Monday, August 20, 2007

100 Albums, 100 Words (90-81)

90. U2 – War (1983)

Bleak and political, U2’s War features the band at their angriest and hardest. The guitars clash and thrash, the drums rattle like gunfire, and the bass pounds. “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” a song about the massacre of Irish revolutionaries, opens the album. On “New Years Day,” peace is only temporary and love occurs across a series of rendezvous beneath the “blood red sky.” “Two Hearts Beat As One” attempts to reconcile Ireland’s halves, but the title’s solution seems a long way away. The Bono we know first expressed himself on this album, and it contains the most intelligent things he’s said.

89. MC Paul Barman – Paulellujah! (2002)

The unheralded king of nerd rap, Paul Barman is a rhyming genius. His apocopated syllables, along with palindromical lines, before and afters (I. R. Skimo), and four syllable rhymes (“disarobe Lisa Loeb”) make him the game’s most literate MC. Unfortunately, his subject matter leaves a little to be desired – basically, he whines about why he hates feminists and how he plans to sleep with them. Still, the cartoonesque beats with quirky sound effects, as laid down by MF Doom and Prince Paul, provide the necessary backing for Barman’s silly yet offensive rhyming, and “Excuse Me”’s boasts are the best around.

88. The Who – The Who Sell Out (1968)

The first concept album by a group renowned for them, The Who Sell Out not only has one of the greatest album covers, but also a great collection of songs. The main songs – especially “Our Love Was” and “I Can’t Reach You” – are among Townsend’s best melodies. The hit, “I Can See For Miles,” opens with a superheavy chord. “Silas Stingy” is a great send up of misers. The advertisement songs are great too, though. “Odorono” is a story song almost as witty as “Tattoo.” The pirate radio spots between songs ensure the album’s anti-regulated radio concept won’t be forgotten.

87. The Doors – LA Woman (1971)

Widely regarded as signaling a creative resurgence which was never fully realized due to Morrison’s untimely death, this album features some amazing music and some truly experimental and groundbreaking songs. ‘L’America” features a weird scene dealing with slavery inside the gold mine. “Hyacinth House,” among the Doors’ most underrated songs, features excellent chord changes. “Texas Radio and the Big Beat” is Morrison’s best attempt to fuse his loves of rock and poetry. “L. A. Woman” should be the soundtrack to every scene of hopped-up, adrenalized freeway driving. Had Morrison lived, there’s no telling how eerily good it could have gotten.

86. Van Morrison – St. Dominic’s Preview (1972)

From the opening sprightliness of “Jackie Wilson Said,” the listener is both smiling and in heaven. This high-energy album finds a happy medium between Van’s mainstream-friendly fare such as Moondance and the more esoteric masterpieces like Astral Weeks. At once poppy and soulfully emotional, the album is able to hold two ten minute songs that never feel like they are lasting ten minutes. The album feels as open as an endless bazaar but retains its musical tightness, a strength few albums can hope to emulate. Unsurprisingly, this is the only Van Morrison album to produce two contemporaneous Hot 100 singles.

85. Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)

Although it is generally accepted that Michael Jackson is the weirdest person alive, that doesn’t discount the fact that, when he was only semi-weird (who cuddles a tiger and wears a diamond-studded glove?), he made one of the most ass-shakable albums ever. From “Thriller” to “Billie Jean” to Eddie Van Halen’s solo in “Beat It,” this album is extremely danceable. The two best moments, though, are the least celebrated. The improbable dialogue between Michael and Sir Paul in “The Girl Is Mine” always leaves me in tears (of laughter). “P.Y.T.” features the most memorable melody and coined the term “tendaroni.”

84. Prince – Musicology (2004)

Prince is back! Not only is this album not filled with twenty-minute instrumental musings or anti-Semitic ramblings about why being a Jehovah’s Witness rules (okay, he does that a tiny bit), but the concise poppy hooks are sometimes accompanied by political lyrics of the kind Prince hasn’t achieved since “Money Don’t Matter 2night.” “Cinnamon Girl,” a song examining post-9/11 racism against Arabs through the eyes of a middle school student, hangs on a George Harrison inflected hook that recalls the Purple Reign. “Dear Mr. Man” is overpoliticized JB-style funk. The album is a science class in how groovin' is done.

83. Grateful Dead – American Beauty (1970)

Along with Workingman’s Dead, this album includes much of The Dead’s best work. “Box of Rain,” “Ripple,” “Sugar Magnolia,” “Friend of the Devil” and “Truckin’” are all essential staples of their catalog. The album takes the new country-rock sound The Dead had experimented with on their previous album and develops it with more complex instrumentation and more textured recordings. Garcia’s guitar work on “Friend of the Devil” is tender yet memorable. “Sugar Magnolia” features an endearingly romantic lyric. “Ripple” shuffles along with a pleasant, afternoon rhythm. Alternately laidback and rollicking, the album is perfect for smiling in the morning sunshine.

82. Woody Guthrie – Dust Bowl Ballads (1940)

Dust Bowl Ballads may be the first real album, the first collection of songs recorded to cohesively serve one purpose. Rather than just a hodge-podge of 78s, these Guthrie sides chronicle the depression as well as any other historical document or piece of art. Simultaneously fictional and non-fictional, Guthrie reports hardship with a journalist’s objectivity and a novelist’s eye for detail. Nothing is wasted and everything has meaning. Even the outlaw ballad “Pretty Boy Floyd,” not explicitly about the dust bowl, relates through Floyd’s mythologized generosity towards farmers. Meanwhile, “Do-Re-Mi” gives advice on how to persevere through economic hard times.

81. The Who – Tommy (1969)

Tommy was The Who’s third rock opera and the second full-length rock opera, but it is the most important example of the genre and set the pace for what was to follow. The storyline, in which a deaf, blind mute achieves celebrity through his pinball skills and later reveals himself to be the new Messiah after being miraculously healed, is absurd and highly unlikely, but so is much of rock. Musically, much of this is brilliant and the interlocking musical themes, which weave the story into a cohesive whole, work great. As a narrative, it bring eyesight to the ears.

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