Albums of the Month: April 2015

elasticaAlbum: Elastica

Artist: Elastica

Released: March 14th, 1995

Highlights: Line Up, Connection, Waking Up, Stutter

In a way, each of the young groups that turned Britpop into a worldwide phenomenon could be traced back to at least a legendary compatriot: Blur chronicled British life like The Kinks had once done; Oasis’ devotion to The Beatles surfaced through their lush sound and immediate melodies; Suede electrified the glam rock mastered by Bowie;  Supergrass pounded like the Buzzcocks; and then, there was Elastica. The three lasses and their drummer were punk: they were The Clash stripped from their political message and eclecticism, and focused exclusively on rocking it out in their garage. Their self-titled debut, and the sole record they would release under their original formation, is an often overlooked masterpiece.

From the fast-paced loudness of their guitars, remarkable melodies surface at every corner. Justine Frischmann and Donna Matthews make the tough task of writing fantastic rock songs seem easy and natural. They, then, proceed to deliver those tunes with a legitimately reckless punk demeanor; the production does an excellent job of balancing the dirty honesty of the girls’ sound with a sensible, but not too big, amount of polish, which becomes extremely evident on “Waking Up”, the album’s signature track and a song that arrived prepared to take over the radio without hiding Elastica’s overwhelmingly rebellious attitude.

The lyrics live up to the quality of the music, and – better yet – they reveal one of the band’s best facets: the fact that, under those mean careless looks, lies a group of friends who do not take themselves to seriously. On the aforementioned hit, Frischmann teases her own laziness and states that she has too many great songs on her head but can never really put them on paper; “Line Up”, which is accompanied by constant puking sounds as a means to show utter disgust, mocks groupies; “Car Song” is a quirky take on having sex in a car; and “Blue” is utterly senseless brought together to serve a great rocking melody.

The impressive quality of the sixteen songs makes the thirty-eight-minute running time feel like a short instant and even when the girls stretch their wings to embrace slower tempos as it happens on “2:1” and “S.O.F.T.”, the latter of which could be a hard rock number; more dramatic songwriting as in “Never Here”; or the wider experimentations of “Indian Song”, the group pulls through with style. The result is a debut that, despite not being as mentioned as other classic records of the Britpop period, is as complete and confident as works like Blur’s “Parklife”, Oasis’ “Definitely Maybe”, Suede’s “Dog Man Star”, and Supregrass’ “I Should Coco”; additionally, it tackles rock in a more straightforward and pure manner than any of those albums.

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strangewaysAlbum: Strangeways, Here We Come

Artist: The Smiths

Released: September 28th, 1987

Highlights: A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours, I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish, Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me, Paint a Vulgar Picture

As if it was not already blatant enough, “Strangeways, Here We Come” is the ultimate proof of how smart The Smiths were as a band. It is not that, like its three predecessors, the album is a flawless exercise on easy-to-digest accessible rock tunes that come neatly packed within ten tracks and forty minutes; although that would be a fine enough reason to declare Morrissey and company as masters at what they do. It is that “Strangeways” is a product of the band’s self-awareness; a realization that their jangly pop had reached its absolute peak with “The Queen Is Dead” and that tasting new palettes was a must.

“Strangeways” does not really change the group’s formula too deeply. The songs are still guided by Marr’s uncannily inventive guitar playing and Morrissey’s love towards self-deprecating drama with great touches of humor while both Rourke and Joyce set the perfect rhythmic table on which the tunes can stand and rise. The compositions are, however, far more experimental than they had ever been, and – as a grand statement on the reasonable notion that it is organically impossible for Marr and Morrissey to write a bad tune together – they hit every single time.

“Death of a Disco Dancer”, perhaps the album’s most far-fetched number, spends half of its five-minute length being guided by a piano and bass before becoming a glorious instrumental cacophony; “I Won’t Share You” is a straightforward ballad carried by an autoharp; the epic “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” could have been a power ballad if performed by a more extravagant guitarist; “Girlfriend in a Coma” is a beautiful acoustic jangle that is decorated by synthesized strings on its chorus; and “ I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” has a constant saxophone inserted into a stellar groove punctuated by Marr playing an unusually distorted guitar riff.

