10) The Church: Starfish
The Church's sixth album is their first to attract any attention outside of their native Australia. What I don't understand is how they've been overlooked this long. A flawless 80's sound. The single, "Under The Milky Way", is a stunning bit of modern rock. An album that improves with each listening.
9) The Waterboys: Fisherman's Blues
Lead singer/guitarist/songwriter/producer Mike Scott took three years to make this album, but it was worth the wait. Fisherman's Blues shows a new Waterboys style, coupling a folk flavor with their "lush garage band" sound to create a new hybrid. Highlights include a cover of Van Morrison's "Sweet Thing", along with Scott's "Fisherman's Blues", "We Will Not Be Lovers", and "World Party". This album is definitely a departure from the sound of their last release, 1985's This Is The Sea, but the new sound is equally rewarding. Yet another great talent overlooked by the masses.
8) U2: Rattle And Hum
The soundtrack to the obligatory film required of all "Best Bands In The World". Along with some very good live tracks, there are many new studio tracks that are very different from the band that recorded The Joshua Tree. The band's sound is very loose and rough, with none of the textures Brian Eno added to their last two albums. To be honest, the bulk of the songs sound like outtakes, but that looseness makes the album work. U2 could have simply released a live album here and satisfied their fans, but they went a step further. Highlights include the live "Helter Skelter" and "All Along The Watchtower", and the new track "Desire". However, the best track is "When Love Comes To Town", their collaboration with B.B. King.
7) Frank Zappa: Broadway The Hard Way
The 1988 elections brought out something in Frank Zappa. He hit the road with an 11-piece band and delivered some of the most stinging satire he has put together since We're In It For The Money. Broadway The Hard Way assembles new material from the '88 tour, and presents it in a single album. Few are spared from the assault. Along the way, FZ takes a swipe or two at the following: Elvis, Wall Street yuppies, Madison Avenue, Jim & Tammy Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson, Ronald Reagan, Jesse Jackson, Surgeon General Koop, Admiral Poindexter, Oliver North, William Casey, Michael Deaver, Robin Leach, Ed Meese, Lyn Nofziger, George Bush, and for old times sake, Richard Nixon. The music is tremendous, running the gamut from pop to blues ("Dickie's Such An Asshole") to C&W ("Rhymin' Man"), with a few trademark Zappa guitar solos interspersed along the way.
6) Randy Newman: Land Of Dreams
Land Of Dreams, Randy Newman's first non-soundtrack album in six years, easily ranks with his best work. Side one of the LP is loosely autobiographical, dealing with Randy's youth through his marriage and divorce. The opening track, "Dixie Flyer", is worth the price of admission by itself. On side two, the cynical side of Newman shows up with a song about a naive bigot telling a little black boy to "Roll With The Punches", a rap song that does nothing but brag about the artist ("Masterman And Baby J"), and the radio hit "It's Money That Matters". Worth the wait.
5) The Bears: Rise And Shine
The Bears jell as a band. The debut was terrific and this one is better. The band is beginning to find it's own sound, and it's a tremendous one. Belew's guitar gymnastics are still there, but they don't overwhelm the sound. These guys deserve to be massive stars; however, near the end of 1988, they were dropped by I.R.S. records, so the bands recording future is again in doubt.
4) The Smithereens: Green Thoughts
Solid proof that The Smithereens weren't one-album wonders. The first album, Especially For You, was good but uneven. On Green Thoughts, the sound isn't the big change, they still have their heavy 60's influences. The big change is the quality of lead singer Pat DiNizio's song writing. These songs may not be particularly thought-provoking, but they are still too catchy to ignore. I would hesitate to call The Smithereens "revivalists", what they've done is pulled the 60's sound into the 80's, and updated it. Very refreshing.
3) Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians: Globe Of Frogs
Has Robyn sold out? Far from it. His first major label release is as eccentric and wonderful as anything he's done. The songs run the gamut from cheery ("Flesh Number One", "Balloon Man") to brooding ("Luminous Rose"), with Robyn's twisted lyrics to lighten up the precedings. Arguably the best thing he's ever done.
2) Midnight Oil: Diesel and Dust
Midnight Oil finally breaks through to the American market despite having an album filled with references to local (Australian) problems. The album is essentially a protest album, demanding the return of native Aboriginal land, and demanding their rights. The rage-filled lyrics are coupled with a sound ranging from ballads (Arctic World) to hard rock ("Dreamworld"), all with a very contemporary feel. The first two singles, "Beds Are Burning" and "The Dead Heart", both deserve to be radio staples. A powerful album.
1) R.E.M.: Green
R.E.M. makes its major label debut with Green. As is traditional with any "critic's band" that makes commercial success, the question of "selling out" immediately arises. R.E.M., whether accidentally or on purpose, have responded with their most adventurous album to date. The album opens with a indictment of the music industry ("Pop Song 89"), and closes with an unnamed track. Hardly conventional. On Green, R.E.M. stretches out a bit, trying some more delicate work ("You Are The Everything", "Hairshirt", "The Wrong Child"), a protest song ("World Leader Pretend") along with some more conventional R.E.M. tracks ("Orange Crush", "Stand"). They've probably lost some of their early fans by trying new things, but the nice thing to see is that R.E.M. is apparently not afraid of taking chances. Rolling Stone called them "America's Best Rock & Roll Band" last year. They've done nothing to lose that title.
Syd Barrett: Opel
Sorry folks, but this is not the legendary "lost" Syd Barrett album. Such an album does not exist. Opel is a collection of alternate versions and outtakes from Syd's two 1970 releases The Madcap Laughs and Barrett. The album is mainly made up of Barrett accompanying himself on acoustic, so the sound is very sparse. At points, the songs are unfocused, but Syd was not a particularly stable person at that point. Opel merely adds to Syd's legend. His three solo albums, coupled with his Floyd work Piper At The Gates Of Dawn hint at what may have been. I don't think we'll ever really know.
Eric Clapton: Crossroads
OK, so this is really a compilation. If you condensed the "new" material down, you'd have about an album's worth, so I'm counting it. The new Derek & The Dominos cuts show just how great a band they could have been if Eric had stuck with it. The other new material is equally impressive, especially The Yardbirds' demo tracks. An expensive but essential package.
Traveling Wilburys: Volume One
What happens when George Harrison asks Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty to sing on a new non-LP cut that ends up being recorded in Bob Dylan's home studio? You get a brand new "supergroup", and a hit single ("Handle With Care"). Finally, a "supergroup" without pretense. The members are not listed on the album, but they're presence is obvious on the LP. On side one each member takes a turn as lead singer, where on side two many of the vocals are shared. On the whole, these songs may not the best ever written by these people, but there is a "tongue-in-cheek" feel that makes the whole thing work. Too much fun to ignore.
Frank Zappa: You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore - Volume 1
Volume one of a six double-CD set, this package, culled from shows over the last 20-plus years, shows just how consistently good the Zappa live bands have been over the years. Highlights: Audience participation in "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow", the rap-styled rant of "Dumb All Over", the new & hilarious version of "Do You Like My New Car?". "Heavenly Bank Account" (from 1981) should have been re-released at the height of the Jim & Tammy and Jimmy Swaggart scandals. Volume 2 of the series is a complete concert recorded in Helsinki in 1974. A fine CD, but the range of material in Volume 1 makes it preferable. I can hardly wait for Volume 3.
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