D. Fennel (fennel) wrote,
D. Fennel

retro listening #61-70

All the albums I owned in high school, relistened-to in roughly the order I got them. We pick up in the middle of my freshman year.

61. They Might Be Giants - Flood

Mortifying memory: I was so excited about this album coming out that I expected my parents to drive out in an ice storm so I could buy it as soon as possible. Ugh.

And then, oh god, the Tiny Toons videos. It didn't happen right away, but Tiny Toons made painfully literal videos for "Particle Man" and "Istanbul" that were a whole lot of people's introduction to They Might Be Giants. I knew a guy in college who was telling me some theory about the point of music videos and it came out that, actually, those were the only music videos he could remember seeing. Ever. And so he concluded that music videos always depicted clearcut narratives, as tied to the lyrics as possible.

I hadn't noticed the head-injury theme in Linnell's songs here before. Decapitation in "Dead", forehead replacement in "We Want A Rock", colliding with a wall in "Whistling In The Dark"... oh, and "something unpleasant has spilled on his brain" in "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair". Interesting.

Someone once said to me-- maybe they got this from an interview, or maybe they just made it up?-- that The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy was about the very mundane experience of traveling around Europe without much money, as 20-somethings from the UK do, and that The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe was likewise about what had just happened to Douglas Adams when he wrote it, namely, suddenly being in fancy restaurants and not knowing how to act, meeting famous people, etc. And I wonder if some of the songs about anxiety and physical comfort here are, similarly, a response to unexpectedly having what appears to be a steady job making music.

62. Husker Du - Warehouse: Songs And Stories

It was never fully clear to me (and isn't now) whether "These Important Years" is about high school or early adulthood or what. The line "yearbooks with their autographs of friends you might have had" makes it sound like looking back on high school from quite a distance-- to me!-- but the rest is tinged with condescension in a way that seems exclusively directed by adults at teenagers. How old even are the band members at this point?

Even though I owned this on tape, I got in the habit of playing just the Mould cuts. I found his songs catchier, and Hart's annoying (the sing-song non-melody of "Charity, Chastity, Prudence And Hope" being Exhibit A). In retrospect, Mould's rasp was (is) also much more my thing than Hart's emoting.

Not to mention the clunky lyrics. "My eyes are burning / With the sight of your returning", Hart sings in "Back From Somewhere". Ugh.

I now notice that Grant Hart has a bit of a lisp. I didn't know the songwriters in Husker Du were gay (maybe few people did, at that point?) but regardless, I think Hart rubbed me the wrong way because he seemed MORE stereotypically masculine, by which I mean: more like the hair-metal grandchildren of glam who were on the radio in the 80s. However incongruous that seems now.

Here's another awful lyric: "Running around like an insane maniac anywhere that you please / Taking advantage of anyone handy to satisfy your disease". Maybe you satisfy a compulsion or a need, but a disease? (That said, writing out the lyrics makes them seem clunky in a very post-hardcore way, which of course is still where Husker Du were coming from -- as opposed to the incompetent-radio-filler clunkiness I was hearing before.)

Enough complaining. I like most of the Mould cuts a lot. In fact...

Okay, I just listened to the Bob Mould tracks on their own, in order. Some of the segues don't quite work and the last three tracks ("No Reservations", "Turn It Around", "Up In The Air") all want to be the big emotional turning point... but it's a basically excellent album. Oh well. Somebody out there is probably doing the same thing with Grant Hart's half.

Oh yeah, also, the bridge of "Turn It Around", with "the biggest thing for me is making this thing work for life" -- that seemed strange and bland to me at the time. Now it's pretty touching, the urgency of feeling like a relationship is falling apart around you but might yet be saved...

62. Dead Kennedys - Plastic Surgery Disasters

Story #1: I bought some Dead Kennedys CD (I'm mostly, though not entirely, sure it was this one) and took it home excitedly. Put it in the stereo-- funny, there's only ten tracks, despite the 20 listed on the case. Well, maybe older CDs had to fit everything into ten tracks, and they'll just have multiple songs per track? Sure, who knows.

I hit play... and heard oldies. Okay, I thought, they're just messing with us-- something funny is about to happen and then the real music will start. Four minutes later, that track was over and nothing but oldies had happened. And so on.

They were skeptical at the record store when I tried to return it, but eventually they did try playing it themselves and agreed that, in fact, probably the Dead Kennedys did not release an unaltered compilation of oldies in place of their album on purpose.

Story #2: At some point, I came home and found this CD's liner notes torn up in the trash. When I confronted my mom, she said, "Oh... your little brother asked if he could tear that up and I said yes because I assumed it didn't belong to anyone."

She hadn't destroyed the CD, though. Just the liner notes.

Both of these things are more interesting than the actual music.

