Archive for the 'Music' Category

10 Perfect Albums

Perfectly awful doesn't count.

There are some musical acts I absolutely adore. There are some songs that are more important to me than food. And there are some albums that I really, really like. But once in a great while, there emerges the Perfect Album.

They aren’t perfect, really. “Perfection” is a superlative that cannot apply to an art form like music. Instead, the Perfect Album is an album that stands alone. This doesn’t mean every song is a winner; the Perfect Album can have foibles. But the Perfect Album always refers to itself consistently as one truly great artistic work.

Some albums are listed as groundbreaking, trendsetting works that pundits cite as indispensable.  The web is full of these lists. They usually feature Pet Sounds, Highway 61 Revisited, Nevermind, London Calling, Who’s Next, Never Mind the Bollocks, The Joshua Tree, etc etc. These are all seminal albums worthy of praise. But they aren’t my Top 10 Perfect Albums. They all fail.

Today, I give you Citizen Ted’s 10 Perfect Albums. They are not in order of greatness because they are all Perfect.

10. Acetone “Cindy” 1993

I heard a cut from this album on the local college radio station and immediately ran to the store to buy the CD. That was in 1994. It’s still in hot rotation on my MP3 player.

This album lowers you through a stucco ceiling and delivers you onto a comfy sofa where guitarist Mark Lightcap carries you away on walls of sweet tube-driven Fender Twin luxury. Sad singer Richie Lee tells you stories of broken hearts and broken minds, lulling you into his viewpoint effortlessly. Before you get too sleepy, though, Acetone will gleefully tear away at the wallpaper with shrieking punk noise – just to make sure you’re paying attention. “Pinch” is one of those songs that really gets your hair flyin’ and your teeth gnashing.

With a masterful sense of tone (hence the name), Acetone’s “Cindy” is, quite simply, perfect. The band followed up with a few more records. One of them, “If Only You Knew”, was very nearly another Perfect Album, but “Cindy” still gets the win. In 2001, singer/bassist Richie Lee killed himself. The world is a dimmer, emptier place in his absence.

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9. Zero 7 “The Garden” 2006

It’s worth noting that the art of great songwriting is not dead. Don’t let Billboard fool you. There are still people out there crafting soul-wrenching, beautiful music with brilliant arrangement and careful attention to detail. Sometimes, they even make an entire album of such songs. This is one of them.

Zero 7 pulls from a wide staff of artists. A revolving cadre of singers and contributors build a single moment in music, delivered brilliantly on this record. The melodies are instantly familiar and timeless and endearing, yet they ride on an unusual conveyor belt of electronic and acoustic tools. The compositions are spare, avoiding the pitfalls of adding a zillion tracks to make it “bigger”. Zero 7 knows how to build up a crescendo without going overboard.

They went wide off the mark with the latest album “Yeah Ghost”, but all is forgiven, because “The Garden” is a Perfect Album.

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8. Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon” 1973

Yeah, yeah. I know what you’re thinking: every rock reviewer on Earth has this in their Top 10 and we’re all sick of this album and may it die a slow death on Classic Rock FM radio.

I admit I rarely listen to this album and when I hear it on the radio I want someone to turn it off. Not because I hate the music – I love it. I’m just goddamn sick of it. Nonetheless, this is a Perfect Album.

Sure, “Money” is a stupid song that jars the flow. But you must absorb DSOTM in context. This means turning the lights down low, sparking up a bowl and playing this album in its entirety over a nice sound system at almost-too-loud volume. Do so, and you will re-discover (as I have) that this record is far more than a collection of tunes.

It’s also more than a just a space-doper concept album. It’s an exploration of sonic discovery crafted with care and delivered with precision. And the vocal scat on “Great Gig in the Sky” is very possibly the greatest vocal piece ever recorded. Ever.

There are plenty of moody noodlers who make “atmospheric” music. But none of them have the impact of this record. None of them. This album is Perfect.

