Album #563 – Cupid & Psyche 85

Album #563

Album #563

Scritti Politti had a unique beginning. Much like New Order, the group began as a Post-Punk band except Scritti Politti had an Left-Wing political tone to their music. By the time Cupid & Psyche 85 was released, the sound of Scritti Politti was vastly different. Lead singer Green Gartside abandoned his political beliefs and wanted to go in a more commercial direction. Of course, his band mates didn’t agree and Gartside carried on the band by himself. Gartside also started to get into hip-hop music around this time and moved to New York City. It was there that this album came to fruition. Co-produced by the legendary Arif Mardin, Cupid & Psyche 85 reminds me of much of the music today. It is very electronic based in 2016 with the rise of EDM but within that synthy shine are some well written songs with hooks. The Chainsmokers’ song Closer immediately comes to mind. That is probably why I couldn’t relate to a lot of Prefab Sprout’s Steve McQueen. There didn’t seem to be any pop sensibilities on that album other than on When Love Breaks Down. Paddy McAloon rambled on and didn’t seem to use the chorus or hooks on many of that album’s tracks. On Cupid & Psyche 85, Gartside along with new band members David Gamson and Fred Maher, created a commercial friendly sound with some lyrical content from Gartside that was still more intellectual than pop music would allow. The best part was that they pulled it off successfully!! I was moving and dancing along with this album from the first note!! The parallels with current pop music are more than just the songs. Turns out that David Gamson has worked with Kesha, Kelly Clarkson, Jessie J and Adam Lambert. Their music has a similar quality to Scritti Politti’s tracks on Cupid and Psyche 85. Gamson also brought the funk influence and if you listen closely, you can hear a bit of Chic and Parliament-Funkadelic’s sounds throughout Cupid and Psyche 85. The album’s centerpiece is their biggest US hit, Perfect Way. In my opinion, it’s the quintessential mid 80’s synth track. Gartside’s vocals are smooth and yet Gamson’s synth work is miles above their contemporaries. It is what makes the band stand out. They knew how to make catchy, accessible songs and yet there is some mystery, some deeper element. It is brilliant and I can’t help but wonder why this group was never able to capture the magic again.

Other highlights include: The Word Girl, Small Talk, Absolute, A Little Knowledge, Lover to Fall and Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin).

Overall, I give Cupid & Psyche 85, 4.5 out of 5.

Next: Atomizer by Big Black


Album #562 – Don’t Stand Me Down

Album #562

Album #562

Because the 1001 Album list and book are a British list, there are some surprises and some albums that I feel have no place on a list of that caliber. Don’t Stand Me Down is an album that really has no place on the list. Having NOW listened to all three of Dexys Midnight Runners’ albums, I don’t get why the authors of this book made such a big deal about this band. They had one big hit in North America for a reason. Come On Eileen is a great song but beyond that, what do Dexys Midnight Runners really offer for musical inspiration? When they started recording, there was something unique there. But, by the time Don’t Stand Me Down was released, the band was filled with tension. In fact several members left the group during the recording of Don’t Stand Me Down. The four remaining members are in the cover photograph. In fact, you can hear the tension on many of the album’s tracks. The magic just isn’t there anymore. In fact, I can remember watching Pop-up Video as a kid and seeing the vid for Come on Eileen. The pop-ups went on to reveal that through the video’s day long shoot several members of the band were fired or left the group. It seems that lead singer Kevin Rowland couldn’t get along with ANYBODY. Its sad to see it carry over to the group’s next album. Probably the worst case of leadsingeritis that I’ve ever seen or heard about. The album’s sound mixes their original soul influence with country, folk and jazz. At times, the album sounds like a bad Broadway play (This Is What She’s Like is a 12:23 song, half of which contains a rambling dialogue). Maybe Tarantino got the idea to have lines from his films on the accompanying soundtrack album from Don’t Stand Me Down. At least Tarantino did a better job.

Overall, I give Don’t Stand Me Down, 2 out of 5.

