big goal of 50 posts.
It’s easy to rave about albums you love. It’s maybe even easier to shit on albums you absolutely hate – particularly if it was never meant to be for you. There are genres and eras of music I know to stay well away from.
So how would I go justifying why I liked a pretty shitty album? Can you admit to your own taste being blind – and obviously deaf? To it just getting chucked right out the window due to the bias of you being an idiot collector, or caught in a moment, or duped by marketing, or green with inexperience…there are reasons we fall for shitty albums. And it’s mostly about fandom. I wanted to explore that.
Time and place and of course the topsy-turvy nature of buying and exploring music in a pre-internet world. You learned about the good albums by crawling through the dud ones too. Sometimes it could feel a lot like Andy Dufresne and his river of shit, crawling through the sewer pipes of Bob Dylan’s 1980s albums or Lou Reed’s mid-to-late 1970s, or, erm, most of Lionel Richie’s solo work…but goddamn it I am a fan. So I do this silly, unpaid, futile work.
Join me now in looking through the first 50 posts in a series I call Shit That’s Good! Crap Albums I Love.
I should hate everything about this album. But I love it. I love it because I love Lionel. And sticking with him is a bit like defending the shit bits of Wings if you’re a Paul McCartney fan (I’ll be doing that later, potentially – in another post for this series). Or owning every Bob Dylan album. (Also guilty). One of the things I loved most about Tuskegee was the smart marketing move of it. Lionel Richie knows a good way to get paid. And I should hate that. But I have to admire it with him. It’s part of who he is and has always been. And this was a genius move – getting established country artists to bring their audience to his existing classics. Genius. I fucking wallow in this bucket-of-shit album because it’s albums like this that let people know you’re truly a fan. And a fucking lunatic to boot. And fan is short for fanatic. And fanatics are fucking loose-change looney-tune nutbags. It’s good to own that. Which is why I still own this.
2. Miles Davis – Doo-Bop
Doo-Bop was the Miles album that found me. It was cool. To us. Everyone in the house dug it. And we probably did our version of The Carlton Dance. We were probably never cool. But it just did not matter. We had Tutu. And we had Doo-Bop. And within a few months my brother was leading the charge and we had Kind of Blueand Sketches of Spainand In A Silent Way and Seven Steps To Heaven and I kept going from there. Right through high school and uni and on and on…about 10 or 12 years ago I had an iPod with about 120 Miles Davis albums on it – everything I could find. Compilations Box-sets. Everything. Dodgy bootlegs too. I have Doo-Bop to thank for that.
Just digging that doo-bop sound…just digging that doo-bop sound…
Well, I was never just digging that Doo-Bop sound. I was digging it all. But it started there. Which means no matter how shit the album is – and I can hear that now as well as anyone – I just don’t care. I listen to it once a year or so in a warm, nostalgic glow. It offers a halo of sound. It is one of those rarities in our house too. An album the whole family loved. We all went on our own Miles Davis quest after. Yes, yes, I was the one to take it most seriously. To take it to its extreme. But that’s always been the way with me and music. And I love that about music. And most days I even love that about myself.
I certainly love that about Doo-Bop.
3. Fleetwood Mac – Behind The Mask:
I dunno. I was just young enough. A music fan. Learning. And interested. I was excited about the chance to hear brand new music by my new favourite band. And so that’s how I hear Behind The Mask now when I put it back on (only ever now and then of course). I doubt they’ve ever played anything from the album live after the tour to support it. This line-up imploded. And the band would stay silent for half-a-decade. One quick change in direction after this. And then the classic line-up came back for a quarter-century of sporadic world-touring. Am I going to tell you that, actually, Behind The Mask is a good album? No. It’s probably quite crap. It has to be shitty. Because it’s in this line-up. I’m choosing to write about it here. But do I love it? Fuck yes! I love it a great deal!
