Del Shannon – Greatest Hits

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I don’t remember the first time I heard “Runaway” and I am almost positive it took a little bit after that before I knew who Del Shannon was, but I was familiar with the song by the time I was seven. I didn’t think much about Shannon again until the news of his suicide in 1990. Shannon was born Charles Weedon Westover, and after a stint in the Army, he worked a series of jobs in Michigan, most consistently selling carpeting, when he joined a local band as a guitar player, later taking over the unit when the leader was dismissed for drunkenness. He took the stage name Charlie Johnson and, most importantly, recruited local musician Max Crook into the band in 1959. Crook was a musical wunderkind who had invented an analog synthesizer he called the Musitron (based on the existing Clavioline). Crook also got the band noticed after he mailed out recordings, and after he and Westover signed to the Bigtop label in 1960, Westover was persuaded to adopt the stage name Del Shannon. Shannon had hits into the mid-60’s, and was particularly popular in England. He made some forays into country music and attempts at a rock comeback – he eventually worked with Jeff Lynne as well as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Dave Edmunds, and the Smithereens, and was rumored to become the replacement for Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys – never quite succeeded. He wrote the Peter & Gordon hit “I Go to Pieces.” He was the first U.S. artist to cover the Beatles, in 1963. He also helped a young Bob Seger get his career off the ground.

What I Think of This Album

I can only hope that for many years to come, every week or so, some kid hears “Runaway” and becomes captivated and either contemporaneously or later, further explores the music of Del Shannon and helps to keep his memory alive. 

Rhino thankfully presents these twenty tracks in chronological order. It helps to appreciate what Shannon was up against, as “Runaway” was his first and biggest hit, a song he was never able to top even as he wrote and released several other excellent singles. And as the liner notes take pains to emphasize, Shannon should not be lumped in with the teen vocal idols of the 60’s because he was a rocker, from his songwriting abilities to his skills as a guitarist to his modern-looking thematic concerns of loss, rejection, and regret. 

“Runaway” is a monster track, immediately grabbing you by the ears with the dramatic, Latin-esque guitar and piano intro, the pumping sax, Shannon’s lyrics efficiently describing bewilderment and agony, building to his gritty prechorus vocal, and THEN you get to Shannon’s falsetto and THEN you get the space-age Musitron part, which is somehow both disorienting and perfectly complementary, and holy fucking shit! This is a masterpiece whose only flaw is that it is way too short.

“Hats Off to Larry” is a fantastically bitter and biting tune, which in seeking to repeat the success of “Runaway,” also features a critical falsetto part and the haunting sounds of Crook’s Musitron. The chugging “So Long Baby” is another surprisingly sophisticated tale of psychosexual drama, with easily the best kazoo solo in rock history. “Hey! Little Girl” rounds out the four Top 40 Hits Shannon had in 1961.

Other highlights include “Cry Myself to Sleep,” which is very obviously the basis for Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.” “Two Silhouettes” is an excellent story of betrayal. “Stranger In Town” is compelling and creepy. “Show Me” has some hints of surf rock to it, while “Sister Isabelle” borders on lite-psych, with a surprisingly soulful vocal. 

As the liner notes point out, “Little Town Flirt” has the same opening lyric as the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” and “Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun)” is the precursor to all those Springsteen songs about how we gotta get out of this town (though with a falsetto outro that Bruce could never have pulled off).

Max Crook’s story is interesting in its own right. Born into a musical family, he built his own recording studio by the time he was fourteen and the Musitron around the age of 23. In addition to working with Shannon, he recorded instrumental songs under various guises including the name Maximilian. He passed in 2020.

Fun facts: “Runaway” was recorded in A but the producer sped the recording up to juuuuuust below B-flat; Shannon recorded a new version of the song in 1967 with half of Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones) and Nicky Hopkins; the Misfits covered the song; Echo & the Bunnymen reference it on “Over the Wall” and Tom Petty references it on “Running’ Down a Dream.”

The Best Thing About This Album

“Runaway” is the, you can guess it, runaway winner.

Release Date

1990

The Cover Art

I like the early ‘60s lettering and color scheme and the not-at-all-convincing smile on Shannon’s face speaks to the dark themes he explored in his songs.

