Talk Talk – The Spirit of Eden (Parlophone – 1988)

It is my firm belief that to adequately describe this album we would require a language as innovative, nuanced and rich as the music contained on the polycarbonate disc on to which it was subsequently released. Prior to this all introspection has been superficial. All instrumentation has been misused, all emotion falsified; forever too loud.  From the head of The Rainbow strings meld trumpets with trumpets and the wind before a reverbed Fender and driven harmonica come in with a beat that would set Chicago post-rock off on a route from which now seems so obvious it is hard to believe that previously it did not exist. It is impossible to consider this record’s creation, no instrument seems to provide a foundation for which a song could ever be built, like a mountain scene, it begins with the grass of the flat lands, with the plates of the Earth, with the edge of the sky, with the carve of a river through stone and with the history of glaciers. It is competition with nothing, it is still and towering, a new representation of British nature and industry.

Most terminology that would normally be appropriate for describing this work have been rendered redundant through lazy over use and misapplication. Jazzy, orchestral, sprawling, ambient, intense, ethereal, accomplished, enveloping are no longer strong enough descriptors. Hollis sings on The Rainbow “Lenient, The song the lawyer sang, Our nation’s wrong” over a bewildering babbling brook of instrumentation, its point of origin is obscure, fluttering past in harmonious confusion and this is where the chorus should be. This album was apparently recorded in such circumstances that make Loveless look haphazard and was largely improvised before being fashioned together into song using a process that was more Bitches Brew than It’s My Life. The assembled cast of musicians who replaced the first three albums’ synthesisers ensured that this album would never be recreated live, the strong jazz and classical heritage also pushed it out of time, a fresh day as old as the hills. The sense of quiet amplified affords a level of build normally ignored in modern pop/rock means size is afforded, because sections of Eden are so quiet it can be fragile and noticeable in its loudness.

The album recalls the myth of ‘The Green Man’, it is nature itself, Pan-like, a pre-Christian figure that features heavily in religious imagery, occult but not devillish, Spring’s chill from Winter’s cold, omnipresent like an unconscious collective memory, Britain pastures more violent than Elgar dared portray. ‘Nature’s son, Don’t you know where life has gone, Burying progress in the clouds’, this is the Spirit of Eden, green and lush, barren and harsh, occurring and unending, a paradise lost, pre-fall and fallen. Even normally laboured lyrical vagaries around religion or drug imagery retain potency. Hollis was supposedly obsessed with becoming Nature’s Son during the making of this album, this is helped in no small part by the rich mix of acoustic instrumentation used, Danny Thompson’s rich upright bass is high in the mix with the cello and brass section, sparked up up against organs and electric guitars and the ‘accidental’ (nothing was accidental on this album) noises left in to retain the feeling that this was created by humans capable of temptation.

The most striking facet of this record though is Hollis’ voice itself, operating a register all of its own, as brittle and corrupt as it is forlorn, pure and whispered, nothing if not singular, it is the record’s tender heart. The feeling is akin to that of standing too close to a fire, the burning goes right through you but you dare not move as you now know that the rest of the world is a colder place by comparison.  By the time of the record’s penultimate track I Believe In You the way he delivers the single word ‘spirit’ has become vital, one of the most heartfelt things I have ever heard, his grasp of melody amidst the floating music prevents this from becoming meandering neo-prog and reinforces it with an authenticity and passion that matches the classical dynamism of the music to a degree which may not have been seen in modern music since.

To overstate this album’s influence would be difficult, without it Spiritualized, Sigur Ros, Elbow, Radiohead, Doves, Tortoise to name but a few big hitters, would all sound radically different if they should exist at all (Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space in particular sounds ‘danger close’ in parts to sections of this album).  While making notes about this record I’d written that “I can’t describe the magnificence of the sun as I am too close to look at directly while I cannot describe the glory in the stars as there are too many and they are too far away, I can only write from where I stand,” while I’m unsure exactly what I meant with this it seems to sum up this endeavour, to my mind this is one of the greatest records ever made, describing exactly why has proven elusive as capturing Nature itself.