64. The Damned - Anything

This album contains a Love cover whose title some internet tagger has rendered as "Alone Again or". I really hope there's no style guide that actually prescribes that lowercase 'o'.

Huh. I definitely did not know "Gigolo Aunt" by Syd Barrett whenever I last listened to this album, so I didn't catch the quote in "Gigolo". As it is, I only know that song from Robyn Hitchcock covering it.

-- Whoa. The song goes on to quote "My Wife And My Dead Wife" by Robyn Hitchcock. Maybe I knew that Robyn had worked with Captain Sensible at some point? I don't know, I don't care much now, but that would have seemed like the coolest thing ever in high school, if I had gotten to know this song (which I never did because the album just didn't bear much listening) and later discovered the bridge was lifted from another musician.

Okay, enough of this. It was boring then and, aside from the intertextuality, still is.

65. Lard - The Power Of Lard EP

This is Jello Biafra from the Dead Kennedys and... someone else I thought was cool. Ministry? Right, Ministry.

I seem to only have this on 128k mp3, which will have to stand in for the crappy-sounding cassette I had of it. I recall loving the first track and always skipping the other two. Let's see how it's aged...

Huh. The music on the verses of "The Power Of Lard" make perfect sense now given Ministry's affection for Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, etc. And the chorus sounds like contemporary Ministry.

I'm finding this thrilling almost despite myself. I also still know all the lyrics. Or, well, once a line starts I remember how it will end. The song's an (intentional) string of non-sequiturs. Such as "Next time we have sex, just pretend that I'm Ed Meese".

So the chorus is several people shouting "The power of lard!" in unison, but of course the song never says what that power is, and the non-sequiturs degenerate (evolve?) into pure nihilism: "Avoid everything! Avoid everything!" It's kind of dada in its declaration that meaning things is boring, which given that Biafra's main gig was to be constantly (yet vapidly!) political, maybe explains how totally gleeful it sounds, despite postdating nearly everything else worthwhile any of the people involved recorded.

Track 2 ("Hell Fudge") ramps up the 70s factor to no real benefit. It turns out TV preachers are hypocrites. Also, fish in a barrel are easy to shoot.

Okay, so the final track is half an hour long. I didn't have the patience for it in high school. Do I now?

Four minutes of slow vamping precede the appearance of a painfully off-key Biafra. This is a trial. No way through but through.

half an hour passes...

Yeah, that goes nowhere. But let it never be said that I didn't listen to it all the way through at least once!

66. The Sugarcubes - Life's Too Good

I had a few hundred dollars in bar mitzvah money, and I wanted to spend it on a stereo. There was a store a few blocks away selling used stereo equipment. Hooray!

After a great deal of comparative listening, I ended up with these huge ugly expensive speakers that... I have no idea if they were any good or not. I definitely had the notion that bigger was better, and am still slightly surprised when little desktop speakers sound good. And these held up a shelf in my bedroom for years, so there's that. Anyway, the store also offered a free CD from their tiny stash of secondhand music when you bought a whole stereo, and this was the only one that even slightly appealed to me, so I got it despite not having loved the Sugarcubes tape I already owned.

It's definitely better than the second album. I love that the lead vocal on the first track is Einar.

This is discordant without being noisy. That's interesting.

Holy cow, were the Sugarcubes a no wave band? I mean, okay, not exactly, but... a whole lot of their reference points are becoming clearer to me as I listen to this. And I don't think No Wave's fondness for howling/shrieking vocals and unpleasant intervals between notes is irrelevant at all. PiL's Metal Box is in the mix too.

"Deus" (a little more familiar to me now than the other songs; I think I put it on mixes?) gets at the heart of why I could dig Einar more than Bjork. Bjork is declaring "Deus does not exist, but if he did--". It's a flight of fancy, but one she's keeping VERY FIRMLY in her grip. Einar, on the other hand, befuddledly recites "I once met him... it really surprised me... he put me in a bathtub, made me squeaky clean... REALLY clean..." Maybe I could identify with that? No, I have no idea.

... so part of my indifference to this album in high school was because it felt too long. And I guess the actual album was shorter than I thought? It looks like it originally ended with "Fucking In Rhythm And Sorrow", or maybe "Take Some Petrol". And "Fucking In Rhythm And Sorrow" makes more sense as a big finish than as a hoedown in the middle of an overlong album. That, too, is interesting.

And furthermore, I guess maybe Icelandic has more in common with other Scandinavian languages than I thought? I keep hearing "bensin" in "Take Some Petrol", which I know is also Swedish for gasoline. Let's see...

Apparently the refrain is "taktu bensin elskan" and means "take some petrol, darling". I totally know those words, sort of!

In retrospect, I'm not sure why I thought Icelandic wouldn't be related to the other Scandinavian languages. For some reason I just figured it wasn't. (Context note: I started learning Swedish a year ago. This has nothing to do with the Sugarcubes.)

