Tag Archives: acclaimed albums

Acclaimed Albums – Pretenders by Pretenders

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 163/250Title: Pretenders
Artist: Pretenders
Year: 1980
Position: #159

I have had a bit of a Blondie heavy week in terms of my actual listening. For the first time I actually ventured away from Parallel Lines and tried Eat to the Beat, which resulted in ‘Atomic’ being on repeat for the better part of an hour. This is my roundabout way of saying that I just felt the urge to continue with my rocky female leads of the 1980s and finally give the Pretenders’ debut album a go.

I have had this album for YEARS and I was always put off listening to it because of, for some unknown reason, The Bangles. Way back when I decided to listen to Different Light (the album with ‘Manic Monday’ and ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ on it) and was so disappointed that the rest of the album couldn’t live up to the singles. So, due to ‘Brass In Pocket’ being such a strong single, it’s taken me a decade to finally get around to listening to Pretenders.

What the hell was I waiting for. Pretenders is excellent and I really have no idea how a bad Bangles experience prevented me from listening to this. Upon its release, Pretenders must have been such an unusual album to hear – hell it’s still pretty unique now. As a whole it really is a blend of rock, pop-rock and new wave, which is right in my wheelhouse.

For me Pretenders feels like an interesting half-way house between the new wave of Parallel Lines and the alternative rock of MurmurThere is something about James Honeyman-Scott’s guitar and the sheer energy coming from Chrissie Hynde’s vocals that makes this an extremely pleasurable listen. No tracks feel the same and yet everything feels cohesive. This really is a great album.

At this point I am really running on empty when it comes to female fronted albums. If the list doesn’t change significantly in the next few years, I only have 4 of these albums left (5 if you count Sonic Youth). All the more reason to blast my way through this list as quickly as I can so I can extend it… once I listen to pretty much the entire Pink Floyd back catalogue that is.

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Acclaimed Albums – Automatic For The People by R.E.M.

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 162/250Title: Automatic for the People
Artist: R.E.M.
Year: 1992
Position: #42

Like thousands of other people, I listen to the Earwolf podcast R U Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: ME? where hosts Scott Auckerman and Adam Scott go through and discuss each of the R.E.M. albums in order (when they aren’t inventing other weird sub-podcasts). I’ve gotten to the point where the next album they’re going to cover is Automatic for the People – so I thought this would be as good a time as any to give this a spin.

As I have been realising whilst listening to previous episodes of the R.E.M. podcast, I actually know a lot of this album from my mum. I remember, when I was much younger, her playing R.E.M. every now and then (mostly Automatic for the People and Out of Time) so it has been an interesting bit of nostalgia to properly listen to these songs.

For the most part, Automatic for the People is actually quite a bit darker than I first realised. This isn’t just because of ‘Everybody Hurts’, which I remember crying to when I was a teenager when I was in my more fragile moments. No, there are tracks like ‘Sweetness Follows’ which deals with death and ‘Monty Got A Raw Deal’ which is about the unfairness of Montgomery Clift’s live post-car crash.

However, whilst these songs can be a little bit maudlin, the album never succumbs to the weight of it’s own darker topics. For one thing, Automatic For The People also contains three far more positive and rocky songs that help to break up the sadness. ‘Man on the Moon’ is one of my favourite R.E.M. songs ever and knowing more about the weird references to Andy Kaufman and the conspiracy of his faking his own death just makes it better. ‘Ignoreland’ is an angry look at the Republican party and there is ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite’ which is just a whole lot of fun.

What makes me enjoy this album more than Murmur is how far their melodies have come. By this time R.E.M. were in the spotlight more than ever, but they still never allowed themselves to become fully mainstream. Unlike a lot of other bands, I don’t think you can accuse them of selling out or not trying to stay true to who they were. Automatic For The People is the best that they ever sounded and whilst future releases still contained flashes of their genius, this is where they peaked. At least for me that is.

Acclaimed Albums – Rain Dogs by Tom Waits

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 161/250Title: Rain Dogs
Artist: Tom Waits
Year: 1985
Position: #92

Reading back on my thoughts of swordfishtrombonesit looks like I wasn’t exactly quite sure what to make of it. In places I am a bit dismissive of it (mainly because it wasn’t the cabaret style I expected) and in others I’m thinking about whether this warrants further listens down the line. Well, I didn’t play it again in the 18 months since – but I weirdly feel like I am in better place to appreciate it.

