Friday, 18 January 2013

I review all the latest albums

When I went crazy the other day, it wasn't just limited to reading and writing lists all day. I also decided it was time to fill some gaps in my ears and buy some of the albums that always populate the greatest ever made lists. I bought seven in all, five on CD and two as MP3 downloads, all from amazon.co.uk. The day after, HMV went into administration, so now you all know who to blame for that. I hadn't bought a CD for about five years before that. It reminded me of the 1990s. Which was horrible.

Here is what I thought of them with my brain. (And before you start typing any "YOU'VE NEVER HEARD THAT??!!" comments, I would make sure you've also heard all the albums that I have as well or else you will get served in kind. Plus, as an additional retribution I will tell your mother how much you drink. I have this power.)

A Love Supreme - John Coltrane

I have owned and enjoyed a number of Miles Davis records for years. Some of them have John Coltrane playing on them. So what was the reason for me avoiding this album, which is widely praised as being one of the very best jazz records ever made? Well, mainly it is because the majority of writers talk about it as being a moving spiritual quest. I don't get that: how can a tooty parpy horn record be redolent with spiritual yearning? Well, the fact is, it can't. It's a prime example to me that the majority of music reviewers spend half their life with ballbags resting on their chin and the other half reading Pseud's Corner in Private Eye and thinking, "well, that shouldn't be in there". Like a lot of jazz albums, I didn't find A Love Supreme immediately accessible but there was definitely enough in it for me to persevere and give it some more listens. I have a feeling that this is one of those records that would benefit hugely from me sitting down and concentrating on it, rather than having it as background noise.

WOULD I LISTEN TO ANOTHER JOHN COLTRANE RECORD? Probably not, but who knows.
OBLIGATORY RECORD REVIEW SCORE OUT OF FIVE: 4

Blue - Joni Mitchell

There's absolutely no good reason that I shouldn't have heard this record before. I have countless albums of a very similar theme and style and many of them are albums that I would always list in my favourites. I can only assume that the fear of a new artist, a new voice, is what put me off. Also, Joni Mitchell is too thin. I figure that people who are that thin can not possibly have any soul. I am happy to be able to report that I was wrong about the latter. Blue is a superb record, superb enough indeed to be able to start one of its songs "Born with the moon in Cancer..." and not have me hurl it out the window in disgust.

WOULD I LISTEN TO ANOTHER JONI MITCHELL RECORD? Almost certainly.
OBLIGATORY RECORD REVIEW SCORE OUT OF FIVE: 5

Graceland - Paul Simon

Oh boy. I've avoided this record for nearly thirty years. Firstly because everyone raves about it and I always assume that the more people think something, the more likely they are to all be wrong and idiots. Secondly because it was fĂȘted upon its release as being mature and grown-up music. I hate that. Being a grown-up sucks anus. The only possible way you can do anything enjoyable as a grown up is to cut loose and be a reckless, irresponsible child again. This applies in all areas of human endeavour but none more so than in music. No good can come from music for grown-ups. If you still need proof of the fact, listen to everything Fergal Sharkey ever recorded in chronological order. Listening to "Grown-Up Music" leaves you one step away from being sat at a fucking dinner party with fucking Rodney and Cassandra Trotter, your jacket sleeves rolled up, drinking fucking chardonnay and listening to the new fucking Paul Simon in thoughtful fucking silence. Perhaps with your eyes closed, absent-mindedly clicking your fingers in that dreadful way white people do when they're trying to feel anything, anything at all. And once you're there, you're but a step away from Walking In fucking, shitting, cunting Memphis by Marc Cohn. Third and finally, two words: world music.

Well, I was completely wrong. On all three points. Graceland is joyful, brilliant and divine. I can't remember the last time an album had such an immediate emotional reaction on me. It was almost like a spiritual awakening. I still assume that everyone else is wrong and an idiot but now I am going to leave ±5% wiggle room.

WOULD I LISTEN TO ANOTHER PAUL SIMON RECORD? Definitely.
OBLIGATORY RECORD REVIEW SCORE OUT OF FIVE: 5.

