Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Albums that changed the way I listen to music - Part III of IV

Part III of IV: Retrospective Expansion

The past four years have brought remarkable growth, and each album below marks my appreciation of a whole new genre. Two out of four were released in 1979. The Talking Heads also released Fear of Music in 1979.

Peter Gabriel – So

Purchased on sale at HMV (remember when that was a thing?), this album was the grown-up version of my adolescent love for all things 80s. While jammed with his biggest hits, it's not his best – that honour goes to the third self-titled album (including this track), generally just called 3 – but it got me hooked on Peter Gabriel and, soon after, on Kate Bush.

The Slits – Cut

I lived for a summer with four guys in a rambling Wolseley house. Post punk was the soundtrack to gin drinking and Nintendo playing. Gang of Four, Delta 5, The Raincoats, Young Marble Giants, a smattering of concurrent albums by The Fall – a new musical landscape had opened. The Slits were especially beguiling, not only due to the palpable lewd-ness of the whole enterprise (I mean, that band name and that album cover?!), but because they combined the vocal and instrumental chaos of The Raincoats with consistently catchy tunes (and because of the awesome "performance" video above). “So Tough” was the initial standout track, though now I couldn't name one. Ironically, this album was my gateway to more mainstream sonic strangeness: Devo's Are We Not Men?, The B-52s self-titled 1979 (!!) album, and, more recently, Bow Wow Wow's excellent See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah, City All Over! Go Ape Crazy! (Yes, that's the album title.) Ari Up was my route to Annabelle Lwin.

The Kinks – Are the Village Green Preservation Society
I read an interview once during which the musician was asked “The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?” and he answered “The Kinks”. Kind of a douchey response, but I'd have to say the same. Given that my acquaintance with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones was primarily through hits compilations, I never could consider myself a committed fan of either. Even after closer listens to Abbey Road, Sargeant Pepper's, The White Album, and so on (Rubber Soul remains a glaring oversight) my most beloved Beatles track is their rendition of “Twist and Shout”! (But seriously, it's flawless.) The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society made a significantly deeper impression on me. I've mentioned my love of “Big Sky” on this blog before, but the whole album is perfection. My touchstone for contemporary chamber pop and British invasion sounds – can't say much more about this classic.

Michael Jackson – Off the Wall
I've always been a Michael Jackson fan, despite the fact that I came of age in the “Earth Song” era during which his performances involved being raised up in glory while the little children came unto him (yikes). “Man in the Mirror”, live clips from the Dangerous tour, and his duet with Janet on “Scream” made strong impressions on me at a young age, but it wasn't until much later that I paid any attention to what was going on between “ABC” and “Thriller”. A fantastic bit of choreography set to the title track was my first real exposure to Off the Wall. It did what really good choreo does: it made all the intricacies of the music visible. And that's some intricate music! Every song on the album delivers, as does all proximate output from The Jacksons (the Destiny and Triumph albums are superb). The impact of this album cannot be overstated. It single-handedly exploded my unthought division between music to dance to and music to listen to. Off the Wall played while I studied, while I rode the bus... everywhere, and a whole whack of soul, Motown and funk followed (Al Green, Earth Wind and Fire, etc.). It's impossible not to consider the racial element of the story: this album radically altered my relationship with “black music”. Funk bass, slow jams, and soul vocals were no longer just “fun” but became, in one important sense, the height of musical accomplishment. The album also marks a return to “polished” studio sounds – Off the Wall isn't Otis Redding Live at the Whiskey a Go Go. Now I listen to hits from Janet and Luther Vandross without any sense of irony. And MJ himself plays on my iPod far more than any other artist!

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