I was on a quest to mention Sheila E. always – in any discussion of great or influential drummers. And as a dancer, performer, singer. But Sex Cymbal isn’t a great album. And for all the claims of it being her “emancipation” (if you’ll ignore the pun) from Prince it was really just her and some outside producers and co-writers trying to shape a lot of Prince-sounding songs. It’s lightweight and maybe laughable. But I don’t care. Because through this I got to all of the other albums she’d released and the rest of her work with Prince and the great performances that feature her far earlier (George Duke Band). And it also made me stand my ground, musically. I’ve been standing there ever since. No guilty pleasures. No embarrassment. Just good and bad music. And the only blurry bit is you might happen to like a bit of both. And no shame if you do…
5. Scott Walker – Stretch
I reckon it’s hard to do the middle of the road well. To merge with the herd but somehow still be heard. I also reckon – and it’s a music-snob’s right – that to be a fan you have to do the work. Absorb it all. Nowadays you can grab a song or two and make your own highlights, you can read up in five-minutes and get all the stories. But listening to an album like Stretch reminds me of the hard-earned time when if you bought the “wrong” album you were stuck with it until the next accumulation of pocket-money. You learned to live with it and maybe love it. And/or you learned from your mistakes. Just as Scott Walker arguably did too.
Sometimes I listen to music because I love the guitar player. Or the drummer…And though there are loads of great drummers and great drum-albums I have always loved the Spin Doctors’ debut studio album for the offerings from their drummer, Aaron Comess. Okay, okay, there was a time when I loved Two Princesand Little Miss Can’t Be Wrongas monster-singles. But that was when you’d go to any Mike Myers movie. That was when you’d wear basketball boots as formal wear. That was when you had a red Sony Walkman that walked with you everywhere. And you listened to tapes…and…and… And, anyway, I bought the album because of the singles. And then on first listen I kinda hated the album. But at the same time was blown away by the drumming. This dude has chops galore.
It suffers – and always will – for Yule taking on the band’s name, or being forced to (obviously he on his own was a nobody and the ‘new’ version of the band was tasked with touring Europe and playing bar-band versions of the old hits and needed a few new things to plug alongside…But if you can park all of that you can find some fun. I love Yule’s voice. I love his playing. The songs don’t stand up over multiple listens – they’re as lightweight as pop-rock’s worst. But I still hear this as some sort of early version of what The Strokes ended up doing. Well, that’s on a good day listening to this.
Look, I’m not saying this album is good. It’s just not as shit as some people believe. It’s half of a pretty good album and it’s better than many other Dylan albums from around this time. It’s just not really up to much when you think of it following on from Oh Mercy. It’s notable, too, for signalling the end of Dylan chasing his tale with rock-by-numbers for the 80s and 90s; trying to keep up with the charts. The reinvention was coming. We didn’t know that when hearing this album at the time. But it was in the post. And worth the wait. Worth its weight. I returned to this album recently – bought a copy on vinyl and started playing it a lot. And sifting around finding sessions and outtakes – there’s some gold that wasn’t on the album, always the way with Dylan.
There is a beautiful drum-sound here though, so full, and Ginger does try some interesting things out, an odd time-signature swing here, the tribal thing that is his secret sauce of course and he’s almost not there at all on one of Gary Moore’s better blues offering on this album; Ginger playing with restraint even if Gary isn’t. I used to be a completist. I’d follow the bands and artists and check out any and all guest appearances, side-projects, half-pie reunions etc. We get bitten by the bug. And we become collectors of a sort. And the BBM album is one of my reminders of that time. I listen to it now roughly every 4.5 years. And that’s enough. More than enough. But there are moments during this album where my eyes light up. There’s a spark. I get the goosebumps even. I get excited by what I’m hearing. And then I turn to anything else featuring Ginger or Jack and absolutely nothing featuring Gary Moore. Lol.