Not only am I coming off an obsession with the Over The Garden Wall soundtrack (which contains a few Tom Waits-style songs like ‘The Highwayman’), but I also fell deeply in love with 50 Song Memoir by The Magnetic Fields and rediscovered Ute Lempur’s Punishing Kiss. All of these have seemingly paved the way to this listen of Rain Dogs, which I have enjoyed immensely.

I know that there is a lot of commonality between Rain Dogs and swordfishtrombones, but I feel like I have finally gotten the aesthetic he is going for. It really is the raspy singer in the corner of a surreal dive bar who is narrating the lives of the unfortunates who drink there and plays whatever instruments have been left behind over the years (which apparently includes a marimba).

On the whole this album is weird and is what you might expect to hear if there was ever a mash-up of Black Books and Twin Peaks. Sure ‘Hang Down Your Head’ provides a melodic break about a third of the way through, but soon we’re back to off-kilter narratives and really idiosyncratic guitar playing.

This, by no means, is an album that everyone will enjoy. I mean, the look my husband had on his face when he came through the door to this playing was… well it was something. I guess if you enter part way through Rain Dogs then you are going to wonder what the hell is going on. By then you’ve already missed ‘Clap Hands’ and ‘Jockey Full of Bourbon’, which is a damned shame.

It’s also interesting to finally hear the original version of ‘Anywhere I Lay My Head’, which I only previously knew from Scarlett Johansson’s Tom Waits cover album of the same name. An interesting way to end the album, but not one of the songs I would personally call a highlight. Still, this is definitely one of the better albums I have listened to for the list in the last few months – even if it is one of the weirder ones.

Acclaimed Albums – Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 160/250Title: Sticky Fingers
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Year: 1971
Position: #48

I tried again with the whole ‘listen to a list album whilst playing Horizion: Zero Dawn‘ shtick and, unlike my experience with Fun House this did not lead to me becoming stupidly stressed and needing some time to calm down. I think this speaks to both the calmer blues rock and the fact that I didn’t try and battle any major bosses (other than a pod of some nasty looking robot crocs).

Anyway, I should stop talking about Horizion: Zero Dawn. 

There are times when I listen to an album where all I can hear are ghosts of songs yet to come. With ‘Brown Sugar’ I could hear elements of what would become Foreigner’s ‘Hot Blooded’ and then the blues guitar twangs on ‘Sister Morphine’ let me towards Sheryl Crow’s ‘There Goes The Neighbourhood’. It’s one of the negatives of listening to these albums in a semi-random order –  unlike with the 1001 Songs I am not getting a good through line of how music is changing.

Still, by doing it this way I am able to appreciate it (or not) on a more personal level and, with Sticky Fingers, there are a number of songs on this album that stand out. The two I have mentioned already would probably be my main highlights, but there’s also the album closer ‘Moonlight Mile’. It’s not a song that I had heard of before and yet it’s the one I have been weirdly drawn to. It’s a bit of a mysterious one to end on and, unlike the epic ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’, it feels like the first time I’ve properly heard a vulnerable side from the band.

In the past I haven’t exactly been exploding with compliments for albums by The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers is a real way forward. It got hold of me straight away and makes me feel all the more interested to listen to Exile on Main St. which is their highest ranked album by some way.

With (at the time of writing) 90 albums left before I see out the top 250, I cannot help but wonder how long it is going to take me before crossing this off.

Acclaimed Albums – Fun House by The Stooges

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 159/250Title: Fun House
Artist: The Stooges
Year: 1970
Position: #98

This evening I had the bright idea of ticking off another album whilst exploring the world of Horizon: Zero Dawn. Initially it was a bit of a mismatch, but since I was hacking down machines left, right and centre I began to get into the groove of it. Then, on the second play through, I got to a pretty difficult enemy… and suddenly my desperation in the game and the thrashing hard rock made everything just that bit stressful.

Anyway, that’s a lesson learned. Next time I’ll try out The Specials’ album or do the final Bob Marley album whilst I’m playing or I’ll only play albums like Fun House if I know I’m just going to explore and not engage in a boss level, maybe.

In any event, it has been an awfully long time since I did the first of the Stooges’ albums . I think I was somewhat underwhelmed by their debut and was expecting something a bit heavier. Well, they certainly delivered that on Fun House. They also delivered a hard rock album that, as we’re chronologically still early in the genre’s history, somewhat experimental and taking some ideas the world of Frank Zappa and jazz.

