On today's episode: NEW WAVE EXTRAVAGANZA!
The Squeeze's first album is a lot more stock new wave than anything that followed. The rumour is that most of the material was written on the spot, under pressure. So, there you have it. There are some excellent pop songs throughout though: most obviously the hit 'Take Me I'm Yours', but there's also the super catchy 'Strong in Reason.' I'm also partial to the funky psychedelic instrumental 'Wild Sewage Tickles Brazil.' Otherwise, there's just not enough of the sort of well thought-out songcraft that Squeeze would become known for. It's definitely their most "punk" sounding album, but that has more to do with how amateur it sounds, not because that's what they were going for.
The Jazz Butcher — The Gift of Music (mid-1980's)
It's taken me years to track down these Jazz Butcher albums. They are of interest to me because David J plays on them. And, you know, I should have just had some Jazz Butcher albums in my collection before now anyway because it's very British, very jangly music. Right up my alley. This album is a collection of singles and b-sides and it's very whimsical and nice. The first song is 'Southern Mark Smith', so that's an idea of what you're in for here. There's a cover of the Modern Lovers' 'Roadrunner' which is pure fun, but there's also more introspective moments like 'Rain' that are just excellent. Overall, kind of goofy music, but plenty of jangly guitars and earnest harmonies for me to dig it.
The Jazz Butcher — Sex and Travel (1985)
Bit more even overall, and that makes sense because this was its own release, not a collection. It kicks off with the sophisticated jangle of 'Big Saturday' and that one just wins over and over again. The ballad 'Only A Rumour' is a rare moment of venerability and it's also a highlight. The soundtrack-y 'Walk With the Devil' is an unexpected moment of epic scope that works incredibly well. Overall, yeah: good stuff. I will definitely be on the lookout for more Jazz Butcher stuff, regardless if David J is involved or not.
Dexys Midnight Runners — Searching for the Young Soul Rebels (1980)
Dexys' first album is a full on, horn-sectioned new wave soul album. Because Dexys first came out of the Northern Soul movement, this makes perfect sense. At times, the horns blasting away does feel a bit gimmicky, but the tunes are darn catchy and are played at punk speeds, so the whole whooses by in no time. 'Geno' was the big hit and is a worthy song to be remembered for. Kevin Rowland had others up his sleeve, though. Not a super amazing album, but darn good fun.
The Waterboys — This is the Sea (1985)
The last Waterboys album I needed to complete my 80's collection. And it's a good one! It sounds like A Pagan Place, but with better songs, basically. Still a very large (arguably overproduced) presentation of the music, but with songs as good as the opener 'Don't Bang the Drum', that doesn't matter. It's a very big, arena-ready melodramatic sound, totally mid-80's. There's just some days when I want that borderline cheesy sound and, it seems like, the Waterboys always hit that specific node of sound that I'm looking for most perfectly. Check out 'The Pan Within' for a preview of where the band would go on Fisherman's Blues. Overall, not the best Waterboys album, but definitely in the running for #2.
The Mighty Lemon Drops — Happy Head (1986)
The first Lemon Drops' album has eluded me for years, but here we finally have it. This band definitely does one thing really well, so if you're not a fan, too bad for you. This thing is kind of top loaded with all the best, and most diverse, tunes up front. So, by the end of the album, everything starts sounding the same. But, those highlights are good enough to make up for it. They have a really rockin' Rickenbacker retro-60's repertoire that's just fun. Have a listen to 'All the Way' for an idea of what the Beatles would've sounded like as a punk band. And there's lots of that sort of thing here. I think the Lemon Drops got lost in the retroactive shuffle because they had a sound that was so reminiscent of other bands, while adding very little of their own. But they did that sound so well, so I don't mind. Definitely nice to finally have this album around.
The Jam — In the City (1977)
The Jam's first album is usually considered a punk landmark. And it certainly is one of the defining albums of the initial British punk era, but it's a little uneven. Paul Weller hadn't quite mastered a pop hook yet, so only a few really good ones pop up. Chief among those being the enduring classic title track. Paul Weller's stinging and ringing Rickenbacker guitar defines the sound of this album, for better or worse (it gets a little samey, after all). As a debut album by a punk band, it showed absolutely no promise, but most punk bands weren't really meant to last past an album or two anyway, so that makes perfect sense.
The Jam — Setting Sons (1979)
Still blasting out those power trio performances, but the song craft here is amazing. Just have a listen to 'Private Hell.' Whoo, that's a great song. There's a bit more of a produced, jangly sound to some of the songs, so something like 'Wasteland' comes off as a nice reserved change of pace. And then, of course, there's 'Smithers-Jones' which is so dissimilar than any previous Jam song, it gets by on sheer uniqueness. This is the CD reissue from the early 2000's that nearly doubles the running time of the album with bonus tracks (and it does include the more conventional arrangement of the single version of 'Smithers-Jones'). All the bonus material sits right in with the proper album and it's a darn fine affair, I'd say. Not the best Jam album, but certainly one of their better ones.
