OTG's TOP TEN (AND OTHER MISCELLANY) FOR 1994


HONORABLE MENTIONS

(Live albums):

A Celebration: The Music Of Pete Townshend And The Who - Roger Daltrey

Roger Daltrey enlists an orchestra plus some other acts and puts on a tribute to bandmate Pete Townshend's songwriting. The concert was hit-or-miss, and the album pulls Roger's best moments, plus Pete Townshend's terrific rework of "Who Are You". Sadly, the best cover in the concert, Lou Reed's superb "Now And Then" isn't on here. For Who nuts only.

Drums And Wireless: BBC Radio Sessions 77-89 - XTC
The Kershaw Sessions - Robyn Hitchcock And The Egyptians

The BBC's equivalent of the "unplugged" phenomena. These two albums are taken from various "in the studio" live appearances. These "sort-of-live" versions are fun, but not radically different from the studio takes. One great exception: on the Hitchcock CD, Robyn and The Egyptians do a great one-off a capella version of "The Banana Boat Song" which (on the CD) was segued into a powerful version of "Listening To The Higsons". Fun stuff, but again, only for the hard core fans.

No Quarter: Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Unledded - Jimmy Page & Robert Plant

Page and Plant reunite for an "MTV Unplugged" special, and the results are surprisingly good. They avoid simply rehashing Zeppelin standards acoustic and instead add a distinct middle-eastern flair to the music, especially in the three songs written for this album. They've avoided the obvious ("Stairway To Heaven", "Rock & Roll" and "Whole Lotta Love" are not here), and the whole album is stronger for it. Impressive.

Precise Modern Lovers Order - The Modern Lovers

What a surprise this was. Ernie Brooks, the bass player with the original Modern Lovers releases a live tape of the band that predates their debut album. About half the songs are from The Modern Lovers, the rest are previously unreleased Jonathan Richman songs, plus a dead-on cover of the Velvet Underground's "Foggy Notion". An amazing show, with only one flaw: a surprisingly flat take on the classic "Roadrunner". Despite that, this CD comes highly recommended.

(Compilation albums):

Great Move! The Best Of The Move - The Move

Misleadingly titled, but great rerelease none-the-less. Great Move is actually the Move's final studio album Message From The Country, plus the singles the band released after that album came out. Not really a "best-of", but Message was the Move's best album, so it's close.

Thirty Years Of Maximum R&B - The Who

This release kicks off the re-release of The Who's '95 catalog overhaul. Thirty Years is a great box set. All the hits are here (however, the short version of "Who Are You" was used), plus some unreleased live tracks and some studio outtakes. I've been collecting Who material since the early 80's, and despite a wealth of bootleg LPs, a bunch of the new tracks were things I'd never even heard of. The set starts out with near-perfect quality recordings of the band's first four demos (recorded as The High Numbers), and ends with their last studio track, the cover of "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" recorded for the Elton John tribute album of a few years ago. For a serious Who fan, this box is absolutely essential. For a casual fan or the curious, this set is a great introduction to one of the best acts ever.

(Tribute albums):

Brace Yourself! A Tribute To Otis Blackwell
Beat The Retreat: Songs By Richard Thompson

"Tribute albums", where different artists all cover songs by one group/ songwriter/etc. are all the rage, and are generally pretty poor. Amazingly enough, Brace Yourself! and Beat The Retreat are great. Highlights of Brace Yourself! include Tom Verlaine's cover of "Fever", Frank Black's charged version of "Breathless" and Joe Louis Walker's searing blues "On That Power Line". The standouts on Beat The Retreat include Bob Mould's "Turning Of The Tide" (which actually improves on Thompson's original), R.E.M.'s "Wall Of Death", and the Five Blind Boys Of Alabama's gospel version of "The Dimming Of The Day".

(Bootlegs. Shhhhh):

Apocrypha: Thirty Years Of Frank Zappa - Frank Zappa

Apocrypha is a 4 CD bootleg retrospective of Zappa's long career. The set opens with two blues tracks recorded with Captain Beefheart in 1958, continues with tracks from just about every phase of his career including his final tour in 1988, and ends with a CD of rare classical and Synclavier tracks.

