Tuesday Ten: 193: Perfect and Worst Albums

Following last week’s awesome fun of submissions from many of my readers and friends, I thought I probably ought to suggest my own to this. So this is a postscript, of sorts, offering five albums that I celebrate as being my idea of perfect albums. I’ve been careful to ensure that I haven’t repeated any artists from last week’s submissions, by the way.

On the flipside, I also had many suggestions for truly terrible albums last week too. So I decided to cover five albums that are awful, too – ones that I spent money on and absolutely regretted since. I’ve also tried to avoid some really obvious choices, particularly with the worst albums. But in all cases, I had one rule – they had to be albums I’ve purchased in one way or another (and oddly enough I’ve had all of these on CD at some point, and still have most of them).

Faith No More
Angel Dust

I was a little surprised, with hindsight, to find that three different FNM albums were suggested by my readers in the initial polling of opinions for what became last week’s Perfect Albums post, and more than anything perhaps shows the enduring appeal of a band that were, to put it mildly, not to everyone’s tastes! Even from their earliest material in the mid-eighties, FNM were a band that gleefully trashed the idea of genre boundaries, with an ability to pick the bits that they needed from all kinds of influences and thumb their nose to a few people on the way too. They really became that bit more vital, though, when Chuck Mosley got booted out and Mike Patton replaced him on vocals. The Real Thing – including Epic, the track that pretty much changed my life when I first heard it on MTV Europe – was actually kinda straightforward funk-rap-metal-thrash, for the most part, and it was on Angel Dust where the breadth of their vision became clear.

Angel Dust has such a wide scope it is dizzying. There are, yes, straightforward rock tracks here, but in amongst those are jarring, chaotic and dark tracks that no-one else was even attempting at the time – Malpractice appears to be about four songs at once, restlessly changing tempo and style every twenty seconds or so as it descends into a maelstrom of chugging riffs and squealing synths; Jizzlobber at least broadly stays in the same style, a harsh, messy grind seemingly risen straight from the swamp; RV is an unrepentent white-trash blues pisstake. Not to mention the glorious, harmonica-drenched take on the Midnight Cowboy theme, and even the unexpected hit cover of Easy – that I genuinely have no idea how the band kept a straight face doing it – is great fun.

That said, the singles were utterly glorious too. Everything’s Ruined remains my favourite even after all these years, a bass-heavy charge that hasn’t dated a day, while Midlife Crisis remains an enduring metal anthem (and perhaps rings a little too true for those of us that first heard it as teenagers…) and A Small Victory is not far off a small rock opera at points.

Frankly, it’s amazing any major label gave this the time of day, but whoever did deserves a pat on the back. Sadly it’s also a reminder of the days where risks were taken in the mainstream, something that nowadays just doesn’t happen.

Sign o’ the Times

Prince’s 80s heyday frankly produced a number of damned-near-perfect albums, with a succession of incredible singles and a body of work that basically excuses his missteps ever since – but it should be noted that most albums of his, even in recent years, have had at least one killer track. So colour me excited about the imminent announcement of UK dates – he’s been on my bucket list forever (and quite how I missed him off this I have no idea).

Anyway, of all his 80s output in particular – pretty much from 1999 through to this and Lovesexy, he was untouchable – this album stands head and shoulders above the rest. A state of the nation (and Prince) album, it sprawls over eighty minutes and two CDs (as I recall it was literally seconds too long to fit on one CD at the time of release) and goes from a doomy look at the US in 1986/87 on the title track, to epic religious fervour (The Cross), to fantasies about literary figures (The Ballad of Dorothy Parker), to thundering, sex-funk (U Got The Look), cross-gender fantasies (If I Was Your Girlfriend), and perhaps best of all, his greatest love song of all (I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man), that even ends in unfulfilment.

The sheer breadth of this album is ridiculous, and it’s crazier to think that a couple of the greatest songs had been recorded originally a few years before, and never used until this. Did he ever stop?

Ok, so you either love Prince or you don’t, so I find, and this perhaps isn’t the easiest route in if you want to start somewhere (Purple Rain or 1999 are better starting points for the unitiated), but god, this album is still fucking amazing. And it’s twenty-seven years old.

Front 242
Front by Front

The significance of this album in industrial circles is difficult to overstate. Now just over twenty-five years old, the release of this seems to be the point where dancefloor industrial became less of an underground thing and even perhaps nudged it into the mainstream. Sure, EBM and industrial – and 242 – had been around for a good few years by this point, but this album was that much more direct. The production is flawless, with the synths and the beats stabbing and punching exactly when they should, but most importantly this is an album of anthems. Sure, Headhunter remains the best-known (and for good reason), but it is backed up by an arsenal of dancefloor weaponry that few of their peers or followers have ever managed to assemble in their careers, never mind on one album. 242 only released a handful of albums after this (Tyranny…, UP:EVIL/EVIL:OFF and then PULSE), but still remain a formidable live force. New to the scene? This should be where you start.

