Monday, July 07, 2008

A List Continues: 95-91

Honestly, this week and next week (and maybe even the week after that), we're still in the territory of Albums That Made the List at the Last Minute. I like them a lot -- they're on here for a reason -- but in a different mood, I might have chosen something else in their place. Also, at least four of the artists below (with the exception being the gentleman at #94) are on the list despite the fact that I like several bands and singers more who aren't on the list. I guess this is where I'll disclose that the Rolling Stones didn't make the cut. In addition to being more (much more) of a Beatles guy, the Stones to me are a collection of songs chosen from various albums. There are 15-20 Stones songs that I love, but they're scattered over the course of the band's 432-year career. So, with that in mind, here are a few selections from people with less (sometimes much, much less) stature than the Stones:

95. Peter Gabriel -- Us (1992)

So had the bigger hits -- “In Your Eyes,” “Sledgehammer,” “Big Time” -- but I prefer this follow-up. It was a long time coming, released six years after So, and it’s wildly uneven. If everything on here was as good as my three or four favorites, the album might be 50 spots higher. Then again, without one or two of those favorites, it wouldn’t even come close to being considered at all.

The review on Amazon complains that “the pop psychology of ‘Love to Be Loved’ and ‘Washing of the Water’ is overwrought.” But, come on. We’re talking about someone whose very best songs contain lyrics like “in your eyes / the light, the heat / in your eyes / I am complete.” Peter Gabriel traffics in overwrought pop psychology (just look at that cover image -- it has to be the goofiest on the list); some of it is just better than the rest. On “Come Talk to Me,” “Blood of Eden,” and “Secret World,” Gabriel walks right up to that overwrought line and straddles it, the result being that you shake your head at feeling so moved by songs trying so hard to move you.

94. Lyle Lovett -- Lyle Lovett (1986)

Lovett’s 1986 debut arrived complete with his trademark dry wit, reedy vocals, and musical catholicity. On “God Will,” he sings to a cheating lover that God will keep trusting her, loving her, and saying he wants her, but he won’t. (“God will / but I won’t / and that’s the difference / between God and me.”) “This Old Porch” (co-written with Robert Earl Keen) is certainly the best song that ever has -- or could -- include the lyric “this old porch is like a steamin’, greasy plate of enchiladas / with lots of cheese and onions and a guacamole salad.”

But it’s on the ballads “If I Were the Man You Wanted” and “Closing Time” that Lovett proves -- as he has time and again -- that beneath the clever, stoic, private persona is a large, attentive heart.

According to the collective wisdom at Wikipedia, Lyle Lovett was named “one of the top 100 albums of the 1980s by the Italian magazines Il Mucchio Selvaggio and Velvet.” I rest my case.

93. The Connells -- Ring (1993)

The standards I'm using here vary from album to album. The same way that Peter Gabriel benefited from a few standouts, The Connells benefit equally from an emphasis on consistency. There aren’t any songs among the 13 here that would make a list of my 300 favorite songs (with the possible exception of “New Boy”), but there isn’t a throwaway in the bunch. Sure, The Connells would probably like to be R.E.M. and end up closer to the Gin Blossoms, but you don’t get the sense that they’re underachieving. Just the opposite. None of the elements here are outstanding, but they add up. On two occasions -- “74-75” and “Spiral” -- the band (successfully) veers into ballad territory, but otherwise this is just mid-tempo, jangly rock, with lyrics that can be both funny and sad, as in, “If I disappointed you, I’m so sorry / You’re a disappointment, too.”

92. Band of Horses -- Cease to Begin (2007)

This is the most recently released album on the list, which means five or ten years from now it will have undoubtedly climbed up or fallen off. This band’s first two records are remarkably well produced.

I’m sure many people would choose the debut, Everything All the Time, instead, but I think this one is slightly more diverse. The band's confidence and ambition are clear from the start. Like The Joshua Tree -- on a lesser scale, of course -- Cease to Begin puts three of its best songs right at the front end. Those three and "Cigarettes, Wedding Bands," in which the band crafts a singalong chorus from the word "lied," guarantee this album's lasting power.

