Ruby: 40 Years of Let There Be Rock

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AC/DC – Let There Be Rock

Released March 21st, 1977 on Albert Records

Once I entertained the idea of writing up a discography guide on AC/DC.  Then I thought “Wouldn’t I just be saying the same thing like sixteen times?”  So this is it, this is what can be said in honour of the 40th anniversary of Let There Be Rock.  On AC/DC’s third album, they released another set of songs that detailed the glory of rock ‘n’ roll, warts and all.  It pounds with the force of both heaven and hell combined for forty minutes, ending off with the world-ending power of “Whole Lotta Rosie”.  It’s a gospel of pure rock, telling Tchaikovsky the good news and then spreading it to the whole world.  It has Bon Scott’s howling devil-voice, Angus Young’s knife-in-an-alley guitar solos, Malcom Young’s steady rhythmic hand, and Phil Rudd’s artillery-fire drums.  It also has stripteasing schoolboys, BBW starfuckers, and crabs.  It rocks like nothing else.  What else is there to say?

 

Aluminium: 10 Years of Person Pitch

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Panda Bear – Person Pitch

Released March 20th, 2007 on Paw Tracks

BestEverAlbums: #317

RYM:  #433

When Person Pitch first came out I was of the opinion that it sounded exactly like the Beach Boys, if the Beach Boys had been granted access to high-octane research chemicals during the writing and recording process.  Very little in the ensuing decade has given me any reason to change this opinion.

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Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox was, in early 2007, on top of the world.  His day job band, psychedelic electronic acid-jammers Animal Collective, were being increasingly recognized as one of the most vital bands in contemporary indie rock (Strawberry Jam was just around the corner to cement this status).  Between Feels, AnCo’s breakthrough album, and Person Pitch Lennox moved to Lisbon, Portugal; the sunny climate and generally carefree atmosphere Lennox found heavily influenced the sound of the album.  The stacked vocals evoke a very beachy, very free-wheeling sense of fun and abandon; the sampled loops and instruments that clatter on beneath everything add to the sense of unreality, as though you’re on an endless vacation in a place where the sand is white and the water is a clear, brilliant blue and you have no return ticket.  “Bros” (jam of a lifetime) and “Good Girl/Carrots” add a bit of gallop to the sound, as though the Grateful Dead (pre-Workingman’s Dead) had access to a modern recording studio and all of the LSD they could ever want.

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Person Pitch was the height of Noah Lennox as a solo artist.  His next album would largely ditch the samplers in favour of more guitar-focused work, and his follow-up to that would try to rework samplers back in while striving for a more radio-ready sound.  Neither have the sense of hedonistic abandon that characterizes Person Pitch and neither has the reverb-laden choral quality of vocals that marks the album out as something special.

China: 20 Years of Whatever And Ever Amen

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Ben Folds Five – Whatever And Ever Amen

Released March 18th, 1997 on 550/Epic Records

In 1997, guys like Todd Rundgren, Billy Joel, and Elton John were the stuff of your parent’s dust-collecting record collection, stuff they’d mostly relegated to buying the “Greatest Hits” compilation of and torturing you with constant replays of “Piano Man” and “Candle In The Wind” (well, not my parents, I grew up under a blues purist).  No one gave Ben Folds the memo, though; his second album, Whatever And Ever Amen, drew a direct line from those hoary old ivory-strokers to the contemporary world of ironic folk dudes, ska bands, and second-generation grunge retreads.  It’s decidedly uncool, although Folds wisely cuts the painful sentimentality of those old Seventies dudes with some Xer-approved Alternative Era Snark, which can get tiresome in its own right but for nearly all of the album manages to get by just fine.  While there are some off moments – the plod of “Selfless, Cold and Composed” and the kitchen-sink clutter of “Steven’s Last Night In Town”, mostly – there are a lot of surprisingly poignant moments, such as the “taking my girlfriend to get an abortion” confessional of “Brick”, the song that launched the rest of Ben Folds’ career.