Adam Hiles

Kindness – World, You Need a Change of Mind (Polydor 2012)

“Abed! Stop being meta, why do you always have to take whatever happens to us and shove it up its own ass?” is one of the more self aware lines in hit (or is it?) sitcom ‘Community’. Abed is capable of communication only through pop culture references which isolate and confuse other characters but wink so frequently at the viewer you begin to think there’s a coded message in there. This meta tendency, this sense of fun, this sense of earnestness runs deep through Adam ‘Kindness’ Bainbridge’s debut. All of Bowie’s babies’ tricks are here, Prince licks and Vangelis synths kiss in what’s a mesh and mess of Lethal Weapon and Midnight Caller soundtracks with all the cool of a well intentioned cyber-punk Miami Vice. It’s immature enough to read Vice but thinks better of spending $90 to import what is ultimately a white tee shirt, it once laughed at a fire bucket ashtray in Urban Outfitters but didn’t need to spend the £15 to prove how bad at consumption it was. This is a smart, knowing music, it is disposable pop yet knowingly steeped like a cliff in a library.

I’m often infuriated by artists who are Byronic and serious up until the water touches their arm bands and then ‘it’s just pop music, it’s meant to be fun’, the ultimate get out, the ‘but I’m on den’ excuse. World, You Need a Change of Mind came into my life via this preposterously good video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI73NFINsyo A child which like the album that produced it is funny, biting, high concept, roughly refined, but sounds great, is enjoyable, has something to offer. It is an album which has it both ways, it is light and disposable yet faithful and generous in praise of what inspired it. Even the aching cool front portrait seems to be a simultaneous comment on fashion while also a homage to Songs from the Big Chair by Tears for Fears.

As an album it is patchy, with four or so tracks of such strength that the good grace that’s built up is carried over through. Cyan, Gee Up, That’s Alright and the blondest highlight, Swinging Party satisfy in such a way that you don’t mind that Gee Whiz is a pointless pre-amble and Bombastic is in the main, fucking awful (a sung/spoken list of influences is like an audio version of the liner notes from Endtroducing, and is as much fun as that sounds). When it works it is like Spaced, crafted so that if you got the reference you laughed but contained such humour that if you didn’t get the reference, you laughed, that’s how this album succeeds. I didn’t find out that Swinging Party was a cover until weeks after hearing this, the original is awful containing none of the forlorn cool of the Kindness version. Anyone Can Fall in Love is a cover of that Eastenders lady song, and you know what? It’s good, again you laugh but as the chorus of ‘Anyone can fall in love, that’s the easy part, you must keep in going’ drifts by you forgot who originally sang it and the tune and the hair and who she’s married to and the lyrics are carved with a vital, cutting freshness. It has it all ways.

This referential nature brings us to the sampling, there’s been much in the way of contradiction over whether this album is entirely sampled or not, it was produced by half of Cassius and Bainbridge is often described as a bed-room producer so it is certainly a possibility, but even then the samples seem cheeky, the bass in the beautiful reaching Cyan always reminds me of the bass from ABBA’s Gimme, Gimme, Gimme in an is it/isn’t it way. While the use of sampling not being mentioned in the press release infuriated one reviewer from a site, let’s call it ‘Srownedindound’ (I hope they never find out about rap/hip hop) it seems central to the point of this record and what Kindness are trying to do. If it hadn’t sampled Trouble Funk and interpolated a vocal hook from The Escorts (which Srownedindound couldn’t hear/hadn’t heard from their high horse so had no issue with that) then it wouldn’t make sense, it would be a misguided attempt at making popping slap bass and orchestra hit keys sound good again. Instead it is clever context, clever expression, all ‘tune’.

And that’s why I started with Community, Abed is oh so meta but is often the shows heart, the one showing so little emotion on the surface but requiring it deeper down, the one that needs to be independent but fit, the one who recontextualises and decontextualises the situation and the subject, the tongue in the cheek and the tear in the eye. You should watch Community and you should buy World, You Need a Change of Heart, neither of them are the best in their field, neither is perfect but both have seen me revisit some of the most fun I’ve had all year.

