para-para-parrotdies Posted August 25, 2013 Author Share Posted August 25, 2013 1989: 10. Lou Reed – New York New York City figured so prominently in Lou Reed's music for so long that it's surprising it took him until 1989 to make an album simply called New York, a set of 14 scenes and sketches that represents the strongest, best-realized set of songs of Reed's solo career. While Reed's 1982 comeback, The Blue Mask, sometimes found him reaching for effects, New York's accumulated details and deft caricatures hit bull's-eye after bull's-eye for 57 minutes, and do so with an easy stride and striking lyrical facility.New York also found Reed writing about the larger world rather than personal concerns for a change, and in the beautiful, decaying heart of New York City, he found plenty to talk about -- the devastating impact of AIDS in "Halloween Parade," the vicious circle of child abuse "Endless Cycle," the plight of the homeless in "Xmas in February" -- and even on the songs where he pointedly mounts a soapbox, Reeddoes so with an intelligence and smart-assed wit that makes him sound opinionated rather than preachy -- like a New Yorker. And when Reed does look into his own life, it's with humor and perception; "Beginning of a Great Adventure" is a hilarious meditation on the possibilities of parenthood, and "Dime Store Mystery" is a moving elegy to his former patron Andy Warhol. Reed also unveiled a new band on this set, and while guitarist Mike Rathke didn't challenge Reed the way Robert Quine did, Reed wasn't needing much prodding to play at the peak of his form, and Ron Wasserman proved Reed's superb taste in bass players had not failed him. Produced with subtle intelligence and a minimum of flash, New York is a masterpiece of literate, adult rock & roll, and the finest album of Reed's solo career. 9. Spaceman 3 – Playing With Fire Appropriately preceded by the mind-melting crunch of the "Revolution" single, Playing with Fire proved to be the end of Spacemen 3 as a functioning band, but in truly spectacular fashion. Exploring both the depths of serene, agog beauty and sheer tape-shredding chaos, Playing with Fire pushed the extremes of The Perfect Prescription to an even further edge. It's little surprise that Pierce and Sonic couldn't find themselves properly working together after it, but even less that hordes of bands to follow would rank Playing with Fire as the equal (or better) of psychedelia's '60s/'70s forebears. Sonic himself is quoted in one reissue's liner notes as feeling the album "was the refining point of a lot of my theories on minimalism being maximalism" -- as apt a description as any. One of his songs, "How Does It Feel?," sums it up by using a series of notes echoing off into the distance, again and again. With future Spiritualized bassist Will Carruthers in place of Bain, the trio (and uncredited drummer) created glazed, liquid songs with subtle arrangements and sheer reveling in aural joys. Flange is everywhere, as is echo, full dynamic stereo mixes and more, a feast of sound. When aiming toward a gentler, hushed sound, most notably on Pierce's compositions, the incorporation of gospel power filtered through the band's own perspective results in wonders, as heard on "Come Down Softly to My Soul" and the album closing "Lord Can You Hear Me?" As for the louder end of things, besides the awesome "Revolution" itself, a slow burn blast that just keeps getting more and more obsessive and frenetic as it goes, Sonic calling for a release of energy in a mere five seconds, the other complete freakout is "Suicide." An instrumental tribute to the New York synth pioneers, Spacemen 3 keep the minimalism and up the feedback with astonishing results. 8. New Order – Technique Tastes and sounds were changing quickly in the late '80s, which prompted New Order's most startling transformation yet -- from moody dance-rockers to, well, moody acid-house mavens. After the band booked a studio on the island hotspot of Ibiza, apparently not knowing that it was the center of the burgeoning house music craze, New Order's sure instincts for blending rock and contemporary dance resulted in another confident, superb LP. Technique was the group's most striking production job, with the single "Fine Time" proving a close runner-up to "Blue Monday" as the most extroverted dance track in the band's catalog. Opening the record, it was a portrait of a group unrecognizable from its origins, delivering lascivious and extroverted come-ons amid pounding beats. It appeared that dance had fully taken over from rock, with the guitars and bass only brought in for a quick solo or bridge. But while pure dance was the case for the singles "Fine Time" and "Round & Round," elsewhere New Order were still delivering some of the best alternative pop around, plaintive and affecting songs like "Run" (the third single), "Love Less," and "Dream Attack." Placed in the perfect position to deliver the definitive alternative take on house music, the band produced another classic record. 