 

Ruby: 40 Years of The Idiot

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Iggy Pop – The Idiot

Released March 18th, 1977 on RCA Records

The Idiot was Iggy Pop’s first release since the final (epic) Stooges album four years previous.  The intervening years had been, to put it mildly, chaotic; the last Stooges show in 1974 had been highlighted by a brawl between the band and a group of bikers, and Pop had delved into cocaine in a heavy way in the years afterward.  At one point in 1976, unable to keep himself from shoveling drugs up his nose, he checked himself into a mental hospital.  An old friend and collaborator, David Bowie, visited him there often and when he was released Bowie took him out on the Station To Station tour, which probably didn’t do wonders for his inability to stay off drugs.  They got busted together in Rochester, NY (although just for marijuana) and in 1977 decided to decamp to West Berlin to kick their habits.  While there, Bowie started playing with the ambient, electronic textures that would inform his Berlin trilogy, and in many ways The Idiot is the first album of Bowie’s Berlin era.  It is entirely unlike much of the rest of Pop’s discography, and musically it is far more reminiscent of, say, a connection between Station To Station and Low.  It’s a funk-influenced R&B and soul album written and recorded by musicians surrounded by German electronic pioneers (Kraftwerk’s seminal Trans Europa Express also came out in March of 1977).

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The Idiot may not be the most “Iggy Pop” album, per se, but it is a great album nonetheless.  Bowie’s work in Germany is presaged in most ways by his work here, and he admitted several years later that he used Iggy Pop as a sort of guinea pig for the sound that he wanted to flesh out on his own records.  As such, it features Iggy Pop crooning like the sort of deranged android Lothario that the Thin White Duke himself was at that time.  Bowie himself would in fact nick a couple of the songs a few years later:  the grinding “Sister Midnight” would become “Red Money” on 1979’s Lodger and of course the Bowie version of “China Girl” from 1983 was a much bigger hit.  The Idiot is a perfect summation of where both of them were at when a desire to get the hell out of L.A. hit them in very early 1977:  drugged-out, discoed-out, dragging themselves through the night and generally feeling as though the entire world had been struck down an octave or so in pitch (or, how “Mass Production” sounds).  It would go on to have great influence on a number of up-and-coming goth, post-punk, and eventually industrial groups.  Siouxsie Sioux and Martin Glover (of Killing Joke) both singled the album out as a favourite and it was still spinning on Ian Curtis’ turntable when he hung himself in 1980.  The drum beat from “Nightclubbing” was reworked as “Closer”, the biggest hit Nine Inch Nails ever had; it was also appropriated by both Oasis and the Sneaker Pimps, proving a sort of bizarre cross-genre affection for The Idiot‘s Pop-Gone-Bowie charm.  While the Sunset Strip bands would try to manufacture and sell a flashy, inclusive sort of sleaze, The Idiot was a piss-take of sleaze-rock that skewered all of those bands ten years in advance.

 

China: 20 Years of The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified

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The Dismemberment Plan – The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified

Released March 17th, 1997 on DeSoto Records

The Dismemberment Plan are the perfect band to dance like no one’s watching to.  Hell, that’s pretty much how they played music.  With a couple of exceptions, the songs on The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified are either played with abandon – nearly random guitar squiggles, songs that explode out in every direction at once, and then suddenly veer off in another direction – or played as moody proto-indie songs that come out as confessions.  Occasionally, as on “The Ice Of Boston” (still the best New Year’s song out there), they’re both.  In an interview with Stylus singer Travis Morrison described it as “the most dedicated to hip-hop record we have.”  I feel like this is sort of what Christgau was saying when he said that The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified sounded “sort of the way Primus might if Primus enjoyed a normal sex life.”  It’s an album that writhes spastically in odd directions but is still completely relatable, as though you just discovered that your accountant was in a noise rock band.  While it was eclipsed by it’s followup, the sublime Emergency & I, it’s a recommended listen for anyone into noise rock, or post-hardcore, or inventive post-punk in general.