Adam Hiles

Rage Against The Machine – Evil Empire (Epic – 1996)

Their eponymous debut may have may have made triple-platinum them counter-cultural must haves, something any teenager could adopt and where as a badge of non-conformity no matter how much of the subject matter was appreciated, but it was a deeply flawed work. While strong tracks were exceptional they were not the rule. By the time of the arrival of the album’s second half the going had become leaden and unrelenting, in this reviewer’s mind for one reason; production. Debates (dull ones) abound about who first or best or absolutely fucking whatever about the fusion of rap and metal but RATM: The Album arrived in the context of Metallica’s ‘black album’ the year before, a sound both typifying and defining the sound of metal in that period.

Everything was thick and compressed so that all sustained notes were of the same volume as the initial strike, the ‘studio sound’ was all, drums resonate for a clinically uncomfortable amount of time with any trace of live playing squashed. All this was during choruses and verses, metal, when looking to be authentic (thanks guys) would replicate the ‘live’ sound by not having a guitar double the bass during solos, Pantera records and RATM’s first are prime examples of the ‘solo shitifier’, a technique by which all inertia and weight could disappear from a track as soon as soon as the guitarist wanted to ‘flash his blade’.  This was a particular gripe of mine on RATM’s debut given that all the sound collapsed at the same time a rock guitarist was about to do something interesting for the first time in about a decade. It was claustrophobic in a negative way, it wasn’t making a point it was just what it sounded like, and it sounded like 1992. If your early 90s metal album didn’t sound like your voice the interior of a waste paper bin when worn as a knight’s helmet then something had gone amiss. While RATM’s innovative nature can be argued (see ‘absolutely fucking whatever’ from earlier) it would seem that in this instance they had gone with convention.

When Evil Empire emerged four years later it was clear from the first note that this heavy woolly sound had been banished.  It sounded like the guitar was being played in the same room as the drums at the same time, the tone was lively, it sounded like a thing that was actually happened and was captured, it was exciting, it was fresh, it was vital and yet paradoxically it was all of these things because finally someone had gotten the whole ‘just sound loads like Zeppelin’ thing immaculately right. Metal had in the late 80s/early 90s become obsessed with mid range and distortion, this had been seen as the quickest route to the heaviest sound (along with palm muting), Zeppelin were never that heavy in tone, their heavy secret, was to operate as unit. In doing this RATM allowed groove to become a tool as available to them just as it was to the mighty Zeppelin. In the main metal had gone route one distortion and straight-laced fast tight drumming, this gave RATM’s sound of defiance another dimension with which to separate itself before the vocals have even been factored.

Trying to sound like Zeppelin isn’t a new idea so comparing RATM to Aerosmith and Soundgarden is unnecessary (well maybe Soundgarden, maybe) as the vocals completely eschew them. While De La Rocha was not calm on the first album this time he’s Howard Beale in Network, not only because he’s mad as hell and his isn’t going to take it any more is convenient and so hackneyed I have to include it, but his spirit of possession, possibly unhinged, saying dangerous things, lifting the lid on the backstage processes of the modern world, the power and conviction, all the weary last ditch flailing which Peter Finch brought to the role are in the voice this time, the sense that anger can bring about change, that it was believable, that it was well portrayed. The vocals could not have worked if they were not a) well written and b) well delivered. This might seem trite but mainstream music is normally as conservative as RATM aren’t so getting a record featuring songs about the Christian Right’s influence on mainstream media output, social inequality, the US military-industrial complex or the Zapatista revolution then it needs to be both good and cool when you do it.  You need conviction, authority and talent, De La Rocha was always this and fiercely so, more Chuck D or KRS-One (yeah, lazy and I’ve already cited Network, but in my defence if I named some other similar rappers you’d just have to Google them) than James Hetfield or Axl Rose of conventional rock, he was able to say more, more angrily and more substantive than rock’s norms of comforting ambiguity.

The Battle for Los Angles (to date their last album proper) would see the band build on this groove and tone it would never be as simple as it was here as Morello moved yet further towards utilising the guitar as technological interface rather than an instrument of pure riff, a device to be used in conjunction Wilk and Commerford. But thankfully the road map marked ‘production’ used on Evil Empire was used again. Maybe it’s just an unnecessary complaint on my part that I feel my favourite album by a particular band is often the one that seems to be either omitted from their collection or the one bought last. Sixteen years on Evil Empire is not only still lyrically relevant but a lively and vital sounding record that perhaps should be held up as a benchmark in the place of its predecessor.

