Albums

Classic Album Review: Fleetwood Mac – Tango in the Night [1987, Warner Bros.]

Posted on by Allison in Albums, Classic Albums, Everything, Music, Reviews | 5 Comments

The Classic Album Review is back after a two week hiatus. Maybe it was the trip across the pond that did it, and got me thinking of the best cross-Atlantic musical collaborations to date. Fleetwood Mac naturally came to mind first, and seeing as it’s suddenly become cool within the past few years to celebrate them (Radiohead and Deerhunter have openly professed their love), I figured it was their turn.

When people think of Fleetwood Mac, they undoubtedly think of Rumors, copious amounts of cocaine consumption, incestuous affairs where every band member sleeps with every band member, and Steve Nicks.

I’ll be the first to admit that Tango in the Night is not some kind of  rarity, with critics dismissing it as the final demise of the band into a mushy-adult-contempo-soft-boiled-soft-rock -commercial-radio-mess. As the second bestselling FM album, a heavy rotation on CHFI to this day, and the last release from the legendary McVie-McVie-Buckingham-Nicks-Fleetwood line-up, there doesn’t seem to be anything remotely indie about it. But who cares? What it is, is a damned good recording with some of the best guitar, drum, and bass lines known to man. Besides, that’s not what this series is about anyway.

Here’s the long and short of it: Tango in the Night has some of the happiest songs that take me to the crux of  musical glee. There’s something about upbeat Christine McVie songs that puts me into a temporary, lulled yet elated state of mind, and there’s no funk too deep that it won’t drag me out of.

In its heart of hearts, Tango in the Night is a Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham (who I still have a crush on, despite his increasing resemblance of a deep fried Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown from Back to the Future) show. They both produce all of the best tracks (Everywhere, Big Love) on the album, along with some of its guiltiest rockin’ 80’s pleasures (Isn’t It Midnight, You and I Part 2).

Let’s go through a play-by-play:

Big Love – The original is still by far, my favorite Buckingham penned and voiced FM tune. It’s very synth, slick, and is simply an odd little ditty that works, even with the weird “uh-ah” wheezes that serve as some kind of back-up vocal substitute.

Seven Wonders – This is Stevie Nicks’s greatest contribution to Tango in the Night. I’m not sure if this is because this was the time period where she was addicted to tranquilizers that her doctor at the time had prescribed to help defeat her cocaine addiction, or if she was doing this as a favor in-between her solo career. Either way, it’s one of the few Stevie songs that’s not a downer, and though I love her more melancholy songs, I’m happy this one came along as it serves her nomadic spiritual crystal-collecting image well.

Everywhere
– This might as well be the only song on the album, because it would single-handedly make Tango in the Night one of the best albums of the 80’s . I listen to this song an average of three times a day, everyday, and there’s nothing in my life that it can’t seem to solve. Last.fm indicates that I have listened to it around 200 times since January 15, 2010, and if you hear it for yourself, you may understand why. There’s something about it that is akin to magic…it’s got that fairy-dustsish feeling that pacifies me to the point of stupid grin for no apparent reason. Maybe because I would imagine this is what it feels like to be dumb and happy all the time must feel like (or young love, as this was co-written by McVie’s new and second husband, which must have been more than awkward for alcoholic ex-husband John).

Caroline
– Kind of what Peter Gabriel was doing at the time with all of his tribal-beat-new-age-sex-sounding songs, only with an anthem-ish edge.

Tango in the Night
– I can imagine how this might be the type of song I will be playing around the house a decade from now, much to my childrens’ mortification at their uncool mom. OK, so it’s got a bunch of terrible cliched 80’s mood guitars churning away unnecessarily to fill the oddly high number of dramatic pauses. But how can you resist that opera-like chorus, or that ridiculously over-the-top guitar solo towards the end??

Mystified
– A surprising Buckingham/McVie collaboration that isn’t what you might expect from them. Slow, methodical, and longing. One of those long-forgotten adult-contemporary FM songs you dust off that makes you remember how good it was.

Little Lies
– The other huge McVie standout that still reminds me of riding in the back of my parents’ car in the late 80’s / early 90’s, where I would always downplay my joy at hearing something my parents might have liked, too. I’m still riding in the back of their car, but no one plays this song nearly as often as they ought to.

Family Man – This one just puzzles me, as does its placement in their Greatest Hits collection. Well, maybe Buckingham just had a kid or something.

Welcome to the Room Sara – The first of Nicks’s two slow numbers, and neither of them are very memorable. Her voice is sounding increasingly goat-bleatish at this point.

Isn’t It Midnight
– Completely shameless 80’s rock-out that I hate to admit I love in a nostalgic Ray Ban, caped neon cap kind of way.

When I See You Again – See above.