 

GOLD: 50 Years of The Velvet Underground And Nico

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The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground and Nico

Released March 12th, 1967 on Verve Records

BestEverAlbums: #10

RYM:  #3

In 1967 very few people cared at all about a rock band of misfits and New York scenesters named The Velvet Underground.  Fifty years later they are revered as the jumping off point for rock ‘n’ roll’s Great Weird Journey, through punk rock, New Wave, art-damaged shoegazer, weird gothic rock, and the explosion of blog-fueled indie artistic abandon.  Look at the fine users of Rate Your Music:  they’ve voted the album the third greatest album in existence.  BEA’s users have it in the number ten slot.  This is an album that sold nothing upon it’s original release (relatively nothing, anyway). The influence that it has had on music since it’s release is difficult to overstate, which is all the more fascinating considering it’s ignominious beginnings.

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The Velvet Underground were not superstars by any stretch of the imagination.  When I say that no one cared about them upon the release of The Velvet Underground And Nico, I mean that; outside of some Bohemian art circles in New York City, the reaction to them could be characterized as “extreme indifference”.  Even the hippies thought they were garbage, if they thought about them at all.  Their 45 singles were utter failures, and the album sold an abysmally small number of copies.  1967 was the Summer of Love – the year of Sgt. Peppers, the year of “Incense and Peppermints.” No one seemed to want a group of artsy weirdos singing about bondage and heroin.  Those that did pick up the album, however, were listening intently.  In 1982, ambient pioneer Brian Eno said that the band may have only sold 30,000 copies, but each one of those 30,000 people went out and started a band.  Punk rock, especially, took an obvious cue from The Velvet Underground; the fashion, the obsession with squalor, and the drugs were all cribbed from the VU’s squalid-Bohemian existence.

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They were not psychedelic trend-chasers and they were not radio-friendly record label creations.  The Velvet Underground were first and foremost Andy Warhol’s house band.  Some of the songs on The Velvet Underground and Nico are about the NYC art scene; some are about specific members of that scene.  Lou Reed, the band’s principal songwriter, came from a troubled background (including some therapy that Vice President Mike Pence would be a big fan of) and spent the early part of the 1960s as a songwriter for Pickwick Records, where he eventually penned a parody of ‘dance craze’ music called “The Ostrich.”  For some unknown reason the people of Pickwick decided that the bizarre dance tune had some radio potential and enlisted a full band to record a slick version of it.  One of the band members was John Cale, who struck up a friendship with Reed; they formed a band and invited Reed’s friend from college Sterling Morrison and Cale’s neighbour, Angus MacLise, to join.  MacLise was out before the first gig, since he objected to accepting money to perform art; he was replaced by Maureen Tucker and the lineup that would record the first album was set.  They caught the attention of Warhol, who folded them into his art collective and then introduced them to stylish German singer Nico.  Reed was unsure about Nico at first, but Warhol was paying, and she ended up gracing four of the album’s key songs:  “Femme Fatale”, “I’ll Be Your Mirror”, “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, and their first, and possibly best, song, “Sunday Morning”.

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In an interview with Guitar World, Reed once claimed that there was only one rule in the Velvet Underground:  “No blues riffs”.  This marks the album out from virtually everything else that came out in 1967.  Like another great album we’ll discuss later this year, it stands staunchly opposed to the sound of the Summer of Love.  John Cale, who would later make his name as a postmodern composer, put a great deal of viola on the record, but it was a viola that was strung with banjo and guitar strings; Lou Reed played around with non-standard tunings for his guitar, including a tuning that he’d used originally on “The Ostrich” that had each string tuned to the same note.  Many songs were composed out of gentle, avant-folk balladry or odd, stretched-out taffy droning, or both; it is quite unlike anything else that was popular at the time and as such it’s not particularly surprising that the record failed to sell well.  Again, however, it’s not the number of people that were listening, it was who was listening; a number of proto-punk rockers took the album as a rallying cry to be weird, and this extended out beyond the Iron Curtain as well.