It’s always interesting to listen to an album like this that takes proper advantage of flipping the vinyl part way through. The first half, is more powerful and aggressive whilst the second half acts as a contrast with a comparatively slower and looser pace. We’re still not quite at pure punk yet with either side, but it’s getting there.

The progression made between  Fun House and The Stooges is quite remarkable; it makes me wonder if there will be a similar shift between this and the third Stooges album on the list: Raw Power. I guess I’ll find out in, if going by the current pace, another year.

Acclaimed Albums – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory by Oasis

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 158/250Title: (What’s The Story) Morning Glory
Artist: Oasis
Year: 1995
Position: #77

After listening to Definitely Maybe a year ago, it would be fair to say that my opinion of Oasis drastically improved. I still don’t listen to them that often (because it’s not my typical everyday kind of music) but I am far more open to trying more of their back catalogue.

That being said, I’ve left some time before listening to (What’s The Story) Morning Glory. You see in our first year of secondary school it was the idea of our music teacher to teach us how to sing ‘Wonderwall’. I think it was his idea of being down with the kids or something (with a song that, by then, was 6 years old). However, he insisted that we sing the chorus in received pronunciation rather than mimic the accent, which ruined the song for me.

Listening to this album 17 years after those lessons, I am happy to say that I am now able to find the joy in listening to ‘Wonderwall’. In fact, thanks to a lot of exposure back in the day, this album feels like hit after hit after hit. I mean where I liked Definitely Maybe, I really liked (What’s The Story) Morning Glory – which I guess proves me wrong for that claim I made a year ago.

The peak of this album, at least for me, is ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’. It’s not just because it’s one of the rare songs where Noel Gallagher sings lead vocals, rather than his brother Liam. Nor is it because this song has become emblematic since the Manchester bombings. No, ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ is just a extremely well crafted and emotionally mature pop-rock song.

Then there is ‘Champagne Supernova’ which becomes weirder and cooler every time I listen to it. Still not sure what it all means, but I don’t think it’s meant to have any sort of underlying meaning other than being a good song. It’s one of those songs where their Beatles influence really rears it’s head, but in a positive way unlike some of their later songs which started to border on pastiche.

I need to speed up on these albums because I really want to expand this list to encompass a larger selection. Should I do Top 500 or maybe even Top 1000? I’d love to hear from you!

Acclaimed Albums – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 157/250Title: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Artist: Lauryn Hill
Year: 1998
Position: #124

I have been meaning to listen to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill for a few weeks now, but it never seemed like a suitable album to listen to whilst coding. Also, with the exception of Erykah Badu, I am not exactly au fait with neo soul as a genre – so I wanted to make sure that I was able to pay adequate attention to this album.

The thing is… I found it a bit too long.  Now I know it’s a bit rich to have an issue with this album because of length, especially when I have really enjoyed albums that are around the same length, but 16 songs over 70 minutes is a bit long. Maybe it would have helped if I had just stuck with the 14 tracks and not bothered with the hidden tracks. It would have spared me from hearing the rather uninspiring cover of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’.. but then again these hidden tracks from the main album, so it has to be done.

I feel like I am being really harsh on this album. I mean sure, around the 12-13 song mark I kept checking my iPod to see how close I was to the end because I wanted to start listening to something different (in this case, another listen of Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae), but it isn’t all bad.

Truly there are flashes of brilliance on this album. For the first 6-7 tracks (which includes the excellent ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ and ‘Ex-Factor’) I really thought that this would be an album that I would end up gushing about. However, it just started to run out of steam – at least for me.

I’m clearly in the minority here considering it’s high position on this list and it’s Album of the Year win at the Grammys.  The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill has a well-deserved place in history because of it’s landmark status for the neo soul and hip hop genres. It’s just that I wish it was more of the former and less of the latter.

Acclaimed Albums – Who’s Next by The Who

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 156/250Title: Who’s Next
Artist: The Who
Year: 1971
Position: #32

When I first started this blog back in March 2014 I had pretty much written off The Who (and pretty much any of the bands from the 1960s) as a bit sad and not exactly relevant to my own musical taste. I have been proven wrong time and time again, but I don’t think an album has shown just how stupid that line of thinking was as much as Who’s Next.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how much I enjoyed ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, which is the closing track of Who’s Next. I enjoyed how this track was a development on from early Led Zeppelin tracks like ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and was the just right amount of hard rock for me to enjoy it, but not too much that it stops being melodic (at least to my non-metal trained ears).