7. Steve Reich – Different Trains/Electric Counterpoint This late-'80s work finds the minimalist composer mixing acoustic and taped material to great effect. The disc's centerpiece is "Different Trains," a work that frames Reich's impressions of his boyhood train trips between his mother in Los Angeles and his father in New York; Reich also intersperses references to the much more harrowing train rides Jews were forced to take to Nazi concentration camps. Using the fine playing of the Kronos Quartet as a base, Reich layers the work with the taped train musings of his governess, a retired Pullman porter, and various Holocaust survivors -- vintage train sounds from the '30s and '40s add to the riveting arrangement. And for some nice contrast, Reich recruits guitarist Pat Metheny to create a similarly momentous piece in "Electric Counterpoint" (Metheny plays live over a multi-tracked tape of ten guitars and two electric basses). Two fine works by Reich in his prime. 6. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses Since the Stone Roses were the nominal leaders of Britain's "Madchester" scene -- an indie rock phenomenon that fused guitar pop with drug-fueled rave and dance culture -- it's rather ironic that their eponymous debut only hints at dance music. What made the Stone Roses important was how they welcomed dance and pop together, treating them as if they were the same beast. Equally important was the Roses' cool, detached arrogance, which was personified by Ian Brown's nonchalant vocals. Brown's effortless malevolence is brought to life with songs that equal both his sentiments and his voice -- "I Wanna Be Adored," with its creeping bassline and waves of cool guitar hooks, doesn't demand adoration, it just expects it. Similarly, Brown can claim "I Am the Resurrection" and lie back, as if there were no room for debate. But the key to The Stone Roses is John Squire's layers of simple, exceedingly catchy hooks and how the rhythm section of Reni and Mani always imply dance rhythms without overtly going into the disco. On "She Bangs the Drums" and "Elephant Stone," the hooks wind into the rhythm inseparably -- the '60s hooks and the rolling beats manage to convey the colorful, neo-psychedelic world of acid house. Squire's riffs are bright and catchy, recalling the British Invasion while suggesting the future with their phased, echoey effects. The Stone Roses was a two-fold revolution -- it brought dance music to an audience that was previously obsessed with droning guitars, while it revived the concept of classic pop songwriting, and the repercussions of its achievement could be heard throughout the '90s, even if the Stone Roses could never achieve this level of achievement again. 5. De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising The most inventive, assured, and playful debut in hip-hop history, 3 Feet High and Rising not only proved that rappers didn't have to talk about the streets to succeed, but also expanded the palette of sampling material with a kaleidoscope of sounds and references culled from pop, soul, disco, and even country music. Weaving clever wordplay and deft rhymes across two dozen tracks loosely organized around a game-show theme, De La Soul broke down boundaries all over the LP, moving easily from the groovy my-philosophy intro "The Magic Number" to an intelligent, caring inner-city vignette named "Ghetto Thang" to the freewheeling end-of-innocence tale "Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)." Rappers Posdnuos and Trugoy the Dove talked about anything they wanted (up to and including body odor), playing fast and loose on the mic like Biz Markie. Thinly disguised under a layer of humor, their lyrical themes ranged from true love ("Eye Know") to the destructive power of drugs ("Say No Go") to Daisy Age philosophy ("Tread Water") to sex ("Buddy"). Prince Paul (from Stetsasonic) and DJPasemaster Mase led the way on the production end, with dozens of samples from all sorts of left-field artists -- including Johnny Cash, the Mad Lads, Steely Dan, Public Enemy, Hall & Oates, and the Turtles. The pair didn't just use those samples as hooks or drumbreaks -- like most hip-hop producers had in the past -- but as split-second fills and in-jokes that made some tracks sound more like DJ records. Even "Potholes on My Lawn," which samples a mouth harp and yodeling (for the chorus, no less), became a big R&B hit. If it was easy to believe the revolution was here from listening to the rapping and production on Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, with De La Soul the Daisy Age seemed to promise a new era of positivity in hip-hop. 4. The Cure – Disintegration Expanding the latent arena rock sensibilities that peppered Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me by slowing them down and stretching them to the breaking point, the Cure reached the peak of their popularity with the crawling, darkly seductive Disintegration. It's a hypnotic, mesmerizing record, comprised almost entirely of epics like the soaring, icy "Pictures of You." The handful of pop songs, like the concise and utterly charming "Love Song," don't alleviate the doom-laden atmosphere. the Cure's gloomy soundscapes have rarely sounded so alluring, however, and the songs -- from the pulsating, ominous "Fascination Street" to the eerie, string-laced "Lullaby" -- have rarely been so well-constructed and memorable. It's fitting that Disintegration was their commercial breakthrough, since, in many ways, the album is the culmination of all the musical directions the Cure were pursuing over the course of the '80s. 3. Galaxie 500 – On Fire Having already made a fine account of themselves on