Adam Hiles

 

 

 

 

 

1981

Kraftwerk – Computer World (Kling Klang)

Even by 1981 Kraftwerk’s influence was assured but Computer World saw them further embedded into consciousness of virtually everything that would follow it.  The themes of technological advancement, supremacy and isolation are prominent throughout, which begs the question as to whether Hutter et al where psychic or whether nothing has changed in the intervening 30 years.  Away from lyrical concerns their compact approach to electronic music has become a filter that all music is now heard through, every keyboard, drum machine or sequencer that is ever used evolved from their work, whether it is stylistically or technological, all dance, synth-pop and electronic is here but it is this album’s influence on hip-hop that makes it singular. Effortless, innovative, profound and fun, it is not only a part of the canon but a work that impacted on all its subsequent members.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mN5UfJA2evY

Brian Eno & David Byrne – My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (Sire)

Perhaps Kraftwerk’s only ommission was not to fully predict, pre-empt and define sampling culture, thankfully Eno & Byrne decided to take time out after ‘Remain in Light’ and record future music.  Rhythm tracks and layered improvisation was then topped with found vocal sounds in lieu of ‘actual’ singing, while Byrne’s vocals had recently been taking Talking Heads to new heights here his voice is silent, instead the altered voices of politicians handling criticism or loops of an exorcism take the centre ground.  The result is an intense eerie space of cold funk, as rhythmic as it is ambient, still as fresh and unparalleled today as it must have been 30 years ago.  I once read that this was Terminator X’s favourite album and to be honest if the words ‘David Byrne’, ‘Brian Eno’ and ‘Terminator X’ in that context don’t get you excited then you should go and use Google to find something else to read as this blog may not be of use to you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NWtm3LE-x4

ABBA – The Visitors (Polar)

To dislike ABBA is to wilfully dislike joy, their ability to fuse the radical and familiar in a hummable form and be HUGE may not have been seen since, and they also seem to have been the first to do so, since The Beatles.  While their last album may only feature one track that made an appearance on the omnipresent uber-work that is ABBA Gold this has no shortage of genuine hooks found in surprising places.  While The Beatles saw out their time under that trading name in increasingly separate spaces ABBA stayed ABBA.  Recording on ‘The Visitors’ started only weeks after Benny and Frida’s divorce in a mist of synths, an air of introspection and melancholy which has none of the euphoric disco of their earlier works, instead the weave of arpeggiated keys and singing in the round instil a sense of loss and longing that cannot help but draw attention to the circumstances that went into its creation.  Evidently as emotionally as they are musically mature, this is a dignified and precise detailing of heartbreak.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec2dCvoext0

Duran Duran – Duran Duran (EMI)

Some years ago another writer from this blog had drag me away from a young man who had dared to suggest that fashion was more important than politics. I stand by that (although I may have made a better job of expressing myself at the time) however it is sad that today’s pop music has nothing that can even hold a candle to DD. Aside from the Scissor Sisters, think of a modern pop act that has gained any modicum of success off its own back without being manufactured in some way? You can’t can you. Positive, well made, middle class popular music is dead.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gudEttJlw3s

Altered Images – Happy Birthday (Portrait Records)

Claire Grogan. Mmmm.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40K2S0-5Xo0

Soft Cell – Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret (Some Bizzare)

From the opening rhythm of the syth that builds like a toy steam engine revving up, Soft Cell’s cover of Tainted Love remains a pure joy and as with Duran Duran’s overtly middle class preening it’s hard to see any modern pop band getting away with releasing an album with such overtly homo-erotic content (Scissor Sisters excepted). The final track Say Hello Wave Goodbye proves that electronic music can be both humorous and heartbreaking at the same time; Marc Almond’s half spoken vocals somehow managing to simultaneously convey feelings of hope and remorse.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbEOgfq3CNc

The Clash – Sandinista! (Epic)

