Entry for September 20, 2006

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1984: THE YEAR IN RECORDS

 

1984 was pretty much like 1983, except it had a better name. People who were supposed to make great records made them, people who were supposed to make terrible records made them, and people who even cared continued caring. Sort of.

I don’t know how much I cared. I’m as fascinated by music as I ever was–at this point maybe even more so, because some avenues I thought I wasn’t interested in exploring anymore were reopened to me. The best time I had in record stores this year, for instance, came by browsing in the bargain bins and picking up a series of blues cut-outs on England’s Charly label; they were Italian versions of the Brit compilations (which might explain their deletion; those of us born-to-pasta prefer art-rock to blues) and featured vital recordings by artists like John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Reed and other American greats. Sitting next to them in the rock bins were similar sets by Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Eddie Cochran and other artists, all virtually at their peak.

It’s ironic that Americans have to depend on other countries’ record companies to put together compilations of this caliber–the recent French reissues of James Brown’s classic King albums a prime example of material that never should have been out of print in the States, but, typically, is. And while American companies like Solid Smoke are struggling to rectify the problem, they simply don’t have the resources of their European major label counterparts.

Fantasy Records is the U.S. label most committed to a solid reissue program; their Original Classic series has put back in print some of the finest jazz records ever–recorded by artists like Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Bill Evans–all in their original covers and all at the incredible list price of $5.98. The fact that the program is highly successful points hopefully toward a time when all American record companies will follow Fantasy’s lead and stop ignoring their vital back catalogs. Only recently, in fact, RCA began a commendable reissue series of Elvis Presley recordings, and their commitment to fine quality–the records will be high quality virgin vinyl and in their original monaural state–should set a new standard for rival companies jumping on the reissue bandwagon.

MAJOR TREND OF 1984: Good American rock records were released here either on small, independent labels or else totally by accident–that is, smart folks at major A&R departments managed to convince their higher-ups to release albums by bands who were already signed to non-U.S. companies. Thus, there was no need to do any of the groundwork necessary to establish a new artist–i.e.  tour promotion, video investments–instead just some dollars forked over to somebody for “American rights.” Most major American signings were of bands who had already established themselves through U.S. independent labels–bands like R.E.M. or the Dream Syndicate–or bands that were clones of other, already established major American bands. Which meant, of course, that every company went nuts looking for “their” Van Halen, Quiet Riot, or Missing Persons, and that they were getting fat, lazy and even more conservative in the process.

Let’s begin where it counts:

 

MOST DISAPPOINTING

Major artists don’t stay major for very long if they can’t be consistent, and while nobody’s going to kick David Bowie downstairs for a few more years, his very weak Tonight album was a vast disappointment. While it’s great that Iggy Pop will be benefiting financially from Bowie’s lack of direction (and new songs), charity work has never been Bowie’s forte, and here it shows … New Sensations has several superb songs, not least its title track, but both it and the recent Live In Italy import set by Lou Reed aren’t up to the new standard he set with The Blue Mask. Ditto John Cale‘s Caribbean Sunset, which painfully proves that Cale should return to putting as much care into his records as he did prior to Fear. It’s a thrown-together mishmash which may be spontaneous, but who cares? Considering that PolyGram will soon be reissuing the first three Velvet Underground albums and a new set of outtakes (which hopefully will be of better fidelity than the ones that’ve made bootleg rounds for years), comparisons of both artists’ work then and now won’t exactly work to their benefit … Elvis Costello and Difford & Tilbrook both released disappointing albums too formulaic for my taste; Costello seems to need a little time off to reevaluate his direction, and the former Squeezers could have debuted with a much more tuneful set. Whatever happened to strong melodies? … Talking Heads‘ soundtrack to Stop Making Sense would’ve been a lot more impressive if they hadn’t already done a live album. But they did … What inroads Joe Jackson and the Motels‘ Martha Davis might’ve made in the past as good songwriters have been trashed with Body & Soul and Little Robbers. Both sets were embarrassingly slick and tuneless. Would be nice to see the Motels kiss off producer Val Garay, as well … Hysteria was a very non-hysterical follow-up to the Human League‘s Dare. With the exception of “The Lebanon” and “Life On Your Own,” the songs were as boring as their detractors have always made out. Liven up, guys… Speaking of hysteria, Little Steven‘s Voice Of America was a fine example of why musicians are better at music than they are at politics. I would mention whether I agreed with his politics if I could discern what exactly they are … John Lennon & Yoko Ono‘s Milk And Honey was neither milk nor honey. In fact, it was a record that never would’ve been released if anybody was smart … Roger Waters‘s The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking was another tuneless mess, mainly because it was intended to be “abstract” and filled with deep meaning. What it meant to me was that Roger Waters has a lot of friends who won’t tell him when he’s making a fool of himself. With the exception of the title track, there isn’t a real song on it …Van Dyke Parks returned with Jump, which sounded like everything but a pop record–which it wasn’t supposed to be in the first place, we were told, so why worry? Guaranteed to be the most-praised-record-of-the-year-that-critics-will-never-listen-to-again-for-the-rest-of-their-lives.