Fats Domino – My Blue Heaven: The Best of Fats Domino

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Perhaps the least known and celebrated of the rock ‘n’ roll forefathers, Fats Domino was actually a huge star in the 1950s. By 1955, he had five gold records and in the next half decade, he had eleven Top Ten pop hits. And who else has had the same song covered by both Pat Boone and Cheap Trick? Born Antoine Domino, Jr. in 1928, he became the face of New Orleans rhythm and blues, perhaps assisted by his gentle and unassuming manner. His career lasted into the 1990s. There were riots at at least four of his concerts in the ‘50s, due to the mix of alcohol and integration. Domino also served as a session pianist for other artists. Supposedly, the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” was Domino pastiche, and Elvis was a big fan. He died in 2017.

What I Think of This Album

Twenty tracks of Fats Domino go down very easily, both because of the good-natured, catchy songs and because most of those tunes top out around the 2:00 mark.

Most of the album is given over to Domino’s mid-1950s output, and much of it shuffles along nicely courtesy of drummers Earl Palmer and Smokey Johnson – playing traditional second line patterns – and also enjoys the contributions of sax players Alvin Tyler, Lee Allen (who also was in the Blasters), and Herb Hardesty.

Many of the songs here were collaborations between Domino and his bandleader/producer/trumpeter/arranger Dave Bartholemew. Throughout, Domino’s slight Creole accent is a delight. Any questions about Domino’s skill on the piano should be put to rest with just one listen to “Whole Lotta Loving” and pioneering rock ‘n’ roll number “The Fat Man.”

This collection contains all the hits (e.g., “My Blue Heaven” (sequenced as the first track, for no good reason), “Blueberry Hill,” “Ain’t It a Shame,” “I’m Walkin’” (with a phenomenal drum intro)), plus several enjoyable lesser known singles. The last few songs are sort of middling, but the bulk of the disc is excellent and essential listening for any student of rock. Dave Bartholemew died in 2019.

The Best Thing About This Album

That it recognizes Domino as one of the great early rock ‘n rollers, on par with (at the very least) Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and Buddy Holly.

Release Date

July, 1990

The Cover Art

He’s a happy looking fellow. As with the other Legendary Masters Series titles I own (Eddie Cochran, Jan and Dean), this is decent art considering that the record company was responsible for it.

Teenage Fanclub – A Catholic Education

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

My. Fucking. God. I love Teenage Fanclub. I first came across the band in 1991, via the “Star Sign” single, and I could not get enough of it. Fortunately for me, this came at the start of a run of outstanding albums from Teenage Fanclub that lasted for years. One of my greatest memories as a music fan is finally seeing Teenage Fanclub live – they were older and had short hair by then, but the music was as magical as ever. I belong to a Facebook group called, appropriately, Teenage Fanclub fanclub. I have spent quite a bit of time watching old TFC performances on YouTube.

What I Think of This Album

You might think this album starts and ends with the superior “Everything Flows.” You would be wrong, but it would be understandable; certainly nothing approaches the loch-deep grandeur of that song, but there is other worthwhile stuff here.

Easily the shaggiest, noisiest TFC studio album, it suggests a youthful, carefree band just returned from playing a backyard party. This album is definitely less impressive than what was coming, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. And frankly, it’s a shit ton more fun that the last few Fanclub releases.

While the superb vocal harmonies of the next several albums attest to the band’s abilities in that department, here they are content to sing in the vicinity of the relevant key, as demonstrated by the lackadaisical vocals on the frothy, crunchy “Everybody’s Fool,” which benefits from a cool, slowed down coda. There is a shoegaze quality to “Eternal Light,” which, like many of the songs here, finds the band casually churning four chords over and over, adding Neil Young riffs here and there, but the thing is it never gets boring, and it is almost always super melodic. In fact, breaking down the monumental “Everything Flows” reveals that it follows the same basic blueprint – cycling through the chords while Raymond McGinley peels off Neil Young licks from 1975; it just so happens that the repetition makes your brain conform to it and the riffs are first rate.

Just to prove how special it is, compare the song to “Heavy Metal,” an instrumental which is not what it claims to be; while this and “Everything Flows” share a similar framework, the former sort of trudges along listlessly, with a mundane guitar part. The band strikes gold again with “Critical Mass,” showcasing the strong melodic sensibilities that would pay dividends just one year later, and too, “Too Involved” is an obvious precursor to the songs of Bandwagonesque. More attenuated, “Don’t Need a Drum” sounds like a pale version of what Teenage Fanclub would become.