I do think Undercover suffers as being written off by people just not bothering, taking the word of a retrospective magazine article that decides it’s not much chop. But I also wonder what it was like to be hearing it brand new in late 1983 having followed the Stones for 20 years already. My mum and dad did obviously, and were into it. But I think they were maybe rediscovering the turntable after locking the records away when I was a baby. And maybe they were just reconnecting and happy to find new music by familiar faces. I don’t know. But to me it was a profound listening experience. Visceral. I didn’t even really line it up as being The Rolling Stones. When I got to Rolled Gold a few years on that was when it was all tied together for me. This was just the brand new album by, seemingly, a brand new band. I still hear this as the first hints of where Jagger wanted to go on his own. And though that’s a whole other run of “Crap Albums I Love” it’s all part of this story. And when I listen to it now – once a year or so – I can see the holes in it. For sure. But I still hear the magic
But you haven’t lived – as any sort of Beach Boys fan – until you’ve caught yourself singing along (more than once) to Love Is A Woman. Anyone can dig on Good Vibrations and God Only Knows or even Vege-Tables for that matter – fucking child’s play– but I Wanna Pick You Up? That’s a fucking love song, friend! There’s a serious matter to discuss around this too. The album is basically Brian Wilson having a breakdown on a mixtape he’s making for his band to use to bolster their fading rep since it’s sold on the merit of being composed and conceived by the same mind that made the earlier triumphs. Which basically set in motion the breakdown. But it’s not. But it is. And I don’t really want to delve any further there. Because I’m not at all trying to make light of his mental instability. Quite the opposite if anything. But it’s not my right to suggest answers. I just listen to this and try to image the scenario. It’s utterly heart-breaking to me. Quite, quite distressing. And music that comes from that place has always been a balm to me. These mundane song-ideas (“Ding dang, ding and a ding dong!”) and corny arrangements are so truly – desperately – autobiographical. It’s like those home recordings Daniel Johnston would go on to make. But Brian Wilson wondering about the planets or documenting his viewing of late night TV is more honest than those songs about girls and cars and surfing that put him in the luxury of this position (financially) and the sadness of this position (mentally). There’s more truth in here. Or at least I feel like I can believe that. But I’m sure there are far more people that call themselves Beach Boys fans that either hate or ignore (or maybe just don’t know) this album than those proclaiming it any sort of genius, or necessary stop on the side of the road.
I was never the biggest Oasis fan – I always enjoyed what they would say at least as much as what they would play – but there was a time when I was into it all; the pantomime, the pomp, the playing; first coupla albums and all the build-up and fall-out. And I saw them live and they were good, good enough, better than I thought they’d be, but the rot was setting in and the wheels were coming off. This always reminds me of the absurdity of the band – and how that was ultimately the selling point. I’ve always been a fan, too, of the interview-disc. Good, bad, and they’re usually pretty bad (and certainly only really worth hearing once) it was part of a way of showing your fandom. You were massively on board if you owned the interview disc too. This one though, pretty much a stand-up comedy disc also. Up there with some of my favourites…
The general consensus is that I’m wrong, the media was right. This is a fucking strange mess of an album that arrived too late and that not many really ever wanted. When it did arrive no one really knew what to do with it beyond agree with the default-setting of panning it. Well, some days I fight on. Sure that this is the second-best Guns N’ Roses album. (And I know that doesn’t mean it’s a slam-dunk at all). Other times I think, actually, The Spaghetti Incident? is the second-best Gunners record. So maybe that further explains my appetite for delusion.
There was sophistication in a lot of what Harry did. And there was a giant mess too. What was driving him? Well, Flash Harry isn’t one of his classic albums – yet it is to me. The conundrum. The frustration The confusion. The soulless vacuity of it all. What and who was he? We’ll never know. But there was brilliance. And there was sadness and he was fighting himself every step of the way. And I listen to Flash Harry and know that no one else could make an album like that. Sorta silly, camp, cabaret-pop that never quite believes in itself. Limping over the line so as not to spill the cocktail. That was Harry often enough.
Look, there’s some obvious cheese on this record but there is some lovely stuff. Murry’s originals are okay here – particularly Leaves. There’s a pre-Beach Boys Jardine composition (Italia) and I legitimately think his version of The Warmth of The Sun is a mini masterpiece. But how could you fuck that melody up I guess? So, even if you’re only interested in this – and if it only works – due to the warmth of his sons, I still reckon The Many Moods of Murry Wilson is one of easy-listening music’s great curios. A fun listen for the most part.