‘Sandinista!’ is a glorious failure, arguably the worst of the first five proper albums The Clash and for all that maybe the most intriguing for it. The grand folly of the double album is something which has plagued the plagued every credible ‘artist’ since The Beatles unleashed the ever so slightly self-indulgent nonsense of ‘The White Album’, but The Clash’s decision to trump their relatively focused ‘London Calling’ with a triple beast showed such scant regard for quality control, that the brainstorm of ideas that swamped its audience deserved attention for its sheer ambition and desire to play with genres about a million miles away from the easily dismissed ‘garage band’ of five years previous. The reggae and dub influences of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Mikey Dread are to the forefront of the album with levels of echo only previously embraced in straight rock songs during the week that Phil Spector had a particularly nasty bout of tinnitus, while the fledgling genre of rap is heard through ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and ‘Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice)’, predating Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ by six months and making real claims to be the first white rap record, which considering much of what followed is in itself quite a dubious claim to fame. The album cemented mainstream success in America while drawing disapproving looks at home its self-indulgence and UK critics did of course have a point, but for glorious ambition and a desire to share every grand design with their public, ‘Sandinista!’ must be applauded at least as a catalyst for the experimentation with world music that followed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijiazWlawUY

Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Trust (F-Beat)

Like all great artists of a certain age, Elvis Costello has been working hard for many a year to piss away his legacy with sentimental tosh punctuated with a brief glimpses of what made him great in the first place, prompting earnest declarations of that most terrifying phrase, namely the ‘return to form.’ Back in 1981, Costello’s fifth album and one of two that year with the country covers album ‘Almost Blue’ following it, ‘Trust’ was Declan McManus at the peak of his game, with spiky new wave melodies branching out into blue eyed soul and cataloguing tensions within his marriage and band. ‘Clubland’ has all the urgency of earlier works, while ‘You’ll Never Be A Man’ evokes The Pretenders and ‘From a Whisper to a Scream’, a duet with Squeeze’s Chris Difford provides a joyous contrast between Costello’s rasp and Difford’s poppy croon. Ironically, the album was a relative commercial flop in comparison with the covers which followed, but this was Costello at his poetic best and an undervalued gem amongst more revered albums of this Nick Lowe produced period.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbasuu1gCDs

Adam and the Ants – Prince Charming (Epic)

It’s a fine line between clever and stupid, which is true of most things in life, but absolutely true when it comes to pop music. Adam Ant and Marco Pirroni almost certainly didn’t change the world musically, but they did have enough ludicrous vision to present an utterly grand a ridiculous view of the world which has been ideologically imitated but never bettered with regards to creating a grand, fanciful design. When examined closely, the title track, replete with an aging Diana Dors in the video exclaiming ‘Don’t you ever stop being dandy, showing me you’re handsome’ to a tango seems such improbable number one single material, but there it is as much a triumph of style as anything the Sex Pistols ever managed. Will we ever see a better single about a highwayman than ‘Stand and Deliver’? I think not. Can you refrain from singing and at least partially dancing along? Almost certainly not. ‘Ant Rap’, which was the final single to be taken from the album is, in retrospect, utter tosh, but in the context of rap’s first fledgling steps, it strangely has the album ham-fistedly surfing the zeitgeist. Aside from the singles, ‘Picasso Visita El Planeta De Los Simios’ has quirky new wave charm and even the faintly ludicrous ‘S.E.X’ foresees Damon Albarn’s attempts at capturing a very British sensuality. The album is far from a masterpiece, but it seems nigh on impossible that mainstream pop music could be quite so willingly dandy ever again and the world is poorer for it.

PJ Harvey- Let England Shake

We are legally obliged to include this album in any list.

Richard Thompson – You? Me? Us? (Capitol – 1996)

In the same way The Beatles have never been new to many, Richard Thompson has never been new to me.  My first explicit memory of him being the inner sleeve of Amnesia which showed Thompson holding a chainsaw like a guitar he was about to strike, my father convincing me to pay attention to the music because, “Look, it’s Sooty’s dad!”.  A household love for (and I must qualify this) a certain era Fairport had manifested itself in Thompson albums being picked up as they were released.  As a result his work and style has become a bench mark for much of what I hear, I find myself seeking the same levels of skill deftly delivered, the same emotional commitment, the same ability to build on the familiar, the feeling that this should be a standard by which all others are judged.