“Every Picture I Paint,” much like “Everything Flows,” reveals that there is not as much daylight between TFC and Dinosaur Jr. as you might initially think. The title track chugs along nicely, with a strong ‘70s classic rock subtext and some energetic drumming (I’m guessing from Brendan O’Hare) as well as lazy “ba ba ba’s.” Also on display is the band’s odd sense of humor, with tracks titled “Heavy Metal II” and “Catholic Education 2;” the latter adds a teasing intro and ridiculous guitar leads to its namesake, while the former adopts the same sludgy approach of its twin. The band would eventually record “Heavy Metal 6” and “Heavy Metal 9.”

Most of this was recorded with original drummer Frances MacDonald; some tracks (it is never specified) were rerecorded with O’Hare.

The band thanks Stephen Pastel (the Pastels) in the liner notes; Norman Blake and bassist Gerry Love had both been in the Pastels. This was released on Paperhouse in Europe and on Matador in the U.S., with different sequencing.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Everything Flows” has been deservedly covered by Velvet Crush and Dinosaur Jr.

Release Date

June, 1990 (U.K.); August, 1990 (U.S.)

The Cover Art

I have not the first clue what this is supposed to be, or why anyone thought this would be a good album cover.

The Verlaines – Some Disenchanted Evening

What I Think of When I Think This Artist (part 3)

I’m not trying to defend my music tastes or collection. This isn’t a competition. I like things you might think are terrible, and you like things I definitely feel are garbage. That’s fine. We can coexist, and maybe even be friends. We just won’t go to shows together, and car rides may be difficult (true crime podcasts, it is, I guess). I have little interest in convincing you to like the Verlaines, and none in relying on this album as argument. Should you give them a listen? Yes. Am I going to insist you do? No. Your disregard of the Verlaines does no injury to my love of the Verlaines. It might even enhance it.

What I Think of This Album

Honestly, this is a borderline Verlaines album (again on the Flying Nun label). It is missing the energy, grandeur, and tunefulness of Bird Dog, and arguably finds Graeme Downes indulging his worst impulses. Still, there are things to enjoy about it.

“Jesus What A Jerk” is a rollicking tune. “The Funniest Thing” is even better, approaching the heights of Bird Dog, with a robust and energized presentation and some excellent lyrics. The arrangement of “Whatever You Run Into” is brilliant, including fine harmonies from Sarah Macnab and Jan Hellriegel.

There is an appropriate level of drama to the grandiose “We’re All Going to Die,” with Downes offering a great vocal. The Randy Newman-esque “It Was” is entertaining in its own way, though maybe a bit precious (which perhaps renders it more faithfully Randy Newman-esque). And if I am being generous, there are some compelling moments in “Come Sunday.”

What you should avoid are songs like “Faithfully Yours” and “Damn Shame,” which sound like they were lifted from a self-financed off-Broadway musical. “This Train” comes close to committing the same sin; its marginal pop sensibility saves it from being unlistenable, but the song still is not anything I want to hear.

The Best Thing About This Album

“The Funniest Thing” is the prize here.

Release Date

1990

The Cover Art

The font is awful, but the impressionist art is at least okay, and possibly worth a few seconds’ study.

Eddie Cochran – Eddie Cochran

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I remember watching La Bamba in the theater, and seeing Brian Setzer as Eddie Cochran and thinking that was cool. Ironically, Cochran recorded a tribute to Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens (and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson), who – let’s be honest – would not have had any kind of legacy if he had not been on that plane) with “Three Stars,” only to die tragically himself at the age of 21 (in 1960, about a year after the recording), in a car accident in England that also seriously injured Gene Vincent. Cochran’s recording from 1959 was not released until 1966. According to legend, John Lennon permitted Paul McCartney to join his band, the Quarrymen, upon hearing him play Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock.” Also, the post-Johnny Rotten Sex Pistols covered two of Cochran’s songs.

What I Think of This Album

Unless you are really into the history of rock ‘n’ roll or the history of rock guitar, this is not the album for you. It is barely the album for me, unabashed rock nerd. Certainly this 20 song album is too much Eddie Cochran, but at least it ensures that you get what you need.

