Friday, July 15, 2016

Were you guys talking about this?

Rick Wakeman, "Guinevere" (Wembley, 1975)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Three Records I'm Supposed To Love But Don't (and Three I'm Not Supposed To Love But Do)

As an avid maker and reader of lists, I have become quite familiar with the consensus critical (and fan) picks for the greatest albums of all time. I agree with many of the choices. But there are three records that are considered to be amongst the greatest in rock/pop history that I have never warmed to. I’ve tried. I won’t argue against their importance or influence, but I’m just talking about my personal loves and dislikes, and I just can’t subjectively say that I love these records. Even though I’m supposed to.

1. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966). I can appreciate the genius of Brian Wilson, but sometimes I feel a little like cranky Mike Love when I say that perhaps it is sometimes, just maybe, a little overstated. Now there is one song on this record that I do love. In fact, I agree with Paul McCartney when he said that “God Only Knows” may be the most beautiful pop song ever written. But I can’t get into the rest of this record. I know it is Exhibit A of 60’s studio genius, pushing The Beatles to new heights (leading them eventually to Number 2, below). But as much as I try, I still hear the trite, sunny Beach Boys clich├ęs. It remains in the shallows and never goes to the deep blue ocean for me.

2. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). You read the contemporary reviews and commentary, and this record was going to alter the very face of music itself, bring eternal world peace and cure cancer. Well, it did none of those things. In more recent critical assessments, it has become popular to put a few Beatles records above this one, but nobody really disparages it. This is one of my least favorite Beatles albums, only superior to the consensus bottom of the Beatles barrel (Yellow Submarine, etc.) Even John Lennon later dismissed many of these songs as lightweight. I agree with him. Sure, “A Day in the Life” is truly brilliant, I dig the title track, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is cool. But most of the rest comes off to me as experimentation for the sake of experimentation, and trying way too hard to sound whimsical. And we get another tedious George Harrison Indian music piece (“Within You Without You”). Don’t get me wrong, I do love me some Harrison, but only when he is sans sitar.

3. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991). I remember taking a road trip with a girlfriend when this was just hitting. She was gushing over it, I dismissed it as a “flash in the pan” and derivative. OK, I was wrong. But I still don’t really dig it at all. I understand how, after the plastic 80’s (and I love the plastic 80’s, which perhaps is my problem), this was a breath of fresh, authentic, rock and roll air. I get it. But I don’t get Kurt Cobain’s alleged genius. Somebody please explain it to me.

I figure I should now flip this. Here are three records that are critically disliked or dismissed, yet I love them…

1. The Rolling Stones – Undercover (1983). I will defend this record all day (and night) long. Generally considered one of their worst (esteemed critic Charles Christgau, in fact, considers it their worst record. Yet he loves Dirty Work, which actually was their worst record). Christgau and others attack this record as mean, brutish, and violent. To which I answer, “and the problem is?” I mean, this is the Rolling Stones. Keith and Mick’s relationship was nearing its nadir (one more record and both would embark on solo careers for awhile, and they were already sniping in the press), and this was one of the few records that they never toured for. All that tension comes out in the music, though. “Undercover of the Night” is one of their greatest singles, in my opinion. Harnessing the same modern energy as “Miss You” yet remaining Stones. “Too Much Blood,” “Pretty Beat Up,” “It Must Be Hell” all seethe with anger and aggression. And Mick’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre spoken interlude in “Too Much Blood” is really funny.

2. Bryan Adams – Reckless (1984). Not that this record is considered bad, but it is generally dismissed as middle of the road, glossy 80's, non-edgy pop/rock and not taken that seriously. And maybe it is all of that. But it is also one of my favorite records of that entire decade. It is nothing more than pop/rock, but masterfully crafted pop/rock. It is all inviting rhythm guitars, soaring pop hook choruses. “Run To You,” “One Night Love Affair,” “Somebody,” kick ass duet with Tina Turner “It’s Only Love,” even cheeseball power ballad “Heaven” and silly nostalgic “Summer of ‘69”…I dig it all. So this is not so much a record that I am supposed to hate (although in many serious music fan circles I would be expected to), but it is more one that I am not supposed to like nearly as much as I do.

3. Thomas Dolby – The Golden Age of Wireless (1982). Similar to The Bryan Adams case, where this record is not considered bad, but for many it is probably seen as an 80’s novelty (as it contains his one big hit, “She Blinded Me With Science,” and is filled with other science/technologically themed tunes). Although, amongst listeners who really like 80’s synth-pop, it is a very respected record. Anyway, as with the selection above, I love this record way more than I’m supposed to. I think Dolby is incredibly talented. If he had stayed the course with this debut (and the even better sophomore effort, The Flat Earth), he would have a large, impressive catalogue. But after those two records, the discography becomes spotty (although I highly recommend the live, solo performance CD The Sole Inhabitant, that is excellent). At least here and on Flat Earth, Dolby is an underrated songwriter, crafting smart, catchy, complex, witty synthpop that was perfect for his time, and if you like that style, stands the test of time. Everyone knows the hit, but check out the so great Cold War tune “One of Our Submarines.” (NOTE: get the U.S. version of the album, it is much better than the UK version).