Whereas Marr is off exploring new sonic grounds, Morrissey remains as sharp as ever with a pen on his hand: “A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours” is a great take on the brutality of war; “Paint a Vulgar Picture” humorously depicts how record companies milk the catalog of artists both living and dead by repackaging it endlessly; and “Unhappy Birthday” is a hilarious and childish put down as Morrissey attacks the target of his hatred by saying she is evil and that if she dies he will not cry. As a whole, “Strangeways” shows The Smiths heading towards new directions without abandoning their musicianship and accessibility. Had it been followed by another record, it would have been seen as one of the finest transition albums of all time; but given the group would break up soon after its release, it is worthy of being looked at as the last masterpiece on an absolutely flawless discography.

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Master_of_PuppetsAlbum: Master of Puppets

Artist: Metallica

Released: March 3rd, 1986

Highlights: Battery, Master of Puppets, Welcome Home (Sanitarium), Damage Inc.

“Kill ‘Em All”, Metallica’s first album was so mindlessly fast-paced, so limited in its themes, so purely and masterfully metal that it became an archetype for how the genre should sound like at its heaviest and dirtiest. In an opposite spectrum, “Ride the Lightning” – its follow-up – brought in varied degrees of sophistication, melody, and subjects without ever abandoning the band’s inherent brutality. It was only natural then that, following an organic arc of maturity, “Master of Puppets” would lift the best of both worlds above its head and merge them in an explosion of cosmic proportions.

The slower tempos of “Ride the Lightning”, which sometimes touched on balladry, are in plain sight on the heavy and overwhelmingly dark “The Thing That Should Not Be”, which perfectly channels the sinister atmosphere of H. P. Lovecraft’s stories; on “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, a song that – following on the footsteps of the epic “Fade to Black” – starts out as a ballad before moving on to an aggressive segment; and the beautiful instrumental “Orion”. Meanwhile, the violence of “Kill ‘Em All” surfaces on “Battery”, which comes adorned with one of the group’s best melodies; and “Disposable Heroes”, which replaces that record’s shallow hostile lyrics for a thoughtful commentary on the expandable nature of a soldier’s life on the eyes of its commander.

Due to the more fleshed-out songwriting – not to mention the clear growth of Hammet’s technical playing, Hetfield’s singing, Burton’s frequencies, and Ulrich’s drumming – when the band decides to bring the house down with sound waves they do it better than they could have hoped to do on “Kill ‘Em All”, and when they tackle intricate riffs and distinct melodies they reach the remarkable beauty and menace of “Ride the Lightning”. More often than not, thanks to the tunes’ length and elaborate structures, those two qualities are in full display on the very same tracks, as it occurs on the title track, where the band pounds mightily before moving on to a complex multi-phased and catchy anthemic chorus and splitting the song with an instrumental sequence that begins with a solo gorgeous enough to make a grown man weep.

Just like around ten years earlier Black Sabbath had written the book on heavy metal with their first four albums, Metallica did the same thing on the early eighties with their run from “Kill ‘Em All” to “…And Justice for All”. “Master of Puppets” represents the very peak of that cycle and the apex of the genre as a whole. Before moving on to different and more accessible grounds, the band made sure to leave no stone unturned on that violent field, and “Master of Puppets” is a perfect portrait of that complete conquest.

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Buffalo_SpringfieldAlbum: Buffalo Springfield

Artist: Buffalo Springfield

Released: March 6th, 1967

Highlights: For What It’s Worth, Go and Say Goodbye, Flying on the Ground Is Wrong, Pay the Price

Much like The Yardbirds, whose ever-shifting lineups included three man who would go on to become guitar Gods (Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck), Buffalo Springfield was, unbeknown to themselves and to the rest of the world, a supergroup, for it featured two musicians who would become legends down the line: Neil Young and Stephen Stills. Naturally, with such immense talents in play, the group’s entire output would be polarized by the pair, and their first record is a blatant display of the enormous creativity these twenty-year-olds had in store.

“Buffalo Springfield” is neither one of the world’s most polished records, nor is it wonderfully produced; in both areas, the album sounds undercooked and somewhat immature in spite of the occasionally insightful lyrical contents. However, the strong songwriting that permeates the entire product makes it easy to hold it in high regard as one of the earliest and purest exponents of rock and roll transitioning into a modern format. As a work with such qualities, it borrows a lot from The Beatles: tight harmonies are everywhere, the songs are short, the hooks irresistible, and the structures as straightforward as possible.