“Summertime Blues,” of course, is eternal, often covered live by the Who. “Somethin’ Else” is fantastic, as is “C’mon Everybody,” and obviously someone in the Sex Pistols thought so as well, as these were the covers they selected when trying to salvage what was left of the band. Cochran had a way of adding just the right amount of grit to his voice, and his songs of teenage frustration/excitement are insightful and accurate. He was one of the few early rock ‘n’ roll artists to write his own material (usually collaborating with Jerry Capehart), and of course, he was also a talented guitarist.

“Twenty Flight Rock” is a quality song, as is “Cut Across Shorty” (though he didn’t write it). Deeper cuts like “Pink Pegged Slacks,” “Jeannie, Jeannie, Jeannie,” “Teenage Heaven” (with some cool sax), and “Weekend” are all worth hearing.

By the way, I am not entirely certain what the actual title of this album is, though the fact that it is part of the Legendary Masters Series seems like a salient fact.

The Best Thing About This Album

Cochran’s rasp is unparalleled, man – it’s somethin’ else.

Release Date

January, 1990

The Cover Art

You know what? I like the stripes and the colors, and it’s a good picture of Cochran. Nice work, EMI.

The Chills – Submarine Bells

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I was thrilled to be able to see the Chills live in 2019 (?). I think Martin Phillips mentioned that it had been ten years since they had toured in the U.S. That’s the problem when you are a small indie band from New Zealand (to say nothing of all the bad luck they encountered along the way). I never thought I would get to see the band live at all; they sounded great. Essentially just Phillips and whoever he has playing with him at the time, the band ran through their career highlights with pride and joy, and it felt like a gift to be able to see this talented artist on this rare occasion.

What I Think of This Album

This is a gorgeous album. Lush, lyrical, luminescent – it’s almost flawless.

“Heavenly Pop Hit” is exactly that, with wondrous backing vocals from Donna Savage (Dead Famous People); while it comes across at first as perhaps a bit precious, it reveals itself to be a just as sturdy as it is lovely, with a charming organ part and Martin Phillips’s joyous vocals. A carnival organ colors the excellent “Dead Web.” Dusky “Part Fact Part Fiction” is somehow warm even as it beckons darkness.

A cool tremolo effect dominates the midtempo “Singing In My Sleep,” with a pretty keyboard part from Andrew Todd. Todd is the unsung hero of this album; he does magical, transformative work across all tracks. But the show still belongs to Phillips, who has a pleasant, straightforward voice; an inventive way with a melody; and an excellent, almost poetic, lyrical sensibility.

While the band never truly rocks out, it does kick up a decent storm on the jagged “Familiarity Breeds Contempt” as well as the rushing “The Oncoming Day.” Just as skillfully, they create graceful soundscapes on “I SOAR” (with keyboard-as-woodwinds sounds), the far-too-short-but-still-majestic “Sweet Times,” rueful “Don’t Be – Memory,” and the glorious, flowing title track, which evokes the marine imagery of the cover and the booklet.

The only mistake is “Effloresce and Deliquesce,” which finds Phillips tripping over his tongue to get these ten dollar words out and lacks a melody, but otherwise boasts some interesting sounds.

Bassist Justin Phillips went on to play with Luna.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Heavenly Pop Hit.” You want it. Still.

Release Date

February, 1990

The Cover Art

Arrrrgh. So fucking close. The photograph is beautiful. Too bad they shanked on everything else. The black bar at the left is pointless – an insult to the photograph, actually. The band logo looks amateurish. The font is nice but the composition in the top/center of the cover doesn’t work.

Chainsaw Kittens – Violent Religion

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I came across this album freshman year of college. I remember reading about it in SPIN magazine. It’s possible I borrowed it from my friend Duke, but I am not sure. Certainly, I went out and got a copy soon after if that’s the case. Little did I know then that I had encountered what would become one of the great unsung American bands of the 90s. Emerging from Norman, Oklahoma, Chainsaw Kittens were the vehicle for singer/songwriter/guitarist Tyson Meade (though the contributions of guitarist/producer Trent Bell should not be overlooked). Meade and Bell piloted the band through phases involving glam, punk, and pop, with an unflinching examination of what it meant to be a gay man.

What I Think of This Album

Well, I’ve run into a slight problem in that my CD player will not recognize this disc. I’ve had to re-listen to it on a streaming service through inadequate speakers, which is . . . not awesome. Regardless, I stand by everything I say about it.