It’s interesting to note how Who’s Next was the result of a failed attempt to produce a new rock opera – which would have been their second after the very successful TommyMuch like The Beach Boys’ Smile, this failed rock opera resulted in a number of songs for future albums by The Who.

My favourite, and likely one of the most famous, is Who’s Next‘s opening track: ‘Baba O’Riley’. What’s amazing about this opening is that synthesizer in the background. This is a song from 1971 and it features such a dominant use of an instrument that wouldn’t come into its own for another decade. In ‘Baba O’Riley’ I can also hear a bunch of other rock songs – most notably ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’ – which means that I have not been able to get parts of it out of my head for the last two days.

Whilst the rest of Who’s Next is still a great album it is really dominated by the tracks that bookend it. The more I do these albums, the more I find out how it makes sense that certain tracks became known as the famous ones –  that doesn’t detract from the experience of the whole, just makes it that much harder to get to the second track.

Acclaimed Albums – Thriller by Michael Jackson

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 155/250Title: Thriller
Artist: Michael Jackson
Year: 1982
Position: #25

Thriller is one of those albums where I’ve probably heard all the tracks separately, just not necessarily all at once and in order. I mean, this is an album where seven of the nine tracks were released as singles (which is insane when you think about it) and most of those singles were incredibly successful. An album whose middle three tracks are ‘Beat It’, ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Thriller’ really deserves it’s high placement in the list… right?

I think that the big thing that I have learned from this albums list, and music listening in general, is that it is a rare thing to have a great album without a few skippable tracks on it. For me, there are two of these on Thriller: the final track and the terrible third track ‘The Girl Is Mine’. There is something so mesmerising in such strange track as the latter one, which is a duet between Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney. It manages to just about  skirt around cringe until the poorly acted spoken exchange at the end. Seriously I do not know what they were thinking.

And then you get to the middle three, which may be one of the largest contrasts in quality that I have ever encountered on an album. How do you go immediately from ‘The Girl Is Mine’ into ‘Thriller’? It boggles the mind somewhat, but I guess that couldn’t exclude a single from the album, especially one that featured a former Beatle.

Then again, there’s the rest of the album which is great example of how a lot of eighties pop borrowed from disco and funk (just like Prince did with 1999 and Purple Rain). It’s also really interesting to see how Jackson’s sound matured from Off The Wall and I just mean in his voice which is transitioning towards a rockier sound.

I’m glad I finally got around to listening to this. Probably worth my time finishing off the Top 25 so I can see which albums Thriller counts as neighbours.

Acclaimed Albums – Entroducing….. by DJ Shadow

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 154/250Title: Entroducing…..
Artist: DJ Shadow
Year: 1996
Position: #76

Yes, yes, I know I should be listening to the older albums on this list in order to keep up with my progress (or lack there of) in the 1001 songs list. However, I have really been in the need of instrumental music at my job – so this album sounded like the perfect thing to listen to.

Entroducing….. has the distinction of being the first album to be created entirely out of samples. It’s an album that has been undeniably influential in how sampling is done and how beats can be constructed on a small scale. Yet this is one of the few albums (and artists) that, upon starting this list, I had never heard off.

Extensive sampling is so commonplace now that it’s really cool to know that a flash point, like Entroducing….., actually exists. So often you had albums, like Blue Lines, where sampling was interposed with original content, but this really is a singular vision.

The most impressive thing about Entroducing….., however, is the variety. This is describes as an instrumental hip-hop album; yet there are elements of ambient, trip-hop, electronica, glitch, shoegaze and noise pop. Rather than this being a series of tracks mixed into each other, you find yourself standing on constantly shifting ground.

You have tracks that are moody (Mutual Slump) and chilled (Changeling and Midnight In A Perfect World) but then there are those which betray the hip hop roots really well (The Number Song). Yet everything here does feel united by some degree of signature commonality that is incredibly engaging.

In some ways the samplings used earmark this as an album that comes from the 1990s. However, there are also times where I would have believed that this had been released this year and was influenced by the works of Panda Bear and Jamie xx. It’s albums like this that make me happy to be doing the lists; something completely unknown that I have truly enjoyed.