Today, the three members of Galaxie 500 got even better with On Fire, recording another lovely classic of late '80s rock. As with all the band's work, Kramer once again handles the production, the perfect person to bring out Galaxie 500's particular approach. The combination of his continued use of reverb and the sudden, dramatic shifts in the music -- never exploding, just delivering enough of a change -- makes for fine results. Consider "Snowstorm," with Krukowski's soft-then-strong drums and Wareham's liquid solo and how they're placed in the mix, leading without dominating. Yang's vocals became more prominent and her bass work more quietly narcotic than before, while Krukowski adds more heft to his playing without running roughshod over everything, even at the band's loudest. Wareham in contrast more or less continues along, his glazed, haunting voice simply a joy to hear, while adding subtle touches in the arrangements -- acoustic guitar is often prominent -- to contrast his beautifully frazzled soloing. Leadoff track "Blue Thunder" is the most well-known song and deservedly so, another instance of the trio's ability to combine subtle uplift with blissed-out melancholia, building to an inspiring ending. There's more overt variety throughout On Fire, from the more direct loner-in-the-crowd sentiments and musical punch of "Strange" to the Yang-sung "Another Day," a chance for her to shine individually before Wareham joins in at the end. Again, a cover makes a nod to past inspirations, with George Harrison being the songwriter of choice; his "Isn't It a Pity" closes out the album wonderfully, Kramer adding vocals and "cheap organ." Inspired guest appearance -- Ralph Carney, Tom Waits' horn player of choice, adding some great tenor sax to the increasing volume and drive of "Decomposing Trees." 2. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique Such was the power of Licensed to Ill that everybody, from fans to critics, thought that not only couldthe Beastie Boys not top the record, but that they were destined to be a one-shot wonder. These feelings were only amplified by their messy, litigious departure from Def Jam and their flight from their beloved New York to Los Angeles, since it appeared that the Beasties had completely lost the plot. Many critics in fact thought that Paul's Boutique was a muddled mess upon its summer release in 1989, but that's the nature of the record -- it's so dense, it's bewildering at first, revealing its considerable charms with each play. To put it mildly, it's a considerable change from the hard rock of Licensed to Ill, shifting to layers of samples and beats so intertwined they move beyond psychedelic; it's a painting with sound. Paul's Boutique is a record that only could have been made in a specific time and place. Like the Rolling Stones in 1972, the Beastie Boys were in exile and pining for their home, so they made a love letter to downtown New York -- which they could not have done without the Dust Brothers, a Los Angeles-based production duo who helped redefine what sampling could be with this record. Sadly, after Paul's Boutique sampling on the level of what's heard here would disappear; due to a series of lawsuits, most notably Gilbert O'Sullivan's suit against Biz Markie, the entire enterprise too cost-prohibitive and risky to perform on such a grand scale. Which is really a shame, because if ever a record could be used as incontrovertible proof that sampling is its own art form, it's Paul's Boutique. Snatches of familiar music are scattered throughout the record -- anything from Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" and Sly Stone's "Loose Booty" to Loggins & Messina's "Your Mama Don't Dance" and the Ramones' "Suzy Is a Headbanger" -- but never once are they presented in lazy, predictable ways. the Dust Brothers and Beasties weave a crazy-quilt of samples, beats, loops, and tricks, which creates a hyper-surreal alternate reality -- a romanticized, funhouse reflection of New York where all pop music and culture exist on the same strata, feeding off each other, mocking each other, evolving into a wholly unique record, unlike anything that came before or after. It very well could be that its density is what alienated listeners and critics at the time; there is so much information in the music and words that it can seem impenetrable at first, but upon repeated spins it opens up slowly, assuredly, revealing more every listen. Musically, few hip-hop records have ever been so rich; it's not just the recontextulations of familiar music via samples, it's the flow of each song and the album as a whole, culminating in the widescreen suite that closes the record. Lyrically, the Beasties have never been better -- not just because their jokes are razor-sharp, but because they construct full-bodied narratives and evocative portraits of characters and places. Few pop records offer this much to savor, and if Paul's Boutique only made a modest impact upon its initial release, over time its influence could be heard through pop and rap, yet no matter how its influence was felt, it stands alone as a record of stunning vision, maturity, and accomplishment. Plus, it's a hell of a lot of fun, no matter how many times you've heard it. 1. Pixies – Doolittle After 1988's brilliant but abrasive Surfer Rosa, the Pixies' sound couldn't get much