The Kittens’ debut is their rawest, messiest, possibly loudest album; the guitars make a lot of noise but rarely do anything distinctive. Still, the melodies were there, and both Meade’s forceful vision and his banshee wail easily set this band apart right from the beginning. The story is that Meade was already in his late 20’s when he joined up with a bunch of high school kids to form Chainsaw Kittens. Bell joined the band soon thereafter and the rhythm section was overhauled in short order (though not before recording this album), with only guitarist/songwriter Mark Metzger remaining for the near-future (he would also eventually depart). Fronting this sort of purposely threadbare New York Dolls meets the Stooges-ish collection of misfits, Meade’s charisma and presence carry the album (and the band), making songs that would otherwise be ridiculous or silly come across like the most important things in the world.

“Bloodstorm” kicks things off with purpose, Meade casually exclaiming “Hey!” as a pleasing bass figure ensnares your brain; Meade stretches out his words (sometimes evoking Johnny Rotten) and makes the dubious claim “I am the bloodstorm / And I am your / Love / Song” but by the time we get to that point, you and me and everyone else are sold on it. Sample-heavy “Skinned Knees (kitten theme)” is a bit much. Ok, it’s a lot much – this is like a tape-splicing experiment courtesy of Satan’s cousin, who is a DJ on the side – but it does start out with a sample from the movie Heathers (“fuck me gently with a chainsaw”), which is really the only positive I can cite here. At under two minutes, it is about two minutes too long.

I admit that it does not bode well that this silly indulgence flows seamlessly into the next song, the sludgy “Boyfriend Song,” itself reliant on samples. That said, I like the crow (?) noises (just . . . yes, there are crow noises). After this, things improve back to the quality of “Bloodstorm.” The sassy, therapy-influenced “Mother (of the ancient birth)” stomps and struts and handclaps all the way down the avenue. The purest pop song follows on the swooning, damaged “I’m Waiting (leanne’s song).” Meade PILES on the drama on the “Here At the End,” which starts out as a fizzy rocker and then drastically downshifts into a delicate ballad, permitting Meade to emote all over your ears. A guest is credited with “ebotron” on this song, but it just sounds like an ebow.

“Bliss (we’re small)” – what’s with all the fucking parentheticals, the pot asked the kettle – is a fun, dark celebration of weirdness, during which Meade adopts some of Morrissey’s vocal tics. “Feeling Like a Drugstore” is appropriately titled, all mascara, hip huggers, platform shoes, and downers. “Savior Boyfriend Collides” is a better version of “Here At the End,” handling the rhythmic and tonal shift with more aplomb, less histrionics, and a better melody. The title track is a disturbing but thoroughly engaging disquisition on blood, disciples, martyrs, and flesh; god help him, Meade knows how to carry a song. When he repeats “bleed on the bleeding,” his voice multiple tracked with his own harmonies, it is utterly thrilling.

The best thing about “Death Out At Party Central” is its title; this is an energetic, bizarre romp but basically filler (notable for Meade employing a Johnny Rotten-like drawl at some times and truly unhinged screaming at others). The album closes on the sympathetic piano ballad “She’s Gone Mad,” which actually sounds sincere (apparently fellow Oklahomans the Flaming Lips covered this). This music was probably too weird for most people, even in 1990 (Billy Corgan was supposedly a fan, which I think only proves my point). I find it endlessly fascinating.

The Best Thing About This Album

Tyson Meade’s voice is like the Eighth Wonder of the World (and probably ranks higher within the count of Wonders of Oklahoma).

Release Date

October, 1990

The Cover Art

Look, Meade is a talented dude, but someone should have told him he could not have his painting on the cover. Enough. You’re already the frontperson and primary songwriter – don’t be greedy. The allcaps KITTENS is sort of confusing. I’m not big on the font used for the album title. The overall composition of this cover seems fairly amateurish.

Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine – 101 Damnations

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Ah, Carter USM. I love this band. I don’t always like what they produce, but I love this band. Two brash punsters who gleefully machine-gunned anyone who offended their sensibilities, Carter (I am not going to write out “the Unstoppable Sex Machine” every time) was a highly moralistic band. Take away the jokes and programmed beats and you end up with vitriolic bile aimed at slumlords, bullies, and warmongers. Fine. With. Me. But the puns and the canned drums were what made them fun – even if I couldn’t unravel a tenth of what I assume are hyper-British references and in-jokes. Carter came from London in 1987, evolving from earlier band Jamie Wednesday, and its core was James “Jim Bob” Morrison and Leslie “Fruitbat” Carter (even though at one point the band had six members, which just seems wrong); Jim Bob sang (and played guitar) and Fruitbat played the guitar mostly and they otherwise relied on keyboards, sequenced bass tracks, and drum machines. As difficult as it is to believe, the distinctive Carter belonged to a music subculture – grebo, as decided by Pop Will Eat Itself – which blended pop, punk, hip-hop, and electronica influences. The legitimacy of grebo as a subgenre is suspect, but it generally includes not only PWEI but Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, the Wonder Stuff, and of course, Gaye Bykers on Acid.

What I Think of This Album

I defy you to identify all the jokes and puns on this disc. Let’s just examine the album and song titles:  101 Damnations; “The Road to Domestos”; “Twenty Four Minutes from Tulse Hill;” and “The Taking of Peckham 123.” If you want to spend the time to go through the lyrics, be my guest, but pack several weeks’ worth of snacks.

Now, I further defy you to identify anything resembling a happy song on here. This album is an unrelenting carnival of poverty, greed, and violence. There is a song about being assaulted (“Midnight On the Murder Mile”); one about a homeless person being set on fire  (“An All American National Sport”); one about divorce (“Good Grief Charlie Brown”); another about suicide (“Everytime a Churchbell Rings”); three about urban decay (“Twenty Four Minutes from Tulse Hill;” “Sheriff Fatman”; and “The Taking of Peckham 123”); and another about war (“G.I. Blues”). But filth, deprivation, despair, and the worst aspects of humanity never sounded so goddamn invigorating.

Some of the most successful songs are the ones with the fastest BPMs. “Sheriff Fatman” is a rapid evisceration of shady landlords, with whiplash-inducing references to Star Trek, Klaus Barbie, and the United Nations. The opening keyboard fanfare is iconic, as are its accompanying handclaps, and Jim Bob’s righteous anger comes through in his emphatic vocals. The energy on this track is pressure-cooker high, with an irresistible beat; this is the best ever dance song about slumlords.

Likewise, “Midnight on the Murder Mile” is a mile-a-minute tale of a dangerous walk through London, with sequencers, keyboards, and drum machines working overtime to create a claustrophobic atmosphere, with Fruitbat chainsawing away in the background. This song samples Elvis Presley (“I Got Stung”), name-checks Wilson Pickett, and references Chuck Berry, and there is probably more that I missed. “Twenty Four Minutes from Tulse Hill” speeds by so fast you almost miss the Little Richard reference being co-opted into a lyric about domestic abuse in a song that grimly details life in a rough neighborhood.

“Good Grief Charlie Brown” is a sad glimpse at the effects of marital disruption on a child, but no less catchy for it, with some nice work by Fruitbat and eventually some frenetic rhythm tracks taking over. And “An All American National Sport” does right by its victim-narrator, expertly sketching his inner life (“And I dreamt I was an artist / Like Toulouse-Lautrec or Manet / Drinking like a bastard / In Madrid”), making his cruel end all the more affecting.

On the slower side of the ledger, “The Taking of Peckham 123” is a clever waltz (1, 2, 3) that grows in intensity as Jim Bob details various violent crimes taking place in a high-rise housing block, while Fruitbat unleashes gritty leads. I don’t love the sample-dense “A Perfect Day to Drop the Bomb” but it does quote both Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (“Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge”) and Eddie Cochran (‘She’s sure fine-lookin’”), and also samples “Great Balls of Fire” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

This is a unique album that creatively marries social consciousness, wit, audacity, and drum machines. Oh, apparently Carter USM wanted to title the album Cunt.

The Best Thing About This Album

I mean, no one can resist “Sheriff Fatman.”

Release Date

January, 1990

The Cover Art

I’m not a fan of the Carter USM logo, but the art sells the pun of the title perfectly.

Victoria Williams – Swing the Statue!

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I assume like more than one other person, I became familiar with Victoria Williams through the Sweet Relief tribute album, on which Lou Reed, Pearl Jam, Michael Penn, Soul Asylum, Buffalo Tom, Matthew Sweet, Evan Dando, Giant Sand, and others covered her songs in order to raise money for her health care after an MS diagnosis. As it turns out, Williams has a very cool, “old woman living in the woods” voice and a warm approach to her material. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but a nice change of pace every now and then.