Magnesium Proverbs - Syd Barrett

This album was a real find. Magnesium Proverbs has the cleanest recordings of the two long-suppressed Pink Floyd songs "Vegetable Man" and "Scream Thy Last Scream", a perfect recoding of a Pink Floyd demo of "King Bee", plus a fair recording of one Syd's rare solo concerts.

A Rare Thing - Richard Thompson

An amazing double CD. Recorded live in Chapel Hill, NC in August of '94. This album is a complete solo show, just Thompson on acoustic guitar and vocals. Great songs, stellar guitar work, and witty banter with the crowd. Perfect.

(songs):

"untitled" - Todd Snider

This track, which isn't titled on the CD, has been getting airplay on CD-101 and Q-FM-96. Basically, this is a Dylanesque acoustic folk song that tells the story of a new Seattle grunge band who refuses to play ("Silence: music's original alternative"), and consequently becomes the latest thing. Funny, catchy and scathing. A must hear. I need to hear the rest of this album.


OTHER NOTEWORTHY RELEASES:

Boil That Dust Speck - Mike Keneally

Keneally's second solo album is vageuly similar to his first: Lots of varied styles, killer guitar playing, a sense of humor, and complex songs that owe a great debt to Frank Zappa. Very different, and very good.

Civilization, Phaze III - Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa had completed this album shortly before his death, but his wife Gail held up the release so that it wouldn't seem like a cash-in. Civilization, Phaze III is the most ambitious of Zappa's works for the Synclavier, and one of the most ambitious of his career. The piece, described by Zappa as an "opera-pantomime" switches between improvised dialog sections (recorded in 1967 for the Lumpy Gravy album and 1992) edited together to create a bizarre story line and new Synclavier compositions.

The Division Bell - Pink Floyd

Like some of the Floyd's best work, much of the Division Bell seems to be about the bitter break between Roger Waters and the rest of the band. Division Bell is a vast improvement for the "new" Floyd. The last song "High Hopes" can hold it's own with anything the Floyd recorded in the 70's.

Dookie - Green Day

Green Day are kind of a teen-age Ramones re-invented for the 90's. Dookie is full of fast, loud, short, stupid, snotty, and very catchy songs. "Basket Case" is easily one of the best punk songs I've heard in years.

From The Cradle - Eric Clapton

Clapton finally makes the all-blues album he's talked about for years, and it's easily his best work since the '70s. Clapton's guitar work on this album is absolutely stunning.

Spin 1ne 2wo - Spin 1ne 2wo

What an odd album this is. A collection of UK session players, including Paul Carrack and Tony Levin record an album of covers of The Who ("Who Are You"), Jimi Hendrix ("Angel"), Steely Dan ("Reeling In The Years"), Canned Heat ("On The Road Again"). A bit too "clinical" in spots, but a fun album none-the-less.

Your Naked Maids Are Here! - Q-FM-96's Wags & Elliot

Released shortly before Christmas, this CD is a collection of highlights of Q-FM's morning show. If you're like the show, you'll probably like the CD. If you don't like the show, this CD isn't going to change your mind.


THE TOP TEN FOR 1994

(in my occasionally humble opinion)

10) Ro Sham Bo - The Grays

My vote for best new act. Ro Sham Bo is a solid album of modern pop music, with an outstanding lead track, "Very Best Years".

9) VROOOM - King Crimson

VROOOM is an initial mini-album from the newly reformed King Crimson. This time out, King Crimson is leader Robert Fripp (guitar), Adrian Belew (guitar, vocals), Tony Levin (bass, stick), Trey Gunn (stick), Bill Bruford (drums) and Pat Mastelloto (drums). VROOOM is a powerful cross of KC's powerful improvisations of the late 70's and the intricate pop of the 80's. A great teaser for the new album, THRAK, which is scheduled for an April release.

8) Wildflowers - Tom Petty

Petty's second solo album again uses all of the Heartbreakers except Stan Lynch (who has since left the band). Wildflowers is a much more "rootsy", laid-back album and a fine one.