You and I Part 2 – A slightly higher class rendition of Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time, demonstrating Buckingham’s irrepressible ability to make even the tackiest beat sound catchy.

Now that I have the opportunity to, I want to talk a bit more about Christine McVie. Tango in the Night demonstrates that she had become a songwriting force and performer in her own right. I always felt she deserved more attention as an equal force to be reckoned with along with Nicks, but that she wasn’t really recognized publicly as one-half of the female talent of the band. Maybe that’s my false perception coming into play, but I thought her equally tawdry but comparatively unglamorous personal life contributed to some of her being downplayed in the group. Buckingham, too I felt carried much of the band in its heyday both as a songwriter, vocalist, and plucky guitarist. He added a distinctive flair to everything he wrote, usually with some sort of staccato accent.

Classic Album Review: Guided by Voices – Bee Thousand [1994, Scat]

Posted on by Allison in Albums, Classic Albums, Everything, Music | 2 Comments

Guided by Voices is one of those bands that, much to my chagrin, most folks will only recognize because of Scrubs. That in itself isn’t a negative thing; the fact that Zach Braff chose to use the absolute worst GBV tune in existence (Hold on Hope), is.

Coming out of Dayton Ohio, Guided by Voices is the mastermind of Robert Pollard, a former elementary school teacher cum indie rock god whose fourth grade class apparently inspired much of the contents of Bee Thousand. He’s been around for decades, but it wasn’t until 2008 that I finally started dipping into his world record breaking songwriting well. Pollard is not-so-arguably the most prolific songwriter of all times, penning one or more songs a day for every day in his life. The hardest working man in music, GBV is one of those bands whose name I have always been familiar with, but whose artistic existence somehow managed to completely bypass me. That is rare, considering my obsession with all things college radio in my early high school days–though if I had to wait 16 years to find out about Bee Thousand, it was worth every second.

Bee Thousand is like that knight on a white horse of an album that just comes up out of nowhere and wallops you. I have consistently listened to it more than any other album within the past couple of years for good reason. As someone who has music O.C.D., dog-earing something with repeated non-stop listening once I get my hands on it, I appreciate the endurance of this collection of 20 odd 1-2 minute ditties that Pollard has churned out. “Genius of mammoth proportions” is not something I’d splash across just anything but, this album is just the best example of spawningly inspired songwriting that has ever been captured.

Let’s forget for a moment, that this is a lo-fi masterpiece. Wikipedia tells me that Pollard and his band were getting high when the epiphany of low production values equaling huge savings suddenly occurred to them. No one was buying their records anyway, so what did it matter if it was recorded on a shitty, hissing four track recorder? Funny how I never think of this as a lo-fi album. What I remember and consistently come back to has more to do with random, bizarre subject matter (legitimately strange, even for someone as jaded as myself) crafted into something surprisingly beautiful. Kind of like organic musical outsider art, if you will.

If you need any further evidence of the songs’ epic originality, you need only consult our friend Google. I challenge you to punch in any of these song titles and get anything other than an accurate hit.

Tracks:

Hardcord UFOs – A weird little two minute song about…I don’t even know what. Watching UFOs and waxing poetic about life and love or something. I stress the or something part.

Buzzards and Dreadful Crows – Surprisingly eloquent metaphor for …………………………? No amount of philosophical deliberation can make sense of this, and I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Tractor Rape Chain – Probably my third favorite track on the entire album. Something about it makes me want to get buckled into the passenger side of a car and belt it out at the top of my lungs, likely due to the fucked up but somehow adult-contempo-singable chorus, “Parallel lines on a slow decline – tractor rape chain / Better yet, let’s all get wet on the tractor rape chain / Speed up, slow down, go all around in the end”

The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory – The most cinematic / story-centric song in Bee Thousand about a broad who runs through the night like nobody cares. How this is crafted into one of the most beautifully simple love songs in my mind, remains a mystery. It must be the use of the use of a single tooting recorder at the end of the song. It reminds me of Grade 3 when the York Region District School Board’s idea of introducing music class involved having a bunch of 8 year olds play Hot Cross Buns really poorly.

Hot Freaks – There’s something awfully “Roadhouse” about this tune. It’s sexy as hell, slimy, reminiscent of guys in wifebeaters in dive bars. No wonder I like it so much. Never before have I heard so many bizarre-ass sexual metaphors piled up on each other. It starts off as “I met a non-dairy creamer / Explicitly laid out like a fruitcake / With a wet spot / Bigger than a great lake / Took me to the new church / And baptized me with salt / She told me, liquor / I am a new man”, petering out to “This one is on the house / This one is better than ever”

Smothered in Hugs - Another oddly beautiful tune that is a kind of “stand by your woman” runaway anthem. That’s all I’m piecing together from it, anyway.

