Friday, November 7, 2008

Five Albums You Should Get

OK, so there aren't "albums" anymore, but that's what we called them back in the day. When cassette tapes came on the scene, we still called them albums. Same with CDs and now full sets of MP3 files from - among other places - iTunes.

Anyway, there's something about a complete set of music vs. individual songs on a playlist. Much more enjoyable and you get a full expression of ideas...something to think about.

With that in mind, here are five "albums" you may not have heard of, but deliver great rock and roll and hang together as a full set of music. All but the second one are available on U.S. iTunes. (All artwork is by the artists, not me.)

Howl by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
San Francisco band BRMC started their career with a sound that's a cross between My Bloody Valentine, PiL and The Jesus & Mary Chain. And that was pretty dang good. Howl, however, is nothing like that. Rather, it's a big change up for the group that produced in my opinion their best work to date. Consisting of 15 tracks of mostly acoustic music that evoke Bob Dylan more than anything else, the still dark tunes deliver a major dose of soul, intelligent lyrics and musical talent on display. Every song is a winner, but standouts include the pumping Ain't No Easy Way, the drawing and haunting Howl, harmonica driven anti-war song Complicated Situation and the moving Sympathetic Noose. If you like what you hear on Howl, get Howl Sessions for some great songs that did not make the main album - in particular Mercy.

Neurotic Outsiders by Neurotic Outsiders
Remember the Sex Pistols? Guns 'n Roses? How about Duran Duran? What if some guys from those bands got together in a new band in the mid 1990s and put out a kick ass rock album? Would that be of interest? Well, that did happen. Comprised of Steve Jones (Sex Pistols) on guitar and vocal, Duff McKagan (GnR) on guitar and vocals, Matt Sorum (GnR) on drums and John Taylor (Duran Duran) on bass, the band was called Neurotic Outsiders. And their one self-titled album rocks. The main thing here is the music... slashing guitar from Jones, bombastic drumming and clever tunes that really move as they shift and propels to the next set of adrenaline inducing lick. Things only slow down for the self-contemplative Better Way, Union and Story of My Life.

Tackling weighty topics such as how much of a "'ho" one of the guys girlfriends is, the heavy weight of having been a Sex Pistol, the negative opinions of the band on too much plastic surgery on women, and other similar topics, the lyrics take a back seat. But they are at least delivered well. Standout tracks include Angelina, Revolution, Better Way and a wicked cover of Janie Jones by The Clash. I recommend this one for anyone for that perfect accompaniment to an aggressive workout at the gym or a hard run. But if you just want to rock out, it's pretty good for that too.

The Good, the Bad & the Queen by The Good, the Bad & the Queen
OK, so I'm not a big fan of "supergroups," but having said's the second one I'm going to recommend in this group of five complete albums you should have. Comprised of Damon Albarn (Blur) on vocals, Paul Simonon (The Clash) on bass, Simon Tong (The Verve) on guitar and afro-beat legend Tony Allen on drums, The Good, the Bad & the Queen is both the name of the band and the album. With this lineup, you'd think maybe you'd be in for gaggle of rocked up songs, but that's not the case. It's much more interesting than that. Rather, with this one you get a number of well crafted, clever and mid-paced to slow atmospheric songs that address a wide range of subjects. The songs also act as a mixing pot of the talents of the members - dub bass and on-the-money backing vocals from Simonon, subtle guitar from Tong, soulful drumming from Allen and piano and lyrical sill from Albarn. Again, a set you can listen to from begininng to end. To me, the standout tracks are History Song, Kingdom of Doom, 80s Life, and A Soldier's Tale. Give this one a try.

The La's by The La's
Ah, The La's. One famous quote from Noel Gallagher of Oasis was that all his band was doing was continuing on what The La's started. Well, The La's only ever put out one album, their self titled debut in the late 1980s. The record is chock full of infectious songs, great melodies and the unique timbre of lead singer Lee Mavers...who, as the story goes, delayed the release through obsessive compulsive editing and tinkering. This worked out great for the eventual album, but the group broke up. You may have heard one song from this called There She Goes. But, the goodness goes far beyond that on this one. Strumming acoustic guitars (sometimes electric), perfectly phrased and timed verses about personal feelings and love, along with a subtle drum and bass deliver sing-along tunes that you'll be listening to over and over.

Standout tracks include: Son of a Gun, Way Out, There She Goes, Liberty Ship and Feelin'. Recently, this record has been re-issued, so you should be able to find it...and you should.

Narcissus Road by The Hours
Lastly but not least, Narcissus Road by The Hours. This is a band formed by a couple guys who used to play with Joe Strummer in Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros before Joe tragically died at age 50 of an undiagnosed heart malady. However, while this album does have hints of "how Joe would have done it," the sound is really not like what he produced. 

The 11 song album is comprised of a mix of upbeat mid-tempo rock tunes, several slow contemplative numbers and a couple sweeping epic songs that pull at the heartstrings, the album delivers on all fronts. Lyrically, the band take on on themes of redemption, getting off the mat when you've been been knocked down, love lost, dark motivations and living life for now. Perhaps the most unique song is Love You More in which the singer calls out all the things that he loves his signifiant other more than..proclaiming to love her more than his hooded sweatshirt, more than Tony Soprano, more than his football team, more than his Adidas shoes, more than The Clash and more.

Standout tracks are Ali in the Jungle, Back When You Were Good, Narcissus Road, Icarus and Love You More.

So, there you have it. Five albums that are listenable from beginning to end, and that you may not have ever heard of. Good luck. Let me know what you think.

And, as a bonus sixth to this list, see my review of Glasvegas by Glasvegas here

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