Mini Album Reviews, Part 1

Mini Album Reviews is a collection of random thoughts on albums that I’ve listened to in the past week. It started out as a Facebook thing, but I decided to move it here and keep it updated besides the full-fledged posts.

David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

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Back when I was a kid, I used to have a very narrow-minded view of the introverted and the extroverted; basically, I wouldn’t accept that a person could be both. Because I thought of myself as undoubtedly belonging in the first category, it was the artists that gave an aura of introvertism that I was the most attracted to. Listening to Bowie and watching clips of him turned that idea on its head – here was an artist that was charismatic and flashy, and at the same time, insightful and well worth studying. He had form and substance. I’ve since accepted that the two can co-live together, of course, but for the longest time I couldn’t figure what makes Ziggy Stardust so special for me. I think it’s just that, the fact that one can enjoy this album both for empty-headed pleasure, blasting at full volume in the background, or closely listen to it with headphones on and everything else shut down, depending on the mood.

AC/DC – Back in Black

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People blame mainstream hip-hop lyrics for being sexist and offensive, but man, do AC/DC reach an all-time low in terms of that. Back in Black features classic lines such as “She told me to come but I was already there” (get it??), “Let me put my love into you babe” (subtle) or my favorite, “She’s using her head again/I’m just giving the dog a bone” (OH GOD WHY). Thinking that no less than 50 million people sang along with those lines at one point or another since the album’s release is kind of a worrying image. And I know what you’re gonna say, this is a hard rock record, who gives a damn about the lyrics? Fair enough, but the guitar riffs are not that memorable either – the title track and Hell’s Bells are classics, but the rest never live up to those two. I would nominate Aerosmith’s Rocks for the title of defining hard rock masterpiece any day over this, an album superior on every front to these ears.

The Beatles – The Beatles (White Album)

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At gunpoint, I would say that the only real issue I have with The Beatles as a band is that I don’t think they ever were the best at something in particular. Many of their contemporaries focused on one element and took it to the extreme – be it Bob Dylan with the lyrics, 13th Floor Elevators with the psychedelia, Cream with the instrumental virtuosity or The Beach Boys with the vocal harmonies. Naturally, these are the bands that will always split fans more than The Beatles, because extremity tends to be polarizing. On the other hand, The Fab 4 had a policy of doing pretty much everything to a certain degree and nowhere is that more evident than on their self-titled album. A sprawling masterpiece, where songs of any shape, style, length and content not only find their place, but work in perfect symbiosis with each other. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

Love – Forever Changes

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We seem to remember the musical world of 1967 with its Summer of Love movement as one of peace and joy and community and…well, just love for and by anyone involved. But looking back at the year’s most-acclaimed albums such as Love’s Forever Changes, Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn or Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, one finds out that there always was a dark element beneath that layer. Dark themes are always lurking around the corner, and the same is true for the psychedelic drugs culture. Ironically or deliberately given their name, Love is the band that in my opinion best represented that balance of light and dark, with colorful, meticulous baroque-inspired arrangements on one hand, and cryptic, gloomy lyrics and general vibes on the other. Arthur Lee, the band’s leader, is cited as saying that Forever Changes will serve as a lament to his memory and I can totally see that.

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17 replies

  1. Love your review on Bowie – couldn’t agree more!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think I would agree with you on everything you’ve said here. Hope the exams went well?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If you take time off Back in Black, when you listen again the lyrics are pretty startling! A guilty pleasure for certain. In addition to Hell’s Bells and Back in Black, I think Shoot to Thrill and Have a Drink on Me are pretty strong. This is almost power pop if not for the lyrics.

    Disagree on one point with The Beatles. I’m not sure anyone can compare to them on having that amazing sense of melody. While Dylan was an outstanding musical storyteller, I think this The Beatles — Lennon and McCartney — we all-around better songwriters and even lyricists. They had much more range.

    Great reviews! Nice reminder of how strong these albums are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmm, I still think Brian Wilson wrote more inventive melodies than McCartney/Lennon.

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      • It may or may not be the case that Wilson’s melodies were overall more inventive. But I would argue that no one moved music further faster than the Beatles. To go from Love Me Do to A Day in the Life in five short years is nothing less than breathtaking. That said, it’s clear that both Wilson and the Beatles’ competitiveness drove them to greater heights. Wilson wrote Pet Sounds in response to Rubber Soul; in turn, McCartney has said God Only Knows is his favorite song.

        This speaks also somewhat to your question of “what were the Beatles best at?” So if I had to answer that, I’d say in their – for want of a better word – fearlessness and rule-breaking. Songs can’t be more than 3 minutes? Says who? Can’t use a string quartet or a sitar? Why not? Look at Revolution #9 from the White Album. Who (besides maybe Zappa) was doing anything like that? So I’d say the Beach Boys were definitely influential but the Beatles were leading the way. BTW, welcome back to the blogosphere. 😀

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        • Good points Jim, but I find going from Surfin’ Safari to Cabin Essence equally mind-blowing. And I don’t think The Beatles were the first to do any of those things, they were just better at popularizing it. Dylan was writing 5-minute singles when Beatles were still doing Help and Yesterday. Yardbirds used the sitar in ’65 before Revolver and they all got their idea from Kinks’ See My Friends anyway.

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        • “They all got their idea from Kinks’ See My Friends anyway.” Ha! Maybe. Haven’t thought about that song in a while. I’m not so sure it was that the Beatles were better at popularizing that stuff, regardless of who came up with it first. It’s more, I think, that they were under a bigger microscope so they got all that attention. But whereas Dylan, as someone else said, was the better lyricist, even he gave credit to how the Beatles were using chords and breaking out of a pattern.

          All that said, I definitely see your point. There were a variety of influences in the Sixties with a lot of different groups, people experimenting. If the Beatles then did it, the media – and fans – assumed they’d somehow invented it, true or no.

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      • … and none of the Beatles were better lyricists than Dylan.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Nor would I change a thing about the glorious White album – well said Ovidiu!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love what you said about the duality of the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust – as a fellow introvert, it’s always great to see that there are other ways to share your ideas loud and proud without having to be a bubbly, fluttering social butterfly. Verbal communication is only one of many ways to get a message across.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Couldn’t disagree with anything you’ve written here. I like Back To Black as an album and while I’m not sure the sentiment in their lyrics is quite the same as a whole load of hip hoppers, it’s something that prevents me listening tp too much of their stuff. It’s tongue in cheek, but it’s also a bit boring after 6 or 7 albums.

    Your thoughts on The Beatles is perfect. I’ve never been the biggest Beatles fan and, while I accept their importance, I’ve always felt that there are many that do things better.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Forever Changes, for me, is the classic example of one those complete singular anomalies. It just came out of nowhere and nothing like it was ever recorded before or since. Didn’t get the fuss the first time I listened to it, but with the second listen it clicked. Maybe that’s why it’s so great.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. For a different take on the Beatles’ White Album see my comment on my own post about The Beatles (https://crotchetyman.wordpress.com/2015/08/08/the-beatles/). I won’t say any more here – I don’t want to spoil your party!

    Liked by 1 person

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