Old and new albums of the month: April 2017






A Beatles heavy month, I managed 7 of their albums. I wanted to complete the Beatles discography so I could rank them, but couldn't bring myself to listen to the fab fours earliest material Please Please Me (1963) and With The Beatles (1963), which seem mainly for teenagers. Also remaining, Yellow Submarine (1969), Let it Be (1970) and the compilation Past Masters (1988), which I'll get to later. White album (1968) and Abbey Road (1969) I was familiar with.

On a side note, you may (or may not) have noticed I've expanded my album top 10s on the Music page, which now includes the years 1965- 2009. Obviously incomplete, I have a long way to go. Feel free to make album suggestions over there for what I overlooked, or should listen to next!




Computerwelt by Kraftwerk (1981)
As with Kraftwerk's Radio-Aktivit├Ąt (1975) which I reviewed last month, Computerwelt tackles another of the 20th Century's big innovations, in this case computers. Not for everyone, but a beautifully crafed album.
9/10




Rage in Eden by Ultravox  (1981)
Very powerful. A synthpop album that sounds amazing from start to finish, and you can tell a lot of care has been put into each song. Better than Vienna (1980). Want to explore the rest of Ultravox's discography.
9/10




Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys 
The title Pet Sounds was derived from the last track which ends with a dog barking. God Only Knows and Wouldn't It Be Nice are the recognizable hits, but it's the ambitious writing that really stands out for me. The lyrics are universal and timeless, and make you think about your own life.
In terms of the production, Brian Wilson used Phil Spector's wall of sound session musicians and tried something new.
9/10




Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan (1965)
The album when Dylan went electric. That aspect is not as shocking for today's audiences. I didn't love all of these songs, but he is a great lyricist and lengthy tracks were groundbreaking back then.
Like a Rolling Stone, Ballad of a Thin Man, and Desolation Row are classics.
8/10





Modern Times by Bob Dylan (2006)
His late-career crocky, raspy vocal will divide audiences, and undermines what are some of my favorite Bob Dyan lyrics.
7/10




The Far Field by Future Islands (2017)
Seems to have motion as its theme, and certain tracks would be ideal running music. The album is too samey, and the second half has some filler, but there are 3-4 vibrant tracks. Cave, Aladdin and Day Glow Fire are enjoyable for the bass and synth work, while album highlight Ran with its running video is the most powerful, and an early candidate for song of the year. The sad, slower ballad Candles might be a grower. Debbie Harry's guest appearance on Shadows is forgettable. In a year with so little new music to get excited about, this will do for now. Good but not great.
6/10





DAMN by Kendrick Lamar (2017)
A disappointment considering his previous work. Well-written here and there, but unenthralling and rather boring presentation. Lacks memorable tracks. Humble has a punchy piano melody, although it's quite repetitive and I disliked the lyric. Album highlight Fear has a smooth beat, sampling 1973's Poverty's Paradise by The 24-Carat Black. Not as accessible to the mainstream as To Pimp a Butterfly. For hip hop fans only.
4/10




Humanz by Gorillaz (2017)
I've sporadically enjoyed Gorillaz hits in the past, without actually listening to albums in their entirety. Based on the early 2017 singles, I had very low expectations.
I found 5-6 good songs, especially Strobelite, We Got The Power, Andromeda, Busted and Blue, She's My Collar, and Hallelujah Money, yet as an album experience I feel unsatisfied. Most of the other cuts I failed to connect with, because had very little melody or emotion. Perhaps will appeal to hip hop fans, because many tracks go in that direction.
I sense there's an attempt to inject some heart into the songs I highlighted. Sadly the modern computerised production is too cold and soulless for me to feel much for the album as a whole. A mixed bag.
6/10




Beatles for Sale by The Beatles (1964)
Teenage heartbreak songs. Eight Days a Week is the big hit, and No Reply is very catchy too.
6/10




A Hard Day's Night by The Beatles (1964)
Catchy pop geared towards a young audience. I'm in my mid 30s, so I'm the wrong age for this type of music. And I Love Her is sung with feeling by McCartney, yet most of the other stuff here is overly commercial and a bit impersonal.
Best songs: A Hard Day's Night, If I Fell, And I Love Her, Can't Buy Me Love
Lesser known highlight: Things We Said Today
7/10




Help! by The Beatles (1965)
Similar package to A Hard Day's Night, in that it's a soundtrack of catchy pop aimed at radio and mass appeal.
In contrast to A Hard Day's Night, there's an attempt to appeal to an older demographic with lyrics to Help!, Yesterday and I Need You, but still wanting to maintain the adolescent listeners.
Best songs:
Help!
You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
Ticket to Ride
Yesterday
Lesser known highlight: I Need You
8/10




