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Top 5 “U” Artists

Not the strongest of letters.  Far from a dismal group of 5 however!

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5. Urban, Keith
TV talent shows have a tendency to make me somewhat nauseous.  So don’t hold his foray into that dark area against him: the man can play.

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4. Undertones, The
Another in the ‘new to me’ category, no shortage of energy.

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3. Ugly Kid Joe
Want a higher placement on a Top 5 list than you may actually deserve?  Ensure your music is featured in Wayne’s World!

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2. Uncle Tupelo
Regrettably, I’m not nearly as well versed in these lads as I am in Jeff Tweedy’s subsequent group, Wilco.  What I know by Uncle Tupelo, I like a lot; much like with the Top 5 “F”s, I’m confident in this extrapolation based on my limited sample size.

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1. U2
I was a bigger fan up until university but I must say I’ve become less gaga for Bono & co. over the years.  There’s no debating the credentials though and even if I haven’t been enamored with some of their experiments (see: Pop), I applaud their willingness to try new things.

There are songs in their deep catalogue that I don’t think will ever wear thin (Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, Stay), others where the magic has worn off somewhat.

Admittedly, I do find myself asking the same thing as the ever quotable Chuck Klosterman: “there is only one question about U2 that really matters, and I’m still trying to figure it out…is Bono for real, or is Bono full of ****?”

I can’t figure it out either, so I guess I’ll keep listening!

Perhaps my favourite U2 record and at least one other “U” review are on tap for this week, enjoy!

Richard and Linda Thompson – I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (1974)

[Album 346/1001]

Up until earlier this year, if I heard the name Mr. Thompson, I would think of this:

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I still think of that and smile of course (easily a Top 5 Simpsons episode) but now I’m also grinning ear to ear thinking about another Mr. Thompson.RT_Iwtstblt

Richard is something else.

If I didn’t gush enough over Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief, I will not make the same mistake with I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (IWTSTBLT): it’s simply exquisite.

With my most recent review, perhaps another reason I didn’t ooh and ahh over Tricky is that he had the misfortune of being experienced alongside this one.  Maybe some potentially great albums have just seemed inferior because they were in the rotation next to an absolute masterpiece?  That’s probably happened quite a few times in this project.  To those albums, my apologies, one thousand and one of them.

Unlike with Maxinquaye however, it’s hard to pick standouts here as there isn’t a dud track on IWTSTBLT.  And might I add, what a terrific, user-friendly acronym!

At a running time of less than 40 minutes, I was always left wanting more.

I could go on & on but I think I’d rather play the album again instead.

Oh, there are the opening chords to When I Get to the Border, if you’ll excuse me…

Tricky – Maxinquaye (1995)

[Album 345/1001]220px-Tricky_-_Maxinquaye

Awards are a funny thing.

Forrest Gump is possibly a great movie but I’ll never be able to fully appreciate it: I remain flabbergasted that at the 1995 Academy Awards, the Best Picture card did not feature the text “The Shawshank Redemption.”

That’s ok, they’ll get it right next year…or to paraphrase Britney Spears, oops they did it again: this time my choice (The Usual Supects) wasn’t even nominated!

Surely this madness was limited to the film industry?

Alas, not so much.

Let’s see, best album of the best music year (during my lifetime) that was 1995.

The BendsMorning GloryDifferent Class?

Did you say Maxinquaye?  So did NME back in the day.

It’s also worth noting that from that same bounty crop of music, The Grammy Awards for both Record & Song of the year went to Seal’s Kiss From a Rose.

I believe it was Tom Cochrane who sang, it’s a mad, mad world!

After reading some other ratings & reviews, I’m almost afraid to say I wasn’t a fan of Tricky’s debut record: I can’t think of many another albums that were so universally revered!

Which is one of the reasons why I’d like to eventually join my fellow bloggers in writing about my blogging philosophy.  The idea of ‘not merely toeing the line’ is an important one for me.

Now of course, Maxinquaye is not an unmitigated disaster.

To be fair, Tricky could be neatly categorized under ‘not my cuppa’ and with NME declaring this superior to a few of my favourite records, my expectations skyrocketed.

