Saturday, August 11, 2007

100 Albums, 100 Words (100-91)

The following list, concieved of in the Spring, represents a ranking of 100 albums, each reviewed in exactly 100 words. The reviews are prefaced by a 100-word working definition of the album. Enjoy.

A good album, like a good review, is poetry -- it's crafted. You have to consider it all: album art, liner notes, production values, ... album order (if you put an album on shuffle and it sounds just as good, it's not a real album). You have to have a concept rather than a song collection, be it a plot, theme, or just a feeling. Thus, compilations can't be albums, unless they have a guiding principle, and live albums don't count if the set is all hits. That said, exceptions exist. If they need justification -- if they deserve it -- they'll get it.

100. John Lennon and Yoko Ono – Double Fantasy (1980)

The lightly veiled racism of America has continuously portrayed Yoko Ono as some sort of evil force which ruined John Lennon’s career by breaking up the Beatles and forcing him to experiment on his own. That’s a crock of shit. Americans were just pissed that they weren’t getting to sleep with John Lennon; they felt betrayed. Lennon’s songs here are mainstream and well crafted, especially the beautiful “Woman.” Ono’s songs are no slouch, though. “Give Me Something” rocks like Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” and “I’m Your Angel” recalls 1930s pop as well as anything since McCartney’s “Honey Pie” on The Beatles.

99. Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing (1987)

Minimalist, new folk, almost world beat, Suzanne Vega’s second album explores a variety of territory with skill. She includes the hit-to-be “Tom’s Diner” in both a capella and instrumental versions. “Luka,” the most well-known track, is a brilliant depiction of child abuse. An English major, Vega’s lyrics are well-drawn, cataloging images better than anyone since Joni Mitchell (who seems to be a musical influence). “Ironbound/ Fancy Poultry” is a gorgeous ballad about what seems to be the bride of an arranged marriage. “In the Eye” is poppy. “Wooden Horse” recalls both the Trojans and Warner Herzog. Listen and be intrigued.

98. The Clash – Combat Rock (1982)

I realize this is not the Clash’s best work, but when I was young I thought this was the holy grail of punk and I still think it's underrated. I was drawn in by “Rock the Casbah,” but I soon found there was much more. “Know Your Rights” is as explicit as protest music gets. “Car Jamming” made me learn who Lauren Bacall was (hey, I was young). “Red Angel Dragnet” made me go buy Taxi Driver. “Ghetto Defendant” got me interested in Allen Ginsberg. “Overpowered By Funk” lives up to its name. An amazing listen from start to finish.

97. The Dixie Chicks – Fly (1999)

Anyone who was truly surprised when Natalie Maines made her anti-Bush comments simply wasn’t listening to their music; on Fly the girls grow wings and become liberated women. “Goodbye Earl,” a single with crossover appeal, justified the murder of a spousal abuser. Murder ballads are nothing new in country, but not since ‘Frankie and Johnny” has the woman won out, and Frankie felt guilty. “Sin Wagon” is simultaneously a barnstormer and a paean to, well, sin. The liner notes include the term “booty call.” I don’t like pop country; this is pop country, but it’s not your typical Toby Keith.

96. Weezer – Weezer (1994)

It should come as no surprise that Ric Ocasek produced Weezer since it employs a straight-forward rock sound that hadn’t been achieved since The Cars' debut album. “Buddy Holly” is the most well-known song, a deconstruction of the myth of 50s culture as regarded in the nineties (how else can you explain a song called “Buddy Holly” opening with “What’s with these homies dissin’ my girl?”). “Say It Ain’t So” features poppy hooks throughout played with majestically chunky chords. And any album that opens up with a reference to Jonas and the whale definitely deserves a spot in my collection.

95. Thicke – A Beautiful World (2003)

Before he added his first name to his moniker, Robin Thicke was making underappreciated music that fused Michael Jackson, hip-hop, Joni Mitchell and a political consciousness; unfortunately, his lyrical inconsistencies made him seem laughable. “A Beautiful World” paints a bittersweet melodrama that pits man against the nature of the machine and finds man victorious through the beauty of nature … and centerfold models. Elsewhere, his inner feminist claims that a girl being “tha shit” makes her his “equivalent.” That doesn’t even rhyme. Still, the musical ripoffs of Stevie Wonder and Carlos Santana sound as good as what their modeled on.

94. White Stripes – White Blood Cells (2001)

Armed with a distorted tube amp and an arsenal of power chords, Jack White’s guitar launches an assault against overly produced fluff. Amazingly, the band sounds full despite being only two people. The short songs (“Little Room” may be the best song shorter than a minute) mean that the album shifts fast and no song wears out its welcome but is a barn-storming tour-de-force able to do all its business as a breakneck pace. “I Think I Smell A Rat” is all surface, and once you accept that aspect, the licks become irresistible. The rest of the album follows suit.

93. Natalie Imbruglia – Left of the Middle (1997)

Simple yet catchy melodies, innate charm and well-crafted hooks should have made Natalie Imbruglia a breakout sensation, and they did for about fifteen minutes. Everyone remembers “Torn,” but everyone should remember “Smoke,” “One More Addiction” and “Wishing I Was There” as well, as they were all fantastic songs more or less ignored by the media. The press treated the Australian soap opera chanteuse like an amateur, doubting she could mature beyond what she had done. In truth, she deserved more credit than she got for this excellent collection of immediately contemporary yet warm pop songs shot through with mellow strength.

92. Bruce Springsteen – Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ (1973)

This album’s title sounds like a Hallmark card, and thematically that’s what it is: a love letter to the confused homeland that birthed The Boss. Lyrically Springsteen is said to be copying Dylan here, and while “Blinded By the Light” seems somewhat like an unfocused “Tombstone Blues” and “Mary, Queen of Arkansas” is akin to “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” much of it is pure Bruce from the start. “For You” is as mature a song as has ever been written. “Spirit In the Night” shows a gift for hooks and structure that portray the extent of Springsteen’s artistry.

91. Traveling Wilburys – Vol. 1 (1988)

The greatest post-Beatles Beatle side project, The Traveling Wilburys were democratic enough to let George Harrison’s talent shine. In addition to his crack melodicism, you have Roy Orbison’s angelic voice, Tom Petty’s rhythm guitar, Bob Dylan’s playful lyricism and Jeff Lynne’s sleek production to fill things out. The contributors often work best when they share duties, like on “Handle Me With Care.” The hilarious coda of “Dirty World” always brings a chuckle. Perhaps the finest moment, however, is the aching sorrow of Dylan’s “Congratulations;” the only non-upbeat song on the album, it stands as one of his most heartbroken ballads.

1 comment:

Ms. McK. said...

Matty you are a genius, and I mostly love you!