The Jam — All Mod Cons (1978)
This is probably my favorite Jam album. It still has the punk snarl, but it's like, really sophisticated about it. Not pompous, just maybe a little cocky. Just have a listen to 'To Be Someone' for a perfect example of what I mean. Of course, there's the enduring ballad 'English Rose' which was the first indication that the Jam meant serious business as far as not being considered just a punk band. The whole album is just ace and that it ends with the ambitious mini-epic 'Down in the Tube Station at Midnight' is really appropriate because this album really does seem like the Jam fulfilling their potential for the first time.
Throwing Muses — The Curse (1992)
Recorded across two nights in London in support of Red Heaven, this paints the picture of the band as a very loud, nearly shoegazey unit. The version of 'Fish' is scorching and flailing — I've not heard a better rendition, I'd reckon. Kristin picks up her acoustic late in the disc, but it's mostly a relentlessly rockin' affair, focusing on Red Heaven, Hunkpapa and Real Ramona material. Wonderful find after many years of knowing about this one without ever actually having heard it.
Throwing Muses — Firepile EPs (1992)
Released as a two part single in the UK, collectively, you get six b-sides, including the oft-played live Jimi Hendrix cover 'Manic Depression' and the great original tune 'Snailhead.' Elsewhere, you get a jangly Velvet Underground cover and, all told, this was another super find, as these things have been out of print for a good decade and a half. Fun stuff to add to the collection.
XTC — Black Sea (1980)
XTC was so damn consistent in the early 80's. Let's just pick a random song from this album and see how awesome it is: 'Paper and Iron.' There. Just, there. See what I mean? Of course, this one begins with the all-time XTC classic 'Respectable Street', so you know you're in for a wonderful ride. Everything has that big drum sound and that angular riffing, which you could argue was formulaic, but when the formula was this productive, how could you possibly be mad? This CD reissue tacks on some extra tracks that only add to the album's appeal.
XTC — English Settlement (1982)
Ask many an XTC fan their all time favorite album and I'd bet at least two-thirds would say English Settlement. There's a sense of airy space in the production here and it allows you, as the listener, to really focus on the layers and song craft involved in everything here. When the album begins with the atmospheric 'Runaways' you know there's been a change in thought, of sorts. Then, of course, there's that one tune you may have heard. Layered jangly heaven, I'd say. The whole album is strong and it feels like step up in every aspect. Like I said, if they were one thing in the early 80's it was damn consistent.
R.E.M. — Daysleeper EP (1998)
Up b-sides? Yes, please! The instrumental 'Emphysema' is a strange, vibes and accordion thing that is pure fun. The winner is the "Oxford American Version" of 'Why Not Smile' which is basically an acoustic version. Nothing revelatory, but I'm a big fan of this era of the band, so I'm fascinated by it nonetheless.
Edwyn Collins — Hellbent on Compromise (1990)
The sort of stock, overproduced jangle that Roddy Frame was also doing at the time. It is a bit more acoustic-based overall than what Roddy was up to and always with Edwyn's healthy dose of wit and sarcasm. Perhaps more earnest than usual, but the production is a little too slick for its own good. The eerie opener 'Means to an End' is a highlight and it's a shame that the rest of the album's material wasn't given as thoughtful treatment.
The Wake — A Light Far Out (2012)
How I missed this one, I don't know. But, man, is it good. Just have a listen to the opening tune 'Stockport' and realize that this is a new record by these guys. They do just about everything here: the jangly stuff, the dancey stuff, the dreamy stuff and it's the exact sort of reunion album that you love to see. It sits well with the band's catalogue and only enhances it in the long run. The only thing I'd complain about is the inclusion of the old Occasional Keepers tune 'If the Ravens Leave', but it's not even like that's a bad song; just well familiar. The epic title track is probably the highlight here, but honestly, this thing is so good, there's really not a bad or even sub-par song in the bunch.
The Lotus Eaters — No Sense of Sin (1984)
Fantastic Bowie-inspired synth pop. "New Romantic" the kids used to call it. I knew of this band because Mike Dempsey, who played bass on the first Cure album, is present here (though not the main creative force). This has one of the all-time great (now unfortunately lost) classic new wave singles on it with 'The First Picture of You.' Pete Coyle's longing tenor croon paints a gorgeous picture of celebrating the moment while you're in it. There's a handful of these slightly melancholy, transcendent 80's pop songs and I officially nominate 'First Picture of You' into the cannon. Just perfect. The rest of the album follows suit with long keyboard harmonies and subtle guitar arpeggios and hooks — just gigantic pop hooks. Cherry Red has done this album justice with a wealth of bonus tracks that gathers up the band's entire 80's discography on one disc. Fantastic music.