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The record would play a particularly important role in Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia.  It was purchased by Vaclav Havel, a philosopher and writer who would eventually become President of post-Soviet Czechoslovakia.  Havel smuggled the record back into Prague, where it was copied innumerable times and passed around the city’s art community.  As the saying goes, whoever listened to it started a band; a number of avant-garde artists in the Czech capitol were inspired by it to stage their own cutting-edge art shows.  The 1968 invasion by the Soviet Union to crush market socialism drove them all underground, but the avant shows continued in secret.  Importantly, The Plastic People Of The Universe incorporated a number of Velvet Underground songs into their repertoire, which they used to battle repression at a series of illicit shows during the early 1970s.  Along with a number of other dissident artists, the Plastic People Of The Universe were arrested in 1976, an act that lead to the Charter 77 movement, a group of dissidents that sought to protect human rights from Soviet oppression.  Charter 77 was led by Havel, and by 1989 they leveraged the disintegration of Muscovite hegemony into the destruction of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party and Havel into the Presidency.

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The Velvet Underground And Nico helped bring freedom to oppressed people. There aren’t many million-sellers that can claim the same.

 

 

Pearl: 30 Years of The Joshua Tree

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U2 – The Joshua Tree

Released March 9th, 1987 on Island Records

BestEverAlbums: #34

Boy made them New Wave stars.  War broke them into a bigger stage and staked their claim as political rockers.  The Unforgettable Fire led Rolling Stone to claim them as “The Band of the 80s…for many, the only rock ‘n’ roll band that matters.”  One more push – The Joshua Tree – and they were bona-fide world-straddling superstars.

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The Unforgettable Fire had been more in the line of an experimental album, produced as it was by the duo of Brian Eno and his faithful engineer Daniel Lanois.  It’s textures were complicated, it’s songs more impressions than compositions, and it proved to be difficult to translate to a concert setting.  For their follow-up, the band wanted to keep the best lessons they’d learned from Eno and Lanois, but pare down, and make their sound more expansive.  In the write-up on Neon Bible a few days ago I mentioned that the ocean was the overarching metaphor for the album.  In the case of The Joshua Tree, the overarching metaphor is the desert – wide-open, expansive, cinematic in quality.  The foundation of this ideal is The Edge’s guitar work.  He makes good use of delay, and by “good use” I mean “wrestles it into submission and makes the effect his very own.”  Whole reams of music journalism have been written about his playing on tracks like “Where The Streets Have No Name” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (and, more subtly, on “Running To Stand Still.”  On the other side, he uses slide techniques he gleaned from a friendship with Keith Richards to approximate the sound of fighter planes and dive bombers on the hard-as-nails “Bullet The Blue Sky.”  The rest of the band puts in a yeoman’s work – including Bono, whose voice has never fit the music better, before or since – but The Joshua Tree is without a doubt The Edge’s showcase.

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It’s not just about wide-open desert vistas, of course.  A big theme of the album is the Irish band’s love-hate relationship with America.  Before the recording of the album, Bono visited El Salvador to witness the civil war first-hand.  He returned deeply angry with the Reagan administration and American foreign policy in general – this was the heart of “Bullet The Blue Sky” and “Mothers Of The Disappeared”.  Ireland and the UK did not escape his anger, either:  “Where The Streets Have No Name” is about economic segregation in Belfast, “Red Hill Mining Town” is about the aftermath of the 1984 mining strike in the UK, and “Running To Stand Still” is about drug addiction in Dublin.  There’s also a sense of Bono being on a sort of spiritual quest for faith and renewal, with Biblical references, the yearning of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, and the grief for a lost friend that forms the basis of “One Tree Hill.”