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7. Love Jones “Here’s to the Losers” 1993

In the stable of retro lounge acts of the 1990’s, one album towers above them all. Love Jones have crafted an album of such unbelievably tight musicianship, of such fun and irreverent lyrics, of such pith and verve, that one must be dead inside not to adore it.

“Here’s to the Losers” has its lulls, its weak spots. But the Perfect Album seems to pull you along the bumps with promise of good times ahead. I have played this album to death, but sometimes I just gotta go back to it, like a junkie to the darkest corner of the local Needle Park.

The retro lounge movement may be dusty now, but “Here’s to the Losers” remains steadfastly alive. Any album that doesn’t take itself seriously yet rings with the contemplative genius of truly talented musicians is an album worth treasuring. From the wastrel silliness of “Custom Van” to the nostalgic earnestness of “Ohio River” to the crazed pathos of “Paid for Loving”, this album is an end-to-end victory of great harmonies and carefree joy. It’s Perfect.

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6. Goldfrapp “Felt Mountain” 2000

Not many folks enjoy somber, moody music but I do and this is my list, so suck it. This album is a purposeful salute to the 1920’s Berlin cabaret scene, a timeless form of sensual music updated for the digital age in this priceless, Perfect album.

Alison Goldfrapp’s breathy presence comes forth like a live singer crooning over your shoulder as you grasp a G&T in your sweaty palm. She lets a finger linger on your arm, then shimmers back to the stage, where her voice cries out of love and betrayal like fallen angel awash in the spotlight.

The album is spartan; very often you’re held aloft only by the slightest tendrils of sound, but you are nonetheless captivated by it.

Sadly, Goldfrapp quickly left Perfect Album territory to create a string of execrable electro-dance-pop records, but this achievement will always be theirs.

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5. The Posies “Frosting on the Beater” 1993

Another album from 1993. What can I say? It was a good year. And this Perfect Album is an unusual pick for me because I’m not a big power pop fan. But a Perfect Album is a Perfect Album, so who am I to quibble?

No need to describe the music in depth. Here’s all you need to know: Beatlesesque harmonies, raw jangly guitars, big kick beats, and catchy melodies. It’s not rocket science, but I know it’s damn hard to write one iconic rock song. And this album is riddled with them. From “Dream All Day” to “Solar Sister” to “Flavor of the Month” to “Definite Door” to “Burn and Shine”. Any one of these songs would be a world-crushing smash hit for any band, and the Posies have them all on one record.

More importantly, the entire album reflects everything that’s infectious and pleasant about power-pop rock. And it’s delivered without syrupy kids’ stuff. Why this album didn’t make The Posies a household name is beyond me.

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4. Big Audio Dynamite “This Is Big Audio Dynamite” 1985

I don’t like reggae. At all. And I kinda liked The Clash, but I never bought their records. So how can this album be Perfect?

Because Mick Jones is a lyrical genius, and because he knows how to fuse together popular sonic forms and weave them into something wholly unique. Not only did he tinker about for a long while to make this record, but he was very careful to make the entire album one seamless expression. Not a concept album, not two 25-minutes opuses. Instead, he created an entirely new musical attitude: a statement in the literal, lyrical sense and in the musical, aural sense. And one is hard-pressed to find a single cut that betrays his efforts.

You may not like this music, that’s fine. But I recommend you read the lyrics and see for yourself how popular culture can be described and lampooned by someone with a deft hand at the quill.

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3. Nick Drake “Five Leaves Left” 1969

All three of Nick Drake’s albums are amazing bits of songcraft, but his first record contains the largest quantity of gems. Despite a few thoughtlessly arranged bits by an overzealous producer (all flute flourishes must be killed on sight!), this album shines Perfect regardless.

If you play guitar, listen carefully to this album. Once you get over Drake’s masterful finger-picking, pay attention to how his voice enters and leaves. Somehow, this guy is able to jump in and out of the melody as he sees fit, all the while performing some rather intricate guitar work.