Yours to Keep – Every time I listen to this album, it occurs to me that there wouldn’t be a more perfect thing to score a set of short stories to. This sweet little song demonstrates Bee Thousand’s ability to take you on a wildly oscillating unexpected ride.

*Note, I’m starting to run out of reviewing steam at this point, so I’m going to selectively write about the remaining 20 songs*

Gold Star for Robot Boy – Apparently a residual from Robert Pollard’s day as an elementary school teacher. If Robert Pollard was my fourth grade school teacher, you’d better believe I’d be purposely failing every year to remain in his class.

A Big Fan of the Pigpen – Glorious little singable (and happy) jaunt that just makes me want to go BA BA, BA DA BA BA DA DA DA all day long.

Kicker of Elves – Running less then a minute long, this is my top pick of the album. I often have this song running through my head as I walk the streets and fantasize about drop-kicking things and people. Little people, vases, what have you. There’s something very satisfying about this one even though it’s not even long enough to be scrobbled by last.fm.

I Am A Scientist- The most sophisticated / polished example off Bee Thousand running over a whopping two minutes long with a well developed beginning, middle, and end. This isn’t to say that the 30 second songs don’t; but it’s easy to see why the end result impressed Pollard’s new caliber of songwriting skills upon himself.

Peep-Hole - If it was socially acceptable, and if I ever got married, I would love to have this as my wedding song. Don’t ask me how we’d waltz to it. It’d probably go down as the most awkward wedding song ever with a series of weird spastic slow dance movements akin to Dawn Weiner in Welcome to the Dollhouse at her Junior Prom.

As many of you may know by now, Guided By Voices is reuniting under their classic Bee Thousand line-up for the Matador 21st Anniversary Celebration in Las Vegas. Robert Pollard never stopped touring (or drinking to get onstage) after GBV broke-up, and is really the DNA of GBV, but even he swore off live performance back in 2006. So if you have the chance, go see them live. My understanding is that he achieves the perfect level of drunkenness before getting onstage…a physical condition that requires a finesse that I both admire and aspire to maintaining.

I guarantee that hearing anything from this album live will blow your gaskets.

Classic Album Review: The The – Soul Mining [1983, Some Bizarre]

Posted on by Allison in Albums, Classic Albums, Everything, Music, Reviews | Leave a comment

The The has always only really been the brilliant Matt Johnson with an all-star cast, that I maintain to this day is one of the most overlooked U.K. bands of the 80’s. Soul Mining was easily the best album Johnson ever recorded, and contains some of the richest new wave to ever come out of the U.K., period. I use the new wave title loosely here, as this collection of a mere seven songs has more musical range than most boxed sets. One of the things I can most appreciate about this album, even as someone who prefers the concrete to the abstract, is its artistic calibre. I can’t think of too many albums that seamlessly move from accordion-laden sophisto-pop (This is the Day) to epic everything (Uncertain Smile) to plucky dark synth (The Sinking Feeling) to electro-awesomeness (GIANT).

Out of all of the albums I will be featuring in this review series, I think Soul Mining is the most intellectual and least heart-wrenchingly emotional in terms of establishing its pulse/connection with listeners. There’s a slight political bent to some of these songs, but my most favorite tunes are the ones with labyrinth-like arrangements that gently ruminate about this thing called life. Think broad compared to narrow. These songs feel mammoth, epic, and lush with, might I add, the most brilliant use of xylophones ever. There is a bittersweet optimism about the album that can sway either way. As one listener has pointed out, it can sound equally happy or sad depending on your mood. I’m in a great mood today (or maybe that’s just the Robitussin talking), so these songs sound like they’re flying off the Prozac charts.

Let’s get into the cream of this album.

Uncertain Smile is at the very core of Soul Mining, and for me exemplifies everything that a nearly seven minute song should aspire to be.  There’s something about this song that is on my list of “happy places” (Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere” is at the top of this list, never failing to appease the cranky monster). No matter how much of a funk I’m in, Uncertain Smile always manages to slip me a musical quaalude by taking me to a rock out with your cock out place of epic proportions. But just like everything else on this album, it’s way more couth than that. As I age, I tend to pay less attention to lyrics, but Uncertain Smile achieves that perfect balance of quasi-philosophical without being the least bit pretentious. Part of its appeal is its ambiguity: “A broken soul stares from a pair of watering eyes, uncertain emotions force an uncertain smile” could easily apply to heartbreak, or any number of other things.

I couldn’t write a review about this album without specifically mentioning the famous piano solo. Jools Holland’s piano solo on this song is in such epic proportions that it is deserving of being a standalone song, and to date is my favourite piano solo of all times. You never want it to end and it almost never does, tapering out with just the right amount of whimper. In fact I’d say that pretty much every song on Soul Mining ends gracefully by fading out into a watercolour bleed.