But that’s me. I love a bit of cheese. And I fucking love The Beach Boys!
16. Paul McCartney – Give My Regard To Broad Street
But if you think of Broad Street as being the reconnection with Ringo and through that, and beside that, it’s about Paul fully reconnecting with his Beatles past in the wake of Wings. Sure, Beatles songs were a part of any Wings stadium show, but this was Paul digging a little deeper, he didn’t ever need to remind the audience but he maybe needed to remind himself. So Broad Street’s grand failure – as a “non movie” that bores most people and as an over-long double-LP soundtrack of “covers” – is one of the stepping stones towards the creation of Beatles Jukebox Sir Paul; the touring entity now celebrating 30+ years of knocking hits out of the fucking park. So if you think about it like that there’s lots to love about Broad Street. I’ve always had a soft spot for it.
I was intrigued by the use of drums and drum loops with the orchestra – the mix of programming and organic drums and tympani and orchestral percussion. And maybe that’s nerd-hat alert. Sure. But it’s always been part of my interest in Phil Collins’ music. And not in a softing-out “He’s a good drummer” apology way. More in a “he was a fucking genius with his use of drum programming and live drums and very innovative and influential” way. If anything… I gave away my CD copy of the album years (and years) ago to anyone that cared, or more likely to a store that didn’t…But every now and then I revisit it. And I find I still like it. At least most of it. It drags somewhat. But it was never about the music contained on this album. It was about the freedom of owning up to fandom, embracing it. And it was about the introduction to other forms of classical music. “Seriously…”
18. Mick Jagger – Primitive Cool
Perhaps more importantly than making any sort of ‘case’ for this album I should just say that it arrived right when I was discovering the Stones; the band was on its break and just about to comeback for its 25th Anniversary, which its arguably been celebrating ever since…and will continue to until its 60th no doubt. I bought whatever Stones albums I could find. On cassette tape. And when they had run out and Throwaway and Let’s Work were on the radio and this album was on the new release shelf it became part of my collection. A part of my collection I’ve kept too – still have the tape. Bought the CD. Bought he LP too. Love this album. Flaws and all. Flaws and all.
Well it’s time for a Christmas album to make this list – and I think straight away of when Bob Dylandropped a set of Xmas tunes and everyone was horrified. People that never really listened to Dylan heard his voice, thought it was an ugly croak and said no. Fans felt betrayed and thought it was shit. And then a few lunatic fans worked hard to determine the spots where they thought Bob was nodding to them, or winking, or, you know, maybe even smiling. But no. Bob just put his hat on, his head down, and crooned the fuck out of some Yuletide fare. And Iloved it. And still do.
There’s so many hurdles when attempting to want to like Rush: the silly lyrics, the awful singing, the groove-less propulsion of the tunes. The fans…In fact the way the songs pile everything up and create no actual layers, they’re like a less tuneful Queen really; it’s plausible that if the three instrumental members of Queen hadn’t found Freddie they might have sounded a bit like Rush. Granted, they’d have found better hooks, but you know… Somehow the one thing that did stick around for me was Roll The Bones. Almost comical. But I had listened to it a load, mostly to try to understand what was ever special about Peart. Why had those drummer magazine pages talked so often, so highly, of him? I just couldn’t hear it. And as a result I had sorta fallen for the album. It was genuinely baffling. And it’s such a funny relic of early 1990s production and ideas.
I always thought The Stone Roses were a bit overrated. Which doesn’t mean I don’t like any of their songs. It just means I in no way consider them special or interesting particularly. Also, I prefer Second Coming to self-titled. So, if you’re still reading this, you can certainly have a very good laugh. But I’ll go you one further. And just because I feel like saying it. Do It Yourself by The Seahorses is a better, more cohesive set of songs than anything The Stone Roses ever managed. It contains no sloppiness, and zero chances of any danger. Which is why it isn’t particularly exciting or interesting. But I’d rather listen to it.