And the music itself? Melancholy, introspective acoustic diamonds all. Drake died in 1974 from an OD of antidepressants. Just like his song “Fruit Tree”, he didn’t really know any international fame until long after his death. It’s really sad, because he probably never knew he made a Perfect Album.

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2. Mike Oldfield “Ommadawn” 1975

Oldfield fans may curse my name, but this album is his Perfect Album. Not Tubular Bells. Not Hergest Ridge. Ommadawn.

If you don’t already know, Mike Oldfield is a composer and multi-instrumentalist of great renown. You probably know the opening of his “Tubular Bells” album – it’s the theme to The Exorcist. His first few albums were all long instrumental compositions, each side an entire piece. He wove together traditional English country music, symphonic bombast, electric synthesizer rock and wonderful instrument solos.

In Ommadawn, he takes us on a journey through his beloved English countryside. We ride along a medieval road on horseback, past a menacing castle at night, through a pub-side minstrel show and into a bizarre yet beautiful Celtic incantation. The entire journey is musical – even the lyrics, sung by his sister Sally in a made-up language.

Even when he lets his melodies repeat a few bars too long, you are simply too lost in it to care. Fucking Perfect. The MP3 does this music no justice. Play the CD on a good sound system. Loud.

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1. Portishead “Portishead” 1997

This is the second album from the Bristol three. In 16 years, they’ve only released three albums because making Perfect Albums is really hard work.

With vocalist Beth Gibbons hissing into the microphone, Portishead takes us to a dark, strange place – a dream. But there is no malevolence here, only a strangely intoxicating representation of the real world. You have been invited, but you don’t seem to know anyone here. Gibbons calls you to the stage and you are enraptured.

This is the only “song-based” Perfect Album that unravels like a remarkable screenplay. It is a whole, an experience. The music is spartan and crafted to the finest detail, and its echoes haunt as well as bemuse. A piano plays next to you, when suddenly a DJ scratches a record and whips you into an entirely different place. This is the work of genius. A Perfect Album.

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That’s it. Ten Perfect Albums.

Feel free to send me your Perfect Album choices. I love to hear what other people like! Here’s the rules: I bared my soul about music I like. You can pick away at my choices and even call me a stupid little douchebag. But in return, you are required to tell me exactly which records you utterly adore. OK? Good.

The Fucking Beatles

We're the fucking Beatles, godammit!

Some say they’re the greatest musical group of all time. Some say their body of work comprises the best songwriting of the 20th century. Some say they defined an entire generation. Who are they?

The fucking Beatles, of course. I mean, didn’t you read the post title? Jesus. Keep up, willya?

I have a deep-love, deep-hate relationship with the fucking Beatles.  The deep-love is derived from my youth; by the time I was able to discern real music from television sing-songs, the fucking Beatles became my #1. It wasn’t because they were famous or popular. It was their dolphin-like harmonies that grabbed my soft-skulled mind. Couple that with the head-bopping lilt of their infectious rhythms (punctuated with well-choreographed guitar strums to add some drama) and you have gold vinyl.

To this day, there are some fucking Beatles songs that I consider profound and timeless.

Adoring us isn't optional!

Yes, everyone has their favorite fucking Beatles songs. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who likes all – or even most – of their output. Let’s face it: even the fucking Beatles themselves had some serious qualms with some of their stuff.

That said, it’s awfully easy to sit here on a 21st century perch and dismiss the music of the fucking Beatles. Nonetheless, I intend to do just that.

Being a man of Science, I plan to critique the Beatles reductively. Without further ado…

1962 Please Please Me

The early fucking Beatles were raw, raucous and sensational live.  The recording industry’s job was to take all that energy and dilute it for public consumption. In that, they were triumphant. Despite this record’s blockbuster appeal, its actual content of dance-hall rock n’ roll standards and “composed to fit” original hit songs is an embarrassment. Nostalgic vinyl hipsters may swoon over the tube-compressed sound of “A Taste of Honey”, but the rest of us find it dated and boring. Grade: F.

