Big Star - #1 Record / Radio City
A rerelease of Big Star's two classic albums from '72 and '74. In the midst of the excesses of 70's rock, Big Star played straight, catchy, Beatles-inspired pop songs. Yet another of the "Influenced-everybody-but-sold-zero" records.
The Bonzo Dog Band - Cornology
The Bonzos are hard to describe. They wander between vaudeville, rock & roll, and stand-up comedy. Whatever the hell it was, it was brilliant. Cornology is a 3-CD set that has all five of the Bonzos albums, plus most of their non-LP singles, plus solo tracks from Vivian Stanshall, Neil Innes and Roger Ruskin Spear. The Bonzos recorded everything from pure pop and rock to Roaring Twenties style music to stand-up monologues set to music to Elvis parodies to and recorded it all with a wonderful sense of the absurd. If you love music and love British comedy, you really should check out the Bonzos. You won't be disappointed.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Black Moon
Hmmm. ELP has reformed and put out an album. Lemme guess, there's an adaptation of a classical piece? Yep, "Romeo And Juliet". A solo piano piece from Emerson? Yep, "Close To Home". Symphonic pop songs? Right again, "Burning Bridges" and "Farewell To Arms" will qualify. How about an warp-speed Hammond organ solo? "Paper Blood" has got one.
Sounds like a pan, doesn't it. OK, it's got all the ELP clichés, but strangely enough, they're doing it with decent material. Black Moon is not ELP's best work, but hey, ELP needed ONE good review in the 90's.
Peter Gabriel - Us
The two Peter Gabriel albums preceding Us could not have more different. So was a commercial breakthough, full of accessible songs that flooded the airwaves. Passion was his heavily middle-eastern flavored, all-instrumental soundtrack to The Last Temptation Of Christ, which was largely ignored. Us tries to combine the two, but doesn't always succeed. "Come Talk To Me" is a haunting ballad, and "Digging In The Dirt" and "Steam" are catchy, but overwhelmed by all the world-music touches.
Jefferson Airplane - Jefferson Airplane Loves You
A magnificent 3-CD box that covers the hits, and adds rarities. Lots of rarities, the highlight being the original 11-minute version of The Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil. There's a significant chunk of a 1967 concert on here, there's a Marty Balin pre-Airplane single, and very different quad mixes of four songs from Volunteers. A must have for a fan, and a good overview for a newcomer.
Lou Reed - Between Thought And Expression
Between Thought And Expression (another 3-CD box) is a terrific overview of a big part of Reed's career. It picks up with songs from his first post-Velvets solo album, and stops at Mistrial, his last solo album for RCA. For good measure, a 92-second sample of the infamous Metal Machine Music is included, along Reed's best work.
Andy M. Stewart And Manus Lunny - At It Again
At It Again is a wonderful album, full of original and traditional Celtic music. The highlights are "Monday Morning", a sarcastic look at unemployment, "My Heart Belongs To She", a beautiful ballad, and the humorous title track. At It Again would have easily made my top ten, if not for it being recorded in 1990. If you like Celtic music, this is an essential album. If not, this album may just convert you.
10) 10,000 Maniacs - Our Time In Eden
Another fine album from the Maniacs, but not as good as their prior four. Natalie Merchant's lyrics are still excellent, but the band seems to lack some of the clarity they had before.
9) Tom Waits - Bone Machine
Bone Machine may be the least accessible album Waits has ever recorded, but it's an excellent record, and well worth the work. Working off the title, the album is full of loud, banging percussion and sparse arrangements. Hard to listen to at first, but worth it in the end.
8) John Lee Hooker - Boom Boom
Hooker's third comeback album, and a tremendous one at that. This album has got everything Hooker does well. There's four tracks with just Hooker, his guitar, and his foot stomping out the rhythm along with some powerful boogie numbers (like "Boogie At Russian Hill"). The backing musicians play up a storm behind him. The man is over 70 years old, and he's recording some of the most vibrant music today. Check it out.