It plods and sometimes almost swings and nearly grooves – and it’s harmless but largely uninspired. The musicians involved thought they were just jamming for demos. Sorta horrified to hear that it was being officially released; that it was an album. They were all but clowning about. So many of them wanted no part in it. A blip. A skid-mark on their CV. But to a youngster eager to get their head around 60s and 70s pop and hard rock this album had something. And once or twice a year it still does.
I dunno. Sometimes I forget about The Dead. For months, even years, on end. But I can never forget about the impression they’ve made me on me. And I find my way back to them. And Shakedown Street is probably no one’s favourite Grateful Dead album. But maybe it’s mine now. And I’m not even saying that to feel quirky or different or just deliberately out of step. I just really fucking dig the best bits of it. But I’m happy with the fact that it’s also pretty bloody terrible too. That – to me – was the true mercurial twist of this band.
24. Eric Clapton – Behind The Sun
I’ve always been able to return to Behind the Sun. Something I cannot do with the records that arrived either side of it – or many of the other ones in Clapton’s catalogue. I reckon there’s something deep hiding in here. He got about as honest as he ever did. And yet I remember the first time I heard this album – my friend Richard played it to me on cassette tape, he’d got to it first and was thrilled to be able to introduce me to an Eric Clapton album for once. I thought it was weird. I thought it was kinda silly. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t sound ‘good’. But something intrigued me about it. That something intrigues me still.
I listen to it now and it’s embarrassingly clean and shiny – also stupidly pleased with itself. Which is no mean feat for what is basically a) instrumental music and b) a re-run of an album that came out 20 years earlier – in an altogether different musical climate. But when the instrument introductions arrive, and it’s Alan Rickman in for Viv Stanshall to do the announcing, we can hear him nearly grinding his teeth with great pleasure as he minces through the prosaic titles about “grand piano” and whatever else. And then when he wrongfoots the audience, he says, “two slightly SAMPLED electric guitars” instead of the original’s “distorted” and you can basically hear him chuckling as he says it. What prog-rock mirth. What wit. How clever!
This is Mike Oldfield displaying a sense of humour. Or as close as he got to one. I can listen to this precisely once a year and of course in the weirdest way possible I still love it…stupid as it gets, embarrassing as it is. I guess it just hit with me at the right time.
Basically it’s the same joke over and again. The banal lyrics of simple pop songs are crudely replaced by the phrase My Dick. It’s there in the titles. It’s there in the words. Suzanne Vega’s Luka now opens with, “My name is My Dick”, Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car has the memorably absurd line, “Somebody’s gotta take care of My Dick/So I quit school and that’s what I did”; John Lennon’s Imagine becomes, “Imagine there’s no My Dick”. And on. And on. No effort is made to blend into proper rhyme – wit is all but eschewed. The stoner-joke is to make this as absurd as can be. It’s as likely this entire project was as influenced by Adam Sandler’s talking goat skit as it was anything musical. As a fan of Spinal Tap’s fine line about there being a fine line between clever and stupid My Dick attached itself to me. I wanted to take My Dick everywhere with me. And to share My Dick to anyone interested. And to far too many people that were never going to be interested at all.
I love these anomaly albums – you might have heard this without knowing about her earlier work and you could just maybe never connect the dots. You might have known the best music she made – which is some of the best music anyone has made – and then wondered what the fuck this was. But there were big radio singles at the time when big radio singles mattered most. So Who’s Zoomin’ Who was a thing. Stupid title and all. And what did that even mean? Well, it either meant who was scoping out who. Or maybe you thought it meant who was fucking who? I would have said she was zoomin’ her audience. Big time.
And so, then the difficult second album…And it was far too difficult for the record company.
This album arrived right around the time that my son came into this world. So music was consumed in a different way. The listening experiences were different. Up at 5am for stolen moments on borrowed sleep and a little CD player in the lounge playing the review albums in what felt like the final days of “preview” copies and new release compact discs arriving in the mailbox. So this is one of the albums I remember from that time. And fondly. Despite the fact that – at best – it’s fucking average. It’s really quite shit.