1963 With the Fucking Beatles

Shooting to fame and wealth gave the fucking Beatles a bit more leverage and 1963’s “With the Fucking Beatles” gave the boys a bit more input on the album. Though sonically similar to the first record, this record bristles with some of the energy Lennon wanted to express. Sadly, the album itself is mediocre. The fucking Beatles were leading a trend that they were, in fact, behind. This record couldn’t hold a candle to some of the innovative sounds being wrought elsewhere in the early 1960’s, not to mention the output of some of their rock n’ roll influences who had held over from the 1950’s.  Grade: F.

1964 A Hard Day's Night

Now firmly ensconced as the Biggest Thing Ever, the fucking Beatles took control in 1964. To their credit, this album shows that the fucking Beatles could innovate. A perusal of the cuts on this record shows a slow evolution from dance-hall standards to the expression of something wholly original. This is the album of toe-tapping ankle boots and mop tops that declared a new day dawning. Most of the cuts are pure crap, but the slow-dance “If I Fell” shows the band was capable of tight, sparse composition with an emotional tug. Sadly, any value wrung from this record was tainted by the asinine film that accompanied it. Grade: D.

1964 Fucking Beatles for Sale

This album title is ironic, for the previous records were cynical marketing tools while this one made a valiant effort to do something musically interesting. Songs like “No Reply”, “I’m a Loser” and the very Who-like “Every Little Thing” showed a band describing its environment. England emerging from post-war austerity was a place of low morale. Its youth yearned for something newer and bigger and brighter, and their comparatively trivial travails (broken hearts, loneliness, etc) and desire for more (sex, fun, frivolity) were honored in this record. Nonetheless, there’s a nagging reliance on the ole’ dance hall standards. The umbilical cord is still clearly attached. Grade: D.

1965 Help!

This is the record that “Fucking Beatles for Sale” should have been. I’m gonna be fair and dismiss the awful film associated with this record, but even rating this album on its merits can only be done in light of the contemporary music of the time. And this album still reeks of the 1950’s dance hall umbilical cord. Well-composed nuggets like “I Need You” and “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and the inexplicably mature “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” are shat on by drivel like “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” and “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl”. Perhaps most horrifically, the one song from this album that rings through the ages is “Yesterday”, a sappy dollop of syrup that makes me puke bile . Christ, I hate that fucking song. I know I’m losing you guys now, but I don’t care. Grade D.

1965 Rubber Soul

Thank God, the fucking Beatles finally discover psychedelic drugs! Leaving the crutches of crappy rock n’ roll behind, the Fab Fucking Four can finally stand on their own eight feet. This album is dotted with songs that actually sound like they were composed by some guys who thought hard about life, love, stress and longing. “Norwegian Wood” is, for its time, one of the best descriptions of the loosening sexual mores of the times (and their consequences) ever written. Sure, the album is still plagued with trifles like “Drive My Car”, but one can detect a hypnotic drone adding some sonic breadth to the “fucking Beatles sound”. Witness “Think for Yourself”. Ringo’s disposable “What Goes On” should have been binned or sold to The Who.  Grade: C.

1966 Revolver

The fucking Beatles come to fruition in 1966. This is the first album where George Martin pretty much took over control, and what he considered a “light touch” sometimes resulted in some oafish arrangements, but overall it was a record that reflected the changing zeitgeist with verve and precision. Typically fucking Beatlesy fluff like “And Your Bird Can Sing” were lathered in layers of swirling guitar. We can smirk about the shameless Eastern psychedelic expositions “She Said She Said” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”, but this stuff was defining a new sound brilliantly. So suck it. Sadly, Paul just couldn’t help buttering up the sandwich with crap like “Good Day Sunshine” and the execrable “Got to Get You Into My Life” (a George Martin abortion if ever there was one). He makes up for it by penning what was probably his best fucking Beatles effort “For No One”. Grade: B.

