Approximately two years ago, myself and my pal Warwick Brown - he's the man who owns/operates Greville Records - made a pact with each other to listen to a series of self-selected artists for an assessment. Essentially it was to be a reassessment of various singers/bands whom we had loathed and/or dismissed due to our various musical prejudices (i.e. snobbery), which meant that we would finally and belatedly give them a proper earful and not let bigotry rule our listening lives. Essentially, we came to the conclusion that we're both old and pathetic enough not to give a shit about being seen as cool anymore, and the rule book is to be thrown out the window! It was a revolutionary gesture.
OK, the following are a series of bands and/or releases which I have given an earload these past couple of years, and come out with a surprisingly positive reaction. Your reaction will likely be one of two: 1) Pfft! What the hell took you so long?; or 2) You have clearly lost your mind. I am unfollowing you now.
On with the show...
There are a number of 'New Wave' artists here whom I would never have given the time of day to in my prior listening habits because, well, they're just so fuckin' NEW WAVE, you know? Growing up on the hardcore, NU WAVE was for fuckin' POSEURS and HOMOS. Well, I didn't really take such a strident stance on those grounds, but for me such things were an artistic compromise, a cop-out on the artists' behalf, and thus didn't serve total allegiance and dedication to the underground. Or some such shit. Anyway, now that I'm older and patheticer, I have, through some serious badgering, come seriously around to The Cure's first four LPs, despite the goth-gimp persona of one Mr. Robert Smith and all associated something or others. Seriously, the first four - Three Imaginary Boys (1979), Seventeen Seconds (1980), Faith (1981) and Pornography (1982) - the band's alleged 'dark' period before morphing into the hit machine they became, together create a rather beautiful array of crystal-clear, delicate and downright fragile collection of greatness. Which isn't to put them all in the one basket: the debut is much rawer and 'amateur' than what came afterwards (Smith apparently doesn't like it, thinking it was too premature); the second and third capture that spidery, fragile sound I spoke of; and Pornography ups the angst and noise for a last gasp before things quietened down. All fine discs. Next!
Speaking of New Wavers... New Order were a band whom various nudniks in my high school raved about as if they were the epitome of 'alternative sounds', and thus I would pay them no mind. Dance music for dorks. Guitarless wonders. Hacks still riding the crest of the one talented member from their previous outfit who decided to take a long walk off a shot pier. Not that I was a big champion of the Joy Division cause, either, mind you. In fact, I'm still not that big a champion of all things Ian Curtis. A fine debut slightly wrecked by neutered production, although it still has its merits, though the follow-up, Closer, I still rate as a big bag of disappointment (thin, joyless nothing) and strangely enough I can now say that I think New Order's debut from 1981, Movement, is better than anything JD did. It was greeted by a lukewarm reception at the time (I'm assuming people just missed good ol' IxCx and couldn't believe the band would just pick up and carry on like that), but its skeletal, minimal electro vibe is something which sounds tastier to these ears than any of JD's doom and gloom sludge. It is a surprisingly stark, avant-garde piece of percussive greatness. The follow-up, 1983's Power, Corruption & Lies sees them sickening up their approach and adding more downtown NYC dance vibes, but it's still a very fine thing. Over time, I will move further down the line to investigate. For now, the first two will do.
I came around to Byrne and co. about half a decade back. Badgering from friends, who couldn't believe that I could worship at the altar of Eno and yet not like the Eno-produced THs rekkids, wore me down. I succumbed to peer pressure and wrapped my eardrums around 1979's Fear Of Music and 1980's Remain In Light. Well, duh, they're as good as everyone says they are. 1978's More Songs About Building And Food is also right up there. The debut from '77 still leaves me cold: no Eno and little musical dynamics on display - but those three, they're keepers. Given the fact that I always have liked Eno's Before And After Science and King Crimson's Discipline LPs, both of which strongly relate to these 'Heads LPs, makes this conversion very belated. What a fuckin' New Waver.