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In the aftermath, the band would go on to become crossover pop superstars:  millions of albums sold, sold-out world tours, being taken seriously by world leaders.  Achtung Baby would be a good follow-up in it’s own right, but after the things that were charming on The Joshua Tree would become over-exaggerated in the harsh floodlights of global fame.  The Edge’s guitar work would strive to go further and eventually collapse into self-parody, then complacency.  Bono’s anger and spirituality would become tiresome, as he became another jet-setting European elitist making pretty speeches about poverty in the Global South, while conditions continued to deteriorate.  Simply put, U2 would never again be as good as they were on The Joshua Tree.

 

Ruby: 40 Years of Foreigner

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Foreigner – Foreigner 

Released March 8th, 1977 on Atlantic Records

The death knell of traditional freewheeling rock ‘n’ roll – the last sound to really embrace it before it all shot off in the direction of punk and metal – was the sound of Foreigner.  On paper it was one of those regrettable supergroups that pop up continuously in rock history, like Asia or Velvet Revolver or Divine Fits.  Mick Jones, friend of the Beatles and guitarist for Spooky Tooth, got together with Ian McDonald (formerly of King Crimson) and Lou Gramm (from the largely unknown and by-then defunct Black Sheep) to play prog-tinged, flashy rock ‘n’ roll.  It seemed, and continues to seem, crassly put together by label executives to sell records and get radio play, but it came out at just the right time to cash in before the revolution.

Boston came out in 1976, and it set the standard for slickly produced prog-pop.  Foreigner was a sort of response to it, doubling down on the effort to get sticky melodies and traditionally hard guitar in the heads of radio listeners.  Boston, Styx, Supertramp, Foreigner – all of those bands that Adam Sandler is always going on about – dominated rock radio by the end of 1977.  It’s drivetime commute music, arena rock that lived up to it’s name.  McDonald and Jones’ work did the job admirably, of course; Foreigner is one of those debuts that has a number of indelible singles attached to it that will live on until the youngest of the Boomers has passed on.  “Feels Like The First Time” and “Cold As Ice” are anchors on classic rock radio, while “Starrider” and “Long, Long Way From Home” show a somewhat deeper side of the band.  “Headknocker” showcases the real enduring problem with Foreigner – Lou Gramm.  The songs are always well-written, airtight compositions of rock ‘n’ roll that morphs a little with the times in order to fit in on the radio.  Gramm oversings them like he actually believes he’s a rock ‘n’ roll hero and not the singer for a radio friendly unit shifter.  Consequently, a song like “Headknocker”, which could be a decently gritty rock tune, gets rendered a little ridiculous by Gramm’s hair-in-the-wind Jesus Christ pose.  I’ve always wanted to hear Craig Finn’s take on the song, provided the idea didn’t make him a little queasy.

Change was just around the corner, and within three years you couldn’t sell an album like Foreigner if you tried.  It encapsulates the final form of a certain sound that had been knocking around the rock milieu since 1969 and it nails it, more or less.  First wave punk, New Wave, and the charge of the hair metal brigade would obliterate it in the end, forcing bands like Foreigner to trade in ever-slicker and desperately hedonistic songs before finally collapsing into Power Ballad Hell.  The Eighties could be terribly unkind.  Before that ignominy, however, Foreigner functions like an artillery blast in the night, showing that maybe the old guard wasn’t dying quite as quickly as anyone might have thought.

Aluminium: 10 Years of Neon Bible

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Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

Released March 3rd, 2007 on Merge Records

BestEverAlbums: #99

RYM:  #426

Rock ‘n’ roll is shot through with instances of the Difficult Second Album.  A band makes it big, often by surprise, with a debut album that resonates with the masses.  The band then tours like mad, builds up a huge amount of hype, and is suddenly faced with the prospect of having to follow up that glorious debut with something that keeps the momentum going.  James Hetfield once said “you have 18 years to write your first album, and six months to write the second,” and it’s uncomfortably true.  Metallica themselves made it through okay, releasing a second album that was even better than their debut; many other bands have fallen by the wayside by doing the exact opposite.  Often, bands will either release an album that completely falls flat (let’s talk about Marcy Playground some more) or an album that rehashes the first with diminishing results (hello Cloud Nothings).  The hype and pressure combine to completely wreck a band in the process of trying to prove that they’re more than just a flash in the pan.