 

SURPRISINGLY GOOD RECORDS

But it wasn’t all downhill for old fogies. Take Robin Gibb, for instance. The former Bee Gee’s third solo LP, Secret Agent, was surprisingly contemporary sounding–thanks in a very large part to the same production team that made Shannon’s album so hot. Lyrically the guy’s still nuts, but what the heck …the Everly Brothers‘ return with EB ’84 couldn’t have been better. It’s about time a “comeback”album was a hype-less, pure classic affair, and Dave Edmunds’s production was just right. Could’ve done without “Lay Lady Lay,” though… Christine McVie’s album was another gem; as always, she sounds better with each listen. Steve Winwood’s assistance helped–so what’s he been doing lately? … While we’re talking about the Return Of The Triumphant Old Farts, let’s congratulate Johnny Winter, Peter Wolf, David Gilmour and Poco–yes, Poco–all who’ve been making music longer than they’d care to admit and who came up with surprisingly energetic, well-crafted albums this year … On the Texas front, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble and the Leroi Brothers both held down the fort with solid, blues-based albums which proved a viable alternative to synthesizers and “controlled feedback” by bands who spent too much time copying the Velvet Underground…Which indirectly leads to the Robert Quine/Fred Maher album, which I’ve found myself writing to more than any other album this year. Unfortunately, it shows … Another record that makes more sense as background music is David Van Tiegham‘s These Things Happen–you can type along with it for added percussive value, and it’s also great fun in your car. Loud, at stoplights … Two more ambient LPs of note: Harold Budd & Brian Eno‘s The Pearl. which is probably the finest thing Eno’s had his name on in years, and Hans-Joachim Roedelius‘s Gift Of The Moment–which just sort of sits there, but so what? … Credible, often approaching actual good albums by these chart mainstays: Van Halen, the Cars, Pretenders, Eurythmics, Wang Chung and, gulp, Billy Idol … Hot stuff on American independent labels includes the new Love Tractor EP, Husker Du‘s Zen Arcade, the Rain Parade mini-LP, and Justin Love‘s Rockola (available from Lovin’ Records, P.O. Box 166, Syosset, NY 11791–and worth checking out) … Ian McCulloch may be the most obnoxious asshole since Kevin DuBrow, but I have to admit Ocean Rain is a much better Echo & the Bunnymen album than their last. He’s still a terrible lyricist, though … Rickie Lee Jones will have a hard time making a better record than her previous Pirates–that 10-inch EP didn’t really count–but for now, at least, I’m grateful she gave us The Magazine Peter Blegvad‘s The Naked Shakespeare is a late-’83 Brit import produced by XTC’s Andy Partridge, and it’s a lot more accessible than the stuff he used to do with Slapp Happy. Recommended … Finally, Julian Lennon‘s Valotte is an entirely respectable debut for a guy who can only blame genetics for singing that way. Title cut is best…

 

