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Showing posts from April, 2010

269. XTC: Mummer (1983)

Mummer marks the debut of XTC as a studio-only band. In the middle of a particularly-taxing U.S. tour for English Settlement, frontman Andy Partridge swore off touring forever.

This wasn't unprecedented, and especially not among Partridge's primary musical heroes. Brian Wilson quit touring with the Beach Boys in 1965. The Beatles gave up the road in 1966. In Wilson's case, the first album of his homebody existence was a little number called Pet Sounds. The Beatles made Revolver. Both albums are perennially in the discussion for best album of all time.

Mummer is not quite in the same league as those two, but it's not a bad album. In fact. On most days I'd take it over English Settlement.

In some fans' minds, Mummer is a black sheep in the XTC catalog thanks to the presence of synthesizers on several tracks. Though the record was partially helmed by Steve Nye (who produced New Romantic faves Japan), I don't get the idea that synths were used for particularly …

Rock Solid: Billy Joel

"If you only own one album by Billy Joel it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best. Rolling Stone serves as a tiebreaker in many cases and as a pain in the ass in others.

The declared winner will be subjected to the Thriller Test (do I need to explain the name?), a set of 4 criteria an album should meet to be considered a masterpiece. Those are 1) at least 3 hits, 2) great album tracks that sh/could have been hits, 3) no fill…

Rock Solid: Elton John

"If you only own one album by Elton John it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best. Rolling Stone serves as a tiebreaker in many cases and as a pain in the ass in others.

The declared winner will be subjected to the Thriller Test (do I need to explain the name?), a set of 4 criteria an album should meet to be considered a masterpiece. Those are 1) at least 3 hits, 2) great album tracks that sh/could have been hits, 3) no filler, and 4) …

267. XTC: English Settlement (1982)

I realize I'm putting my XTC superfan credibility on the line by saying this, but English Settlement has always felt a bit overrated to me.

Others fans can (and will) go on about it. In fact, there's a large contingent that believe the band reached their pinnacle onthe album. And while I agree that English Settlement is an admirable piece of work, it's not an XTC album I pull off the shelf very often. I've never really tried to articulate why that is before, but now's a good a time as any.

First, some history: English Settlement found the boys making the most of the artistic and commercial success of Black Sea. They used their new currency to release a double vinyl set (it fits tidily on one CD) featuring a layered acoustic sound. Though daring for a band who had already made the transition from jumpy punk to muscular new wave, following their creative muse paid off. English Settlement nabbed them their highest U.K. album chart appearance yet (#5) and their biggest…

266. The Brady Bunch: It's a Sunshine Day: The Best of the Brady Bunch (1993)

Sitcoms and music have a long, incestuous history. From Ricky Nelson and the Monkees all the way to Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, the two have made the most of being together. The Brady Bunch, however, put the relationship to the test.

Most will remember the musical episodes of the show, notably "Dough-Re-Mi" (where Greg gets a recording contract and ends up bringing everybody in, only to have Peter's voice change the night before) and "Amateur Night" (where the kids enter a talent show to earn money to have a silver platter engraved for their parents).

But did you know the Brady kids made four albums as a group? Or that Maureen McCormick (Marcia) and Chris Knight (Peter) made a record as a duo? Or that Barry Williams (Greg), Eve Plumb (Jan), and Mike Lookinland (Bobby) all released solo singles?

It's A Sunshine Day, a compilation collecting the "best" of that output, was released in 1993. I was in high school and I'm guessing I bought it …

Rock Solid: James Taylor

"If you only own one album by James Taylor it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best. Rolling Stone serves as a tiebreaker in many cases and as a pain in the ass in others.

The declared winner will be subjected to the Thriller Test (do I need to explain the name?), a set of 4 criteria an album should meet to be considered a masterpiece. Those are 1) at least 3 hits, 2) great album tracks that sh/could have been hits, 3) no filler, and 4…

264. The Bird and the Bee: Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates (2010)

The cover song is one of the unsung (well, not literally) heroes of pop music. It gives new musicians a place to start, fills the empty spots on albums, and shakes up otherwise predictable concert set lists, among many other things. In fact, one might say that pop music as we know it wouldn't exist had a truck driver from Tupelo, Mississippi not decided to add his hillbilly twang to some R & B songs and four lads from England not lived in a shipping town where the latest Little Richard and Miracles 45s were readily available for them to learn and recreate.

If you break it down, there are basically two types of cover songs. The Homage is a faithful reproduction, usually done out of love and admiration for the original. The Re-Thinking takes a song and gives it a semi-to-very radical new arrangement. Within these types there are lots of reasons artist choose to record cover songs. They include (but are not limited to): a) to score a guaranteed hit, b) to rescue a good song from o…

263. XTC: Black Sea (1980)

If XTC spent their firstthreealbums searching, Black Sea is where they finally found what they were looking for. Sure, their early work had individual shining moments (This Is Pop, Statue of Liberty, Are You Receiving Me, Making Plans for Nigel, among others), but Black Sea is Andy, Colin, Dave, and Terry's first consistently good record, the album where they became the XTC we know and love.

Perhaps it was the threat of being overshadowed by unassuming bassist Colin Moulding, or maybe it was just creative maturity, but Andy Partridge's songwriting took a leap on Black Sea. Of the four singles released from the album (Generals and Majors, Respectable Street, Towers of London, and Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me)) three were Partridge compositions. More importantly, Sgt. Rock went to #16 on the UK charts, besting Moulding's Making Plans For Nigel by one spot (that it's the worst of the four singles is of no consequence).

Black Sea's first side is flawless. The album op…