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So, Arcade Fire, Greatest Band Of Their Generation.  Funeral was huge when it came out in 2004.  I wept – literally wept – when I first heard “Neighbourhoods #1 (Tunnels)”.  There was a choral nature to the album that struck everyone that listened to it.  It was exactly as it appeared at first blush – the sound of a group of people working out their grief through music that, instead of wallowing in misery, affirmed the beauty and the inherent goodness of life.  If you held a gun to my head, Funeral would be my choice for the greatest album ever recorded.  Hell, you wouldn’t even have to point a gun at my head.  You could just point.  You could ask.  You could be in the same room as me.  I could walk into the room you were in, and I’d tell you the same.  It would get annoying.

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How to follow it up, though?  The gap between 2004 and 2007 was a long one and the hipsters were waiting for the second Arcade Fire with knives sharpened over and over again.  When it came out, they leapt on it, ready with accusations:  “Ugh, earnest lyrics and politics, how pretentious” and “OMG, it’s so Bruce Springsteen, how gauche” (a line Rolling Stone would take with The Suburbs, with lumbering Boomer efficiency).  Neon Bible shrugs both accusations off, however.  To the first, it adopts a certain fatalism with regard to its apocalyptic subject matter.  In 2006-2007, war fatigue had set in across the Western world.  Bush was in the middle of his Difficult Second Term, and the band’s own home country was engulfed in economic restructuring and political instability.  The crash was still a year off, but the signs of the gathering storm were everywhere.  “Keep The Car Running” wasn’t just paranoia; in 2007, there was a palpable sense that there was something coming, and it was coming in hard.  Who’s to say that, ten years later, the song isn’t even more viscerally relevant:  disappearing from friends and family, gone into the night.  The knock at 4 AM.  The same place animals go when they die.  Keep one eye to the door, listen out for the neighbours, and the stairs.  Keep the car running.

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There’s that same heady weight to all of these songs.  “Black Mirror” (with that soulful twisting French line that seems to flow out of Regine Chassande like fine chocolate) walks out to the ocean and is greeted with an implacable and ancient force that is as humbling to the human psyche as the stars.  The vast, impersonal ocean crops up again and again throughout the album.  “Black Wave / Bad Vibrations” and “Ocean Of Noise” both tread the same waters, wondering what good human fuckery is in the face of a monolithic force that will always override them without thought or care.  “Neon Bible” and “Intervention” both tackle the grim joy of the Christianity of city missions and the inherent hypocrisy embedded in devout evangelical religion.  “(Antichrist Television Blues)” furthers this exploration by positing Joe Simpson, father of Jessica, imploring God to treat Joe as his mouthpiece and show His glory by selling his daughter to the entertainment machine “to show the world what you’re doing to me”.  “Windowsill” turns away from that same entertainment machine, and from it’s dread implication, Pax Americana.  “I don’t want to live in my father’s house no more” he sings, “I don’t want to live in America no more.”  “Windowsill” is like “Keep The Car Running” in that it knows that something is coming.  Conor Oberst once sang “I Don’t Know When But A Day’s Gonna Come” and all three know that to be true.  “World War III, when are you coming for me?” Win Butler sings, and it’s a question that can still be asked a decade on.  “No Cars Go” is his answer to all of the above:  fuck it, let’s just leave.  We’ll find a place where this death trap we’ve created and christened as The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, Western Civilization can’t find us.  No planes no trains no automobiles.  No snowmobiles and no skis.  No bosses, no bankers, no landlords.  “My Body Is A Cage” ends on a more intimate note, something more like what “Crown Of Love” was on Funeral; if you’ve never seen the spaghetti western mash-up video for it, you should look that up right now.