Even when done so loosely Thompson’s acoustic and electric folk have never been aptly titled.  Fairport were too new and electric to be ‘proper’ folk and his electric work is best categorized loosely as Adult Orientated Rock, mixed with the descriptor singer/song-writer and most should know exactly what to expect and probably avoid e.g. Mark Knofler and Sting, but with RT it is slightly skewered in comparison to his peers.  This is in no small part to his uniquely low vocal timbre and inventive and technical guitar work (Thompson is one of the few ‘players’ of whom a guitar solo is worth listening to and often uses fills of such ingenuity they make me laugh out loud like Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes).  This album seemed to drive any existing schism yet further, spread over two shorts discs titled ‘Voltage Enhanced’ and ‘Nude’, one of electric and one acoustic.  Each disc sees him firmly entrenched in the forms of his albeit not too dissimilar chosen areas, they also stand out as some of his angrier works, as if he’d finally caught up with my house in wondering how he could be this good yet Springsteen is the one playing arenas, he was showing off, “I can do all this and it’s easy”.

‘Voltage Enhanced’ is a warm fuzz of tones, bass is in that nice area where pitch almost becomes obsolete, drums a little fizzed and driven from that compression, the ambience is genuinely of a band in a room, a similar feel that of Rage Against The Machine’s Evil Empire.  Guitars are as expected, by now you trust Thompson is fully at ease with his instruments and their paraphernalia, they are tasteful yet twisted both in sound and style.  This instills his playing with a confidence matched in his vocals.  ‘She Steers By Lightning’ sees his vocals twinned with the heavily fuzzed guitar lead line, large tonal leaps make a ploy previously used by Hendrix all the more radical coming from this 40 something beret wearing singer/song writer folkie, it erupts into the solo that never was before returning to the familiar yet no more comfortable verse. ‘Business on You’ sees him toy with his folk past; imagine Cake with a mandolin player.  ‘No’s Not a Word’ is this disc’s spun out centre point, a twist on the unrequited love song, each one-sided vow of the verses are followed by convulsing guitar lick of dissonant passion, calling to mind ‘Paranoid Android’ era Greenwood.

‘Razor Dance’ and ‘Hide It Away’ share the honour of featuring on both discs.  While the ascending/descending bass line is the focal point of both versions of ‘Razor Dance’ the guitar is swung more in the acoustic version, losing its intense push pull catch up, instead revealing a tender inevitability in post-romantic rumour, ‘After the death of a thousand kisses/ comes the catacomb of tongues’, while the electric version is delivered in such a way that he is intent to correct the account of events while the acoustic version seems to predict them occurring.  ‘Hide It Away’ is simply a good song sang two ways.  Many a b-side has been filled with a straight acoustic version recorded for nowt as a favour to cover a lack of songs this appearing on both sides of this album stands as evidence of either RT’s ability as a songsmith or as a recording artist, or more likely, both.

While his vocal deliver is never anything but the centre of the ‘Voltage Enhanced’ side, ‘Nude’ sees them dressed completely differently.  Lyrically this disc shines, while in the context of his singing Thompson’s choice of words is always nothing less than exactly what was meant to be said, they can sometimes lack the satisfaction in quotation when bereft of music that you do with say, your regular neighbourhood Morrissey, this disc contains its fair share of worthy contenders, ‘She Cut Off Her Long Silken Hair’ draws attention to itself with “By the light of the moon Her dress slipped to the ground Then she knelt like Saint Joan And invisible armies attended her there”.  Obviously a simple guitar and voice based album will see the f-word bandied about with ease, but this obviously is, (‘Woods of Darney’ definitely is, a [seemingly] 31 verse period tale of romance, betrayal, war and ultimately death) but it is folk in the same way as its heavier electric sibling is rock, there’s simply not another title broad enough.  It is folk, he is a singer/songwriter, but it is brilliant for succeeding in the space where every other folk singer/songwriter normally safely curls up with a tale only as hackneyed as their chord progression.