BLACK MUSIC

“Black music” is a zany concept in and of itself–I mean, by the official Billboard chart rules, I suppose Donna Summer‘s newest music is “black” and Champaign‘s is “white.” Of course this is racist and stupid; it’s also so complex an issue I’m not going to deal with it here. Let me suggest you turn to Jim Feldman’s article, elsewhere in this issue, and see what he has to say … Meanwhile, regardless of any category, both Prince and Tina Turner had the biggest albums of their careers in 1984, which you already know … I liked Tina Turner’s a little more than Prince’s, actually, mostly because it was a more consistent record, despite its many producers. “What’s Love Got To Do With It” may be the year’s best single–I’m still not sick of it–and I’m convinced it’ll be kicking around longer than “When Doves Cry,” which has worn pretty thin these last few months … Upfront, I’ll mention I’m not one of Prince’s biggest fans; in fact I always preferred the Time, at least ’til their final Ice Cream Castle album, which is their worst. Why? Well, despite what’s been said in the press about Prince’s “deep involvement” in the writing of their material–which I find highly questionable–I think it has more to do with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who departed after What Time Is It? to pursue independent production projects. They’re sorely missed on Ice Cream Castle, and the charismatic Morris Day just isn’t the same without ’em. As for the rest of the Prince entourage, Sheila E.’s album was lightweight but nice, and Apollonia 6‘s was a pale, self-conscious imitation of the far superior Vanity 6 album of two years ago … Speaking of Vanity, her own solo album was much better than most people were expecting … Among the production projects of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, incidentally, were some tracks on albums by Cherrelle, the S.O.S. Band and Change. All good stuff, but spotty … As for the inevitable Jacksons: Victory had a few good tracks but was the best example of the too-many-cooks principle in action … Brother Jermaine may have recorded his finest album ever, but its success was totally overshadowed by the relative failure of Victory … While Rebbie Jackson’s “Centipede” single–the one little brother Michael dedicated to his “Mannequin friends”–was the best track on her debut, sister LaToya didn’t fare so well with her third set, Heart Don’t Lie. Winner was little sister Janet, whose Dream Street was best of the bunch … And the second album from the System didn’t quite reach the heights of their first … Other albums I enjoyed included those by Chaka Khan, Mtume (actually, mostly “Tie Me Up”–get this lyric: “Tie me up/I love the way you wiggle/Wiggle right across the floor”), Duke Bootee, Randy Hall, and the latest from Evelyn “Champagne” King … Mostly, I heard too many strong singles that weren’t backed up by strong albums … As I said, Jim Feldman provides a detailed look at the year’s best black music elsewhere. Meanwhile, let me leave you with the following incredible quote–actually printed this year in the Village Voice–about Afrika Bambaataa: “He’s not a great singer, rapper, songwriter, producer, musician, or, technically speaking, a great deejay, which makes his status as a record maker problematic.”

And you think it’s easy being a music critic?

 

MERE PRODUCT

“Product” is what you call it when you’ve got an album that sounds like, looks like and even smells like somebody somewhere fulfilling the terms of a recording contract. Or one that–no matter how good it might be, relative to the artist’s other records–is still gonna die the death in the cut-out bins. Or else one that’s just a piece of shit … so let’s consider how utterly fascinating the latest records by Platinum Blonde, Illustrated Man, Fast Forward, Richard James Burgess, the Group and Dead Or Alive were … All done? Great. Those were the pieces of shit … OK, were we talking about contract fulfillment here? A word then for Southside Johnny and Greg Kihn‘s latest, both truly “in$pired” works… Perhaps at one time these bands seemed ready to take on the world, but 1984 has not been good to A Flock Of Seagulls, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Split Enz or Icehouse. There wasn’t a good song to be found anywhere on their new records … The most inspirational part of the new Red Rockers album is certainly not its awful cover, nor its awful (and pointless) cover version of “Eve Of Destruction.” It’s that I only had to listen to it once…Bands that could be making better records, but didn’t this year: Thompson Twins, Special AKA (contracts ‘n’ stuff), Devo, the Psychedelic Furs … People you might’ve assumed were dead but actually weren’t–though you wouldn’t know from their new records: Roger Glover, Patrick Moraz, David Knopfler (ex-Dire Straits, the next Tom Fogerty), Keats (actually Colin Blunstone and Peter Bardens–from the Zombies and Them, respectively–and the guys from Pilot, all sounding worse than they did with Alan Parsons) and Jools HollandMissing Persons and Berlin, grouped together here just for inanity’s sake, have yet one more thing in common: they still stink … Bruce Foxton, ex-Jam bassist, put together a decent solo LP but still comes off faceless. Product, y’see … Pretty hard to get excited by the latest from the Fixx, Andy Summers & Robert Fripp, and Cristina. But then, again it always is…

 