I liked what The King did with his debut album, Gravelands. I liked the gimmick too – not just an Elvis impersonator (a pretty good one too, really – he never oversold it, he reckons his natural voice was just similar-enough to Presley’s and that’s a good story at the very least) but an Elvis impersonator singing songs by artists that were dead. Geddit? Gravelands – grave…okay, it’s no sophisticated joke at all. (No grace!) This was blunt. Forced. Traumatic…for some… But I liked it. It was just silly enough. And just clever enough. And at the time I heard it that probably applies to me too – maybe it still does. Or perhaps I’d at least like to think so…
There’s really nothing that disco about Hot Space. Disco was done and dead by then anyway. In the mainstream sense. But I think people have loved using it as a derogatory term over the years. The disco influence on this record is perhaps that this was Freddie’s real coming out album; his gay clubs album, his lifestyle-really-becomes-of-interest-to-the-press album. And disco became shorthand for camp. It’s also one of the albums where Freddie had the least amount of songwriting credits. Lol. And none of this is me suggesting that Hot Space is a lost classic – at all. Just something I enjoy spending time with because I’m clearly nearly traumatised by Queen and their role in my life. And I love trying to understand the anomaly or the dud or the one that slips through the cracks, or should have just disappeared in an artist’s catalogue. Tom Waits is always so good with a line – in a song or an interview – and when asked about where he grew up he said “our house was the bad tooth on the smile of the street”. How very Waits-ian, can’t you just picture that, erm, picture. Can’t you just see it as he says it and hear him saying it. Well, nothing so profound here but maybe, just maybe, and to my ears at least, Hot Space is the bad tooth on the smile of a band…that used to be called Smile. And the musical truth of that bad tooth is that it ain’t so bad at all. It just saw the end of a run of big hits. And it was always the big hits that bugged me most about Queen.
It inspired far more ‘bad’ albums than good – most of the prog/metal/rock crossover records that featured orchestrations or an actual concert performance with an orchestra can link back to this. This record must, for example, take direct blame for Metallica’s S&M and probably KISS’ lame version of the same sort of thing. Gah! So whatever love I might – from time to time – have for this album it is a crap album given its legacy. It helped bring more harm into this world than good.
Sometimes you work through the weirdness, dullness, dumbness by just hooking into the album anyway. Everything is telling you that you shouldn’t bother. So you do. It’s not even contrariness – it’s just something that happens through a familiarity. You wrestle with the work, try to understand its faults and in the end just ignore them, accept them, listen around them… And I am not at all going to convince anyone that this is the hidden gem or lost classic in his catalogue because, well, it isn’t. And anyway, there’s an embarrassment of riches sitting there earlier in the canon. He gave us more than enough. But I will say that since Bill Withers’ death I can tell you that I haven’t much felt the need to revisit his masterpieces. I guess I know that stuff so well already. Instead I’ve been compelled to revisit Watching You – and perhaps it’s because we now live in (and through) very strange times but this album makes a lot more sense now.
Yanni’s moustache and hair never meant anything to me. And that was the problem with this album and the records he made in his golden era. You had to be on board with the image, I think. Or at least that’s what people lining up to mock you figured. You had to be on board with the cod-philosophy in the banter. You wanted to stroke that hair. Nah. Not the case for me.
Hostage is one half of an okay reading and he gets steadily more hammered and it’s both frustrating and disappointing – particularly as the CD version was just one 65-minute track. You couldn’t skip through it. You had to buckle up. You had to wade on through. I did my time with this – and loved it as much as I thought I should – without ever really liking it at all.
Hey, it’s fucking nonsense. Still. But it seemed real to Jim. And it felt like my kind of nonsense then. And still. I love his voice and the kookiness of his attempt/s. For all the skill of the three instrumentalists there is no Doors without Jim. And we all found that out the hard way.
