Saturday, September 5, 2009

Top Albums of the 1980s (Pt. 2)

Sorry for the slight delay. School started. Anyways, this next installment of the Top Albums of the 1980s brings you #30-16. If you missed Part 1, it's here--or you could just scroll down a bit.

This segment highlights some more of the decade's choice post-punk and indie rock because, well, that's what I like, and there was a lot of that stuff in the '80s. However, there's a hip-hop album and a pop album and an electronic album. Regardless, all these albums and artists will prove that Wham!, in fact, was not the best band to come out of the '80s. Enjoy. (Sorry for the annoyingly big space between 30 and its explanation and 29 and its explanation.)

30. Pixies--Surfer Rosa

It may displease some to see this album outside the top ten, but I think #30 is an okay place for it. It’s a great album by one of the greatest bands of the last thirty years, but it’s not without its flaws. “Gigantic,” I hate to say, remains one of my least favorite songs in their catalogue. But I’m nitpicking. Surfer Rosa is still an amazing album—an album that only hinted at the capabilities of an amazing group. It has plenty of hooks, plenty of noise freakouts, plenty of weird lyrics, and plenty of angst to make it a truly enjoyable and unique listen. It really is an indie rock classic, albeit one that is slightly overrated.

"Where Is My Mind"

29. Gang Of Four--Solid Gold

Solid Gold finds Gang Of Four making the extremely jagged and sparse post-punk from Entertainment! less jagged and sparse. This is not to say this is a smooth album (like Songs Of The Free), but it is certainly a little smoother and definitely funkier than their debut. And it’s much denser. Solid Gold is thicker and fuller of music than its predecessor. This is not a good thing or a bad thing, just a different thing. That said, Solid Gold is really a great album. It, along with its predecessor, has an extremely distinct post-punk sound that has been the subject of inferior imitation since its release in 1981. Solid Gold is just that.


28. Mission Of Burma--Signals, Calls, and Marches
Signals, Calls, and Marches may have all the energy and ferocity (and some of the sounds) of a punk album, but it's not really a punk album. The guitars are too complex, the lyrics are too smart, and the music is just executed and conceptualized too well. There is always a good hook. The songs are about growing up, not wanting to be complacent or stagnant, and all sorts of other things that don't coincide with the punk movement, but it does often feel like punk. So, I believe that just makes it indie rock. Which means, as it came out in 1981, it's one of the first indie rock records, making it extremely influential, and, to this day, it's one of the best.

27. The Replacements--Let It Be
Wanting to grow up, but wanting to stay young. Wanting to rebel, but wanting a sense a purpose. Wanting to get girls, and, well, wanting to get girls. Many albums try to really get this feel, but Let It Be is one of only a handful that succeeds. (Modern Lovers' debut, Weezer's debut to name two others.) It's so relatable, it's a veritable Catcher In The Rye of indie rock. The music is gloriously messy and unkempt guitar rock, and the lyrics talk about all the struggles of youth and growing up in a way that's both innocent, snotty, and smart. It's one of the only records on this list that is universally loved because it encapsulates everyone's youth.

26. Public Image Ltd.--Second Edition
Coming off the mediocrity that was Never Mind The Bollocks (yeah, I said that), Johnny Rotten created two amazing albums of wild, avant-garde post-punk. It combines thick dub atmospherics with psychedelic organs with krautrock-esque plodding experimentalism with funk grooves with intense pot-punk guitars and vocals. It's been hugely influential (arguably as influential as Never Mind The Bollocks) to the following decades of underground music, but, like most on this list, has never really been matched in terms of weird-ness or greatness. This is one of the most bizarre and one of the best post-punk/experimental albums ever made.

25. Kraftwerk--Computer World
By 1981, Kraftwerk had already established themselves as the greatest, most innovative, and most influential electronic music group ever. Computer World showcases their established electro-pop sound, but builds on the "-pop" portion of that term. It definitely sounds more "80s" than any of their previous efforts in that it's glossier, synth-ier, dance-ier, and sillier. (Not that they weren't a little silly before.) They reference the progressing technology perhaps in an effort to show maybe that the world had finally caught up to them, but, the reality is, the world still hasn't caught up to Kraftwerk. This, along with most of their albums from the'70s, is still the best example ever of electronic music.

24. Prince--Purple Rain
It's hard to say anything unique about Purple Rain. After all, it's widely considered one of the best albums in any genre of the bast thirty years, and it has sold more records than the other 119 albums on this list combined. (Maybe. Probably not. I made that statistic up. But it has it's sold 18 million or so.) Anyways, the universal praise for this album is completely warranted. At its core, it's pop music, but it combines so many disparate elements--funk, psychedelic, electronic, soul, rock n' roll--that it's still pretty hard to classify. Nearly every song on the album was a hit, but they are all far more complex and far weirder than most pop songs from that decade. Purple Rain is one of the most bizarre and successful pop albums ever.

23. De La Soul--3 Feet High and Rising
I've said this before, but as a white person who leads an extraordinarily boring and simple life, I have found it difficult to relate to most hip-hop lyrics, and so I usually only like hip-hop with truly great and unique production. 3 Feet High and Rising does have truly great and unique production. The samples (which are thoroughly diverse) are used sporadically and effectively in a way that was and still is original. The beats are simple enough, but they accompany the rapping very well. It does have some of the finest ever production. But the real kicker here is the lyrics. De La Soul's lyrics are often very positive. They're about hanging out, having fun, and trying to get with girls. These are things that I can relate to. And the lyrics are endlessly smart, clever, and sunny. So, when brilliant production is combined with actually identifiable and smart lyrics, the result is a close to perfect hip-hop album.