BACK IN ACTION

I’d be the first to admit it’s fun watching talentless dummies make bad records and get dropped by their label–but it’s even more fun when people you thought were long gone come back strong. 1984 was a great year for comebacks, then–a surprising number of strong returns by former major artists. Among them, respectable new sets by Andy Fraser, Slade, Gene Clark, Joe Cocker, Laura Nyro, Russ Ballard, Jim Capaldi, and even Stephen Stills … Both Bert Jansch and John Fahey released fine albums as well: it should be interesting to watch Jansch’s upcoming Pentangle reunion with former guitarist partner John Renbourn … Another hot guitarist, Tom Verlaine, emerged with his best solo album since his very first. Cover is still too cold to totally warm up to, but he’s back on track … People I thought we’d never hear from again: Rod Falconer, formerly the Rod Taylor who released an interesting LP for Asylum in the early ’70s and then, as Roderick Falconer, came back later in a semi-Nazi regalia for two strange United Artists albums. Can’t say I missed him much, but it’s reassuring that he’s still around. I guess…Robert Hunter still can’t sing, but his latest double-record set (on Relix, appropriately) features guitar playing by John Cippolina and Jorma Kaukonen, worthwhile for that reason alone … Speaking of space music–I mean, you remember “Calvary” and “A Small Package Of Value Will Come To You Shortly,” don’t you?–the finest space band ever was at least partially in evidence in ’84. I’m speaking of Can, of course, Germany‘s finest group and probably the most influential band since the Velvets for trendy Europeans. Bassist Holger Czukay released Der Osten Ist Rot, a typically weird solo LP featuring a telephone answering machine and a deplorable lack of whining Vietnamese babies. Irmin Schmidt, also of Can, spent most of his time recording film and television soundtracks. 1984 brought two that were exceptional–Rote Erde and Filmmusik Vol. 3 & 4. The latter features all Can members but Czukay and is probably the best record they’ve done since Can’s Saw Delight. All imports. Another import: the DeviantsHuman Garbage. A live reunion album of a very noteworthy ’60s British group featuring soon-to-be-writer-and-solo-artist Mick Farren, the album is sloppy, noisy and tremendous fun to drink to. No small praise … Not lots of room left, but enough to note that Van Morrison’s excellent Live At The Grand Opera House Belfast wasn’t even released in the States, which verges on the criminal. It’s superbly recorded and consolidates some of the best material he’s written in the past few years. Buy it or die … Finally, respectable comebacks of sorts from the Ramones, Dwight Twilley, Hall & Oates, Jules Shear and King Crimson. Sure is fun reviewing these things in depth.

 

WHY WON’T THEY SHUT UP FOREVER?

Comebacks aren’t easy, though. Just ask Grace Slick, the Jefferson Starship, Sparks, J.D. Souther, Glenn Frey, JethroTull or Adam Ant. Of course, you’ll have to remember to wake them up before you ask … You may have noticed a dearth of heavy metal reviewed herein, and for that I humbly apologize. Let me make it up to you by mentioning a few more bands. Ready? Scorpions, Rush, Black Sabbath, Ratt, Ozzy Osbourne, Twisted Sister, Queensryche, Quiet Riot, Armored Saint, Fastway, Krokus and Dio. Anybody else? Oh, right–Sammy Hagar, Billy Squier and W.A.S.P. There’s probably a few more, but time’s a wastin’. OK. Now what you have to do is round them all up and put them in a big boat somewhere near Tahiti and blow the whole thing up, just for kicks … Speaking of kicks, Steve Perry and Queen would probably find it extremely unpleasant if someone were to walk up behind them very quietly and then, with all their might, kick … As always, Dan Fogelberg remains an enigma. Hope someone starts a press release with those words one day … And a final word for Jim Carroll: terrible.

 

YEP, IT’S A NEW RECORD, ALL RIGHT

While it’s difficult to call records in this category bad, it isn’t any easier calling them good. They’re not quite “product” in the sense that, say, Roger Glover’s album was, but bottom line is they’re not much of anything else, either … Take the latest from Genesis. You know, the one called Genesis. It’s as creative as its title, and we’re not even discussing its cover art … Sentimental fool that I was, I’d hoped that somehow, someway, the latest records by Paul Rodgers, Steve Miller, Rod Stewart–hey, even Al Stewart–would signify some sort of return to form on their part. Wouldn’t it be great? But they don’t and it isn’t … Don’t know about you, but I’m having trouble telling the new albums by Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds from the old ones. They are, too … Incredibly, solo albums from both Barry Gibb and Rodger Hodgson in one year! More incredibly, this was the year! … Recently I poured myself a little wine and sat down and listened to the latest albums by Elton John, Timothy B. Schmit and Bobby & the Midnites. The wine, of course, was drugged, and ski-masked sadists stood by my stereo, grinning … Consider the names of the following records: INXSThe Swing. MadnessKeep Moving. Joan JettGlorious Results Of A Misspent Youth. Now consider that all these titles are vicious and deceitful lies … Can’t say the same for Ultravox, though. Calling their new one Lament was a bold move … A special mention here for daring innovators Bon JoviDire Straits put out a live album titled Alchemy as a special tribute to early-’70s raga-rockers the Third Ear Band. Not true, actually, but more interesting than their new album…