37. Ma$e – Welcome Back
So much of the hip-hop and rap music from that era (early 00s) was so pleased with itself for telling you that rap was making a comeback, and that they were doing it old-school and that was a pleasing thought I guess, but it was often hard to take and lyrically it become redundant very quickly. Mase went one further, just bigging up himself, rolling out the red carpet for himself – arguably no one had missed him – and then there was no follow-through. He’s like Drunk Uncle at a 21st. His dated old party moves are funny. And then sad. In that order. And very quick is the change between the two states. But I’m in that state now all the time. I am Drunk Uncle. I am funny. And then very, very sad. I am trotting around a basketball court trying to score points in a game that’s not actually happening. I am watching the horror films I saw when I was a kid and the only thing scary at all now is how much time I appear to have to watch and re-watch them. This isn’t self-loathing by the way. This is self-laughing, almost self-loving. I am very happy in my regression-loop. Playing my drums again about as well as I ever could. Or better. Or not. Either/or. And who cares.
So as I float back through some hip-hop albums from the past I find myself still thinking Mase’s “comeback” album – Welcome Back by Ma$e – is crap. And that’s a good thing. Because I still don’t mind hearing it now and then.
Welcome back indeed.
I’m rather obsessed with Restoration Ruin. I’m convinced it’s deserving of a special vinyl repress. But it seems everyone involved has wiped their hands of it long ago.
I’ve bought and sold this album twice and thinking about it and listening to it again I’m thinking once more that I should really own a copy on vinyl (it’s a sickness, there’s no real cure). I don’t know why, but I’ve always been interested in the failures in a career where it seems like there’s nothing but homeruns. I love the homeruns. I’m there for the homeruns. I’m there all day and every day for the albums Stevie Wonder made between 1970 and 1976. I love some of the ones he made between 1964 and 1970 and I love a couple of the ones he made after 1976. Three at a pinch. But I can’t work this one out. Which is why I return to it. It might truly be the only actual dud of his career.
People hate it. And don’t get it. And don’t want to know it. And all of that is fair. But I’ve always though it was just funny and silly and ahead-of-its-time enough to enjoy it. I mean it’s the AI of music before there was AI of music. It’s not too dissimilar to what the likes of Sam Gendel is doing now. His Satin Doll is just standards fed through the filter of Jazz From Hell, but with real live actual instruments still. Every Frank Zappa album is a Crap Album I Love perhaps. And some days (many in a row) I’m not in the mood for any of his silliness. His, er, Frank-ness. Because the cartoonery and buffoonery gets to me. But there’s still something – even in this – that calls me right back.
Questioning blues authenticity is probably a slippery slope and it certainly isn’t ever for one white man to say that another white man isn’t truly the real deal – as none of us are, nor ever could be – but Moore’s tone is all wrong, his playing is a cliché, his feel is fucked and his singing is hopeful and impassioned in entirely the wrong ways. He has nothing to say lyrically beyond tired old clichés and re-treads and rewrites and his cover versions only ever stack up as business cards for the originals. But when I play this album – once a year or so – I’m filled with the nostalgia of when this was a business card, calling card for the blues; my license to drive other albums and truer versions by better players. So I must always thank Moore for that. Less is more what I want to hear usually. But Gary Moore’s overly-enthusiastic over-playing was an important part in my learning that too. And so I hear the faults when I listen to this but I somewhat bathe in them. I’m reminded not just of the music this pointed me to but the many good times I had as an earnest young learner. For a time this was one of my favourite tapes in my collection. An album I introduced to the family rather than the other way around. That was important too. It was diminishing returns after this for Gary. The same blues attempts over a half dozen records in service to the muse of Peter Green without a shadow of Green’s magic touch. But hey. He was always a better guitarist than me.
Heaven and Earth is heartbreakingly crap. It’s not even close to the best work this genius musician offered. But it’s a record I return to – one of the most honest career-codas. This is what he was capable of, what he reduced himself to. You listen to this head in hand, face covered by fingers that want to protect you from some of the horror. You peek through the gap in those fingers and you glimpse some of the magic. The old familiar traces. Ravaged by time, alcoholism, disease, disgust and wilful self-destruction. You couldn’t love the best of John Martyn’s work more. And he seemingly couldn’t love himself enough.
