Archives for posts with tag: Big Audio Dynamite

Minelli, better than The Stone Roses in 1989 according to actual music journalists.

This started off as a brief comment then became a short article. Later it merged with another idea but then detached itself again to become what can be found below these italics. Apologies for any structural inaccuracies that may occur as a result. It’s very difficult to check for these errors when you’re not sure what you want your final outcome to be anyway.

What is the album of the year? It used to be a mystery until the December publication of various music magazines and other sources. Actually, there would only be a couple of lists worth checking. Others you knew were being perused because liking music beyond a certain point is quite an anal activity. As a result I would always want to know what my subscribed music magazine’s favourite albums of the year were. This was initially the Record Mirror getting me into Big Audio Dynamite by making their debut release ‘This IS…’ their album of the year of 1985, of course they were wrong about that and should have given it to Prefab Sprout or The Jesus and Mary Chain. The Record Mirror just wasn’t left field enough (though they would have loved Leftfield) and in 1989 they felt The Stone Roses debut album was only the 6th best album of the year. I’d be willing to state that they might have had a point with hindsight and yet records reveal that they put Liza Minelli’s ‘Results’ at 5 and never paid any attention to their opinions again. Subsequently I would switch between the Melody Maker and NME quite regularly but really both Xmas issues would be purchased for this very anal of activities. I’d also look at Sounds to see what they said although their goth tendencies always threw my wary suspicion on the lists…Rose of Avalanche, you say? Hmm…

When throwing ourselves over to listings we are basically giving up judgement in case we make errors and we instead depend on the opinions of others to form our own. This would be an annual issue and has been furthered by many more monthly magazines coming into the equation, then there’s websites and blogs. Now we have lists every 6 months just in case you want to catch up in advance and there is also Album of the Year, a website dedicated to key reviews of albums and producing an average percentage rating based on the reviews it has covered or is allowed to cover. As a result, you can tell at a glance what the album of the year would be if the year were to stop immediately. Currently it looks like Frank Ocean is holding off Swans – an enduring image or possibly an ill-conceived metaphor for the former’s sexuality issues which he left off the album. Want to know what the best rap album of the year is? Well, there’s a separate section for that. Want to go out or stay in and find out about new music using your own wits? Well, this site can still be of interest but shouldn’t be a crutch. The discerning music obsessive needs to be more attentive to certain details.

Facts emerge – rap albums may get slated but regularly seem to average higher than indiekid or hipster music – why are the reviewers universal within the genre? The top albums often have great power and impact but I honestly don’t see the songs emerging either from the second most famous Ocean in pop or Swans’ low growling genius. I am writing about Swans album before actually getting around to buying it – but I feel it’s fairly safe to make these claims. The opposite of low growling genius has to be white indiepop. It’ll never average above 80% because it is always so-so. So why do people buy so much of it? None of it seems to sell a lot of copies anymore but there will be about 3 new quite good albums of it to choose from every week. By the end of the year, the songs have made their mark and these albums which will be 20th best of the year in April, miraculously hold that position through the rest of the year despite a few albums released since April being above them in the chart. Surely this is a flaw in logic. Yes, but more than that, listing and number scores will always produce flawed results. Also, there will always be average which groups everything in together. So far this year on AOTY, 85% would get 5th place but 82% might not make the top 25. Are a bunch of 20 or 30-somethings opinions ever going to be that exact a science? I’d like to think not and at, some level, I would imagine they would too as it would leave them open to further Portlandia satire – not that that hasn’t happened already to Pitchfork. Maybe they will go for Album of the Year next.

Yes, the facts seem to be that the highest average scores for albums in a year may also reflect the albums which journalists are scared to put down. Any old indie crap can be slagged off in a review or two, lowering their average into the 70s but would those same journalists dare to claim that Frank Ocean’s album leaves little in the memory afterwards even if it sounds good when it’s on? How do you go about claiming that the massive Swans package, a summation of the career of a genuinely frightening group, might not be any cop? Occasional anomalies break through and I have no idea why they and readers think the Grizzly Bear album is so good when the reality is that it seems to drift after 4 or 5 songs and shows distinct dangers of heading towards the stadiums to become the thinking hipster’s Coldplay. It is interesting to note that, while site users agree that Tame Impala and Kendrick Lamar have produced 2 of the best 5 albums of the year, they don’t feel as moved by Ocean, Swans or Fiona Apple. This is in no way surprising and yet while it allows Grizzly Bear to move into the 5, the users’ ratings seem to also go a little left field by selecting the Burial EP and Lost in the Trees.