 

GREAT DEBUTS

The best way to determine if  ’84 was a good year for rock ‘n’ roll–or at least rock ‘n’ roll records–is to mathematically calculate how many new bands produced great debuts, divide that figure into the total number of albums released, move the decimal point to the right by two places, and then write out a check for that amount in U.S. dollars to me, care of this magazine. Then I will finish this article and actually tell you. Meanwhile, I suggest you rush right out and buy the new album by Belfegore, who have to be the neatest new band you will ever hear. They are a combination of metal, drums, metal, drone, metal, noise and just plain, good ol’ obnoxiousness. An office favorite … Several significant U.S. debuts, though most of them derivative of other bands: True West, White Animals, Wire Train, the Nobodys, the Bangles and the Del Lords–who sound like the Flamin’ Groovies and Rockin’ Foo, honest … Good American bands who really don’t sound too much like anybody else include L.A.’s What Is This, 10,000 Maniacs, Boston’s Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic (post-Mission Of Burma) and the Neats … Rock critic Davitt Sigerson recorded Failing In Love Again when he wasn’t writing songs for Lonnie Liston Smith, I guess, and it’s an interesting debut. Bruce Cockburn via Darth Vader … Two “new artists” from England: the Style Council, who released their first full-fledged album this year, and Captain Sensible. Both artists really emerged in the late ’70s; Style Council’s Paul Weller was the man behind the Jam, and Captain Sensible played drums in the utterly terrible Damned. My Ever Changing Moods, the SC debut, is a superb record that would’ve been one of the year’s best was it not been burdened with two”funk” tracks that aren’t funky. Meanwhile, with the help of former Soft Boy Robyn Hitchcock, Captain Sensible has put together an album reminiscent of the early-’70s stuff of, say, Kevin Ayers or early Pink Floyd, whose “Remember A Day” he actually covers. A nice surprise … Also nifty: new LPs by the Blow Monkeys, Friends Again, Carmel, the Danse Society (“Heaven Is Waiting” especially) and, for one or two tunes at least, the Icicle Works … From Australia come the Hoodoo Gurus–whose Stoneage Romeos is filled with great singles–and new solo artist Nick Cave, former Birthday Party vocalist and soon-to-be basket case. His From Her To Eternity would make a dandy present for anyone you might know in a mental ward, and he’d probably be the first to suggest it. Bonus points for the cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche.” You don’t want to know…

 

INCREDIBLY OVERRATED

As we approach the veritable Best Of The Year category, a moment here to pontificate about a few bands whose critical reputations vastly exceed their recorded output … Don’t mean to be a grouch, but I haven’t been excited in the least by anything U2 has done since Boy, which was several albums (and three billion “these guys will save the world” reviews) ago. Joining up with Brian Eno for The Unforgettable Fire was a fine move, sure. But having a few new songs would’ve been even better…The Violent Femmes remain totally repugnant. Too self-conscious, too derivative and … too slimy, actually. It didn’t help that a week after I heard Hallowed Ground I bought an Eric Anderson cut-out (‘Bout Changes And Things Take 2) and heard “Blind Fiddler,” a carbon-copy of the Femmes’ newest opening track. Revolutionary, guys … Incidentally, would someone please tell John Lydon that PiL‘s new album, This Is What You Want … This Is What You Get, is simply inappropriate? We don’t want any more records from you, John. In fact, personally, we would like you to go back home and live with your mother and never be seen or heard from again. You really aren’t very good … Wish I could spare some praise for the Go-Go’s, but, unfortunately, I’ve never been able to–and Talk Show didn’t help matters much … Though I like Big Country much more than the Alarm, I’m equally amazed at the amount of praise heaped upon both of them for essentially playing the same song over and over … Ditto Simple Minds, who are megastars in the U.K. who simply don’t translate as well here in America. “Street Hassle” on Sparkle In The Rain didn’t win them any new friends … Romeo Void remain totally formless … I hesitate to scold the Dream Syndicate for Medicine Show, because parts of it I like a lot. But they’re another band who’d be better off not believing their own press … And Boston’s Del Fuegos have every move down except for two: 1) getting a sympathetic producer, and 2) writing a song that’s even vaguely original.