7) Adrian Belew - Inner Revolution
Since the breakup of The Bears in the late '80s, Belew has recorded three solo albums in which he is the only musician. The first two were very good, but Inner Revolution is by far his best solo album. It's not as unusual as his three pre-Bears albums, but Belew has balanced his songwriting and his taste for unusual sounds into a solid whole. A shame almost no-one will hear it.
6) Cracker - Cracker
Cracker (boy what an awful name), is the new band of former Camper Van Beethoven leader David Lowery. Cracker combines great rock & roll with a little folk and a stinging sense of humor. "Teen Angst" is a driving, punky song whose lyrics stab right at the stereotypical teen angst type of songs. "Mr. Wrong" has some of the worst pickup lines imaginable, and on "I See The Light", Lowery wonders if the light at the end of the tunnel is a train. Trememndous stuff. However, please don't doom them the Best New Artist Grammy. I'd like to see them survive to make more albums.
5) R.E.M. - Automatic For The People
R.E.M. takes even more chances, and still manages to keep their identity. Automatic For The People is a very moody, dark album, with a conspicuous lack of hit single material like "Shiny Happy People" or "Losing My Religion". Highlights include a piano/vocal piece ("Nightswimming"), which is easily the prettiest song they've ever recorded, the political "Ignoreland", the haunting "Try Not To Breathe", and "Man On The Moon", which somehow works in references to Risk, Twister, Andy Kaufman and Elvis.
4) Sugar - Copper Blue
After two solo albums, Bob Mould returns to the power trio format by creating a new band, Sugar. Copper Blue kicks off with a roar ("The Act We Act"), and proceeds to deliver 10 powerful and catchy pop songs, played with post-punk power. A real highlight is a change of pace for Mould. "If I Can't Change Your Mind" is "blasted" out on acoustic guitar, backed by drums and bass. The comparison is inevitable, so I'll make it: Mould has basically recreated Hüsker Dü's roar with Mould's new cleaner solo album sound.
3) XTC - Nonsuch
In their seemingly eternal quest for the perfect pop song, XTC have come up with another gem, "The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead", which kicks off Nonsuch in fine form. As usual, XTC delivers intelligent, quirky pop songs with clever lyrics, catchy melodies and a sense of humor. The songs' lyrics range from pointed ("Books Are Burning", "War Dance") to poignant ("Rook") to cute ("Holly Up On Poppy", about Andy Partridge's daughter on her rocking horse), to a clever breakup song ("Dear Madam Barnum").
2) Lou Reed - Magic And Loss
Two close friends of Reed's, songwriter Doc Pomus and Rita (presumably "Rotten Rita") died in consecutive Aprils of cancer. Magic and Loss is a song cycle about their losses, dealing with grief, and cancer itself. The lyrics cover the dangers in the radiation treatments used in "Sword Of Damocles" ("To cure you they must kill you / the Sword of Damocles hangs above your head") and "Power And Glory" ("The same power that burned Hiroshima causing three-legged babies and death / Shrunk to the size of a nickel to help him regain his breath"). Reed's goodbye is mentioned in "Goodby Mass", "Cremation" and "No Chance". The patient's rage at the disease is represented by the powerful "Warrior King". Reed balances the downbeat with a sense of hope in the final title track, and some subtle humor at the beginning ("What's Good"). Somehow, Reed has taken a very difficult topic and created some genuinely moving music.
1) Roger Waters - Amused To Death
Amused To Death is a return to the format Waters used on the Floyd classic The Final Cut. There is no story line here, the songs are more loosely connected around a gorilla (presumably humanity) watching TV. The highlights are "What God Wants, Part I", a rail against the fact that when a war starts up, both sides claim God is on "their" side, "The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range", about officers who order men into battle from a safe distance, "Watching TV", a song to an imaginary lover who dies in the Tiananmen Square fighting, and the closing title track which talks of future archeologists who discover that our race "amused itself to death". Bleak but undeniably powerful, backed by the best music Waters has written since he left Pink Floyd, Waters has delivered an album that holds up with his best work in the Floyd.
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