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Where the hipsters saw pretension, there actually exists unvarnished emotion and the sound of a band tapping into the zeitgeist.  The second accusation is much easier to dismiss.  Who doesn’t want to sound like Bruce Springsteen?  I mean, he’s the Boss.  Plus, this cacophony of instrumentation – these guitars, these church organs, violins, clarinets, keyboards, drums, synthesizers, these massed and stacked and soaring vocals – conjures up all of the power that was latent in the Boss’ music in the 1970s and fills it with glorious noise.  When that wall of organ crashes over you (like an ocean wave) on “My Body Is A Cage”, it is at once utterly obliterating and more apocalyptic than even Bruce “There’s no more jobs anymore on account of the economy” Springsteen could have summoned up by 1980.  Win Butler and Co. are earnest and straight-talking, up to a point, but their flair for the dramatic is unmatched in any other band, contemporary or classic.

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Neon Bible is often the overlooked album in the Arcade Fire canon.  Funeral was the critical bombshell; The Suburbs was the mainstream hit; Reflektor was the Defiant Artistic Statement.  Neon Bible, meanwhile, doesn’t have an ethos-defining peg to hang from – but it might be their most consistent album, and it hits with the implacable force of a tsunami.

China: 20 Years of The Boatman’s Call

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Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call

Released March 3rd, 1997 on Mute Records

BestEverAlbums: #387

Nick Cave is easily one of the most enduring artists in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.  In the 1980s he staked his name on crawling, disturbing post-punk that encapsulated the violence and Biblical darkness of a mythologized American South (this despite growing up in Australia and basing himself out of England).  From 1994’s Let Love In onward, he tempered the abrasive potentials of his songs with a renewed focus on texture, including piano and gentler tempos.  Despite this, both it and 1996’s classic Murder Ballads reveled in the darkness, spiking moody atmospheres with moments of bone-chilling terror and loud musical moments. The Boatman’s Call, then, is an anomaly in his catalog.  Everything before and after is shot through with darkness, full of revenge, murder, and sinners in the hands of an angry God.  While 2001’s …And No More Shall We Part continued on with the exploration of gentler tones, The Boatman’s Call is also a musing exploration of spirituality and love.

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“I’ve felt you coming girl, as you drew near,” he sings on “Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?”, “I knew you’d find me, cause I longed you here.”  This is a somewhat atypical Nick Cave lyric.  Also atypical is “Just like a bird that sings up the sun / In a dawn so very dark / such is my faith for you,” the opening line from “There Is A Kingdom”, a song that feels as New Testament as Cave’s other work is Old Testament.  “West Country Girl”, “Black Hair”, and “Into My Arms” are all about PJ Harvey, whom Cave dated briefly in the middle of the Nineties.  “Into My Arms” was also performed at Michael Hutchence’s funeral (after Cave requested the cameras be shut off, so don’t go looking for footage).  It’s also the wedding song of my wife and I; it was originally going to be “Have I Told You Lately” before we remembered that latter-day Rod Stewart sucks.

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That said, there are a couple of songs on The Boatman’s Call which can be considered more standard fare for Nick Cave.  “People Ain’t No Good” walks that careful line between love and death that is familiar for Cave fans (and also found it’s way into Shrek 2 somehow); “Lime Tree Arbour” straddles that same line, although in that case it’s love protecting Cave from death rather than the other way around.  “Idiot Prayer” is also about dying, although there’s a firm sense of fatality that accompanies the line “If you’re in Hell, then what can I say / You probably deserved it anyway / I guess I’m gonna find out any day / For we’ll meet again / And there’ll be Hell to pay.”  The real summation of the album – and perhaps Cave’s career as a whole – comes on the final song, “I Got You Bad”.  “Babe I got you bad / Dreaming blood-wet dreams / Only madmen have / Baby I got you bad.”