Category: Grade: A

Green Day – Kerplunk!

ARTIST: Green Day 220px-Green_Day_-_Kerplunk_cover

TITLE: Kerplunk!

YEAR RELEASED: 1991

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They re-recorded Welcome to Paradise for their major label debut.

LINEUP: Billy Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, Tre Cool. Johnathan Kiffmeyer played on the EP that was appended as a bonus.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Dookie before Dookie.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: From the first notes of “2000 Light Years Away”, and on through the record (except for one jokey cut), the last indie record for Green Day sounds almost exactly like their major label debut, especially in sound and songs. The mixture of power pop and punk is pretty much complete here.

In fact, the punkier and faster recording of “Welcome to Paradise” on this album (the only song that crossed over) may be better than the more sweet and polished version on Dookie. New drummer Tre Cool is an added bonus, as he’s a solid and imaginative drummer.

This record is punkier than what will follow, and poppier than their previous records. Had just a few tracks been better songs (and / or that joke cut left for box sets or B-sides), it probably could have been the best record of their career. As it is, it’s pretty damn good.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This sold 10,000 copies on the first day of release, and 50,000 within a few months. That’ll get the majors talking.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, their Sweet Children EP (named after the first incarnation of the band) that had their previous drummer playing on it.

GRADE A-: Power pop punk hit the sweet spot.

Massive Attack – Blue Lines

ARTIST: Massive Attack 220px-MassiveAttackBlueLines

TITLE: Blue Lines

YEAR RELEASED: 1991

CHART ACTION:  #13 UK

SINGLES: Daydreaming (#81 UK), Unfinished Symphony (#13 UK), Safe from Harm (#35 Dance, #25 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They covered Be Thankful for What You Got

LINEUP: Robert Del Naja, Grantley Marshall, Andrew Vowles. Shara Nelson, Tricky, Horace Andy, Neneh Cherry, Claude Williams, and Mikey Taylor contributed vocals.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Bristol (UK) DJs form a collective, and happen to ‘invent’ trip-hop after they finally got to the studio.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Breaking out of the ‘sound system’ culture (that also produced Soul II Soul), Massive Attack emerged from the Wild Bunch, and after some prodding got to the studio to record this album. Oh, and they rather much came up with a new genre when it came out.

“Trip Hop” is a mash up of hip-hop, soul and funk, samples, electronica and dub, and is more for chilling out and vibing to than dancing. The vocalists they use, like Shara Nelson and rapper Tricky, add excellent coloring to the tracks. This record is one you just put on and let flow over your mind and body.

The only issue is a nice, but un-revelatory cover of William DeVaughn’s classic “Be Thankful for What You Got”. It doesn’t seem to propel the album forward, as the other tracks around it do. That’s kind of a minor quibble.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They recorded some of this at Neneh Cherry’s house.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE A: With just one small stumble, this is not only a seminal record but tremendous to boot.

Midnight Oil – Essential Oils

ARTIST: Midnight Oil Essential_Oils_cover_art

TITLE: Essential Oils

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None in the US

SINGLES: Several of the songs not listed were singles in Australia and NZ. Charting in the US and UK: The Dead Heart (#53 US, #11 Mainstream, #62 UK), Beds Are Burning (#17 US, #6 Mainstream, #6 UK), Dreamworld (#37 Mainstream., #16 Modern) Blue Sky Mine (#47 US, #1 Mainstream, #1 Modern, #66 UK), Forgotten Years (#11 Mainstream, #1 Modern, #97 UK), King of the Mountain (#20 Mainstream, #3 Modern), Truganini (#10 Mainstream, #4 Modern, #29 UK), My Country (#66 UK), In the Valley (#60 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The above probably covers it.

LINEUP: Peter Garrett, Jim Moginie, Martin Rotsey, Rob Hurst. Andrew James was the original bassist. Peter Gilford replaced him for a few years and Bones Hillman replaced him.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Australia’s best band ever? Maybe! They’ve been at it since 1976 in one form or another with the same four core members since 1977. They are highly political, tremendous live, and always seem to evolve their sound.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: A band that’s been around since the mid-70s (and are back and touring again) had to sound stale at some point, right? No, not Midnight Oil. They always pushed their music forward – from a punk-ish roar to experimenting with electronics and distortion. But they are always determined to make an impact both politically and socially.

This collection grabs tracks from each studio album and even Eps. By their second album, they were tight and fierce as any band going, and that never really changed as they moved forward. Always political, and always advocating for social change (and Peter Garrett isn’t their sole lyricist, in case you were wondering), Midnight Oil became the conscious of the Australian rock world – all while delivering great and challenging music and killer live shows.

They split up when Peter Garrett got more involved in Australian politics, but have reunited and have toured around with much of the same fire and fury as they had before. This is an essential collection for an essential band.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “The Dead Heart” is their highest charting single in Australia, at #$

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE A+: It’s an essential compilation that will make you want to dive in for their entire catalog.