10cc and GENESIS
You like '70s UK art-rock? You dig the sounds of Roxy Music, Van Der Graaf Generator, Sparks (limeys by default), Be Bop Deluxe? Sure you do! Then why wouldn't you dig the sounds of 10cc and Genesis? Here's why: because you're a goddamn bigot, a highfalutin' holier-than-thou music Klanner who thinks those two untouchables stink like a dead mule because you've been told they do. Well, that was my excuse. 20 years ago when I was working in the manufacturing dept. of a certain record company, I became friends (still am) with a certain gent who was nearly a decade older than myself, a transplant from Ol' Blighty who introduced me to John Martyn, amongst other things. His head was in the same musical space as mine at the time: Can, Suicide, Miles, Stooges, Boredoms, etc. But - BUT - he held an inexplicable love for Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Loved the absolute shit out of the classic early albums and would constantly try to get me to listen to them. I wouldn't go anywhere near them. My excuse was thus: I don't want to be a Genesis fan. I DON'T WANT TO BE THAT GUY! That'll mean I've crossed the line. What if I DO like them? What's next? Do I start getting into Dire Straits (see below)?! Well, it took until approximately 24 months ago when I finally took the plunge - out of pure curiosity - into the fiery pits of Genesis and acquired myself a copy of their 1974 meisterwerk, the legendarily 'challenging' Lamb Lies Down On Broadway 2LP set, the ambitious epic which saw Gabriel split from the band soon afterwards. It is an immensely rewarding set: experimental, flowing, dynamic, radical and all of the above. And so I went backwards to Foxtrot, Selling England By The Pound, Nursery Cryme and Trespass - all of them have something to recommend. Let's make this clear: had the band known as Genesis ceased to be in 1974 upon Gabriel's departure, you would hold them in the same regard as Roxy Music, etc. Those records are fucking weird and beautiful, and often weirdly beautiful, and very English and very early '70s. And The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is angry.
10cc? See all of the above and substitute 'Peter Gabriel' with 'Godley and Creme'. 10cc's first four discs: 10cc (1973), Sheet Music (1974), The Original Soundtrack (1975) and How Dare You (1976) are smart, funny, weird, disjointed slabs of bizarro limey art-rock, the rot only setting in after Godley and Creme split from the band, leaving it in the hands of Graham Goldman and Eric Stewart (their material thereafter simply irks me). Also worthy of investigation is Godley and Creme's Consequences 3LP set from 1977, but that's another story. Who hepped me to 10cc? Oren fucking Ambarchi. 'Hey Dave, you got How Dare You? Top-10 desert-island disc, man. TOP 10!'
Well, I've always held a fondness for the works of the Mothers Of Invention, and have in fact written about them several times before here, but my standard line in the sand was Zappa's Hot Rats from 1969. Weasels Ripped My Flesh from 1970 got a pass, as it was a compilation of slightly earlier material. For shame! Those Mothers records still rule the planet and the universe, but Zappa's records from 1970 - 1975 contain a bounty of goods I had wilfully ignored for far too long. Sure, Frank's smug persona weighs heavier on these platters (it was that element which held me off for two decades), and there's some awfully dazzling displays of musicianship on show, but they never overshadow what is an amazing run of discs of gonzo rock & roll. Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Chunga's Revenge, Waka/Jawaka, The Grand Wazoo, Over Nite Sensation, Apostrophe ('), Roxy and Elsewhere (my fave) and One Size Fits All make for a dynamite slab of head-rock in the pre-punk era. Sure, Zappa fans are deeply annoying humans and he inspired a sea of shit in his wake, but the original source material is a different matter: smart-arsed greaser-rock with a taste for the absurd.
Fuck. I mean, this one's embarrassing. I was bullied into giving this one a spin by various hep - yeah, HEP! - friends of mine who'd told me that, no matter what I had always thought of Dire Straits and their shithouse brand of tepid, banal, brown-flavoured Dad-rock, I should give their self-titled debut from 1978 a listen, as it was somewhat of an anomaly in their catalogue of musical mush. Yes, it is. I will paraphrase what I said about Genesis and 10cc: had the band known as Dire Straits called it a day immediately after the release of this album - or had they all died in a tragic car crash or some such - your opinion of the band, which would be based solely on this one LP, would probably be very different. The band were zeros at this stage: mere pub-rockers in a sea of punkers, a functional guitar/bass/drums/vocals band, a low-key, Dylan-damaged folky one at that. The recording is fairly raw and sparse, the songs are mostly hooky gems (there's 'Sultans Of Swing' in there, perhaps the only song you may recognise if you're not familiar) and fuck a duck! If this was the only thing they did - I'll say it again - it'd be a cult UK folk-rock one-off from a bunch of odd ducks stuck in the punk era. If it had been issued privately in 1973 AS IS, drooling collector dorks would probably skip a few meals to pay for an original pressing. All of this isn't to imply that it's amazing - it's simply a very solid limey folk-rock LP by a band who devolved into one of the fucking lamest musical propositions this planet has ever known. But don't hate on 'em for it.
Over and out.