What I Think of This Album

A rural humidity suffuses these spare songs, and it’s difficult to not ascribe a quirkiness to them as a result of Williams’s distinctive, quavery voice, but most critical is the detail and richness that she adds to her songs (just like the line drawings she contributed to the booklet). The stories and characters are what make this album special.

The imagery and teenage decadence in “Summer of Drugs” butts up against the wonder and innocence of spry “Why Look At the Moon.” Meanwhile, the unusual relationship and domestic activities of “Tarbelly and Featherfoot” (whose genders appear to be unfixed) is fascinating, as is the unpredictable life story told in “Boogieman” (the marimba and cowbell are amazing). “Can’t Cry Hard Enough” is legitimately heartbreaking, and the transcendental “Holy Spirit” is a reminder that grace can be found on a NYC subway line just as easily as on the bayou. The hippie sentiment of “On Time” is augmented by a groovy organ, and rustic “Vieux Amis” is sung in Cajun (I guess). Williams’s spouse for a period was Mark Olson of the Jayhawks.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Why Look At The Moon” is magical.

Release Date

1990

The Cover Art

I like that she’s wearing a winter hat over a summer hat. Otherwise, this is fairly boring.

The Breeders – Pod

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Kim Deal is a national treasure. An obviously critical part of the massively influential Pixies; a visionary, iconoclastic, and creative songwriter and front person; and a role model for millions of young women, inspiring them to be leaders in not just the field of music but all aspects of their lives. Long live Kim Deal.

What I Think of This Album

This is one of the best sounding albums I’ve ever heard. Say what you will about Steve Albini, he did an outstanding job on Pod – every instrument comes through clearly and cleanly, but not artificially, so that they still organically form a whole that is the song.

Formed by Deal and Tanya Donnelly (Throwing Muses; Belly), the Breeders were rounded out by Josephine Wiggs (The Perfect Disaster) on bass and violinist Carrie Bradley (Ed’s Redeeming Qualities). For Pod, they recruited Britt Walford of Slint, who is credited under the name “Shannon Doughton,” preserving the conceit of an all-woman band. Deal and Donnelly had an agreement – apparently driven by thorny songwriting legalities – that the first Breeders album would feature Deal’s songs and the second would be Donnelly’s vehicle. Accordingly, this very much feels like a Deal project (two songs were co-written with early bassist Ray Halliday, and there are single collaborations with Donnelly and Wiggs).

Overall, the sound is mysterious without being brooding, dangerous without being dark, and sensual without being seductive – Pod is direct and compelling. Opener “Glorious” embodies the album’s aesthetic – spare, angular, pulsating, odd, and mesmerizing, with up-front snare hits and nervy guitar sounds, as well as Deal’s inimitable vocals. “Doe” charges forward with enthusiastic strumming, Deal’s “da da”s and Donnelly’s barely-there harmonies, and Wiggs’s strong bass. The cover of the Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” which is utterly transformed into a sinister, harsh, tension-filled offering.

Bradley’s violin centers the snaky, enigmatic “Oh!” on which Deal’s voice breaks and it’s like the Eiffel Tower snapping in half. Deal increases the weirdness factor on the heavy “Hellbound,” which becomes a dark incantation. Bradley shines again on the riffy, bass-rumbling “When I Was a Painter,” which makes excellent use of Deal’s speak-singing. Things get poppy on “Fortunately Gone,” which has some country undertones and skips along on Wiggs’s bass. Atonal guitars, some loud/quiet dynamics, and Deal’s anguished singing characterize the remarkable “Iris.” “Opened” is basically one riff repeated over and over, but it’s still pretty fun. “Only In 3’s” is also on the poppier side of things, and also a bit slight. There is an awesome guitar part on gritty “Lime House,” and Deal absolutely owns the vocals. Finally, “Metal Man” emphatically closes things out, with Wiggs on guitar and spoken vocals.

The Best Thing About This Album

The vocal break on “Oh!” is life-changing.

Release Date

May, 1990

The Cover Art

Wonderful. Vaughn Oliver himself strapped on a belt of dead eels and performed a “fertility” dance for this shot. The background colors are amazing and the fonts are perfect.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