1967 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Mountains have been written about this record. It’s been called “watershed” and “breakthrough” and all kinds of crap. In reality, this album is George Martin jizzing all over the place. I can applaud the band’s desire to shed its screaming-teen reputation and do something truly epic, but this record is far too hit-and-miss for consideration as a watershed event. Here’s where I really piss off the readership: this record had promise but was littered with effluvia. Specifically, the stilted title track, its awful reprise, “Lovely Rita”, and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” are giant balls of suck that weigh this record down. Fortunately, Lennon once again saves the day with a truly brilliant, off-kilter masterpiece called “A Day in the Life”. That song is clear evidence that George Martin can be harnessed for good as well as evil. And once again, McCartney drops a turd in the punchbowl with “When I’m Sixty-Four”. Grade: C.

1967 Magical Mystery Tour

Oh, man. I could really unload a can of whoop-ass on this record, but my own nostalgia stays my hand. Once again, I’m going to give them a pass on the awful film tie-in to this record and judge the album on its musical merits. And there are a  few: the absurd instrumental “Flying” is a charming bit of silliness. “Blue Jay Way” is an wonderfully creepy sludge of filters and flangers, slugging forward on the low notes of a lugubrious cello. Lennon’s equally dark “I Am the Walrus” featured some startling use of studio trickery to create an abstract whole from a set of mismatched melodies. I won’t acknowledge the idiotic theories regarding this song. So STFU. The rest of the record is an awful face-slapping of mediocre McCartney middens. If Paul wasn’t dead at this point, somebody should have actually killed him. “Hello, Goodbye” and “Penny Lane” are the stuff of nightmares. Grade: D.

1968 "The White Album"

By 1968, Lennon had found Yoko and decided to jettison the cutesy crap in favor of artistic endeavors. McCartney was dragged kicking and screaming into Lennon’s vision, leaving the other two fucking Beatles feeling quite uneasy. This double-record set is clearly a mish-mash of solo tunes by each of the bandmates, held together by George Martin’s increasingly frustrated hand. As a result, while thoroughly modern and maybe even bold, the death of the toe-tapping ankle boots that hung their earlier works together was costly. Fortunately for us listeners, this means we can pick and choose some truly great songs from the minefield of dog crap. Lennon’s angry steel rage shines through (“Glass Onion”, “I’m So Tired”, “Yer Blues”), Harrison asserts himself with some timeless bits of songcraft (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Savoy Truffle”) while McCartney continues fucking that chicken (“Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”, “Rocky Raccoon”, “Honey Pie”) and Ringo just doesn’t give a shit anymore (“Don’t Pass Me By”, “Goodnight”). 1968 was a year of tremendous forward movement in modern music, and despite its abstract sheen, The White Album is nowhere near as innovative and inspiring as output from Hendrix, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and dare I say: The Doors! Grade: B.

1969 The Yellow Submarine

When I was a little kid, I loved this album and I adored the film. But like many things, when you become an adult you put away childish things. Particularly crap like this shitty album. Harrison comes to the rescue with “Only a Northern Song”, and “Hey Bulldog” is a powerful song that probably belonged on The White Album. But nothing can save this record. Nothing. Grade: F.

1969 Abbey Road

George Martin needed to rally the troops after the Yellow Submarine was flushed down the toilet of disposable pop culture. He wanted the cohesion that was absent on The White Album. He wanted the fucking Beatles back. What he got was a fully disinterested John Lennon and a Paul McCartney who enjoys penning garbage. As Lennon looked on with cynical amusement, Martin cobbled together another incoherent mess of solo songs, running together Side Two of the record as a “concept”. Once gain, Harrison stepped up to the plate with the smooth, timeless “Something”. Then, on cue, McCartney dropped his pants and wiped “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “Oh, Darling” onto the tapestry of popular music. Not to be out-done, Ringo chimed in with what may be the worst song ever recorded, “Octopus’s Garden”. What was a sad laugh for Lennon, a failed gambit for George Martin and an exercise in wankery for the rest of the band has become a time-honored classic in the fucking Beatles discography. Grade: F.