Oh hey, and this remixed version of "Deus" is great, with both orchestral strings and a fiddle. And weird roaring electronic noises. I guess it's not news that this is where Bjork was headed.

67. Wire - Manscape

I was VERY VERY excited for this album. I mean... new album by a favorite band! That was still extremely novel.

I'm loving the guitars on "Stampede", so heavily treated with a 'cheesy' chorus effect that it becomes something close to noise. Kind of a slow start, though. At some point I learned that the British release had a different running order and was missing the first two tracks, which seemed like an improvement. They're not *bad*, just... lukewarm.

"Patterns Of Behavior" has two prominent vocal parts, but they're both Colin Newman, just processed differently. This would end up being Wire's last album for a while (sort of) -- I wonder how well they were all getting along. Similar guitar noise on this track, too. There's this crystalline, distinct almost new-agey synth pop song, and then sometimes somebody flips a switch and RRRRARGARARGARARGARAR.

In "Other Moments" -- I promise I'm going to try not to do a track-by-track here, but bear with me -- there's a similar dynamic with a different guitar effect. Sort of different, anyway. More echo-y and metallic. Were they doing this on IBTABA and A Bell Is A Cup, too, and I just didn't specifically notice it? It's a pretty good trick. But having tuned in to it, I'm finding this album phenomenally unsettling. Not emotionally upsetting, just sorta impossible to relax around.

Maybe it's my headphones. I know they tend to be midrange-heavy.

In the late 90s, I was sad that nobody was imitating New Order. (Then people started, and it was a mixed blessing, but anyway.) I don't remember ever being sad that nobody wanted to be Wire, though. Nor discovering music that I loved because it reminded me of Wire. Why?

68. The B-52's - The B-52's

I've run out of things that I'm positive I heard freshman year of high school. So now we're back at nerd camp.

We got to go shopping in town occasionally ('town' being a strip of about three blocks that had a lot of student-oriented shops near the dorms.) Given how much music shopping I was doing normally, I don't know why I remember the things I bought there in particular, but I do.

Not sure of the motivational chronology here, though. I had heard "Channel Z" on MTV and loved it. At some point I would borrow a friend's copy of Cosmic Thing and hate "Love Shack" enough that I didn't want to dub a copy of the album for myself, but Wikipedia says the album didn't come out until the middle of this summer. Maybe "Rock Lobster" was a standard at the nerd camp dances?

These songs are hard to tell apart, except that some of them are awesome. The retro organ and bassline are a good combination! Just... this album should have been a 45. Maybe two.

69. New Order - Low-life

At camp, Sean Rhyee made me a tape with this album on one side and Robyn Hitchcock's Queen Elvis on the other. I believe that was also the summer he punched me in the stomach so hard that I couldn't breathe for a minute, but that was because of a misunderstanding.

Did I ever like "Love Vigilantes"? If I did, it was ruined by WAY too many earnest covers way too long ago for me to remember.

And then there's "Elegia", which I'm amazed to learn is only 5 minutes long in this version (it seriously felt like longer). Somewhere I have a box set on which it's 20 minutes long. Speaking of things I've never listened to all of even once...

... so I went to Wikipedia to understand why this version of "Sub-culture" sounds so much different from how I expect it to. Short answer: I'm used to the version on Substance and they're not at all the same. Long answer: The version on Substance is a nearly-contemporaneous remix by John Robie, who outright produced their next few singles.

This whole album feels so *thin*. Sumner's voice is wobbly but not vulnerable or frayed or anything, just... usually not up to the task. And fully half the tracks are familiar from other compilations or contexts, making it hard to hear it as an album. Of the less-familiar tracks, only the closer "Face Up", with its gleefully ridiculous major-key synth horns, is making me wish I had paid more attention to this in high school. Not that it's bad! Just, I dunno, I don't feel that I was missing out.

70. Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians - Queen Elvis

This, on the other hand, is another record so familiar (from continuing to listen to it in intervening years) that it's hard to hear anew. Even my intervening discovery of the Beatles (whose influence I can tell is here, abstractly) doesn't make this less familiar.

One song I know has changed for me: "Freeze". I remember seeing Robyn Hitchcock play it live (solo) and being amazed that it was jagged, intense, trancy. And now I always hear it that way. (Here's a performance from the tour I saw: "Freeze" at the Electric Factory. The vocals are stilted-- I'm guessing Robyn wasn't entirely comfortable being filmed-- but the guitar is how I remember it.)

... and okay, "Autumn Sea" is a little better now that its obvious Beatle antecedents are more vivid for me-- the tempo feels draggy if you expect it to be of a piece with the rest of the album.

Maybe I should come back to this again right after I listen to the earlier Egyptians records.


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