The Hipster Coldplay? Certainly not very grizzly anyway, unlike…

Proper grizzly and probably more of a Swans fan.

The problem with basing album of the year on reviews is that they have no ability to sense the album’s impact. They may be written when the band is unknown but they may become huge by the end of the year. I don’t recall the first Stone Roses getting superb reviews when it first appeared in May 1989, good but not superb. Its reissue is described as divine though. Even ‘The Second Coming’ seems to get a lot of critical sympathy these days. The current desire for immediacy cannot be healthy and also allows music journalists to truly set trends and leave those inconvenient punters out of it. In this world Shack albums will get attention rather than disappearing once the excellent review has been published. Can any more bands ever be allowed to fall through the cracks? Or will the cracks get bigger if an 80% average is needed to be among the top 25 for a year. However, aren’t lost bands just exceptions to a rule which generally seemed to get rid of most of the rubbish…most! Besides, for me, this still fails to explain the users’ love of Lost in the Trees. Maybe people still genuinely and sincerely appreciate music, maybe it’s the tragic personal history behind the album which grabs people more than journalists or maybe this really isn’t an exact science and I should drop it. After all, I’m not sure the sales of this album have shot up due to its continued status as a reader favourite.

Another factor negating lists can be that an album still finds itself on rotation and getting notice 8 or 9 months after its February release but a lauded album reviewed in November doesn’t have to hang around in the reviewer’s mind for as long to make the top ten and, equally, that November slow burner only gets appreciated during the following year. It makes you wonder why some groups seem to have a policy of deliberately avoiding the lists with some albums that are released in December and also cynically releasing albums in January that might be get lost in October, but with little competition now receive album of the month plaudits. This is precisely why lists don’t work in my view. I cannot compare the Tame Impala album that I’ve been listening to for a couple of weeks or so with The Twilight Sad album I got in January. Reviews suggest the latter to be weaker and yet, until the Tame Impala album becomes more familiar, the former seems to have the best tunes. If a January album is the best album of the year then surely a great album released in October can only be fully appreciated almost halfway into the following year.

Lists, for me, are indicative of a more worrying trend. Liking music is now a quaint obsession and terribly polite with it. Few albums seem to score less than 50% and so the website also reveals to us that no music is shit anymore, which is possibly the opposite of many viewpoints on the matter. I don’t expect musicians to be dead before they hit 25 and to boast of criminal records even if the polite set likes its rappers to do so. No, it’s more of an issue with opinion, division, discussion and the following essential truth about music: MY FAVOURITE BAND ARE BETTER THAN YOUR FAVOURITE BAND! Believing anything else makes for unworthy viewpoints to be expressed. We don’t have to hate each other’s choices but there must surely be disagreement rather than clusters of hipsters at festivals discussing how good everything is. There is an economic downturn; we therefore need to use taste to cull some of the chaff that has crept into our lives with its 73% award and vaguely comforting songs that we can’t remember. This is supposed to be music that we care about, not just another disposable consumer item. People who want to discuss consumer culture are on the rise and seem unable to live without this year’s mobile, maybe they are the ones to blame for turning music appreciation into a meaningless trial by list and review.

I hope to continue trying to put substance into my music use rather than substance abuse into my music. I will of course be preparing my own end of year list which will be similar to the others. Apologies in advance to Swans then, as your album costs 250 pesos on iTunes, I’m going to get it for under a tenner from the UK and brought over in a suitcase by my mother. As she arrives on December 14th, the only way that Swans album can make the top ten is to be on endless repeat over the festive period. Much as I love that idea, it probably won’t be happening.