This is the Day is more bittersweet, and might woefully be more widely identified as “that song in that M&M commercial”. More importantly, it proves that accordions may have a rightful place in pop music after all. Sometimes. I mean, it’s hard not to associate accordions with anything other than lederhosen and Eastern European polka music.

Still, This is the Day manages to ride that dual wave of being nostalgic while being forward thinking; happy and sad at the same time.

The Sinking Feeling and GIANT are other standouts, but I won’t tear them apart because I already sound like a pretentious dick. All you need to know is that Soul Mining is a great album that is highly deserving of a thorough listening to.

Classic Album Review: Galaxie 500 – On Fire [1989, Rough Trade]

Posted on by Allison in Albums, Classic Albums, Everything, Music | Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking a lot about what constitutes musical perfection lately, due in part to our May podcast questioning different writers’ rating conventions.

I have a great deal of difficulty explaining why I love the things I really love. More articulate people take the approach of exploring the minutiae, blow by blow of why they love something. I take the opposite caveman approach of bludgeoning everyone over the head with the fact that something is great. Why I think it’s great doesn’t seem so important. Over the course of about six years, I have attempted on several different occasions to write my definitive be all and end all review of Say Anything, which I can safely say is probably my favourite movie of all time (with Running on Empty a close second, and as I am writing this I’m having the revelation of a lot of good shit being churned out of 1988 and 1989), to no avail. Maybe I’m afraid of manhandling it to the point where I kill it with love. Kind of like if you petted a rabbit to death or something. Think Lenny in Of Mice and Men.

So in thinking about some of the most perfect albums that have ever been recorded, Galaxie 500‘s On Fire naturally came to mind. On Fire is about as dark and emotionally wrought as anything else I love, and there are lots of reasons why I know it wouldn’t appeal to most people I know. Some people might think Dean Wareham’s voice sounds an awful lot likeAdam Sandler‘s, that they are a sparsely arranged three-person show, and that they are the remnants of the ashes of college radio, for many the precursor of dreaded “indie” music. Yet, there are a handful of reasons why, for better or for worse, I think this is one of the best albums of all time. Some things are always universally agreed upon as being great, but for one reason or another I don’t bond with them. I don’t mate with the album, and I can’t imagine being attracted to the band. There are others that don’t seem as praised without exception, but that I fall for in a hard way. I think this is the phenomenon of what a “cult” hit is.  It’s really about a connection, achieving meaningful intimacy with a creation.

In a lot of ways, On Fire reminds me of movies like Last Picture Show, where every protagonist is always trying to figure out a way to run away from life by using a car. You would think that to someone who despises driving (and would be a candidate for Canada’s Worst Driver), a song like Blue Thunder wouldn’t resonate so deeply. You’d be wrong to think so though, because Blue Thunder always hits my pangs of irresponsibility in a big way. The more I acquire commitments, the more I can imagine driving away from them someday. To me, Blue Thunder is all about leaving things behind as a release.

Strange is just as good, and ties for top track in the On Fire story. In terms of lyrical song narrative it probably sounds like something a high teenager might churn out. “Why’s everybody actin funny? / Why’s everybody look so strange? / Why’s everybody look so pretty? / What do I want with all these things? / I went alone down to the drugstore / I went in back and took a Coke / I stood in line and ate my Twinkies / I stood in line, I had to wait” isn’t exactly the sort of stuff Nobel Prizes in Literature are made of. But somehow, this odd little ditty is one of the most beautiful releases I have ever heard. And by the way, drummer Damon Krukowski probably would’ve used the kit he bought from Conan O’Brien when they were all attending Harvard together. For something with arguably downright stupid lyrics, that is pretty incredible.

Another Day features Naomi Yang taking over vocal duties in what is essentially a gentle face slapping to someone complaining about being sad. Everyday is not the same indeed. The arrangements these guys concocted could accompany asininity like Cotton-Eyed Joe or Barbie Girl and it would still sound like a full-on tear-rimming orchestra.  When Will You Come Home? has a guitar solo that slays to the umpteenth degree, and you can’t help but think they have kicked the Velvet Underground‘s ass at this point, a band they were nauseatingly compared to during their heyday.

Before I wrap this up, I want to talk about one last song. Their cover of Ceremony is, quite possibly, my favourite of all time. Dean Wareham always had a knack for excellent covers (their version of George Harrison’s Isn’t It A Pity and later, with Luna Paula Abdul’s Straight Up) that dislodged the originals to the point of evaporation for me. The bit they incorporated with the tambourine firmly establishes them as the most soulful white band to walk the planet of the earth.

Fin.