1970 Let It Be

At this point, the fucking Beatles were done. But for some reason ($$$) Apple Records decided to cobble together this godawful menagerie of terrible songs. Search high and low; every track sucks donkey balls. The only thing that could make this album worse would be the inclusion of “Hey Jude”, a single release that is so heinous, so terrible, so irredeemably shitty, that most people would rather throw themelves out of a window than endure one more fucking “na na na na-na-na-naaaa” from that irritating exaltation of Satan’s dominion on Earth. The fucking Beatles went out not with a bang, but a simper. Grade: F.

As you can see, while the fucking Beatles remain in the forefront of popular music history, their actual output was pretty damn dismal. This is sad, because they had a lot to offer: humor, style, talent and what became a unique presentation.  The fucking Beatles had a tremendously attractive ambiance. From their trend-setting hair styles to their jangly guitar strums, they could have been something truly moving, though perhaps ephemeral.

Lennon loved loud, sweaty dance hall rock n’ roll. Who can blame him? When the dance halls closed, he started creating some very interesting music. Then he decided to become an artist. George turned to weird religion and hypnotic Eastern sounds. Paul (to paraphrase Yoko) spent the balance of his life rhyming June with Moon. And Ringo? I have no fucking idea what Ringo is about.

Feel free to vent your spleen in the comments section.


Everyone Knows It’s Lynndie

lynndie1

Who can forget America's sweetheart?

Back in 2004, a young heartbreaker named Lynndie England became world famous for photos of her humiliating and torturing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

The Abu Ghraib photos shone a light on American policy regarding “enhanced interrogation techniques”. We have always portrayed ourselves as the Good Guys, the shining light of Liberty in a dark world of oppressive governments and gulag nightmares. These photos made it quite clear that we had joined the ranks of the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and wartime Japan as employers of cruelty and barbarity.

The whole world hated Lynndie England. But I didn’t.

I didn’t see a heartless monster. I saw a stupid girl doing exactly what her superiors demanded. And that Chain of Cruel Command went all the way up to Dick Cheney and George Bush.

lynndie2

A-ten...HUT!

Let’s look at some facts:

– Barbaric abuse of prisoners was going on at Abu Ghraib long before Lynndie England got there;
– She was neither a trained guard nor an MI expert – she was a volunteer reservist.
– She was a low-level administrator at Abu Ghraib, not a jailer. It was Graner who convinced her to “join in the fun”;
– The staff all admitted that the inhumane treatment was conducted on orders from above – the CIA and the Army.

The “just following orders” defense is a murky subject. To some degree, it’s  valid defense. Should we blame rank-and-file guards at the gulags for Stalin’s homicidal purges? On the other hand is the assertion that if Stalin’s gulag guards had disobeyed orders and made a big public stink, that maybe the pogroms would have ceased earlier.

stalin_cheney

If a gulag is a gulag, is a despot a despot?

It may be true that refusing to obey barbaric orders is an admirable stance, but the “we’re all stewards of ethical behavior” maxim is easy to espouse when it isn’t your career, your body and your family that are at risk.

So, is Lynndie England a calculating, diabolical witch or a just a stupid little twat?

My vote is the latter.

If she, Graner and the others are morally culpable, then Cheney etal. should serve life in prison. But he won’t. There’s a saying in the military: “Shit rolls downhill”. Rank-and-file soldiers have been eating the shit from generals and kings since the Sumerian wars 4500 years ago. Leaders were responsible for victories while “poor morale” was responsible for defeats.

That leaves us with little Lynndie England, unwitting wingman for an administration that tossed her onto the scrapheap without one iota of regret.

lynndie3

Another stooge in the vaudeville of war.

Many years ago, I visited a parody site from a guy named M. Spaff Sumsion. See it here. I thought ole’ Spaff was pretty funny. One of his songs was “Everyone Knows It’s Lynndie”, sung to the tune of The Association’s Everyone Knows It’s Windy. I thought it was freaking hilarious and I asked Spaff for permission to score it, which he granted.

His link to my music is down (fixed soon, I hope) so I decided to embed it here along with a link to his lyrics page.

And so, without further ado…

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Lyrics found here.

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