Artist: The Jesus and Mary Chain
Released: November 18th, 1985
Highlights: Just Like Honey, In a Hole, Taste of Cindy, My Little Underground
Out of all albums that have ever deserved the moniker of immediately likable, “Psychocandy” is certainly the most subversive. Those two concepts might seem completely alien to one another; lacking a common thread or an intersecting inch. Weirdness, after all, is never readily accepted; it is slowly grasped. However, that is precisely what makes The Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut so formidable. The band somehow discovers that there is indeed a point where those two extremes converge, and they go on to explore the realm where unusual noise meets pop beauty.
As it turns out, “Psychocandy” is the ideal title for the whole affair. At their core, all of the fourteen songs that compose the album have the sweet and easy-to-digest hooks of 60s pop rock. However, that nucleus is surrounded by the thorny and psychotic waves of feedback that The Velvet Underground tackled on their first two albums. Here, all of the numbers could have easily been approached in a way that would have made them commercially appealing, but the band simply chose not to go down that path, and – consequently – transform “Psychocandy” into something that is pleasantly weird.
Such decision might have sounded forced in the hands of any other band, but it is clear to see that The Jesus and Mary Chain opted for that road not because they felt like it, but simply because that is who they were. The result is, naturally, very candid. Jim Reid delivers songs with considerable emotional weight in a distant way that would make Lou Reed proud. He is blatantly disconnected from what he is doing; he does not give a damn, and neither does the rest of the group, whose tempos and walls of noise are relentlessly steady. Drowned in such carelessness, stranded in the middle of loud static and feedback, beauty finds a way to break through, and it rings resoundingly.
By itself, “Psychocandy” is undeniably special. Its context, though, makes it even more impressive. The record would eventually echo in both the shoegazing and madchester movements – with the former borrowing its nonchalance, and the latter inheriting its spacious and mildly concealed pop vibe. Yet, it was never quite replicated, not even by The Jesus and Mary Chain themselves. “Psychocandy” is, therefore, literally one-of-a-kind, and there aren’t many examples in rock history of major records that stand so far removed from everything else.
Released: July 10th, 2007
Highlights: Pioneer to the Falls, No I in Threesome, The Heinrich Maneuver, Rest My Chemistry
Interpol began their musical journey as the heirs to Joy Division. The comparison bothered the band, but it was inevitable: all the ingredients were there. The wide and dense atmosphere that could be cut with a knife; the melodic rhythmic section; the depressive lyrics; and the borderline bass vocals. Perhaps unintentionally, the band began to move away from that mold on “Antics”, dressing up their sound in angular guitars and danceable grooves that their New York City peers, The Strokes, had already tackled to great results.
“Our Love to Admire” is nothing but a continuation of that process. It doesn’t differ greatly from its predecessor, which is not an unexpected turn since Interpol navigates through a relatively narrow sound palette. It, however, does bring forth some interesting experiments where the band attempts to stretch its wings. Those growing pains are particularly evident on the songs that bookend the album: the grand “Pioneer to the Falls”, which includes an orchestral segment that adds to the drama; the beautiful and spacious “Wrecking Ball”; and “The Lighthouse”, where atmospheric guitars perfectly portray waves crashing against rocks.
The rest of the material is, mostly, Interpol being Interpol. They can either strike solid gold when finding pumping melodies that take Paul Banks’ maniacal vocals to another level, or fall into predictable and undistinguished patterns. The former case applies to “No I in Threesome” with its sweeping chorus, and “The Heinrich Maneuver” with its chiming guitar. While the latter plagues numerous tunes like “The Scale”, “Mammoth”, and “Who Do You Think”.
In the end, “Our Love to Admire” is neither as immersive as “Turn on the Bright Lights” nor as solid as “Antics”. The group still exhibits an interesting mix of Joy Division’s flair for the ultimately depressive and early 2000’s indie rock guitar punches. They continue to sound as if they are performing at the edge of a ledge, and although the theatrics are not exactly wearing out, they certainly come off as much less engaging. Thankfully, the problem here is not attitude; it’s just diminished inspiration, which means the future still held plenty of opportunities for recovery.
