Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What's New?: 1.1.2013

Been hoarding the "What's New?" lately.  Let's get into it. . .
The Police — Zenyatta Mondatta (1980)

Had a go of it over the years with the Police.  I think I have an initial kneejerk reaction against things where if I'm told I should just simply like them because of what they are.  Took me years to come around to u2 and the Beatles because of this same scenario.  Maybe, in this case, Sting's later career has played a factor in things as well.  Who knows?  Found these few in the dollar bin on a whim, so hey, why not?  By all accounts, the Police should be one of the bands I worship.  I gave it a shot, years ago.  Honest, I did.  But nothing ever seemed to be that great (or even that good) about them.  But, even though I knew the hits, it never would have occurred to me without actually sitting down with this album and hearing it for myself: Andy Summers' guitar sound on this album is absolute perfection.  That's no more clear to me than on 'When the World is Running You Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around.'  Hit those three chords and let them ring forever, Andy.  The sparseness of the song is immediately noticeable.  A lot of that has to do with that guitar part (and that the "guitar solo" is actually a bass solo).  So airy, so floating.  Just wonderful.  I knew 'Voices in my Head' was a sample favorite, but I didn't realize that the initial song was as arty and weird as it actually is.  The faux-reggae that the band got by on is still around, but you can tell they were growing tired with the schtick on the hit 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da' (still, Andy's guitar tone steals the show again).  Overall, yeah: good new wave.  Just fantastic guitar throughout—who cares what any of the songs are actually about?  (but seriously, Sting is actually pretty sharp with his words on this album, making it sound like there was a "punk rock" band that actually gave a shit)

The Police — Ghost in the Machine (1983)

It's a pretty big compliment right up front that I give this album the same score that I did Zenyatta, for a few reasons: 1) Andy's guitar is nowhere near as prominent 2) It's intentionally "weird" and "challenging" (please note the quotes) and 3) I hate 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic' with an undying passion.  The verse on 'Invisible Sun' is actually so gorgeous, I'm having trouble coming up with words to properly describe it.  Side two of the album is where things really get going.  'Rehumanize Yourself' finds the return of Andy's wonderful guitar sound and is just heady great new wave, while 'Omega Man' is the greatest punk song ever written by a band that was trying to be anything but punk.  Jeezohman, it's good.  But I don't know.  I'm a self-proclaimed fan of "mess" albums.  And this just seems like one of the better candidates for that category, doesn't it?  Wonderfully bad, keyboard-favoring early 80's production by Hugh Padgham and the cycle is complete: I have a new source of romanticization

The Police — Synchronicity (1984)

Fancy little new wave album!  It's actually pressed on very dark purple vinyl (as were all retail, non-record club copies of this album) that is only really legible when you hold it up to very bright light.  Fun!  It's got three big hits on it and, I don't know, maybe enough time has passed between my youth and those songs (coupled with the fact that the Police have not really achieved retroactive credibility). . . but, I. . . .  *long sigh*. . . like 'Every Breath You Take.'  Like, I want to learn to play and sing it.  I don't care if soccer moms know it.  It's a fantastic song.  'King of Pain' boasts one of the greatest vocal melodies of all time (one that Ben Gibbard has stolen a lot from over the years).  But, besides that, it's got to be one of the best songs of the 80's.  Sure, its earnest melancholy tone must have been lost through so many plays over the years, but imagine hearing it for the first time again.  It took me rewinding to age 10 and conjuring up that memory to really appreciate this song.  While, there's no chance any ten year old would ever truly understand the song, it's a weird (and wonderful) thing to recall the burgeoning world with that song in my head.  The album closer 'Tea in the Sahara' is one last jolt of floating faux reggae wonderfulness, Andy's guitar making one more final hurrah.  'Mother' sucks.  Bad.  Full of all kinds of stuff, this is definitely one of the best new wave albums of all time.

XTC — Love On A Farmboy's Wages (1983)

XTC b-sides!  Alright!  First things first: the a-side is one of my all time favorite XTC tunes.  It's one of the rare moments of XTC that captures their Britishness from a rural standpoint.  Heartfelt and political, it's a winner through and through.  Flip it over and three live tunes on this one.  'Burning With Optimism's Flame' mines a similarly faux reggae sound that the Police were famous for, while 'English Roundabout' is as tense and manic as new wave could get (and which XTC had no problem accomplishing), while 'Cut it Out' is played in tandem with its predecessor, almost like a dub version.  Pure fun, and great to hear XTC live at this point, as it was to be one of the last times the band actually played live.

XTC — Great Fire (1983)

Another winner for the a-side here.  If it's been a secret around here previously that Mummer is one of my all time favorite albums —and easily my favorite XTC album— then let me settle that here and now: that shit's about as badass as it gets.  This single has great b-sides.  The first of which is the poppy jump of a song 'Gold' which just goes to exhibit that the band was still as fun as ever in these days.  The other two tunes are Andy Partridge's instrumental ambient/synth side project moonlighting as XTC b-sides.  'Frost Circus' and especially 'Procession Towards Learning Land' are arty and beautiful and chancey and brilliant and ultimately they exhibit why this is my favorite period for XTC: the band did not give a single fuck for anything or what anyone thought.  Amongst the most punk rock-minded moments of the 80's.  Mummer is amazing.  Deal with it.

Pink Floyd — Atom Heart Mother (1970)

Enh, it's not bad.  The side one dominating suite is pretty damned uneventful and just downright wasteful.  Side two is such an improvement.  Just. . . wow.  Why didn't the whole album make use of its time like this?  I guess it should be obvious by now that I prefer the more folky, introspective-tinged Floyd material.  So, stuff like 'If' and 'Fat Old Sun' is more or less awesome.  The second suite on the album, 'Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast' is also nice, if not a bit too much for its own good.  At least it's listenable (unlike the album's first half).

Dick Gaughan — Handful of Earth (1980)

Celtic folk masterpiece from one of the style's sorely forgotten talents.  A friend recently played 'Craigie Hill' for me and when I inquired about Dick, he described Handful of Earth as "a British Isles classic."  Didn't take much more than that for me to become instantly interested.  And the whole album is just about as great as that four word description implies.  Seems every song here is in DADGAD, or a tuning pretty close to it, and is subsequently gorgeously played, in those deep tones.  The blues be damned: Nordic folk music has its own rules.  It is an unabashedly sparse album, with no more than three musicians credited (at most) on any given tune and no percussion of any sort employed.  In that sparseness is where it finds the intimate quality that connects with you.  I didn't think so much of it after one full play through.  But something just got me to play it again.  And then again.  And now, here I am, a week later and I'm pretty much only wanting to listen to this album.  'Both Sides the Tweed' is the one tune on the album that makes use of non-traditional instruments and it's a magically haunting moment.  Folk Roots called it "album of the decade" for the 80's.  And why the hell not?  Clearly a masterpiece for the ages.  You have no excuse for not having heard it at least once: it's on Spotify in full.  Relish in the glorious sounds.  Some of the most "soulful" singing and guitar playing I've heard in quite some time.  This is the really nice (and highly recommended) 180gram reissue on the Dutch 6 Spices label.  Really just fantastic work all around.

Lots more on the way, shortly. 


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