The biggest difference in relation to the Fab Four, and it is quite a big one, is that Buffalo Springfield is far more grounded in folk music. “For What It’s Worth”, the best cut on the record, is a quiet ballad on the protests by LA youngsters against an early curfew that had been approved. Meanwhile, the Young-penned “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” is almost psychedelic in soundscape and irremediably trippy on the imagery its complex words paint. As a display of other varied influences, “Go and Say Goodbye” is a great example of how a remarkable country melody can be turned into an electrical treasure, “Sit Down, I Think I Love You” could have appeared on any The Beatles record before “Rubber Soul” without seeming out-of-place, and “Hot Dusty Roads” has verses drenched in blues.

The group can even rock out nicely, and it does so in Young’s “Burned” and Still’s “Leave” and “Pay the Price”. However, those rougher songs reveal that the production lacks the punch to make the recording more dynamic and lively, something the band was unhappy with at the time of the album’s release. Yet, in spite of sonic shortcomings and a few songs that could have been more polished, “Buffalo Springfield” is a worthy debut for a group that would soon blow up due to the immeasurable talents it housed.

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About Matt

A Brazilian gamer with a great love for playing Nintendo games, and a hobby of writing about his gaming experiences and thoughts. Even though that is what I mainly do for fun, I also love listening to music (especially rock) and watching movies (especially animations), so also expect a few posts on those matters.
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6 Responses to Albums of the Month: April 2015

  1. Red Metal says:

    The impact the Smiths had on the indie rock scene and Britpop is quite amazing. I really like Strangeways, Here We Come and its prequel The Queen is Dead. Considering the prevalence of remasters of varying qualities, I’d say “Paint a Vulgar Picture” was quite the prophetic song when one thinks about it.

    As for Master of Puppets, that’s one of my all-time favorites. It’s one of the best heavy metal albums ever made and a classic in every sense of the word. When it comes to thrash metal, it’s right up there with Reign in Blood and Rust in Peace.

    • Matt says:

      Many people look down on the 80s, saying it was a terrible period for music with all the synths and wacky production, but I think the decade holds some incredible gems! Master of Puppets and the four The Smiths records are a great example of that quality. I ought to listen to Reign in Blood.

      “Paint a Vulgar Picture” is a very accurate depiction of the industry.

      • Red Metal says:

        Yeah, I’ve looked around the internet for “worst decade in music” polls and I was surprised how much antipathy listeners had for the 80s. I want to say some of that had to do with the shifting tides of modern music; it seemed to be the decade where classic rock began to lose its footing with Guns ‘N Roses being the genre’s final hurrah. When the 90s rolled around, that’s when hitherto underground genres such as alternative rock and punk rock became more mainstream and because the seeds of this transition were sown in the 80s, I think it left a bitter taste in the mouths of purists. Then again, I can’t say I’m an expert when it comes to rock history, so I could have gotten several details wrong.

        There are also people that insist that this decade is the worst, including people from our generation, but that only convinces me that they aren’t looking in the right places (Swans, Arctic Monkeys, and The War of Drugs are a good start).

        As for synthesizers, I never got why people dislike them so much; it’s one of those things where if you can make it work, by all means, do it. Bands such as New Order and Kraftwerk certainly did. Then again, there are quite a few synth-heavy songs that wouldn’t sound out of place in video games from the 90s, so maybe that’s why I like them.

      • Matt says:

        I think you have got those facts right. That’s the way I see it as well.

        The “problem” with rock music so far this century is that it has been completely swallowed on the mainstream charts by other rhythms that do not please the average rock listener, such as myself! Very good bands like the Arctic Monkeys, who are on an amazing roll both in terms of productivity and quality; The Black Keys; and Arcade Fire, who I feel stumbled a bit on their last record are able to breakthrough, but there are many other great acts who aren’t, and that gives people the general impression that rock is in a poor state.

        Commercially, that assessment is correct; quality-wise, though, the genre is still doing pretty well.

        As for synths, to me it depends. Some groups ended up using it quite well, but I think others lost their charm because of it.

  2. INK1ing says:

    I was listening to Master of Puppets just the other day. I was bottling homebrew at the time and I swear it made me work faster. Master.

    • Matt says:

      The other day I went for a 5-mile run and decided to put on “…And Justice For All”. Needless to say, my time was very good!

      Those things are like magic!

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