Faith No More – Angel Dust (Slash – 1992)

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries cynicism in music was seen as bad.  Anything devised or calculated was frowned upon, in their obsession with ‘proper music’ fans and critics seemingly thought that only records that appears written, recorded, mixed, mastered, packaged, promoted and distributed in the space of 24 hours were authentic.  Cynicism was even worse than that, it was an attempt by deceitful to tag themselves on to some other movement or trend.  Cynical was working with Mark Ronson.  Cynical was anything Robbie Williams did post Take That.  But this was always cynicism about music, not cynical music.  It was marketing.  This mix on ‘Angel Dust’ sneers in its ugliness, tones lack sympathy for one another, beats are wrong, samples are comically loud, Mike Patton’s lyrics and overly dramatised vocal styling more like Zappa on Joe’s Garage than a band carving a career following the success of ‘The Real Thing’.  This cynicism manifested in a rejection of many rock norms, incorporation of the new and a fearless delivery of them.  It was all done like this on purpose, a taunt of a record, pitying our cruel lives then ending with covers of ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and ‘Easy’.  It isn’t a form of cynicism that is common in music and as a result can be one that people are uncomfortable with.

Faith No More themselves looked like they’d been the result of brainstorm session by a label, where the outcome was to intended to be the band with the broadest appeal.  The guitar guy had a Flying V and long hair and a beard, metal people will love that.  The bass player slaps now and again, how many did BloodSugarSexMagik sell?  Keyboards you say? Girls love them.  The drummer has dreadlocks and plays the drums?  The stoners will be on board.  The singer looks like he’s like one of those hip-hop skater kids, everyone will identify with him!  They looked they they’d been put together in order to secure the maximum musical instrument endorsement deals.  You can’t help but empathise with the record label upon receipt of the completed ‘Angel Dust’.  Even the title was provocative.  They’d played up to this ramshackle it shouldn’t work image by delivering a record that sounded what they look like at their worst.  While everything that was on this record was so Lalapolloza/MTV zeitgeist it was perfect, it was all there in a fashion so extreme that perhaps it was not.

‘A Small Victory’ achieved constant rotation as a four minute fade out, verses choruses chanting whispering air raid sirens and falsetto, in the end a network of rhythm, volume and pitch entirely unlike anything else on MTV at the time.  ‘Midlife Crisis’ started with a drum loop from Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Cecilia’ over which Patton told “My head is like lettuce, go on and dig your thumbs in, I cannot stop giving in, I’m thirty something”, it is uncomfortable, like when a comedy routine turns pained confessional.  ‘Land of Sunshine’ starts the album in that manner, “And life to you is a dashing, bold adventure, So sing and rejoice, sing and rejoice”, FNM put themselves above the listener, perhaps even mocking them, instead of funk-rock-pop its brash and harsh, it’s nearly right, it’s dressed to emphasise its flaws, maybe you’re in on the joke, with a chorus of “Does life seem worthwhile to you?”.  They had not held back in the extremity of their rejection.

Disgust is a keystone of this album, being fixated by it possibly equally so.  While this is no dumb frat party album it is filled with moments akin to Johnny Knoxville laughing at blood.  ‘Caffeine’, ‘Malpractice’ and ‘Smaller and Smaller’ are all filled with vocal inwards and (genuinely) grinding riffs that recall Pantera but are nastier, even unhinged to have done this on purpose, lyrically more so, ‘Smaller and Smaller’ referencing Taxi Driver with “Someday the rains will come, My blistered hands tell me, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow”.  ‘RV’ is a take-off on slick Hollywood Country and Western behind a rambling white trash narrative whose indignation spills all over the middle 8. A sense of actual bodily harm level violence stalks parts of this record, made more disconcerting given we’re use to other genres more sensational approach.

Though disgust is present throughout this album is essentially of moments of light pouring through cloud, melodies rarely do anything other than soar, vocal inflections beg to be mimicked, all the music thinks it’s big and it’s clever.  The greatest trick the devil ever played was pulling it off, this could easily have gone awry but instead it remains fresh in its difference.  No one since seems to have managed to have been both absurd and influential to this extent, to have been so earnest and humorous, to make something so ugly and beautiful.  For all the rejection and subversion Faith No More had maintained the inherent joy that can be had in rock.  While posting videos may not have been a trend here before the video for ‘Everything’s Ruined’ pretty much sums it all up http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5irHyoRNcR
Adam Hiles

The B-52’s – The B-52’s (Warner Bros – 1979)