I’m certainly not opposed to the genre; I really enjoy Portishead’s Dummy.  This one however, is missing a couple of the key ingredients that make Dummy so resonant: the Beth Gibbons vocals & a collection of songs that keeps drawing me back.  Whereas Dummy continued (and continues) to grow on me, I didn’t become any more or less enthusiastic about Maxinquaye after repeated listens.

There was the odd standout among the dozen tracks but a part of me has started to become somewhat leery of standout tracks.  The reason (to be further demonstrated in review #346) being that if individual tracks leap out, it’s sometimes because the rest of the record was just that: the rest, the remainder.

Here, there are the noteworthy back-to-back tracks 3 & 4 but the rest didn’t really change the world for me.

I guess, by 2014, they ran out of the kool-aid that was being served at those mid-90s awards committee meetings?

Top 5 “T” Artists

With a quartet of posts, I reviewed twice as many ‘S’s than I did with most letters.  Then again, ‘S’ was twice as strong and had more than twice as many albums as most other letters.

Unless large, uninterrupted windows of free time suddenly appear this week, I’m likely back to the standard two reviews with the ‘T’s.

But of course, any reviews will follow the obligatory Top 5!

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5. Tribe Called Quest, A
Love that according to my spreadsheets, this got listed as T, a!

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4. Thrills, The
New to me and if I had a wheelhouse, this would find itself safely inside.

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3. Teenage Fanclub
See rationale for #4!

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2. Travis
Between novels, I devour essay collections, typically David Sedaris or Chuck Klosterman.  The latter author & I usually agree on most subjects but our opinions diverge diametrically with regards to Travis.

According to Chuck:

“It does not matter that Coldplay is the sh******* fu***** band I’ve ever heard in my entire fu***** life, or that they sound like a mediocre photocopy of Travis (who sounds like a mediocre photocopy of Radiohead)”

I’ll concede, they have a tendency to sound an awful lot like Thom Yorke & co, so much so that my stunning wife was stunned to hear The Man Who was not actually written & recorded by Radiohead.

I’ll also agree on the noted Radiohead-Travis-Coldplay sound evolution but I’d say the photocopy quality is vastly superior to mediocre!

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1. Tragically Hip, The
Everyone has at least some vivid memories of childhood, key formative moments in his or her lifetime.  Seeing the Locked in the Trunk of Car video enter the Coca-Cola Countdown was an eye-opening/mind-blowing experience for me.

If the mark of a truly great band is being able to string together 5 consecutive top-notch records, the hip’s 90s run from Road Apples through Phantom Power ought to punch their ticket into the exclusive club.

Tricky & Thompson, Richard and Linda reviews are up next, enjoy!

Elliott Smith – Figure 8 (2000)

[Album 344/1001]220px-Elliott_smith_figure_8_cover

I often find myself saying “I see the appeal but…”

Conversely, when it’s a lead singer or a band named Smith, I instead find myself saying “I get why some don’t see the appeal…but frankly they’re missing out!”

Elliott is not for everyone:

- the sad bastard music tag applies
– the frail, whiny voice
– notably with his 1001-listed Either/Or, the deliberate under-production

Figure 8 is more polished but the added gloss never detracts or distracts.

It’s a lot more Beatle-y than I anticipated, with several moments reminding me especially of George.  I’ve since learned Figure 8 was partially recorded at Abbey Road (resisted using a go Figure pun, admirable self-discipline?) and I suppose if you’re going to remind people of another artist, few listeners would have negative associations with the Fab 4.

It appears Elliott was a decade early with the song title Somebody That I Used to Know.  Perhaps not as catchy as the identically-named 2011/2012 smash but I’d still enjoy watching Walk Off The Earth attempt Smith’s propulsive rhythm while crowded around a lone guitar!

The 1001 album it may have the most in common with is, surprising to me at least, Blur’s Parklife.

- Each has 16 tracks and can be split equally into quality classifications of brilliance/’bove average/bread & butter/bizarre (though Elliott’s bizarre category may be switched to barely audible).

