Monday, October 13, 2008

This Post Brought To You By The List: 30-26

30. Smashing Pumpkins -- Siamese Dream (1993)

Between Jimmy Chamberlin’s drums and Billy Corgan’s guitar, Siamese Dream is all about well-produced noise. Only the whiny, droning “Disarm” hasn’t aged well. Most of the more aggressive guitar-fueled songs -- “Hummer,” “Rocket,” “Geek USA” -- sound remarkably healthy in 2008. And yes, Corgan’s general silliness is a drawback, but the band often makes enough of a pleasurable racket to distract from lyrics like “A crown of thorns / an image formed deformed / the mark I’ve borne / a mark of scorn to you.” Yeah, I’d better stop now before I drop this record about 45 places.

29. The Streets -- Original Pirate Material (2002)

With 22 one-star reviews on Amazon, it’s clear that Original Pirate Material isn’t for everyone. One reviewer calls it “amazingly bad,” but several others stretch for something more evocative: “insipidly bad and insultingly stupid” or “nothing more than a monotonous series of vapid and dull monologues” or “uniformly uninspired, sloppy, and irritating” or, quite simply, “this is the worst thing that has ever happened to music.” But my favorite is, “I am now dumber for having heard this album.”

I obviously agree with the (more numerous) positive reviews. American rap fans might find Mike Skinner’s cockney accent and goofy concerns (video games, soccer, a girl who doesn’t like him showing up late) off-putting. But it’s his sense of humor, the fact that he doesn’t take himself (or the genre) too seriously that makes him refreshing. (Or made him refreshing. This and the follow-up are very good -- the two Streets records since have been frequently embarrassing. He insists on singing more and more, which is just horrendous, and his lyrics are a shadow of their earlier sharp wit.)

There’s a sameness to several of the songs here, but three stand out for me -- the extra-propulsive “Same Old Thing,” the trippy and pretty “Weak Become Heroes,” and the hilarious “Irony Of It All,” which takes the form of an argument between a meat-headed beer drinker, Terry (backed up by a menacing beat) and a twenty-something pot smoker, Tim (“Now Terry, you’re repeating yourself / But that’s okay, drunk people can’t help that.”)

28. Radiohead -- OK Computer (1997)

I divide this album into two halves, and the first half does much more for me than the second. If the strength of the first six songs was maintained for OK Computer’s duration -- a tall order -- I wouldn’t be writing about it quite yet. But then, after the silly seventh song, “Fitter Happier,” in which a computer-coded voice lists life’s humiliations as presumably imagined by a disaffected middle-schooler, the songs sound more average and muddier to me. This is with the exception of “No Surprises,” a depressive’s lullaby that is one of the most beautiful things the band has done. In fact, the content of “No Surprises” is not radically different from “Fitter Happier” (disillusionment, routine, resignation, etc.), so I guess it’s all in the delivery.

27. Simon & Garfunkel -- Greatest Hits (1972)

I didn’t want to include too many compilations on the list, but this one was necessary. It would be disingenuous to list another album by this duo when the hits are what I listen to most often. Released in 1972, it was also right on that border when collections were still respectable summaries, rather than something put out after two albums for the sake of extra sales. The songs here speak for themselves -- “The Boxer,” “Homeward Bound,” “America.” I think Paul Simon is one of the best songwriters of all time, so this is a lay-up. He’ll be heard from again on the list, too.

26. Stevie Wonder -- Signed, Sealed, Delivered (1970)

This was Stevie Wonder’s 12th record. Upon its release, he was 20 years old. Yeah. Get off the couch.

I love Wonder’s earlier albums. The later records that are even more critically acclaimed -- Talking Book, Innervisions, etc. -- are terrific. I love them, too. It’s a love-fest. But even though less is going on musically here, there’s something about the simple soulfulness of the songs and Wonder’s delivery that I slightly prefer. On the opener, “Never Had a Dream Come True,” just the way he repeats the title is stirring. Both the social ballads (“Heaven Help Us All”) and the personal ones (“Don’t Wonder Why”) are top-shelf. His cover of “We Can Work It Out” is considered by some superior to the Beatles’ original (I think they’re both great). And “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours” is one of my very favorite overplayed classics -- to listen to the whole thing, alone, away from an Obama rally or a greeting-card commercial or wherever it’s being played these days, and to hear him sing “I’ve done a lot of foolish things / that I really didn’t mean” is to take a great song back.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Nathan said...

A strong five album list.

And we're only at 26?

I'm looking forward to the next 25.

6:30 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

I like the Pumpkins pick, although you know that I actually prefer later Pumpkins. But most acknowledge your pick as their peak.

LOVE that Streets record! If I were to allow rap on my own list, it would be very high. I also agree with your assessment of the decline in quality on subsequent releases.

Radiohead. Sure. I assume THE BENDS is still coming?

I still call "no fair" on compilations, but that Simon & Garfunkel is a succinct and solid collection from start to finish.

Interesting on the Stevie Wonder. I thought you would go with TALKING BOOK or one of those "classic" period records. To be honest, other than on a hits collection, I haven't really listened to too much early Stevie.

7:32 PM  
Blogger ANCIANT said...

I can't believe the Streets aren't higher. I would put that album in my top fifteen, maybe top ten. I'm actually shocked that so many people hate it. It's endlessly clever. Every time I listen I find new things to love. And key lines come back to me all the time (I can't stand here in the boozer all day, I've got maneuvers to make).

I'll try to refrain from mocking Simon and Garfunkel, who my wife likes quite a bit. Because a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.

Is that a revelation?

12:48 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

Thanks, Nathan.

Dez, my favorite "classic" Stevie is probably Innervisions. I'll burn you Signed, Sealed, Delivered. It's the least I can do.

And fear not...just one more compilation to come.

ANCIANT, thanks for your restraint on S&G. "I Am a Rock" is not one of their best, I admit.

As for the Streets, if I'm honest I think it will rise in the future (it's been higher in the past -- in my head). I think it's just that my current disappointment in his last two records is coloring too much of my overall opinion. In my heart of hearts, I'd say somewhere around 15 is probably more accurate. That's one of the many reasons these lists are silly.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

It's hard to deny the driving beats of Corgan and Chamberlin at the start of the opening track, "Cherub Rock", of Siamese Dream. It's not easy to start a rock album better than that.

I agree that "Fitter Happier" is silly. But the goose-bumps I felt when seeing Radiohead live in a small venue on the OK Computer tour will never be forgotten. Before they took the stage the lights went out. The entirety of "Fitter Happier" was played in complete darkness and the anticipation and excitement grew to a crazy level. The band then took the stage and performed the best concert I have ever witnessed.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous AudioSuede said...

Whoa, really? I admit, I am a huge Radiohead fan, so I'm biased, but "Climbing Up The Walls" perfectly echoes the album's feelings of dread and futurism, while "Electioneering" is pure rock and roll. I'll concede "Fitter Happier" (though I personally think it adds to the album as a whole), but the last six tracks on that album are golden.

And, I gotta be honest, I hate Smashing Pumpkins. But that's why this is your list and not mine, I suppose!

8:52 PM  

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