Sunday, August 31, 2008

Radiohead does Neil Young

Radiohead covering Neil Young's Tell Me Why in at the Hollywood Bowl 25-08-08:

My 50 favourite albums part 1

A few months ago, after 13 years of buying CDs, I finally reached 1000. I decided to commemorate this milestone by making a top 50 list. Now I'm putting here as the first real post to my blog, because having over 1000 CDs makes me completely awesome and millions of people will care about what I think.

Some omissions will surprise people who know me, and they surprised me, too: no albums by Sonic Youth, The Beatles, Elliott Smith or Britney Spears, and only one by The Clash and Guided By Voices. Other artists had up to four entries, which made me realise that 1000 isn't really all that many from some perspectives. I have to make it clear just how arbitrary this list is; I'm not about to carve on my arm that Temple of the Dog is exactly my 37th favourite album of all time, nor that I love Vitalogy slightly more than Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain or that Attack of the Grey Lantern is the only album I love more than Kid A, but not as much as The Velvet Underground and Nico. And hell, next time I listen to Sandinista!, I might wonder why the hell I thought there were at least 50 albums that are better than it.


50. Helium - The Dirt of Luck (1995)

Helium is the most underrated band of the 90s, and I can't figure out why they weren't more popular. Maybe people weren't ready for the sound of Sonic Youth's guitars falling down Tom Waits' well. It sounds very 90s to me, yet it hasn't aged a day.

49. Black Sabbath - Paranoid (1970)

Black Sabbath's second album is less jammy and song-oriented than its debut, but is still the sound of the band refining the sound necessitated by the loss of Tony Iommi's fingertips. Now we know that sound as metal itself. I mean the sound of the music, not the sound of Tony's fingers being sliced off, which was probably more like "AAAAAAAARGH, MY FUCKING FINGERS! SOMEBODY GET A DOCTOR!"

48. Guided By Voices - Alien Lanes (1995)

Conceived as an eclectic radio station playing late at night, Alien Lanes runs through a whopping 28 songs in under 45 mintes - impressive even by GBV standards. Rock songs, Pollard solo efforts, choatic 18 second interludes and a couple of Tobin Sprout gems play off each other in a way that makes sense in a nonsensical way.

47. Pavement - Slanted & Enchanted (1992)

I don't know how auspicious this would have sounded to me if I'd heard it when it came out, but I doubt I would have thought Pavement could have bettered it three times out of four attempts by my reckoning.

46. Helium - The Magic City (1997)

If this list were "Most Underrated Albums of the 90s", this one might be number 1. Whereas Helium's virtually as good debut The Dirt of Luck (1995) is a sludgy and almost grungy guitar album, The Magic City cleaned everything up and turned up the vocals, revealing Mary Timony as a strong singer in addition to her obvious guitar skills. I just don't know what's up with the line "I want to make love to a unicorn". Timony would later go solo and lose the plot for a while after huffing one too many kittens while reading Chaucer, before getting it back for an excellent duo of recent albums.

45. Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is a similar progression from its predecessor as The Magic City;
specifically in this case, it's where Pavement stepped out of the shadow of The Fall and Sonic Youth to reveal Stephen Malkmus as one of the best pop songwriters of his generation. The band meshed together better than at any point on Slanted - especially singles "Gold Soundz" and "Range Life" and the grandios closer "Fillmore Jive" despite the absence of original drummer Gary Young.

44. Pearl Jam - Vitalogy (1994)

Wherein Pearl Jam eschews the angst and soft-loud dichotomy of grunge and delivers a more mature, sombre and philosophical album. OK, so the angst is really still there, but it's more focused and less perfunctory than before. Some of the left field experiments are a bit on the nose ("Bugs" in particular), but the Vitalogy doesn't lack for stick-in-your head riffs and sing-along choruses, and subtle Eastern and African influences permeate the whole thing. Vitalogy didn't sell as many copies as Vs, but it launched what I believe is still the band's most succesful tour to date; I still kick myself for not having seen them when they came to Canberra.