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This has taken a while to produce – you try writing about simultaneously seeming to like AC/DC and Bronski Beat…hmmm, yeah, I can hear how that sounds now. Or take Judas Priest and the Pet Shop Boys…ah!  Prince and Motley Crue? Frankie goes to Hollywood and Queen???

Christmas 1983 saw the arrival of my Sinclair Spectrum – a whole 48K of memory. It heralded a hazy patch in my musical tastes as I became more interested in playing games on the computer as well as a lot of sport in my spare time. It is clear from a list of artists that I purchased around this time that I had lost all sense of image and was clearly – I mean, Bryan Adams’ ‘Reckless’??? Really James! I can understand how my interests changed in this period as a result of being more attracted to what would today be gaming. Therefore I can see why music these days is a less intense experience for the youth. Can I get away with ‘the youth’? I and I hope so.

In 1984, Queen were my favourite band*. I thought ‘Radio GaGa’ was ace and was deeply confused by the ‘I Want to Break Free’ video. They were ‘rock’ and therefore the excesses of Mercury were acceptable. I wanted to grow my hair like Brian May. Roger Taylor seemed like a cool guy somehow and John Deacon was…well, just kind of ‘there’ really. I seemed to like them a lot then and cringe about it now. There are many more cringeworthy bands in my past but, as a personal favourite, Queen really have so very little to do with my psyche. So what if I bought The Darkness album? They were funny for a bit. At 11 or 12 years old I wasn’t exactly picking up on Queen’s ironic humour was I? To me it was real and even fashionable. Oh Lord!

My favourite band in 1985 became The Damned. That sentence sounds inverted; it isn’t. Think about that. Anyway, I thought…I don’t really know what I thought, they were no longer punk and seemed more like a gothic pop group. I have few memories of why I liked them but do remember a summer job sorting intact bricks from broken ones for 50p an hour where I would sing ‘The Shadow of Love’ and ‘Grimly Fiendish’ all morning long as I gained experience in child labour in a place called Rhydycroesau which I have just learned how to spell now. A 7” of ‘Wait for the Blackout’ – the reissue, was the first record I ordered by post – not exactly a statistic that’s up there with the first manned space mission, but then none of this twaddle is. This would develop a lot over the next few years mostly through Rhythm Records of Cambridge. I also liked ‘Eloise’ – now I prefer the original. I bought their next album in 1986 and thought ‘Anything’ was punk. Anything but ‘Anything’ might have been. They really were not a very good band in that era and hard to take seriously in any genre which is a bit like a needy village kid perhaps.

It’s probably a good thing that my interest in metal was fading though late interest in Motley Crue suggests otherwise. Really, it was their debut album which I liked as it was good acoustic metal for the most part, like ‘Women and Children First’-era Van Halen. I think I was actually getting towards liking blue-collar rock and linked the sound of early Crue more with Springsteen and Bryan Adams than anything metalesque. However, by the time of the ‘Theatre of Pain’ album I bought, they were clearly a different, unlistenable beast. In mid-86 AC/DC made appearances in my purchases alongside The Smiths which is really quite something of a double bill. I’m still sure that Johnny Marr would have wiped the floor with Angus and his three chords but I may be in the minority there.

Queen, Foreigner, Marillion, Mike and the Mechanics, Genesis, Bronski Beat AFTER Sommerville!, Simply Red’s first single?, the 2 Phils’ number one – so very, very bland! Peter Gabriel again! Paul Hardcastle and Harold Faltermayer! Dr and the Medics!!! Truly, this was a disastrous time for my taste even if I was developing impressive abilities in Manic Miner as well as a bit of pace for my seamy bowling of the time. 1986 really was a weird year: Xmas 85 I made sure I received 6 heavy metal albums – bought in heavy metal country: Wolverhampton, no less…and ‘West End Girls’. In January 86 I bought a Bronski Beat single and the Big Audio Dynamite album and by June I was a confirmed Smiths fan; in the Autumn my Fall obsession had started. Somehow Mike and the Mechanics and got a look in in-between. In May and June I bought the Doctor and the Medics novelty number one, my first Smiths single, not to mention AC/DC and Peter Gabriel – who does that? I don’t understand me back then although it’s nice to see a bit of eclecticism rather than being different by liking music that all sounds the same – that stage was yet to come!