7) Sleeps With Angels - Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Neil Young tried to contact Kurt Cobain through his managers after hearing of Cobain's near suicide in Rome. Before he could get through, Cobain had succeeded in killing himself, and had ended his suicide note with a quote from Young's "My My, Hey Hey" ("It's better to burn out than to fade away"), which obviously hit Young strongly. Sleeps With Angels is a dark, brooding album that takes a lot of inspiration from Cobain's death, especially on the title track. However, the centerpiece of the album is "Change Your Mind", a 10-minute-plus track that is among Young's best songs ever. The album starts out with a quiet song ("My Heart") played on a tack piano, and builds up to a frenzy in the middle of the album ("Sleeps With Angels", "Change Your Mind", "Piece Of Crap") before ending on another quiet note. A great album.

6) Prairie Home Invasion - Jello Biafra & Mojo Nixon with The Toadliquors

This is a wild album. Mojo Nixon & The Toadliquors team up with Jello Biafra, lead singer of the legendary Dead Kennedys. Biafra's lyrics are pointed, cynical, funny, and dead-on target. Mojo & The Toadliquors play powerful backup music that falls somewhere between punk, Jerry Lee Lewis-style rock & roll and country/western. Highlights include "Buy My Snake Oil" (a long rant about "selling out"), "Mascot Mania" (about pro sports), and "Are You Drinkin' With Me Jesus" (a cover of a Lou & Peter Berryman song that fits in well with Mojo's style) with lines like: "I know you can walk on the water, but can you walk on this much beer?"

5) Monster - R.E.M.

Monster is not the album people were expecting (despite the advance buzz), but it's a great album none-the-less. On Monster, R.E.M. abandons the quiet sound from the last two albums. Instead, the amps are turned up full and the result is the loudest album of the band's career. Highlights include the lead single "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?", the glam-influenced "Crush With Eyeliner" and the haunting "Strange Currencies".

4) File Under: Easy Listening - Sugar

File Under: Easy Listening (or FU:EL, get it?) is Sugar's second full-length album, and it's another doozy. After the first two songs (which are good, but nothing special), FU:EL delivers eight gems in a row. The first of these, "Your Favorite Thing", is another punk/pop masterpiece. Sugar even try lighter songs and end up giving the album more balance. FU:EL ends with "Explode And Make Up", one of the most powerful songs Bob Mould's ever come up with. It's not the loudest, but it's one of the most emotional.

3) Mirror Blue - Richard Thompson

Mirror Blue is another collection of great Thompson songs. "Beeswing", an acoustic ballad about a lost love, is one of Thompson's best. Other highlights include "Shane And Dixie" (described by RT as "... one of those songs generally considered typical of my work: Boy meets girl. Blood everywhere."), "Fast Food", a stinging parody of, well, fast food restaurants, and the guitar heroics on "The Way That It Shows" and "Mascara Tears".

2) Here - Adrian Belew

Belew's latest is another gem. Quirky pop songs with good lyrics and top notch playing. The lyrics are roughly split between personal songs like "May 1, 1990" (about the day he and his wife met), "I See You", and "Dream Life" (a touching ballad towards his kids from a prior marriage) and political/environmental concerns ("Burned By The Fire We Make", "Survival In The Wild", "Peace On Earth" and "Brave New World"). Great stuff which will again go largely ignored.

1) Wild Wood - Paul Weller

Wild Wood is easily Paul Weller's best album since The Jam's classic Sound Affects from 1981. His last band, The Style Council, emphasized the jazz/quiet R&B side and the songs suffered. Wild Wood finds Weller combining that jazz/R&B side with the rock & roll of The Jam into a solid whole. The album opens with a rocker, "Sunflower", that has both light flutes and heavy guitar. Weller also seems to address the Style Council's diminished reputation in "Has My Fire Really Gone Out?" Weller has never been a big name in the US, and this album probably won't change that (it was released in '93 in the UK, '94 in the US), and that's unfair. This is an album with great songs top to bottom. Definitely check this one out. Also: If you have heard and like Wild Wood, look for Live Wood, an import live CD from the Wild Wood tour. Amazing.


Owen Gwilliam

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