- Both records contain some career peaks (Clover Over Dover/Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud) but it’s possible neither album is the strongest overall in either artist’s catalogue.

- Each has a powerful penultimate track followed by a seemingly curious choice of closer.  I think I get it now:  if the albums ended with This is a Low/Can’t Make A Sound, it would be too emotional for a finale.  The palate cleansers provided by the 16th tracks on each allow listeners to get emotions back under control and move on with life.  Sort of like the house lights & music gradually coming on after a second encore at a show, allowing people time to process what they’ve just seen & also start to process out of the building in an orderly fashion.

Or something along those lines, my comparison remains a work in progress.

On the subject of completion, Smith likened the Figure 8 design to the endless pursuit (but never attainment) of perfection.  Sadly, this would be the final studio album released during his lifetime.

Even if he didn’t achieve perfection here, the pursuit makes for a memorable swan song.

Simply Red – Picture Book (1985)

[Album 343/1001]220px-PictureBookSimplyRedalbumcover

I was once gainfully employed at a grocery store named Marilu’s Market.

Why the name Marilu you ask?  It was jointly owned by business partners Mario & Luigi, obviously.  I think my gaming enthusiast friends will agree, talk about a missed opportunity!

As was customary in Golden Horseshoe region grocery stores at the time (in an attempt to increase customer comfort –> increase time in store –> increase sales per visit), the soundtrack all day/every day at Marilu’s was provided by 102.9 K-Lite FM.

The strange thing about listening in that captive audience context is that even a decade and a half later, I probably still know most of the words to dozens of soft rock hits.  However, as this was long before Shazam & I don’t recall the station frequently announcing the artist names, I haven’t the foggiest idea who sang what!

On the second side of Picture Book, hearing Holding Back the Years was a pleasant blast from the past (though I did feel somewhat compelled to check the expiry dates on our dairy products).

The softest of soft rock ballads was a bit misleading though as the bulk of the album is relatively up-tempo.

Will I buy a Simply Red shirt to slide between the other band Ts in my dresser?  Even if not, I certainly can’t say I didn’t enjoy Picture Book.

In fact, as an exercise in juxtaposition, it was a terrific album to listen to alongside Elliott Smith (review #344 to follow).

Also, should you find yourself in need of music during a waffle-making-dance-party with a 4-year old (a common occurrence for most I trust?), the opening tracks on each side will more than get the job done.

If I ever choose to rank the 1001 (and note to future self, I advise against this), I anticipate this would end up in the neighbourhood of Tina Turner’s Private Dancer.  Both are albums that:

- I purchased on cassette for next to nothing
– I listened to on repeat for a day or two
– I didn’t get remotely sick of hearing
– Now that I’ve reviewed them, neither is likely to see much further time in the rotation.

Although I can assure you, when Tina came on at Marilu’s, no artist-identifying software was ever needed!

Supergrass – In It for the Money (1997)

[Album 342/1001]220px-Initforthemoneycover

Question: favourite album cover of the 90s?

One of the instantly identifiable (Nevermind, Very)?  One of the self-titled AKAs (Weezer, Metallica)? Or perhaps, something more disturbing (RHCP, RATM)?

I might have to choose this sophomore Supergrass record.

They’re In It for the Money, bundled up & busking in the cold!

The cover humour is an indication of the good times that follow inside.

I’m hesitant to use the word ‘fun’ as it feels like I’m calling it diverting enough in the short term but easily dismissible.  To rearrange a sentence à la Yoda, further from the truth that could not be.

The melodies are where they ought to be, front and center, and the arrangements have enough depth to make listen #10 just as enjoyable as listen #1.

One possible criticism might be that the album is missing the surefire hits of its predecessor and successor, I Should Coco and Supergrass.  However, what it lacks in big singles it more than makes up for in terms of cohesion; this may be the band’s strongest set.

The individual tunes are no slouches of course: the title track and Cheapskate are just a couple of the high notes among the dozen tunes, a 12-pack seemingly devoid of any lows.

Further dissection adds little.

So go ahead: judge this book by its cover, and have some fun enjoying its contents too!

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