Out of this, from somewhere or nowhere, it’s hard to tell, grew some kind of an interest in alternative music. Apart from ‘Spirit in the Sky’, Dr. And the Medics were very much an unsuccessful little indie band, albeit a shockingly dreadful one. The Damned were a gothpop group and may later explain a move towards The Mission and The Sisters of Mercy – Floodland was my first CD – and even some Nephilim on tape. Sigue Sigue Sputnik were not supposed to be as bad as they turned out to be and might have been cool had they delivered on their original hype. You can tell this by considering their still impressive sounding debut single title, ‘Love Missile F1-11’, and comparing it with the title of their last single ‘Grooving with Mr Pervert’. I liked a tape I had of various Beatles songs, I got this from a mod in 1985. I think I liked The Alarm a bit. It seems cool to like the Pet Shop Days these days, but it wasn’t particularly cool in 85/86. I seem to recall buying The Pet Shop Boys ‘Please’ and Prince’s ‘Parade’ on different Saturdays that were fairly close together in 1986. On both occasions, I managed to buy them when with my dad as part of a day out to The Gay Meadow to see Shrewsbury Town after giving up on the misery of Oswestry Town. Yes, I bought a Pet Shop Boys album on my way to the Gay Meadow. Do keep up.

However, some music from this period seems more comfortable among what I listen to now. Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ was a favourite at the time if not now though I seem to be developing more of a taste for Springsteen these days. Talk Talk – The Colour of Spring is still something I listen to. I bought The Smiths complete box set which isn’t complete and so I even downloaded the missing bits. Prince became one of my favourite artists mostly thanks to ‘Parade’.  Then I heard ‘Living too Late’ by The Fall through a crappy little medium wave radio with terrible reception because were on early summer holiday or perhaps even a summer half term in Torcross, Devon. This is where I decided I was a fan of Mark E.Smith and haven’t really changed that opinion since. Somehow I was into The Fall and The Smiths now, as well as Paul Hardcastle.

I also liked U2 at this point in my life, so lets not get too carried away. They seemed important. I still think ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ is one of the best attempt at atmospherics by many a rock band, but that was all Eno’s doing in my opinion. It seemed a very impressionistic album even at the time – though I might not have understood what that meant exactly. However, it still seemed to appeal to me a lot – especially in cold weather and no central heating. Also, Larry Mullen’s cheekbones were definitely something to aspire to. He seemed to be popular with girls at the time. He didn’t have brown curly hair.

I’d already started to pay attention to Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure and Siouxsie seeming to act as a bridge towards my goth flirtations into a less undead world were people didn’t cover themselves in flour. Big Audio Dynamite were an early purchase in 1986 and possibly the first influenced by a best albums of the year list – 1985, from The Record Mirror. So everything’s moving neatly towards the present is it? No, for around the same time I also purchased ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’ and Bronski Beat seemed to oddly overlap with heavy metal as 1986 was the year when I demanded 6 LPs for Christmas and began getting into Metallica and a bit of Rush. A check of the charts of the time reveals that this was the era of A-Ha which therefore takes me into a music-class-muck-about hero moment of which I was quite proud – sorry Miss Lloyd.