 

GREATEST HITS COMPILATION/REISSUES

I’ve already mentioned how a lot of  ’84’s best records were recorded years earlier, and who could be unhappy with Arista’s two compiltions by the Everly Brothers and Dion & The Belmonts? … Great to see someone at A&M take the initiative and release Captain Beefheart‘s The Legendary A&M Sessions, too … Rhino Records have had their hand in some exceptional reissues as well, including greatest hit sets by Dionne Warwick, Annette(!) and the Nazz. Also out this year were sets by the Monkees, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and Standells … Atlantic released the first two INXS a1bums in the States, due to what I can’t imagine being an uproarious demand … Jimi Hendrix returned in a Warner Brothers “prestige” package: Kiss The Sky was pressed on high quality vinyl and featured a few rare tracks and attentive re-mastering. Of interest in import shops: European pressings of the first H.P. Lovecraft album and a Left Banke compilation called And Suddenly It’s… which features two very rare tracks…Among the best “greatest hits” compilations were those by Bob Marley & The Wailers, J.J. Cale, Rick James (with “17” thrown in), Heatwave, the Isley Brothers, Gil Scott-Heron, the O’Jays, and Slave… Among the most poorly compiled: Back-Trac’s Paul Revere & The Raiders, Electric Flag, Major Lance, and the Zombies. The major problem: each set clocks in at less than 30 minutes. Especially frustrating is the Zombies compilation, which contains three tracks I’ve never found anywhere else. What else is CBS (who leased this stuff out) sitting on?.. Fantasy reissued three sets from their Stax archives–hits by the Mad Lads, Temprees and Dramatics. Good stuff … Crass compilations: Iggy Pop’s Choice Cuts (“contains original version of ‘China Girl’ “), the Rolling StonesRewind, and David Bowie’s Fame And Fashion (is this the fifth in a series, or what?)…How many more times?: The Kinks and Yardbirds collections on Compleat were an interesting experiment. Just how often can that stuff get reissued, and on how many labels, before somebody somewhere gets wise? Why don’t they just put all the Kinks albums back in print and shut up?

 

YEAR’S WORST ALBUM!

It’s a difficult decision, but after listening to hundreds of albums ranging from poor to terrible to absolutely vile, I’ve decided that John Trubee And The Ugly Janitors of America‘s The Communists Are Coming To Kill Us, on Enigma Records, is the most despicable piece of shit I’ve ever had to listen to. What’s particularly galling is that L.A.‘s Trubee apparently likes a few musicians that I do (Captain Beefheart, especially) and does a wretched job of imitating them. Check out the album’s dedications: “This LP is dedicated to anyone who ever snubbed me, rejected me, misunderstood me, belittled, me, emasculated me, underestimated me, talked shit about me when I wasn’t around, shut me out, kissed me off, fucked me over, crapped on me, or totally ignored me as I was dying in hell, may their sexual organs explode in a very gruesome and painful manner before they drown in an ocean of self-generated grey snot.” Basically–aside from the fact that the album stinks, is totally unoriginal, ugly but not even ugly enough to be an art statement, and nowhere near as offensive as the moron wants it to be–it isn’t even a good plea for mental help, which Trubee certainly needs. Not only should you not buy it, you should complain to record stores who are foolish enough to actually sell the thing that it’s a horrible record that they shouldn’t stock. Wimp music for pitiful people.

 

BEST INDEPENDENT EPs

Otherwise, fine product on most independent U.S. labels. As a form, EPs seemed to come into their own more and more. Great stuff from all over the country, including the Wind and Charlie Pickett & the Eggs (both from Miami), Oh-OK (Athens), the Reverbs (Illinois?), Tommy Keene, the Graphic, Buzz Of Delight and Animations (Carolinas, I think), Salem 66 (Massachusetts), Dancing Hoods (New York), Prime Movers (L.A.) and Jim Basnight & the Moberlys (Washington). What’s most ironic is that almost all of these bands are ready to move into major-label land–but they may not even get there, due to their “slots” being filled by great bands like Waterfront Home, Industry and Face To Face. In other words, it’s Knacktime all over again at record companies. Sure would be good to see both the Wind and Tommy Keene with the majors, though.