43. Smog – A River Ain't Too Much to Love (2005)

The most recently released album on this list is also one of the most timeless, consisting mostly of Bill Callahan and an acoustic guitar. It's hard to believe this is the same guy on those early Smog albums; he sounds like David Berman should, except he probably wouldn't get along with Berman, because Berman hates Joanna Newsom and Callahan is fucking her. Oh well.

42. Built To Spill - There’s Nothing Wrong With Love (1994)

As if being the perfect marriage of guitar hysterionics and pop hooks wasn't enough, this album just had to go and have the funniest hidden track ever.

41. Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children (1998)

These guys use a combination of cutting edge technology and old analog equipment to get their sound, and boy is it a sound you won't hear anywhere else. Music may have the right to children, but this music doesn't have any close progeny that I'm aware of.

40. Nick Drake - Pink Moon (1972)

Break out the superlatives, it's a Pink Moon review! This is my friend Steve's least favourite Nick Drake album. He can suck my balls.

39. The Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat (1968)

Apparently the engineers hated this racket so much that they weren't present while the band were actually recording. That seems strange in a post-Stooges world, but you'll notice two Velvet Underground albums in this list and no Stooges albums. Some reasons for this are: Lou Reed's solo on "I Heard Her Call My Name"; John Cale's pleasant Welsh lilt on the blackly comic spoken piece "The Gift"; all 1056 seconds of "Sister Ray".

38. Tom Waits - Alice (2002)

The concurrently released Blood Money proved Waits still had the goods, but Alice, his best album since Bone Machine (1992) was recorded in demo form only just after that one. Waits released The Black Rider, his soundtrack to a play written by his wife/collaborator
Kathleen Brennan and directed by Robert Wilson. Why he chose to release that one when he had the workings of a vastly superior album of similar origin is beyond me. Alice is also a soundtrack to a Wilson play, this one about Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carrol to you) and his obsession with 12 year-old Alice Liddell. You know what that led to: Liam Neeson tracked him to Paris and kicked his ass.

37. Temple of the Dog - Temple of the Dog (1991)

Man, this is morbid even for a Chris Cornell project, but that's what you'd expect of an album inspired by one guy and his drug-related death. We wouldn't have this one-off project or Pearl Jam if Andrew Wood hadn't died, but that pales in comparison to the fact that we wouldn't have rock music at all if it wasn't for slavery. You know what they say: you can't make an omlette without breaking a few eggs and enslaving an entire race.

36. Neil Young - On the Beach (1974)

After the Goldrush (1972), Harvest (1973), Tonight's the Night (1975) and Rust Never Sleeps (1979) all get more love than On the Beach, but the reason On the Beach is on my list and those others aren't is simple: I prefer On the Beach and albums I've listed 50-37, so it wouldn't make much sense to include them. Kind of like how much sense it made to to issue this album on CD until 2003.

35. Tom Waits - Bone Machine (1992)

Bone Machine shows that anyone who thought Waits' 80s albums were too dark really didn't know from dark. Incredibly, it won a Grammy for best Alternative Rock Album.

34. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

People who consider themselves part of a scene often become possessive of it and very narrow-minded. It happened with punk and it happens sometimes when an indie band makes the jump to a major label. You all know about the fallout from Dylan going electric, but if this had been his first album, Lyndon Johnson would have instituted a "no child left without an electric guitar" program.

33. Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones (1983)

This is where Waits started to get really interesting to me: less piano, more marimba and more growling.

32. Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994)

How can I call this my 32nd favourite album of all time when it sounds so incomplete? Because that's just the sort of pers

31. Depeche Mode - Black Celebration (1986)

This album ushered in a darker Depeche Mode, preceeded the most talked about tour of the band's career and earned them the love of homosexual men all throughout the land. Actually, they probably had that already.

Coming up: part 2, featuring Boney M, REO Speedwagon, The Veronicas and more.

My 200 Favourite Albums of All Time

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sex, War & Robots