I recall that we had a music lesson in December where we were all allowed to bring our own music into class and Miss Lloyd would play them and the class had to noted down how many time changes there were in the song. Clearly, Miss Lloyd came out of the prog-music teacher era and I imagine some Van Der Graf Generator might have really blown her mind but I would also probably have been punched quite hard too. The immediate reaction was not one of relief at finally being allowed to bring in our own music and embrace our own counter-culture, instead everyone wanted to work a plan to get records with swear words in them played. Many people simply forgot or didn’t bother. Miss Lloyd sniffed out a copy of ‘Frigging on the Rigging’ rather quickly and banned it. A second copy cunningly hidden inside an A-Ha sleeve was also thrown out. I think literally this time. I managed to go for the obscurity angle and so brought in a home taping (from where or whom, I cannot recall) of a song I declared to be called “Err…Animal?” when asked by Miss Lloyd just as she was about to hit play. It was in fact “Animal (I F**k Like a Beast)” by W.A.S.P. which stood for ‘We Are Sexual Perverts’ rather than the more disturbing white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The song lasted for a line which I think Miss Lloyd heard: ‘I’ve got pictures of naked ladies tied to my bed’, before the tape was removed and thrown at me. I think we managed one time change in the brief time it was allowed on for. I also feel that we could have possibly had a class discussion about lyrical ambiguity as I’m always unclear as to whether Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. either had a) pictures of actual women tied to his own bed in hopefully a rather disturbing bondage ritual or b) he had actually abducted them and tied them up or c) pathetically attached actual pornographic pictures from magazines to his bed so that he could pretend to be with them…well, you know. So, turning to ethics now, which option would be more acceptable in modern society and why?

Music lessons at school were a mostly wasted opportunity. There was a memorable occasion when Hitler walked into class and started dancing jauntily to ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Sadly, ‘Hitler’ was the disciplinarian German teacher, hence her name – she also had a little moustache as well. In another music lesson we were told that The Beatles released their last 3 albums on the same day, something which I knew even then to be utterly false. I kept quiet as the teacher was not only scary but a scary neighbour in my village, however I think Adam Roberts may have been sent out for his protests – big Beatles fan and mod, I think he may have provided me with my random Beatles tape mentioned earlier though I’m not entirely sure on that memory.

Oh crap, I’ve forgotten The Eurythmics, oh no wait – that’s a good thing, Simple Minds too. Never did get around to buying any China Crisis and never bought Level 42 because the bass player is ‘really good’. Big Country – argh, yes, yes guitars like bagpipes – check! Yes, this was not a particularly promising time, a time in fact which would suggest I would soon tire of music and give up listening altogether by about 1992. Except Big Audio Dynamite and sometimes Prince sounded like they came from way beyond that year to my ears.

The chronology is almost impossible to work with on this period. There are chart websites which help, but they only help you remember things that were bought when they were actually in the charts. Back then, records would slowly rise and fall in the charts. Music was less immediate. It had time to develop in the head and the consciousness. That could make the irritating stuff very irritating but it also meant that the good stuff could be better appreciated within the collective consciousness than it can now. A Smiths or U2 album would see an initial rush of attention but it would also last for a long time afterwards and more lyrics would be remembered or chords learnt.

Music faded into the background and then faded back in again. At roughly the same time, my interest in sport intensified but started to die out for a few years at the end of the 80s because Morrissey didn’t like sport and also partly down to Ipswich Town being dreadful for the second half of the 80s.

Who is this person? I must confess that looking back to these early teenage years of mine that surprises emerge all the time. I just take a random date in 1985, look at the charts and remember…(hang on I’m doing it now)…Good Lord! Frankie by Sister Sledge was a number one single! I forget that happening, presumably part of the trauma of owning the record below it – ‘Axel F’. Even the most desperate to be liked elements in my psyche are not going to try to draw a line from ‘Axel F’ and ‘19’ to my love of The Aphex Twin, drum and bass et al. Here are the other top 40 tunes that were lingering around that I bought, taped or listened to that week: Bruce Springsteen, Eurythmics, Marillion, Commentators, Simply Red, The Damned, The Cult and that’s about it…oh, alright, Paul Hardcastle. More on him is to come from when I worked in a record shop. The Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ was possibly my favourite dance tune of the time as it involved trying to chicken dance everyone else into submission as also happened in the ‘verses’ of Wipeout – a pre-Pulp Fiction moment of cool? Or just desperate teenagers trying to be hard…in Morton and Llanymynech as I recall. The influence of The Smiths was some way off and Keats was just a kid whose parents didn’t seem to care if other kids got drunk at his parties.

Perhaps I can now move into properly writing about the music I actually like. My first Echo and the Bunnymen purchase in November 1985 seems like a good starting point and so probably won’t be the starting point that I get around to.

*Interestingly the word ‘tit’ emerged as a typo right when I was trying to communicate that Queen were my favourite band. I find this significant.