It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back - Public Enemy

Hip-hop and rap passed me by a little bit because I was too young to properly enjoy its golden age in the late 1980s. Quite why it has taken me so long to get into it is anyone's guess. I wrote my university dissertation on the subject of punk, and yet I haven't listened to a Public Enemy record until I'm almost 33? It doesn't make an awful lot of sense. The thing about being 8 in 1988 (It Takes A Nation Of Millions... was in fact released on my eighth birthday) is that you absorbed a lot of the music from that year - hip-hop, house and rave - without ever really understanding its significance. Now when I hear it, it is a seriously potent force: familiar enough to be immediately engaging plus with all kinds of extra depth I missed when I was in short trousers. I'll leave you with that mental image for a while. I really enjoyed this album. It is dense with both musical and lyrical content and it rocks harder than 99 percent of the guitar-bass-drums acts of its era ever did. The only reservation I have comes from some reading I did afterwards: Chuck D aimed to make this album as much of an update on the situation on the ground as What's Going On by Marvin Gaye was in the 1970s. In some ways it succeeds. But rap and solipsism are seemingly indivisible, so this lofty aim could only have been truly achieved if Marvin Gaye had spent half of Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) namechecking the members of his band and then calling The Temptations whack.

WOULD I LISTEN TO ANOTHER PUBLIC ENEMY RECORD? Yes.
OBLIGATORY RECORD REVIEW SCORE OUT OF FIVE: 5

Nevermind - Nirvana

Another example of right record, wrong time. This was Nirvana's breakthrough record, released in late 1991. I was eleven years old and frankly, a lot of the angst of Nirvana's singles passed me by. Which is not to say that was the case for everyone my age. The majority of my year at my new secondary school went Nirvana daffy. Existential crises abounded and my innate fear of what everyone likes kicked in. By the time Kurt Cobain shot himself up the head in 1994, my suspiciousness was set firmly in stone: there's no greater move for a rock 'n' rocker, artistically or commercially, than to die. And so all the veneration heaped on Cobain and Nirvana was filed under B for Bumpf. However, Nevermind is actually a really very enjoyable album. Looking past all the historical background and just listening to it as a load of songs one after the other, it is very difficult to deny that Nirvana knew what they were up to in terms of their understanding of what makes an enduring rock song.

WOULD I LISTEN TO ANOTHER NIRVANA RECORD? Maybe.
OBLIGATORY RECORD REVIEW SCORE OUT OF FIVE: 4

Thriller - Michael Jackson

OK, so it's the biggest selling record of all time. And admittedly, because of the Michael Jackson effect I had already heard almost half of its nine tracks.  But I'd not sat down and listened to a whole Michael Jackson album since Bad in the late 1980s or early 1990s. And since then, listening to a Michael Jackson record may have been seen as tacit consent to the acceptability of... certain practices. So I put it off. Until now. But I should stress that I am still not supportive of any such... certain practices. OK?

Thriller was the last album that Michael Jackson made before he became the biggest music star since Elvis and became the craziest, most unhinged music star since Elvis. Indeed, it was the disposable income that the monumental sales of this record gave him that really helped him push on to enjoy a number of eccentricities and... practices which became the mainstay of the rest of his life. And you can hear it, hear the unaffected innocence. Where some of his later work was wrought with accusations of being overblown and out of touch, Thriller seems remarkably fresh and light. Few albums, too, can boast three songs of the quality of Thriller, Beat It and Billie Jean, let alone to have them run consecutively. But it's not without its shortcomings. The fundamental problem as I see it is the orchestration. The synthesiser reigns supreme, to the point that it starts to become overwhelming. If someone anywhere along the line had suggested that Thriller would sound better if recorded with a live band, I really feel the end product would be completely beyond reproach. As things stand, though, it feels a bit like you're listening to a good karaoke rendition of the best album in the world.

WOULD I LISTEN TO ANOTHER MICHAEL JACKSON RECORD? Yes, but I think I'd want to go earlier rather than later.
OBLIGATORY RECORD REVIEW SCORE OUT OF FIVE: 4 (but for the lack of any real instruments, it would be a comfortable 5)

Who's Next - The Who

Of all the acts whose BRAND NEW RELEASES I've been listening to this week, The Who are the one I have the most previous experience of. I own both Tommy and Quadrophenia and have done for nearly half of my life. And I enjoy both of those albums, particularly Tommy, which I think is excellent. But they also always made me feel a bit thick, because I knew they were concept albums and therefore were dense with plot and wider points about the human condition, but I just wanted to enjoy them because they had good songs that I liked on. So I thought Who's Next would come as something of a relief and fill a void in my life. A Who-shaped void. But I was disappointed, frankly. The first and last tracks on Who's Next are, of course, monumental rock classics and completely beyond reproach. But the seven songs in between are just so much fluff to my ears. Unsubstantial, where the album tracks on Tommy and Quadrophenia are compelling and exciting. Maybe The Who benefit from having a conceptual framework to write around?

WOULD I LISTEN TO ANOTHER WHO RECORD? Not one I haven't already heard.
OBLIGATORY RECORD REVIEW SCORE OUT OF FIVE: 3

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