With King Crimson, Adrian Belew was the lead singer of a seminal "art-rock" band. His current (?) band, The Bears, is a pop band, skewed a bit from the normal. On his own, Belew falls somewhere in between. The songs are peculiar pop melodies, with Adrian's unusual lyrics, instrumentation and production. The album starts out with a tongue-in-cheek duet with his 11-year old daughter ("Oh Daddy"), where she asks when Daddy's going to be a big rock star, and ends with a wandering psychedelic track ("1967"). Too much fun to pass up.
John Lee Hooker - The Healer
How old can you be and still make powerful music? Well, John Lee is over seventy, and this album is solid from beginning to end. Hooker's deep voice is in fine form, as is his guitar work. The album is roughly split between Hooker playing alone and duetting with the likes of Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Canned Heat and George Thorogood. The standout cut is Raitt and Hooker's remake of "I'm In The Mood For Love," but there are no weak tracks here.
Marillion - Seasons End
The Genesis parallel continues. Marillion's charismatic lead singer, Fish, left for a solo career before this album. Fish's replacement, Steve Hogarth, doesn't have as distinctive a voice, but it works with the band. The basic sound is the same, but Marillion has begun performing much longer works with only a few exceptions.
Graham Parker - Human Soul
Side one of Human Soul is solid, but side two is where the album shines. The songs are linked together, Abbey Road-style into a great montage of different styles, climaxing with "Slash And Burn", one of Parker's best songs in years. Recommended.
Lou Reed And John Cale - Songs For 'Drella: A Tribute To Andy Warhol
If this was an official album, it would have made my top ten. My copy is a bootleg recording of Reed & Cale's "work in progress" performance. The official performance was in November. Songs For 'Drella is a 14-song biography/elegy/tribute to Andy Warhol ("'Drella", short for "Cinderella", was one of Warhol's nicknames). The songs here are performed by Reed on guitar and vocals, and Cale on keyboards and vocals. The sound is stark and completely effective. The material covers Warhol's youth ("Small Town", "Open House"), his work at The Factory ("The Style It Takes", "Work"), and his views ("The Trouble With Classicists", "Faces And Names"). The piece closes with a wistful elegy ("Hello It's Me") that could have been corny, but it works quite well. Reed and Cale are currently planning to record Songs For 'Drella in the spring of 1990. I can hardly wait.
The Smithereens - 11
The Smithereens are still the ultimate back-to-basics band. Two guitarists, bass, drums and no frills. 11 continues the style of their last album, Green Thoughts: borderline-hard rock coupled with 60's-flavored ballads. A great band who will only get better.
Frank Zappa - You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 3
The third of six double CD releases in FZ's live retrospective. Volume 3 focuses on the 1982 and 1984 tours. The CD opens with "Sharleena", featuring Frank and son Dweezil trading lead guitar parts and closes with a hot version of "Cosmik Debris". Along the way, you get a 24-minute version of "King Kong", highlights from Joe's Garage and You Are What You Is, two of Zappa's best albums ever, plus some previously unreleased material.
Various Artists - Shangri-La: A Tribute To The Kinks
Various Artists - Time Between: A Tribute To The Byrds
The third and fourth releases in Imaginary Records' tribute series. Like the first two (Beyond The Wildwood: A Tribute To Syd Barrett, and Fast 'n' Bulbous: A Tribute To Captain Beefheart), These two albums are collections of lesser known acts (most are pretty obscure) interpreting the songs of a renown songwriter. What makes these records interesting is that the songs are not always faithful covers, and the songs chosen are not necessarily the hits. The only hits here are "Tired Of Waiting For You", the obligatory "Lola", "Eight Miles High", and "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better". These albums are hard to find, but worth the effort, as are the first two in the series. Slated next are tributes to The Rolling Stones and The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
10) Kate Bush - The Sensual World
The Sensual World is an excellent and daring album that fails in a few places, but failing when taking chances is always forgivable. The standouts are passionate title track, the powerful "Love And Anger" and the lovely "This Woman's Work". On several tracks, the Trio Bulgarka (a Buglarian trio of folk singers) back Kate up, and the combination is stunning.
9) Robyn Hitchcock 'n' The Egyptians - Queen Elvis
Robyn easily avoids the sophomore slump with his second major-label release, Queen Elvis. This time out, the Egyptians (Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor) are aided by a string section on two tracks, the occasional trumpet, and several appearances by R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck. The fleshed out sound lends itself well to the new material. Highlights include a power number reminicent of The Soft Boys ("Freeze"), a stunning, if odd, ballad ("Veins Of The Queen"), and an irresistable pop number ("Madonna Of The Wasps"). One of the other standouts, "Autumn Sea", features a monologue by Hitchcock in the same vein as his very funny song intros in concert. In general, Robyn has outdone himself yet again.
8) Warren Zevon - Transverse City
Warren Zevon is perhaps one of the most underrated songwriters today. His "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" is better known in Linda Ronstadt's version, and his most well-known song ("Werewolves Of London") is considered a novelty. On Transverse City, Zevon's songwriting stands out as he handles topics as far ranging as Russian politics, shopping malls, celebrity recluses, pollution, and "networking". As usual, Warren's backing musicians are more well known that he is. This time, he's got help from Jerry Garcia, David Gilmour, Chick Corea, Neil Young, David Lindley, J.D. Souther, Waddy Wachtel, and for good measure, two members of Jefferson Airplane (Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen) and three members of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers (Mike Campbell, Howie Epstein, Benmont Tench). The standouts here are the Neil Young-flavored "Splendid Isolation", the satiric "Networking", and the moody "Run Straight Down".