Arcade Fire

I was really late with this one, but I was eventually swept up in the brilliance of this like everyone else seemed to be. The thing that I’ve never quite understood is how a band who were dealing with so much death in their lives (hence the title) at the time of writing ended up releasing an album that is so utterly full of life. Maybe it’s that realisation that often hits after dealing with the death of loved ones that our time is limited, and we may as well make the best of it.

Ok, so it’s that and the songs. Ten songs of no flaws, no fat, and unified by a determination to succeed, to live. Be that in Canadian blackouts, in Régine Chassagne’s native Haiti, in childhood. Oh, and those chills I get down my spine every time Wake Up kicks in (footage like this put the band on my bucket list instantly, and I’ve still not ticked them off it).

Since, they’ve evolved, they’ve frequently been jaw-droppingly brilliant, but in my mind they will never, ever top this.

Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

I couldn’t do this without including my top album of the 1990s. I’ve written about it a fair deal in the past, so I’ll make this one brief – put simply, this is the finest album about romantic despair and drug addiction I will ever hear. Even in the depths of utter despair, Jason Pierce somehow makes his sorrow sound utterly sublime, a lush, elegant sound that had the input of pretty much everyone and the kitchen sink (brass sections, orchestras, choirs, endless rounds of production), yet somehow sounded like a cohesive, brilliant whole.

And then, when it was already perfect, the reissue made the title track even better (by finally including the elements of Can’t Help Falling in Love). One of the few times where a first listen has rendered me speechless with joy, hearing the whole thing performed live did just the same some twelve years later.

So. That was the very good. What about the very bad? The conclusion that could be made is that the turn of the millenium was not a great time for “our kind” of music…

>Limp Bizkit
Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water

Perhaps the peak of popularity of the nu-metal boom, an album that (according to Wiki) sold an eye-watering 12 million copies. I was one of those early buyers, and I’m truly, truly sorry.

This album is the result of what happens when a band have no-one to tell them no. Relentlessly cynical, lowest-common-denominator “metal”, that ropes in various guests to ensure that it has as wide a reach as possible (in other words: call the hip-hop stars!): and most of the guests phone it in. How did it get to this? Fuck knows. But as music buyers in the nineties, many of us enabled it at least, but maybe, just maybe, this was where a fair number of us finally decided enough was enough. (See also this).

Head Music

It’s notable that when Suede returned, and performed their albums in their entirety to great acclaim in 2011 (two of the shows that my fiancée saw – I was in Montreal for Kinetik), that they only played their first three albums. There was a very good reason for this – put simply, there was an awfully steep drop-off in quality after Coming Up. Yeah, so A New Morning is generally viewed to be the worst, but I was among many that didn’t even consider buying it after the carnage of this. Everything is just a limp parody of what Suede were: the sound was there, but the feel absolutely wasn’t, and the lyrics…oh god the lyrics. Exhibit A, Savoir Faire: “She live in a house, she stupid as a mouse / And she going where the lights are on“. Needless to say, when the reissues came round, I stopped before getting to this.

Coal Chamber
Chamber Music

At least the first album had a couple of good songs. This had none, and indeed had another of those sodding awful eighties covers that were so prevalent at the time (Coal Chamber’s choice was to mutiliate Shock The Monkey). In fact I’ve run out of things to write about this, as I’ve done my best to blank the rest of this toss from my mind.

Ashbury Heights
Take Cair Paramour

It pains me to include this, actually, but this was such a crushing disappointment when I purchased it (in it’s double-CD limited edition, no less), that it really must feature. It’s sad, though. Their debut album was a sparkling, unusual synthpop album that seemed to have playful nature amongst the frequent seriousness of the songs, and the striking style was elevated even higher by the massive pop hooks that pretty much every song contained.

Problem was, once Yasmine Uhlin left, the obvious chemistry between her and Anders Hagström was lost, and this follow-up was lacking in everything that made it’s predecessor great. It turned out some pretty bad blood (that ended up in court) between the band and their label, Out of Line, clearly didn’t help the situation, but the fact remains that Take Cair Paramour has no redeeming features at all.

That they disbanded after it was no real surprise – that Anders is returning this year, with a third female singer (!) is. Let’s hope album number three is more like number one.

Nitzer Ebb
Industrial Complex

Matt Fanale suggested Big Hit, but for some reason I listened to that loads when I first picked it up – and I even later on it wasn’t that bad. Well, at least Kick It was good.

Their much-heralded return, Industrial Complex (their first new material since Big Hit fifteen years before) was lauded in a number of quarters. Not by me, though. I gave it a few listens, absolutely nothing on it grabbed me, and it has gathered dust on my shelf since. I don’t recall ever having played a song from it in a DJ set. Some feat for a band who were once kings of dancefloor EBM, actually – because there weren’t any worthwhile dancefloor songs here. In fact, there wasn’t much of anything here – Douglas McCarthy has clearly saved his best work of late for revisting his NE past (like 242, they remain awesome live), and also for his solo work and side-projects, and this album (to my ears at least) was a waste of time for all involved.

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