Next: Cupid and Psyche 85 by Scritti Politti

Album #561 – Picture Book

Album #561

Simply Red may describe the hair color of the lead singer but, the music is more black and blue. Their first album is a combination of r&b, soul and pop. Mick Hucknall’s voice is one of my favorites in all of pop music. It’s full of color and emotion along with a raspiness and flavor that connects with his British roots. I’m beginning to realize that the singer’s voice plays a big role in my taste. If it is unique and full of emotion, I end up loving it. If it is an imitation, not so much. Working in radio for 3 years full time has also given this characteristic a more developed sense of importance. On the surface, Simply Red could be written off as just some other mid 80’s white r&b/sophisipop band, because of their lead singer. But, they are so much more. In fact over the years, Simply Red has had a diverse lineup of musicians, from different races and backgrounds. They are also more soulful than their contemporaries. Hucknall’s voice has as much soul as his influences do. As a result, they are not your typically cookie cutter sophistipop group. The best example of their talent is their version of the Talking Heads’ song Heaven. Mick and the boys slow down the tempo and make the tune like something Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett would have had in their repertoire. I can’t talk about Picture Book without mentioning the album’s big hit: Holding Back The Years. What a song!! If you want a tune about heartache, this is your song. Every time I need a pick-me-up, this is the song I go to. Hucknall’s performance on the track is haunting and captures the emotions of that time in someone’s life brilliantly. I really enjoyed listening to the album and it has inspired me to go deeper into their work.

Other highlights include: Come To My Aid, Sad Old Red, Jericho and Money’s Too Tight (To Mention). Overall, I give Picture Book, 4.5 out of 5.

Next: Don’t Stand Me Down by Dexys Midnight Runners

Album #560 – Low-Life

Album #560

New Order are one of those groups that are distinctly 80’s. There is no getting away from the decade for them. It’s probably because of how influential and ahead of their time they were. Low-Life is the group’s third album. They were well on their way. I really enjoyed listening to it because New Order evolves on this album from a group rooted in post-punk sounds to one that seemed to go in a dance-based direction. The songs become more melodic as well. New Order, like their contemporaries Depeche Mode, started out quite different as a band. New Order was originally Joy Division, fronted by Ian Curtis. After Curtis’ death in 1980, his band mates carried on in a new direction. Their early work sounds very similar to Joy Division: droning, industrial post-punk. But as the decade carries on, the band’s sound changed and became their own. Low-Life’s sounds are still around today by influencing many artists who are going in a synth-pop direction. But, I wonder if they could ever be as dark as New Order and writing meaningful songs within the synth-pop framework. The song Love Vigilantes has become one embraced by indie artists in numerous cover versions including the most famous: Iron and Wine’s version. The song talks about the travesties of war in a way we can all relate to. It is this type of accessible songwriting that New Order would continue to experiment with especially on their massive hit, Bizarre Love Triangle. The instrumentals are also great and show the evolution as well. From the moment I heard The Perfect Kiss in the film Pretty In Pink for the first time, I was mesmerized. The beautiful sounds coming together makes it one of the best tracks from the decade. There was not a dud on Low-Life and I will be adding it to my collection.

Overall, I give Low-Life, 5 out of 5.

Next: Picture Book by Simply Red

Album #559 – Psychocandy

Album #559

1985 as a year in music is turning out to be much more influential than I originally thought. From the unique sounds of Tom Waits to now the shoegazing/noisepop sounds of the Jesus and Mary Chain. Both these artists sounded unlike anything else from the middle of the decade. The best way to describe Psychocandy is a combination of catchy pop songs, done in a noisy garage rock style and recorded in an empty, echo filled warehouse. The Reid brothers combine industrial, garage rock and 60’s pop to create something new and exciting. I first listened to Psychocandy about ten years ago. I fell in love with Just Like Candy after discovering it in the film Lost In Translation. The song was the perfect addition to the film’s final scene. I wanted to see what else this group had up their sleeve. I got lost in all the feedback and reverb and walked away disappointed. The songs all sounded the same after a few minutes. The real problem was that I just hadn’t been exposed to the style of music that this influential band created. So many amazing bands came after the Jesus and Mary Chain and I can’t imagine today’s indie rock without a slight nod to what Jim and William Reid created. Alt rock probably would be at least a little different sounding without this album’s influence. Listening to it 10 years on, I fell in love. I really was able to grasp what they were going for. In fact, I probably loved Psychocandy more now because of the fact that I got into Husker Du’s music about 5 years ago. Both groups are similar in their use of loud guitars, feedback, distortion and catchy poppy songs. The interesting thing is that The Jesus and Mary Chain would abandon this sound almost entirely for their follow-up, Darklands. It is probably because their drummer, Bobby Gillespie (later became frontman of Primal Scream), left after the release of Psychocandy. Kind of hard to hear a drum machine over reverb, feedback and loud guitars. 😀 Now that I’ve listened to Psychocandy, I can’t wait to hear the albums from the other artists influenced by this sound on the list.

