Oh no, not AGAIN!

TOP TEN RELEASES FOR 1991


First, the Honorable Mention, in alphabetical order by artist ...

Henry Kaiser - Hope You Like Our New Direction

One of the most diverse recordings I've ever heard. Some of the material is catchy and accessible, some is exotic, some is just plain strange. Kaiser and freinds (including Richard Thompson) cover turf from reworks of Buddy Holly ("Love's Made A Fool Of You"), David Essex ("Rock On"), The Mamas and The Papas ("California Dreamin'") and Captain Beefheart ("Japan In A Dishpan") to Hawaiian gospel ("Kanaka Wai Wai") to Vietnamese and Arabic traditional music to avant-garde experimentation to dust-bowl blues. Kaiser's guitar work throughout is absolutely impeccable. If you're looking for something new, give this album a try.

Shadowy Men On A Shawdowy Planet - Dim The Lights, Chill The Ham

Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet are a local Toronto band, probably best known as the band who plays the theme and background music for the cable series The Kids In The Hall. Dim The Lights is a great collection of short guitar-based instrumentals that fall somewhere between pop, surf-music and Duane Eddy-style instrumentals. A fun album.

Sunday All Over The World - Kneeling At The Shrine

Seven years after dissolving King Crimson, Robert Fripp forms a new band very reminiscent of the 80's edition of Crimson. This time out, his wife Toyah Willcox songs lead vocals, and two former members of Fripp's "Guitar Craft" class play stick and drums. The sound is hypnotic and the playing is precise. Toyah's vocals sound a little out-of-place, but somehow the whole package works.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse -
Weld
Arc
Weld is a live CD taken from last year's Ragged Glory tour. Young and Crazy Horse blast out sixteen numbers in a little more than two hours. He hits material from Ragged Glory plus his back catalog. The best two numbers here are a blistering version of "Crime In The City", and an overload version of Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind". Arc is a 35-minute "Compilation Composition" by Young. Basically, Neil edited together bits from the feedback-laden fade outs of various songs from the tour into a single piece. It works out as a kind of aggressive background music, if that makes sense. I never count live albums or "best-of"'s in my top ten, but if I did, Weld would have scored very high.

Frank Zappa -
The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life
Make A Jazz Noise Here
You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore - Volume 4
Beat The Boots!
Amazing. Frank releases nothing at all in 1990, then in a span of two months releases three double-CDs (about 7 hours total) of previously unreleased live material and a ten-record (9 CDs) set of bootleg recordings. The Best Band and Jazz Noise are both from his 1988 Broadway The Hard Way tour, arguably his best tour ever. Together with the Broadway The Hard Way single-CD, FZ's come up with 5 CDs (over 5 1/2 hours of material) with no repeated tracks. YCDTOSA4 is the fourth installment in a planned 6-CD series of double CDs of previously unreleased live tracks. Volume 4 contains the original version of "The Torture Never Stops" with Captain Beefheart on lead vocal, a wonderful Doors parody "Tiny Sick Tears", and a healthy sampling of Zappa's versions of 50's doo-wop songs. Beat The Boots! is more a statement than anything else. Zappa had an associate buy eight bootleg albums and copy them, right down to the artwork. The sound was not improved on any of them. The statement being "If you want crap, now you can buy authorized crap". As of this writing, Zappa was fighting prostate cancer. Let's hope he pulls through.

THE TOP TEN FOR 1991

(Presented in reverse order because we always do it that way.)

10) U2 - Achtung Baby

U2's taken a lot of chances here. The songs are a mix of their Joshua Tree-era sound and a more adventurous sound. The new sound works, but the songs overall aren't as good as U2's best. Overall, Achtung Baby is better than most out there, but it isn't as good as it might have been.

9) Graham Parker - Struck By Lightning

Graham's best album in years. Struck By Lightning has a casual, almost folky feel, and the songs show off what a great songwriter Parker can be.

8) Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Into The Great Wide Open

After a four-year break (filled with his solo album and two Traveling Wilburys albums) Petty finally does another album with The Heartbreakers. The break must have breathed new life because Petty and The Heartbreakers sound fantastic. One of Petty's better efforts.