Released: December 10th, 1976
Highlights: Tie Your Mother Down, Long Away, The Millionaire Waltz, Somebody to Love
“A Day at the Races” is not the brother to “A Night at the Opera” in name alone. Following any record of the magnitude of Queen’s 1975 release is invariably a daunting task, but here the band pulls it off with grace by not straying too far away from the territory touched by its predecessor. As evidenced by the one-minute intro to “Tie Your Mother Down”, which sounds as a hard rock orchestra tuning up for a major performance, and the multi-phased “The Millionaire Waltz”, the grandeur of “A Night at the Opera” is still very much present, and it is tied up together by great music and the band’s signature extravaganza.
The fact Queen housed four songwriters (out of which May and Mercury were unquestionably the more prolific and talented) that worked individually meant the group was always able to pack an impressive amount of varied styles in a single album, and here it is no different. May, aside from the gentle “Long Away”, brought in two of Queen’s heaviest songs: the anthemic “Tie Your Mother Down”; and “White Man”, whose lyrics concerning the exploration, extermination, and supposed civilization of other races gained a lot of weight when sung by Mercury due to his African origins.
Freddie, meanwhile, kept on exploring the possible arrangements and styles of piano-led tunes with multi-vocal tracks. “You Take My Breath Away” is a ballad that is simple in structure but reaches for complexity on its harmonies and sound effects; “The Millionaire Waltz” is the heir to “Bohemian Rhapsody”; “Somebody to Love” is an energetic gospel; and “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy” carries echoes of music hall. The record is neatly complimented by “You and I”, a straightforward and honest love song that only John Deacon could write; and Roger Taylor’s hypnotic “Drowse”.
Although it is not as highly regarded as “A Night at the Opera” – perhaps due to the lack of a long list of chart-sweeping singles – song-by-song, “A Day at the Races” is able to stand side by side with it. From “Tie Your Mother Down” to “Teo Torriatte”, Brian May’s nod to the band’s huge Japanese fanbase, there is not anything that comes remotely close to being a dud. It never really charts new ground, but since such trailblazing spirit is not a requirement for a stellar album, “A Day at the Races” fits and extrapolates that bill with ease.
Artist: Guns N’ Roses
Released: September 17th, 1991
Highlights: Civil War, 14 Years, Estranged, You Could Be Mine
The self-destructive tendencies of Guns N’ Roses were not evident exclusively on their attitude and lyrics, they were also pretty clear on their irregular productivity. After bursting out of the gate spectacularly with “Appetite for Destruction”, it took the group over four years to put together a new full album. A result of the excesses of fame and inner turmoil, the lull saw, at its end, the release of two records that hit stores on the same day. That simultaneous birth generated a pair of works that shared the same gene pool of exciting qualities and staggering defects.
Double albums are always followed by the question of whether the material was good and vast enough to warrant such indulgence. The answer here is an intense nod. “Use Your Illusion II”, like its Siamese twin, is a spawning explosion that clocks in at nearly 80 minutes. It is loaded with epics that go over the six-minute mark, like the political “Civil War”, a pleasant break from the band’s usual sex-and-drugs thematic; the funk-metal tour de force of “Locomotive”; “Estranged”, a multi-section track in the vein of “November Rain”, only electric and loud; and the crescendo of “Breakdown”.
Other notable tunes are “Pretty Tied Up”, a tongue-in-cheek take on sexual bondage which bumps into rock and roll with its groovy piano; the dangerous “You Could Be Mine”; the melodic “So Fine”; and “Shotgun Blues”, whose riff-centric melodic lines would be at home on an AC/DC record. In spite of its many victories, both “Use Your Illusion” records fall into a trap that keeps all great double albums from being masterpieces. Although the band had enough quality material to divide it into two pieces, some of it should have been left on the cutting floor.
Out of the fourteen songs, four should have never made it. “Don’t Cry” is great, but since it had already appeared on “Use Your Illusion I”, there was no need to put it here with different lyrics; Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” sinks due to Axl’s poor interpretation and embarrassing attempt to sing with a baritone; “Get in the Ring” is musically and lyrically putrid; and “My World”, inserted by Axl into the album at the last second unbeknownst to the rest of the band, has got to rank among the worst songs ever put on an official album. Nevertheless, “Use Your Illusion II” remains greatly enjoyable. It would have, however, worked far better – and neared perfection – had it been trimmed down to ten tracks.