 

1984’s BEST RECORDS

I wasn’t kidding back there about unadventurous A&R departments. Looking at my list of fave albums, I don’t exactly chortle with glee to note that only six of them were produced by Americans, and of those, just two on major labels. Only Bruce Springsteen‘s Born In The U.S.A. and Lindsey Buckingham‘s Go Insane made any sort of sense to me this year, and I think each artist could’ve done better. Springsteen’s return to rock–and good humor on “Glory Days”–was welcome, and it shows a new maturity I don’t think he’s displayed previously … And as much as I loved Go Insane, Buckingham’s songs seem to be haphazardly constructed; while I hear hooks, I don’t find a verse/chorus structure that would make the hooks even better … Maybe Bearsville is a major label, but CBS it ain’t. So while the dB’s could use a stronger promotional push, at least Like This is tough enough to stand on its own. Though I find myself missing Chris Stamey and wondering at the inclusion of “Amplifier” again, overall I’m enthused that the band has managed to put together such a unified, coherent album … Likewise for R.E.M., whose Reckoning is certainly one of the year’s best. I only hope they can maintain their high standards … Minneapolis’s Replacements came through with their best album ever, Let It Be, which features R.E.M.’s guitarist Peter Buck on “I Will Dare” (a song Rory Gallagher’s Taste might’ve done 15 years ago, no slur intended) and a great Kiss cover … Finally, Let’s Active‘s Cypress was everything last year’s afoot EP promised, and a remarkably solid debut LP … And that, incestuous scene and all, wraps it up for American rock in ’84. In case you haven’t noticed, it wasn’t exactly our greatest year … Over in the U.K., however, where bands sometimes get signed on the basis of actual talent as opposed to who they sound like, it’s been another story…The best new bands of the year also produced my two favorite albums, and, surprisingly, they’ve both been released here. First up is Prefab Sprout, whose Swoon is the most sophisticated, stunning collection of new songs I’ve heard in years. Vaguely reminiscent of Costello and Steely Dan–and I know that sounds strange–the Sprouts are currently without peer in Britain … And the Smiths‘ tremendous first album was matched only by the series of remarkable 12″ singles they’ve since produced. Unfortunately, Sire–their American label–seems unwilling to release those singles, apparently because of the band’s reluctance to tour or make promotional videos. They are 45s worth looking for, believe me … Not only is there a resurgence of wimp-rock in England, it’s all very good: Two bands with especially strong debut albums are the Pale Fountains (Pacific Street) and the Lotus Eaters (No Sense Of Sin). Nothing really comparable to them in this country … And to continue this wet band-name imagery, the second Waterboys‘ album is a much stronger, more focused effort than their first. “The Big Music,” one of the year’s best singles, can be found here … Microdisney released the best-named album of the year with Everybody Is Fantastic. It’s exceptionally tuneful–and wimpy, of course … Knife doesn’t have the impact of Aztec Camera‘s first album, and maybe not as many great songs, but it’s better than most everything else this year. I wish Roddy Frame would leave well enough alone, though; his quoting Love’s “Old Man” in a guitar solo was pointless (and self-defeating) … Everything But The Girl’s debut, Eden, is getting released here on Sire, which is surprising. Partners Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn have put together a gorgeous debut … Julian Cope‘s World Shut Your Mouth is completely nuts, but so is he. The former Teardrop Explodes leader is in fine form on his first solo album, but I think he still needs a band. The arrangements here aren’t as strong as they could be … Fans of nervous breakdowns should enjoy ’84’s showing by the Cure and The The … And as legendary characters go, both Robert Wyatt (1982-1984) and Scott Walker (Climate Of Hunter) returned triumphant. Walker’s album is especially fine … Fans Of Peter Perrett and the Only Ones were overjoyed to find Remains, a collection of unreleased tracks that rekindled a lot of great memories … And finally, three great bands from Australia: the Go-Betweens, the Moodists and the Church. As of this writing, the newest albums by the first two groups are available only as imports. But the Church’s Remote Luxury is available now, today, at a record store near you. And you should go buy it.

(CREEM CLOSE-UP: ROCK CHRONICLES, Jan. 1985)

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