Rubber Soul by The Beatles (1965)
One of my favorite Beatles albums with some great melodies. You can sense the growing maturity in their songwriting. There are Beatles hits (Drive My Car) which are simplistic entertainment and make you forget the world, and then there are affecting songs such as Norwegian Wood, Nowhere Man, Think For Yourself and In My Life, which are about life and touch your soul. Rubber Soul thankfully has many of the latter category. The Word and What Goes On annoy me for the choruses, other than that I have no complaints. A classic with endless replay value.
9/10




Revolver by The Beatles (1966)
Considered by critics to be among the best LPs of all-time and best Beatles releases. Admirable for its aesthetic and influence, but not a personal favorite.
Production wise more experimental than the folk rock of 1965's Rubber Soul, with electric guitars, Indian music, piano, horns, orchestral florishes and vocal distortion.
There are undeniable classics (Eleanor Rigby, Yellow Submarine, & Got to Get You Into My Life) but those are few and far between. My favorites of the lesser knowns are Here There and Everywhere, She Said She Said, For No One and I'm Only Sleeping. Weaker tracks Good Day Sunshine and Doctor Robert needn't have been included.
A strong set of tracks, with some really good non-singles, but Revolver's lyrics aren't quite as emotionally involving as their 1965 effort. In time, it's possible I'll grow to love it to the same degree as other Beatles albums.
8/10



Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles (1967)
The Beatles’ concept album. A big number of hooks, so that you can enjoy simply by listening to the melodies, or if you choose, listen to the words. The sleeve is iconic and many things have been written about it, with the Beatles reinventing themselves as Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band, a fictional alter ego group, which allowed them to experiment.
Probably one of the most innovative, consistent and best-loved Beatles LPs. A commercial and critical success. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number one in its list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Producer George Martin claimed Sgt Pepper was an attempt to match the quality of Pet Sounds, a landmark release in 1966 by the Beach Boys.
The closer A Day in the Life gives me goosebumps, and there really isn't a weak track.
10/10



Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles (1967)
An album of two distinct halves. Reminds me of Kate Bush's Hounds of Love, with the pop stuff and the art stuff included separately.
8/10


What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

16 comments:

  1. So much work has gone into this list Chris but much appreciated - Interesting to see those 6 Beatles albums lined up like that as really shows how they evolved over those years. Glad you mentioned And I Love Her from AHDN - watched the film again recently and appreciated for the first time just how groundbreaking it was in terms of style. Most of the songs were over-familiar to my now middle-aged ears but was a bit smitten with And I Love Her. A lovely little gentle interlude in an otherwise frantic movie.

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    1. @Alyson: Glad you enjoyed the post. I also put effort this month into the album top 10s (1965-2009) I linked to here, which was a massive thing to get right. Take a look, when you have the time.

      The evolution of the Beatles is interesting, and they have a varied back catalogue. If the band had continued the same course as teen idols all the way until the break-up, I doubt I would have been a fan. Luckily, as they matured, their music did too.

      And I Love has a vulnerability (and as you say gentleness) which is different to the other songs on A Hard Day’s Night, a great melody as well.

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  2. Hi Chris, hope you're well! I've been obsessed w/ the songs from the new Beauty & The Beast film, love all the new songs. My hubby is a big fan of The Beatles, but I honestly can't tell you which song is which, except maybe Imagine or Hey Jude, ahah.

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    1. @Ruth: I’m ok thanks, had some recent back trouble though, going for a scan.
      Glad you are enjoying Beauty & The Beast soundtrack, I gave it a try, but it wasn't for me.
      Hey Jude and Imagine I love, the latter is a Lennon solo song. The former was a chart-topping non-album single.

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  3. The pre-Rubber Soul era of the Beatles I do think are great records but it does pale into what they would do later on. Revolver is my favorite album of theirs. I love Computerwelt by Kraftwerk while Pet Sounds and Highway 61 Revisited are among my all-time favorite albums. I have the new Gorillaz album but I haven't listened to that one as well as the new albums by the Jesus & Mary Chain, Depeche Mode, and Mastadon as I'm slowly in the process of rebuilding and upgrading my entire music library which I've managed to retain in my external hard drive.

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    1. @thevoid99: I'm enjoying exploring the classics. 1965 and onwards is my favorite Beatles music. The writing on the early stuff doesn’t appeal to me, except a catchy tune here and there.
      The Gorillaz album is a mixed bag, certain tracks I liked, others I disliked.
      Jesus and Mary Chain and Depeche Mode I feel are past their prime, I’d rather just go back and listen to their old material.

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    2. Uh, have you heard the last few albums by Depeche Mode? They're actually really good. Past their prime is something that doesn't exist in their world.