91. George Michael -- Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 (1990)

For some, this will require the most vigorous defense of any of the 100, but it shouldn’t. Male pop stars have a harder time being taken seriously than female pop stars. I’m sure there are several academic departments scattered around the country that are devoted to Madonna. But George Michael -- who can actually sing and has at least as many good songs as she does -- is just a punch line to late-night-TV jokes about public restrooms.

It’s true that this is one of the weirdest entries on the list. After Michael’s debut solo album, Faith, became a huge hit, he could have emerged with a shiny follow-up. Instead, he mounted an attack on his own image and recorded a set of loungy and somber songs. The exception, of course, was the radio smash “Freedom ‘90,” but the lyrics to that song spoke very directly to Michael’s dissatisfaction with his image, and he pointedly replaced himself in the video with a string of supermodels. The rest of the record features a faithful cover of Stevie Wonder’s haunting “They Won’t Go When I Go,” an overly earnest but somehow still effective song about the fact that “God stopped keeping score” (“Praying for Time”), and a really great centerpiece (“Waiting for That Day”). The result was a record that sold "just" two million copies in the U.S., after which Michael has never been as big a star.

To balance out the Gabriel image above, Listen Without Prejudice also has one of my very favorite covers -- an unadorned, severely cropped version of a shot taken at Coney Island in 1940 by the photographer Weegee. Here’s the complete photo:


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9 Comments:

Blogger Dezmond said...

Some good stuff. I love three of your picks, although on each I would pick different representatives for those artists.

Let's start with Gabriel. I really don't quarrel with any of his albums, but I think that he has 4 (perhaps 5) better records than US. and I like US. US over SO? You're on crack.

Love the Lyle. Again, there are several I would pick over his debut, but perhaps they are coming up on your list. "God Will" has some of the best country lyrics EVER. "Closing Time" is gorgeous, and "You Can't Resist" is a great rock song on an otherwise country album.

I am one of those who would pick (as I did on my list) the debut over the sophomore effort. Still a good album though.

Never understood the deal with George Michael. He's a good singer, but so are the kids on American Idol. But I do admit I only paid attention to his hits in passing. Perhaps I should give him a closer listen.

Good batch.

8:19 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

The second to last paragraph in my comment was referring to Band of Horses.

8:22 PM  
Blogger J. Walker said...

I'm with you on US over SO, even though "Mercy Street" and "In Your Eyes" are my favorite Gabriel tracks. My personal favorite Gabriel album, though, is Security..

9:38 PM  
Blogger Mrs. White said...

Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 is brilliant, so congratulations on being a guy who's confident enough in his manhood to admit it publicly. I contend that anyone who claims to dislike George Michael is just a stubborn liar.

11:03 AM  
Anonymous causaubon said...

Exhile on Main Street will make you change your mind about the Stones. it is hands down one of the greatest rock 'n' roll albums of all time yet you've probably never heard any of the songs from it. no cut from that album cracked the top 40.

with the exception of this album, i agree with your comment.

9:26 PM  
Anonymous mfg said...

Bravo on picking this particular George Michael album! I'm surprised and glad. He can certainly create a mood and place a listener in another place and time. Some people can be taken for the ride...
Which brings me to Lyle - your description is making me want to check him out seriously now.

1:29 AM  
Anonymous causaubon said...

sorry, i lied...

Tumbling Dice reached number 5 on the UK charts and number 7 on the Billboard chart.

6:42 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Listen to Causaubon, JMW. 'Exile on Main Street' is amazing. So is 'Sticky Fingers', 'Let It Bleed', 'Beggar's Banquet', 'Some Girls'...

The Stones have a ton of hits, but at their best they are very much about cohesive albums.

12:19 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

Will check out the Stones albums again -- maybe next time they'll make it. If I was aiming for any kind of standard other than my own, I obviously would have put them on here.

Also, I am not on crack. And there's one more Lyle album to come.

6:13 PM  

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