7) Robyn Hitchcock And The Egyptians - Perspex Island

Robyn's least weird album ever, but still a good one. Perspex Island hasn't got Robyn's sense of the absurd, but it's still a great album. "So You Think You're In Love" is a wonderfully catchy single and "She Doesn't Exist" is one of the prettiest songs he's ever written. The songs are excellent throughout.

6) Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble - The Sky Is Crying

Stevie's brother Jimmie went through the vaults and found these ten finished but unreleased cuts. The majority are covers of old blues numbers that show what a solid blues player Vaughan was. His guitar work on a instrumental version of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" rivals his best ever. The best cut may be the closer, an acoustic blues called "Life By The Drop" that seems to sum up everything. This album just reinforces what a loss Stevie's death was.

5) The Mock Turtles - Turtle Soup

The Mock Turtles get my vote for best new band. This album was released in the UK in 1990, but it took till this summer for the US to get it. What a shame. This album is loaded with would-be hits, especially "Can You Dig It?" and "And Then She Smiled". Highly recommended.

4) Big Country - No Place Like Home

No Place Like Home is a real departure for Big Country, but the songs are terrific, and the album is one of their very best. They've thrown in slide guitar (on "Republican Party Reptile"), barrelhouse piano (on "Beautiful People"), and a piano/vocal ballad ("Ships"). The "bagpipe" guitar sound is gone, but the politically charged songs are still there, and are the best things here. "We're Not In Kansas" uses "The Wizard of Oz" as a symbol for change, "Republican Party Reptile" is a stinging put-down of hypocritical conservatives and "The Hostage Speaks" couldn't have been better timed. "No Place Like Home" may be Big Country's best album since their '83 debut.

3) R.E.M. - Out Of Time

R.E.M. has been getting more and more adventurous with each release, and it still works. Out Of Time is their most eclectic album yet, and it holds up nicely with their best work. This time out, Peter Buck plays more mandolin than lead guitar, and bassist Mike Mills plays lots of keyboard. They've thrown in a string section on several cuts, plus a guest rap from KRS-1 on "Radio Song". "Losing My Religion" (which by the way is a slang phrase for being at the end of one's tether) is a gorgeous, stirring song, and one of the best they've ever done. "Shiny Happy People" is a catchy pop song, and "Country Feedback" is a dramatic, feedback-laden ballad. "Belong" is a moody melody overcut with a Walkman (tm) tape of lead singer Michael Stipe reading some original prose. I don't know how, but R.E.M. keeps changing themselves, yet each time it still works.

2) Teenage Fanclub - Bandwagonesque

Somehow, Teenage Fanclub successfully mixes pure pop harmonies and pure pop songs with Hüsker Dü-style guitar power. Bandwagonesque is an exhilirating album, catchy and powerful all at the same time. The guitars are *LOUD* all the way through, but they somehow work in strings and acoustic guitars to make some of the slower songs ("December", "Guiding Star") work as ballads to offset the blazing power of rockers like "Star Sign" and "I Don't Know". The lead track ("The Concept") shows off the whole style, and is one of the best songs I've heard all year. Put a tape of Bandwagonesque on in the car, get on an interstate, floor it, turn the volume WAY UP and sing along. An incredible album.

1) Richard Thompson - Rumor And Sigh

Rumor and Sigh is a wonderful collection of songs that show off Thompson's voice, guitar work, songwriting and senses of humor and drama. The album opens with a rocker ("Read About Love") about a young man who lears about love from Cosmo, Seventeen, Hustler and a book written by a doctor with a German name. Other highlights are a bouncy song about a convict rejoicing in the damage he'll do on his first day out ("I Feel So Good"), a chilling song about a man who's wife undergoes electo-shock therapy ("Grey Walls"), a powerful put-down of Margaret Thatcher ("Mother Knows Best"), a wistful ballad sung by a drunk ("God Loves A Drunk"), and a parody of cute little sit-com neighborhoods ("Psycho Street". Best of all is the acoustic ballad "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" about a love affair between a "dangerous man" and the two loves of his life, a Vincent motorcycle and a red-headed girl. A stunning and essential album, and possibly the best of Thompson's career.


Owen Gwilliam

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