7) Neil Young - Freedom
In 1987, Neil Young recorded his last (?) album with Crazy Horse, Life. I figured that Life was Young's high point in the 80's. Boy, was I wrong. Freedom caps off the 80's with a stellar album. Backed by the core of his 1988 band, "The Bluenotes", Young blazes out power guitar rock ("Rockin' In The Free World"), acoustic ballads ("The Ways Of Love", "Hangin' On A Limb"), and a mixture of the two ("No More"). A rework of "On Broadway" is also here, but Young has reworked it to fit his own style. One of the other highpoints is a gorgeous ballad with the Bluenotes ("Someday"). Because the album opens with an acoustic version of "Rockin' In The Free World", and closes with an anthemic hard-rock version of the same song, people will probably compare Freedom to his 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps. The comparison is fair, but this album is not "Rust Never Sleeps II", it's something new. Superb.
6) Pete Townshend - The Iron Man
With The Who, Pete Townshend wrote two classic "rock operas", Tommy in 1969 and Quadrophenia in 1973. The Iron Man is a collection of twelve songs from his first musical, based on Ted Hughes' children story of the same name. Pete sings the lead character, Hogarth, a child who first betrays then later helps the Iron Man. Other notable guests are Roger Daltrey as Hogarth's father and John Lee Hooker as the Iron Man. Daltrey's two tracks, credited to The Who (John Entwistle plays bass on both tracks), show his voice in fine form, but John Lee Hooker steals the show on "I Eat Heavy Metal". The Iron Man is not Townshend's best work, but it is his most adventurous work since Quadrophenia, and well worth attention.
5) Tom Petty - Full Moon Fever
This time around, Tom Petty goes it "solo, but not alone" (as the jacket says). Backed by Heartbreaker lead guitarist Mike Campbell, E.L.O. leader Jeff Lynne on bass, and Wilburys drummer Jim Keltner, Petty's come up with a loose album that has some of his best songwriting in years. The opening track "Free Fallin'" is as good as any he's written, and the driving "Runnin' Down A Dream" is a return to the borderline hard rock of the "Long After Dark" album. Thrown in is a faithful Byrds cover ("I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better"), a great single ("I Won't Back Down"), and a terrific ballad ("A Face In The Crowd").
4) 10,000 Maniacs - Blind Man's Zoo
Blind Man's Zoo is 10,000 Maniacs' third major-label album, and they just keep getting better and better. The music is in the same vein as before, Natalie Merchant's voice is as strong as ever, but Merchant's lyrics are still the standout. She takes on teenage pregnancy ("Eat For Two"), the Love Canal incident ("Poison In The Well"), the exploitation of religion ("Jubilee"), war ("Please Forgive Us", "The Big Parade"), and tops it all off with a beautiful ballad about friendship ("Trouble Me"). Sit down with the lyric sheet, and take in the whole album at once. Absolutely wonderful.
3) XTC - Oranges & Lemons
It's been over two years since 1986's Skylarking, but it was worth the wait. Oranges & Lemons, XTC's second two-record set, is similar in many ways to their first double-LP, English Settlement. On both, XTC changes styles with almost every song, yet the album remains cohesive. As is typical, three of the tracks on here would make wonderful radio tracks ("The Mayor Of Simpleton", "King For A Day", and "The Loving") but you'll probably only ever hear them on college radio. Songwriters Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding are up to their usual standard of literate, intelligent lyrics coupled with irresitible, if quirky, hooks. Other highlights include wonderful comments on bigotry ("Across This Antheap"), politics ("Here Comes President Kill Again"), the famous ("Merely A Man"), and families ("Hold Me My Daddy", "Pink Thing", and "Chalkhills And Children"). If Geffen Records decide to make a serious effort, this record may finally break XTC to an American audience. They merit the attention. With each release, XTC continues to reinforce that pop music doesn't need to be shallow fluff.
2) Lou Reed - New York
In 1984, Reed released New Sensations, arguably the best work of his career. In 1986, he released Mistrial, a daring album that took lots of chances and didn't always succeed. In 1989, Reed has gone back to basics. He's back to the sound that worked so well on The Blue Mask and Legendary Hearts. On New York, Reed pushes the "2 guitars, bass, drums" sound as far as it will go, trying various styles along the way. He flirts with heavy punk ("There Is No Time"), blues ("Beginning Of A Great Adventure"), ballads ("Last Great American Whale", "Xmas In February"), along with straight rock & roll ("Romeo Had Juliette", "Dirty Blvd."). The LP ends on an unusual song, "Dime Store Mystery", dedicated to Andy Warhol and featuring ex-Velvet Underground drummer Maureen Tucker. The lyrics are, without question, Reed's best ever. On each track, Reed lashes out at the problems of society with witty, pointed, thoughtful lyrics. New York is Reed's finest moment yet. Very highly recommended.
1) Bob Mould - Workbook
With Hüsker Dü, Bob Mould wrote terrific pop/rock songs and encased them in a buzz-saw guitar blitz that was often difficult to listen through. On his first solo album, the guitar overload is gone, but the songs are still there. The album opens with a classical guitar piece ("Sunspots"), and segues directly into "Wishing Well", a hybrid of acoustic folk and near punk power. Throughout the album, "Workbook" varies from near-Hüskers power (without the muddle) to more delicate tracks that show off Mould's songwriting. The sound is more accessible than Hüsker Dü's, but the album is hardly top-forty fodder. Mould, on electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and keyboards is backed nicely by bassist, drummer, and, believe it or not, a cellist. On the whole, I don't know if the core Hüsker Dü fans are going to like Workbook, but Bob Mould has a solid future ahead of him. This is a brilliant album. Workbook may have laid the groundwork for a 90's sound.
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