Other highlights include: The Living End, Taste the Floor, Cut Dead, Taste of Cindy, Never Understand, Sowing Seeds, You Trip Me Up and Something’s Wrong.

Overall, I give Psychocandy, 5 out of 5.

Next: Low-Life by New Order

Album #558 – Rain Dogs

Album #558

Rain Dogs was a stark contrast from anything else released in 1985. Instead of synths and glossy production, Rain Dogs contains raw-sounding, unfiltered performances. In fact, Tom Waits has said in interviews that many of the sounds on this album were invented during the recording process. He famously said that if the sound of a 2 by 4 hitting a door sounded better, it was used. As a result, Rain Dogs can be a jarring listen to anyone unfamiliar with Waits and the sound he was going for at this point. It is a continuation of the sounds explored on Swordfishtrombones but, I feel that Waits mastered those sounds fully on Rain Dogs. It his his most accessible and most celebrated album. The sessions for this album began Waits’ long association with guitarist Mark Ribot, whose distinct guitar playing added to Waits’ “new” sound. Keith Richards also guests on Rain Dogs. I can’t think of a better musician to be included here. I loved every moment of this album. Yes, I know that Tom Waits’ previous sound was much more jazzy, folky and cabaret sounding. But, I love the diversity of sounds here: rock, jazz, polka, blues, r&b, New Orleans style. Anything that happened by mistake or suddenly while recording was thrown in. Waits’ singing style even differs from track to track: sounding like a pirate singing sea shanties one minute, a carnival barker the next. In fact, I kind of got that traveling medicine show vibe from this album. It seems that Tom Waits finally met his match with Rain Dogs. It has set the path on which he continues to travel on to this day. I hold him in high regard not only because he is a good songwriter but because he is willing to take risks and take his music places that we never saw coming. That is why Rain Dogs is an important part of my collection. If I were to recommend any of his releases as a starting point, Rain Dogs would be it. That way, you find out quickly just how talented and diverse Tom Waits really is. Overall, I give Rain Dogs, 9.5 out of 5.

Next: Psychocandy by The Jesus and Mary Chain

Album #557 – Meat Is Murder

Album #557

Meat Is Murder was my introduction to the Smiths. I can remember hearing How Soon Is Now? when I was 14 years old and wondering how these amazing sounds were created. Yes, I know the band’s signature song was not released on the UK version (it was first included on the compilation Hatful of Hollow) but it is on the North American version and that is why I’m talking about it. Years later, How Soon Is Now? would be the song that I would most identify with during my University years. Isolation is the key theme of that song and due to the fact that I was single and felt alone at the time, the song identified all the feelings that I felt during that time in my life perfectly. Nothing before that point was able to capture my feelings. It was a HUGE revelation for me. Music could be something more. A song could capture my feelings like nothing else. In a way, it was liberating. I only knew of Meat Is Murder when I was 14 because of that song. A couple of years later in high school, one of my classmates brought in the cassette version to class to listen to in her walkman. I knew I wasn’t alone in my knowledge of this seminal band. But, isolation and loneliness isn’t the album’s only subject matter. In fact, the album’s title is heavily political. Morrissey and Johnny Marr became and still are strict vegetarians. The title was a strong statement in 1985. Not eating meat was something not many people did, let alone musicians and famous people. In fact all of the band’s members were forbidden from being photographed while eating meat by Morrissey. But, that wasn’t the only statement the band made on this album. The education system, the Queen, Thatcher, et al. were all targets of Morrissey’s scorn. The band was also at their most musically diverse: funk, rockabilly, folk, punk and dance music are all explored on this album. It is no secret why the Smiths became one of the biggest bands and most influential of the decade. Nobody was doing anything like this and yet, so many looked to them for inspiration. It doesn’t surprise me that so many want the Smiths to reunite. Maybe they will be able to create that magic one more time.

Other highlights include: The Headmaster’s Ritual, Rusholme Ruffians, I Want The One I Can’t Have (one of the best unrequited love songs EVER), That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore and Nowhere Fast.

Overall, I give Meat Is Murder, 5 out of 5

Next: Rain Dogs by Tom Waits