I always hated the title. Always. Now someone might wanna knock me off my perch and tell me that so what, she owned the title, she chose it, it’s cool and sassy (saxy) and it’s fun. That’s the annoyance. Owning the sexuality is one thing – but being held up and paraded around by it, due to marketing hacks most likely…that stinks.
Sometimes one song used to be enough. It used to be enough to make you want to buy in to the parent-album and it used to be enough to nearly carry that record; to keep you invested so you did the time until you came away with something kind to say about what were basically a bunch of middling tracks. To that folder, I add this – the debut by Sophie B. Hawkins. And of course the song was the opening track here, Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover.
I start listening to it and I kinda dig it. I mean, I know, instantly, that it’s awful. Big show-off Trevor Horn production, synth stabs all percussive and pointless, and these sell-out pop songs, which was the band’s thing in the 80s. And they weren’t the only band to drag themselves in through the 60s and 70s to arrive lost, confused, daunted and mid-life crisis-ing through the 80s eh… But I don’t know. I don’t listen to it much – I never really did – but fuck it’s probably still my second favourite Yes album.
Marc Ribot and Ornette Coleman and Audible3 and Dead C and Steve Lacy and Joe Morris and David S. Ware and Gastr del Sol and Aphex Twin and Autechre are just a few of the things I can think of straight away that I might never have heard – or might never have rather quickly understood – were it not for my immersion into the world of Metal Machine Music. It’s awful. And so many people have decided to never listen to it just from hearing about it and others have heard a snippet only and gone “That’s enough!” But for me it was an eye-opener and a world-opener. I can play it now and then – right through – still. And marvel. The career-suicide of it is hilarious. The petulance. But also you listen and it’s like seeing the picture under the picture in a scribble pattern. You start to notice ugly/beautiful melodies in and around and under the squall.
The story goes, some bootlegger known only as “Richard” thought it might be fun to pull together a bunch of outtakes and silly songs from the soundtracks and things and basically send up Elvis’ legacy. Sick and tired of the idea of him as this deity, “Richard” wanted to remind people – or point it out for the first time, perhaps – that there was a lot of shit. Problem is, there’s almost nothing wrong with this at all. Especially if there’s something wrong with you. My love of exotica compilations and camp sets of lounge-bar oddities and then sincere records by the likes of Harry Belafonte, Tom Jones, Elvis himself of course and many others – from impersonators offering parodies, to the real deals doing as best they can – has prepared me well for Elvis’ Greatest Shit. It’s fast becoming one of my favourite Elvis Presley albums.
It’s not great. It’s certainly a million miles from the sound of his Every Nigger album – which is incredible, regardless of how you feel about its title. But it is a type of comfort-music. In much the same way that I know that Sensitive To A Smile-era Herbs is not as “important” or “good” as French Letter-era Herbs. But I can still love both. And so now I love this Boris Gardiner album. Just like I love the one with the triggering title. Nostalgia works in funny ways.
49. Poetic Justice – Music From The Motion Picture
Funny how time works. When I had this record at the time I felt like a fraud, I felt self-conscious. I knew the film was hated. I knew I wasn’t cool. I didn’t care about either of those things, but I buried the soundtrack, or at least my love of it. I hid it in a big ole pile of self-effacement. Now there’s no hiding. Just correct time and place song placement. And bangers galore. But I still think of what this album could have been if swollen to a double, The Last Poets on there. Coolio. Tammy Wynette too. All of it. All of it.
Holy shit this is hard to listen to. But I love it. Because I did. And now I listen to it about once every eight years, max. And I know every word, and every turn. Some incredible percussion work – most obviously always a feature of this band. And though I long ago grew so sick of Carlos’ tone and his shtick and actually his sound, I did once love him so much. And the last vestiges of him sounding vital are gathered together here. And unfortunately, they’ve been smeared onto the wall with a concreting trowel.