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    3. @thevoid99: I have listened to a few of the recent albums. I hope to rank Depeche Mode’s discography at some point. The recent albums are a bit more patchy to me, than their 80s and early 90s peak. Playing the Angel (2005) was enjoyable at the time, but it’s not something I go back to.

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  4. Can't agree with some of your assessments of Beatles albums, maybe because I was only 13/14 years old when I heard With The Beatles, Help and Beatles For Sale.
    The former had some great cover versions, especially Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got a Hold on Me" and Lennon's showstopping version of "Twist & Shout", emphasising the band's backing of Motown and other black musicians. And I think you have to put their mix of self-penned material and covers in the context of their incredibly speedy rise from being unknowns gigging almost constantly in clubs in Germany and the UK to a mega band being given only days to record their albums.

    But I'm with you 100% about Rubber Soul. For me, it's better than Sergeant Pepper or Revolver.

    And I'd have given "Highway 61" nine out of ten. :)

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    1. @FurryBootsCityBoy: Thanks for your take on these. Seems you have nostalgia for the Beatles. Maybe I’m unfairly dismissing the earliest of their albums which I haven’t listened to besides a few tracks. I’ll get to them eventually, so I can rank the Beatles discography. You’re right that the group didn’t have long to record so we shouldn’t be too harsh, and was normal for bands to put out cover songs in those days so you can’t knock them for that. It’s amazing how productive they were in that 6-7 year span. Happy we agree on the brilliance of Rubber Soul. Highway 61 almost got a 9, but a few of the songs underwhelmed me.

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    2. I also have to disagree with your assessment of the early Beatles' albums, Chris. Groups such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, introduced a whole generation to early R 'n' B and, perhaps more importantly, to the blues through their cover versions. Even back in the day, I never thought of the Beatles as teen idols. Teen idols were Frankie Avalon, Bobby Curtola, Bobby Rydell, and what seemed like another dozen Bobbys. The Beatles always took the music seriously, including their (not-slavishly rendered) cover versions of '50s rock 'n' roll classics and '60s girl group sounds.

      "I'm in my mid 30s, so I'm the wrong age for this type of music." Not sure what age has to do with the enjoyment of any genre of music. If it speaks to you personally, that's all that matters. Down with guilty pleasures, I say! ;-)

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    3. @Vintage Spins: Thanks for your comment. You and FurryBootsCityBoy have convinced me I should listen to the two 1963 Beatles albums :) I’ll keep in mind what you both said when I do.

      The age thing would be a fun topic for a blog post. Beatles For Sale (1964) album lyrics didn’t do much for me and felt a bit juvenile, but it’s not a MUST that lyrics have to be interesting for me to enjoy music. It depends. Take today for example, I was listening to The Doobie Brothers and their lyrics are on the verge of shallow. Melodies regardless of lyrics are enough sometimes. I'm all for guilty pleasures ;-)

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    4. Thanks for responding, Chris.

      The Beatles, in my opinion, were so melodically and harmonically inventive on those early albums and their lyrics were far more sophisticated than most of the Top 50 fare of that time period and much of what followed for that matter. (As for 'Beatles for Sale', not everything would be on my list of all-time faves, but, in particular I do love 'Every Little Thing' and 'No Reply.' My favourite track on 'With the Beatles' is probably George Harrison's 'Don't Bother Me.'

      My 'Down with guilty pleasures' remark wasn't well expressed. I'm in agreement with you and definitely am all for them. I should have said no one should feel guilty about enjoying any song from any genre if it speaks to them in some way. ;-)

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    5. @Vintage Spins: By today's standards, the early Beatles lyrics are not sophisticated, but I see what you mean when compared to other bands from the period.

      No Reply is memorable, and reminds of Garbage's mid 90s single Vow, which re-uses the lyric "I nearly died". I quite like Don't Bother Me and have added to my post, thanks for sharing your picks.

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  5. Wow, we have really been in sync on music lately. I've been listening to a ton of Beatles and Dylan this year. I'm with you on the Beatles -- their early stuff is important, but it simply does not hold up today. Everything from Rubber Soul on is mostly fantastic though.

    Too bad you didn't like the new Kendrick Lamar album. I love it, might be my favorite of the year so far. Just checked out the new Gorillaz yesterday. It's a bit all over the place, gonna take some more listens to fully digest I think.

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    1. Eric @ TWS: Yes, what a coincidence! I can’t believe took me so long to explore the Beatles. Rubber Soul is a great album. This week, I listened to the two earliest Beatles LPs from 1963 which have a few classic songs but are patchier as full lengths than what came later.
      Glad you loved Damn. I’m probably in the minority on Kendrick Lamar’s latest, because it’s high on 2017 album charts at RateYourMusic, besteveralbums, and albumoftheyear.
      The new Gorillaz album Humanz has some good but-not-great songs.

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