22. Galaxie 500--On Fire
This is one of those albums that I thought I wouldn't like. All the descriptions I had read of it made it sound pretty boring. Everyone said it was soft and chiming and pretty and slow. Those are adjectives that once upon a time I hated, and even now tend to be hesitant towards. But I finally decided to actually listen to the record, and what I found was indeed a soft, chiming, pretty, slow album. However, it works. It's truly mesmerizing and beautiful in its approach. It is for sure slow, but the pace allows the reflectiveness and atmosphere shine through. The songs do get loud occasionally, to great effect, but mostly they cruise dreamily and quietly along. It, like most of these albums, has proved to be very influential, and, like most of these albums, has not been equaled. On Fire is a beautiful, minimal, weird, and hypnotizing dream-pop album that is extremely important to indie rock.

21. Big Black--Songs About Fucking
One of the most aptly titled albums ever made, Songs About Fucking is the heaviest, most furious album to come out after the death of punk. The punk spirit is indeed in the music; the songs are short, fast, distorted, angry, and the lyrics are all about, well, you know... However, Big Black's sound is too sophisticated and too dense to really be called punk. It has been influential to all sorts of experimental rock and industrial bands for its extremely noisy, metallic feel, but it isn't industrial itself. Musically, the guitars are at the forefront; they're always heavily distorted and fuzzy. The percussion is equally heavy, and it's disjointed and definitely industrial sounding. I think the secret to the album's success, though, is the vocals. Steve Albini's thick, terse, muddled rants about sex, murder, and more make this the frustrated noise rock masterpiece that it is.

20. The Fall--Hex Enduction Hour
Reviews of this album nearly always reference the first few lines of "The Classical." So I will, too. (Pardon my language.) "Where are the obligatory niggers?/Hey there fuckface," Mark E. Smith says in his usual snotty, deadpan voice. A blistering, heavy post-punk groove is set behind these words, and then Hex Enduction Hour takes off. (Apparently, The Fall were about to sign to Motown for this record, but that first line ended the deal.) This lyric really does set the tone for the album, which is full of probably offensive, sarcastic, and smart lyrics sung in Smith's ever recognizable drawl. This album is actually pretty diverse musically. Though it is definitely post-punk all the way through, the songs vary widely in mood, feel, and pace. Elements of proto-industrial and funk and more find their way into the mix to accompany Smith. That said, The Fall would not have fit on Motown.

19. Husker Du--Zen Arcade
Here's another album that shares a lot of characteristics with punk, but fails to actually be punk. It's certainly very fuzzy and fast and angry, but it is far too literate and developed to be considered part of that genre. Zen Arcade is long and chaotic, and Husker Du bounce around to different styles frequently. The songs go from punk to acoustic to post-punk to experimental and back again. Despite this, Zen Arcade is a cohesive and thoroughly enjoyable work. The reason for this being that neither songwriter (Bob Mould and Grant Hart) are afraid of a big, awesome hook, and so, beneath he relentless fuzz nearly always lies a good--nay--great pop song. It has been hugely influential to the following two and a half decades of independent music, but it itself really stretched the boundaries of typical indie rock. It's a humongous statement that is yet to be matched.

18. New Order--Power, Corruption & Lies
On Power, Corruption & Lies, New Order make you forget that they were once three-fourths of Joy Division. (This is not to say they are better than Joy Division, just different.) This album is full of brilliant post-punk inflected dance-pop. The songs are relentlessly catchy, the production is crisp and smooth--showing perhaps the direction that Joy Division was heading in--and the music is invigorating and often beautiful. Though not overly original in style, New Order was singularly unique in their execution. By this album, Bernard Sumner proved himself to be a pretty darn good singer, and the rest of the band proved themselves to be completely capable synth players, which added a lot of depth and modernity to their sound. New Order was pretty spot-on in the 1980s, and they created five albums that were all very good (well, I haven't heard Low Life), but Power, Corruption, and Lies is their opus.

17. Beastie Boys--Paul's Boutique
Like I said in the review for 3 Feet High and Rising, I can rarely relate to hip-hop albums. The Beastie Boys, however, are easier for me to relate to. (It's probably the whole white, Jewish thing.) And so the lyrics here, which cover everything from science to girls to the Torah, make sense to me. Not to mention that they're smart, weird, and often very funny. But, the reality is, the star of Paul's Boutique is the production. It uses samples more frequently and better than arguably any hip-hop album ever made (the only competition are 3 Feet High and an album that will be ranked in the top 15.) Because of the density of samples, Paul's Boutique lends itself to repeated listening. Nearly every time I hear it, I find a new favorite sample, whether it's used for a second or a minute. It, more than any of these other albums except for maybe the one below, is an album that truly needs to heard to be fully understood.

16. This Heat--Deceit
There was a fair share of weird albums to come out of the post-punk genre (see #26), but Deceit definitely takes the cake in the category. Though it is certainly very out there, its brilliance is easily identifiable. Taking the sound that they developed on their debut, This Heat made an album that was more polished, more song-based, and, well, better. Deceit mixes tribal percussion with furious guitars, droning vocals, and sounds that are pretty hard to recognize--but don't let that make it sounds formulaic or consistent. The album's songs jump around in terms of style, pace, and tone frequently. The lyrics are often political--and actually rather smart--but the music is definitely the most important element. There is very little structure, and there are very few reference points or recognizable influences. Deceit is one of the most original works I've ever heard.

That's what I think. Time to criticize these picks/start guessing the top 15.

1 comment:

  1. Well, there's certainly going to be some Sonic Youth in the top 15. Like Daydream Nation at #1.