more extreme. Their Elektra debut, Doolittle, reins in the noise in favor of pop songcraft and accessibility. Producer Gil Norton's sonic sheen adds some polish, but Black Francis' tighter songwriting focuses the group's attack. Doolittle's most ferocious moments, like "Dead," a visceral retelling of David and Bathsheba's affair -- are more stylized than the group's past outbursts. Meanwhile, their poppy side surfaces on the irresistible single "Here Comes Your Man" and the sweetly surreal love song "La La Love You." The Pixies' arty, noisy weirdness mix with just enough hooks to produce gleefully demented singles like "Debaser," -- inspired by Bunuel's classic surrealist short Un Chien Andalou -- and "Wave of Mutilation," their surfy ode to driving a car into the sea. Though Doolittle's sound is cleaner and smoother than the Pixies' earlier albums, there are still plenty of weird, abrasive vignettes: the blankly psychotic "There Goes My Gun," "Crackity Jones," a song about a crazy roommate Francis had in Puerto Rico, and the nihilistic finale "Gouge Away." Meanwhile, "Tame," and "I Bleed" continue the Pixies' penchant for cryptic kink. But the album doesn't just refine the Pixies' sound; they also expand their range on the brooding, wannabe spaghetti western theme "Silver" and the strangely theatrical "Mr. Grieves." "Hey" and "Monkey Gone to Heaven," on the other hand, stretch Francis' lyrical horizons: "Monkey"'s elliptical environmentalism and "Hey"'s twisted longing are the Pixies' versions of message songs and romantic ballads. Their most accessible album, Doolittle's wide-ranging moods and sounds make it one of their most eclectic and ambitious. A fun, freaky alternative to most other late-'80s college rock, it's easy to see why the album made the Pixies into underground rock stars. Honorable Mentions: Camper Van Beethoven – Key Lime Pie Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart closed with Lowery singing about how "Life Is Grand" in pointed response to "those of you who have appointed yourselves to expect us to say something darker." So when Key Lime Pie came out, its moodier music and imagery, not to mention that soon after the fact the band fell apart on the tour for the album, led more than one person to think those darker times had finally arrived. As it is, the group had already gone through one major shake-up between the two albums -- founding member Segel had taken a powder to concentrate on other efforts, with Morgan Fichter brought in as a replacement violinist. Her abilities were certainly praiseworthy, as the album-starting instrumental "Opening Theme" shows quite well. However, it's definitely not the same band that did Telephone Free Landslide Victory a mere four years previous -- things are more straightforwardly rock here most of the time, perhaps not too surprising in light of Lowery's subsequent work in Cracker. As it is, though, it's excellently conceived rock, with space, moodiness, and more to spare. Consider "Jack Ruby," with its wordless backing vocals, tense rhythms, and thick soloing, or "Laundromat" and its steady but unnerving crunch. It's not all potential melancholia, though -- "June" in particular is an underrated number, celebrating the early summer with sweetness and love (at least up to the increasingly stranger ending). Lowery's singing is his best yet, perhaps a little less prone to wackiness but an emergent, distinct voice all the same, and certainly prone to sing a quirky lyric or two still. Julee Cruise – Floating Into the Night Hardcore David Lynch fans knew the album cut "Mysteries of Love" thanks to its appearance in the middle of Blue Velvet but otherwise, Julee Cruise and her singing abilities were total unknowns when Floating into the Night surfaced in 1989. When Twin Peaks took off, however, the album became more or less its unofficial soundtrack thanks to the instrumental adaptation of "Falling" that served as the theme song. Other cuts, like the haunting, moody "Into the Night," and "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart" turned up on the show as well; but as a beautiful, mysterious stand-alone effort, Floating is still that best of surprises, a left-field hit that loses nothing thanks to its fame. The combination of Cruise's sweet, light tones, Lynch's surprisingly affecting lyrics, which play just enough with clichés so as not to seem willfully ironic, and Angelo Badalamenti's combination of retro styles and modern ambience, is a winner throughout. The feeling is one of a '50s jukebox suddenly plunged into a time warp, dressed with extra sparkle and with a just-sleepy-enough, narcotic feeling. At its most upfront, the music can get downright raunchy -- check out the big band/sax blasts on the strutting tearjerker "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart," or the sudden orchestral blast three minutes into "Into the Night." Cruise herself has a wonderfully slow, burning passion that surfaces as well, such as in her whispers on "Floating." But mostly everything is just sedate enough, crystalline rockabilly guitar playing gentle riffs with a slow slinkiness, Cruise's multi-tracked backing vocals and more combining beautifully. "Falling" remains the most well-known number, and a winner it is, too; Badalamenti's synth orchestrations are so affecting that Moby ended up sampling them for "Go," kickstarting his own career. But songs like the just-spooky-enough "The World Spins," and "The Nightingale," with a great performance all around, ensure Floating's success as a through-and-through listen. Neil Young – Freedom Neil Young is famous for scrapping completed albums and substituting hastily recorded ones in radically different styles. Freedom, which was a major critical and commercial comeback after a decade that had confused reviewers and fans, seemed to be a selection of the best tracks from several different unissued Young projects. First and foremost was a hard rock album like the material heard on Young's recent EP, Eldorado (released only in the Far East), several of whose tracks were repeated on Freedom. On these songs -- especially "Don't Cry," which sounded like a song about divorce, and a cover of the old Drifters hit "On Broadway" that he concluded by raving about crack -- Young played distorted electric guitar over a rhythm section in an even more raucous fashion than that heard on his Crazy Horse records. Second was a follow-up to Young's previous album, This Note's for You, which had featured a six-piece horn section. They were back on "Crime in the City" and "Someday," though these lengthy songs, each of which contained a series of seemingly unrelated, mood-setting verses, were more reminiscent of songs like Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" than of the soul standards that inspired the earlier album. Third, there were tracks that harked back to acoustic-based, country-tinged albums like Harvest and Comes a Time, including "Hangin' on a Limb" and "The Ways of Love," two songs on which Young dueted with Linda Ronstadt. There was even a trunk (or, more precisely, a drunk) song, "Too Far Gone," which dated from Young's inebriated Stars 'n Bars period in the '70s. While one might argue that this variety meant few Young fans would be completely pleased with the album, what made it all work was that Young had once again written a great bunch of songs. The romantic numbers were carefully and sincerely written. The long imagistic songs were evocative without being obvious. And bookending the album were acoustic and electric versions of one of Young's great anthems, "Rockin' in the Free World," a song that went a long way toward restoring his political reputation (which had been badly damaged when he praised President Reagan's foreign policy) by taking on hopelessness with a sense of moral outrage and explicitly condemning President Bush's domestic policy. Freedom was the album Neil Young fans knew he was capable of making, but feared he would never make again. Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine Virtually ignored upon its 1989 release, Pretty Hate Machine gradually became a word-of-mouth cult favorite; despite frequent critical bashings, its stature and historical importance only grew in hindsight. In addition to its stealthy rise to prominence, part of the album's legend was that budding auteur Trent Reznor took advantage of his low-level job at a Cleveland studio to begin recording it. Reznor had a background in synth-pop, and the vast majority of Pretty Hate Machine was electronic. Synths voiced all the main riffs, driven by pounding drum machines; distorted guitars were an important textural element, but not the primary focus. Pretty Hate Machine was something unique in industrial music -- certainly no one else was attempting the balladry of "Something I Can Never Have," but the crucial difference was even simpler. Instead of numbing the listener with mechanical repetition, Pretty Hate Machine's bleak electronics were subordinate to catchy riffs and verse-chorus song structures, which was why it built such a rabid following with so little publicity. That innovation was the most important step in bringing industrial music to a wide audience, as proven by the frequency with which late-'90s alternative metal bands copied NIN's interwoven guitar/synth textures. It was a new soundtrack for adolescent angst -- noisily aggressive and coldly detached, tied together by a dominant personality. Reznor's tortured confusion and self-obsession gave industrial music a human voice, a point of connection. His lyrics were filled with betrayal, whether by lovers, society, or God; it was essentially the sound of childhood illusions shattering, and Reznor was not taking it lying down. Plus, the absolute dichotomies in his world -- there was either purity and perfection, or depravity and worthlessness -- made for smashing melodrama. Perhaps the greatest achievement of Pretty Hate Machine was that it brought emotional extravagance to a genre whose main theme had nearly always been dehumanization. The Wedding Present – Bizarro Two years on from their debut album, the Wedding Present delivered a proper sophomore effort, one quite distanced from the jangle punk days of 1987's George Best. Though David Gedge's obsession with the lovelorn had by no means disappeared, the band finally found a way to frame his lyrics properly, resulting in a darker album with more emotional weight where needed. "Brassneck," the Weddoes' first collaboration with engineer Steve Albini, became their biggest hit yet, peaking at Number 24 on the British charts. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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