November 2004, I’m stood backstage in an LA venue after McLusky have finished their set.  I’m wearing a New Kids on the Block t-shirt and combat pants eating a giant slice of cake which was somehow on the rider.  During a pretty open conversation in the room about music Jack tells me as an aside that I should “get the B-52’s first album”, I immediately recall Jack telling me of his academic study on the drumming in a single Dream Theater song and think that this B-52’s claim must be false.  Days later, while eating burgers after our final show together in Seattle he mentions again, now in more serious tones, that I should “get the first B-52’s first album”.  Again I did nothing as I already knew everything (and you thought the description of my outfit was extraneous).  Following numerous other instances of this same insistence from unconnected others in the intervening years, I started to think that this opinion must be more than just coincidence.  I finally relented in early 2011.  It is shame, this record revealed itself to be a joyous installment of the post-punk period, one whose simplicity in playing, melody and harmony is at first disarming but over repeated listens is revealed to be much knowing than it first appeared.

Coming out in 1979 means the B-52’s must certainly have heard Talking Heads: 77, First Edition, Q: Are We not Men? A: We Are Devo, the last in particular striking as the album’s opener, Planet Claire is partly credited to Henry Mancini, composer of the Peter Gunn theme to which the first 120 seconds bear such a resemblance to, particularly Devo’s adaptation, though this is coupled with the type of intensity that would rear its willfully ugly face on Metal Box.  The motorik drumming matched to riffs so simple they at first appear untalented, nervy keys stab inconsistently, bass Jah Wobble steady, a stark opening from the band who would go on to release that song and that Flintstones song too.  The pop sensibility of the aforementioned is already present in Fred Schneider’s vocal delivery, though here it is interspersed with the occassional bratty shout.  As the song shifts the surf guitar sound pulls into focus, adding 50s/60s optimism, a pleasing foil to post-punk’s pretensions of grandeur.

Tracks such as ’52 Girls’ and ‘There’s a Moon in the Sky (it’s called the Moon)’ try hard to be throwaway pop songs but fail gloriously, being the epitome of cool simplicity The Strokes are still trying to distill today.  By ‘Rock Lobster’ and ‘Dance This Miss Around’ their charm is to the point that this listener is little more than their plaything, not only am I trying to crack the secret to their casual efficiency but I’m also rooting for them, I want them to do well.  This isn’t normal for an album but the interplay between the instruments and the naivety in playing (again reminiscent of what Lydon and co. would seek on Metal Box) is such that they all sound as if they expect the other to make a mistake, and when it happens they would stop as one immediately in an embarrassed silence.  You don’t want this to happen as what is being played is so enthralling, charismatic, shambling and simply told, like Ed Wood had he been in on the joke.

With ‘Lava’ not only do we hear the album’s first and only use of distorted guitar but the some of the least concealed sexual imagery with ‘Turn on your love lava, turn on your lava lamp (volcano!)’, it’s all very tongue (possibly more) in cheek. ‘6060-842’ continues this more risque theme with a story of frustration at the number found on a toilet stall wall doesn’t pick up, finding out with great disappointment that ‘This number’s been disconnected’.  Whether anyone from the US would understand the term ‘end of the pier’ I don’t know, but this would be a prime example of a more Vegas version, lacking any sense of the more tawdry Carry On Blackpool associations, but instead more sleek and with a glint in its eye that maybe these double entardres are born of experience rather than urban myth.

The album ends with a cover of ‘Downtown’.  As a cover it’s more an approximation, half hearted and enthusiastic, the 60s glee of vocals work in counter point to PiL-like return of the repetitive groove, key board cutting, dragging, seemingly ever slower, as if this sunshine is difficult to maintain, hard to stay so madcap and tuneful, it has the sorrow of ‘Sure-Flo’ from A Mighty Wind and the futility in any Flight of the Conchords performance.  As an album the dynamic rarely changes; the desk might have been set once and then left for the whole record and the tones hastily chosen but this adds yet more the charm, if this had been too shiny, too right it could have been a hollow aside in new wave instead of being non-find it is.  In future I will certainly take record recommendations given to me by my countrymen when in foreign lands more seriously, instead of not and thinking that because of the surprising nature of the advice and the way it was imparted, maybe it was some kind of code or clue.

Adam Hiles