Corin Tucker Band – 1,000 Years

ARTIST: Corin Tucker Band 220px-Album_cover_for_the_album_1,000_Years_by_Corin_Tucker_Band

TITLE: 1,000 Years

YEAR RELEASED: 2010

CHART ACTION:  #9 Heatseekers, #49 Indie

SINGLES: Doubt

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nope

LINEUP: Corin Tucker, Seth Lorinczi, Sara Lund. Juliana Bright, Kate O’Brien-Clark, and Douglas Jenkins added support.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Back at it after the Sleater/Kinney hiatus, Tucker wrote and recorded an album that is quieter but just as powerful.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Not diving into the vocal yelps except on rare occasions (“Doubt”), toning down the sound, and generally making things a bit more even keeled, Corin Tucker’s first solo album after the hiatus of Sleater/Kinney adds a unique chapter to her musical biography.

There’s still hints of her band’s work, but only hints. “Half a World Away” could definitely be an SK song, but here the arrangement is more controlled and her vocals more restrained, and it works better. Some of the better moments are on the quieter songs, where she’s reflective of her place in the world as a mother and a musician.

This album shows Tucker as more than the punk rocker she was for years. She’s got depth and breadth, and it’s a refreshing look at her as she moves to middle age.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: She said that Seth Lorinzi (bass player and producer) really shaped the sounds on the record.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE A-: As solid as any Sleater/Kinney record with a maturing outlook.

Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear

ARTIST: Sia  220px-Sia_-_1000_Forms_of_Fear_(Official_Album_Cover)

TITLE: 1000 Forms of Fear

YEAR RELEASED: 2014

CHART ACTION:  #1 US, #5 UK

SINGLES: Chandelier (#8 US, #6 UK), Big Girls Cry (#103 US, #77 UK), Elastic Heart (#17 US, #10 UK), Fire Meets Gasoline (#193 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Burn the Pages, Cellophane.

LINEUP: Sia and Greg Kurstin. Jessie Shatkin and Nick Valensi helped on a track each.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After taking a break (or retiring) from performing because of mental health issues, a surprise hit led her back to the studio after a while and she released her most focused album yet.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After writing “Titanium” with hopes of it landing with Alicia Keys, and finding it released by David Guetta with her demo vocals on it, Sia became more famous than she had been, especially in the US. So having stepped back from recording to write songs, she found herself in the studio again with Greg Kurstin and delivered this set of passionate, bombastic pop songs.

While over the top at times, the production fits Sia’s intent on the tracks, especially on the smash “Chandelier”. Yet the album touches on a lot of subjects and touches on them well. Sia’s songs are personal, and at times heart-rendering, as she was fighting demons upon demons in her life, which led to her original retirement.

The deep cuts, like “Hostage” and “Straight to the Knife”, are where the meat of the album lives. She poured everything into all of the songs, telling a story and not just gunning for hits or radio play. But with her natural ability for hooks and melody, she got them. This is a much better record than her earlier efforts, and improves with multiple listens.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It was at this time where Sia decided to cover her face, and let her art speak for herself.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, acoustic piano cuts and other mixes.

 GRADE A-: This is a modern pop album that grows on you.

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

ARTIST: Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings  220px-Dapdip

TITLE: Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

YEAR RELEASED: 2002

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Got a Thing on My Mind, What Have You Done for Me Lately, Make It Good to Me, Got to Be the Way It Is

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: It’s a shame you don’t.

LINEUP: Sharon Jones, Bosco Mann, Leon Michels, Jack Zapata, Binky Griptite, Fernando Velez, Earl Maxton, Homer Steinweiss, Anda Szilyagi

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut album featuring a powerhouse retro-soul singers and the house bands for the defunct Desco Records burns fire on turntables, CD players, and MP3s.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: This record is an old-fashioned soul revue, from the introduction from hype-man and guitarist Binky Griptite, to new dances “The Dap Dip”, to scorching covers (Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately” done 60’s style), to an absolute burner in “Got a Thing on My Mind”, this debut is absolutely dynamite.

Jones and her band are lock step, tight, and funky. The group, made up of members of the Soul Providers and Mighty Imperials, know their funk and soul inside-and-out, while Jones’ voice is the dream of every soul and R&B fan. She’s a powerful dynamo that demands attention.

Daptone Records (formed by Desco’s Bosco Mann to release this material) started a neo-soul and funk empire with these tasty sides. While it’s a debut, it sounds so well formed and tight that you’d think they’d have been at this for 20 years.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Jones was a prison guard. No, really, she was.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE A: It’s smoking hot. My headphones are on fire now.

Big Star – Third (a/k/a Sister Lovers)

ARTIST: Big Star Big_Star-3rd

TITLE: Third (a/k/a Sister Lovers)

YEAR RELEASED: 1978

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Jesus Christ, Kizza Me

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: There are a few covers. For You may have been the best known otherwise.

LINEUP: Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens. Lesa Aldridge (Alex’ girlfriend) sings on this, and many Memphis session players are on it somewhere. Maybe. 220px-BigStarThird

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Dark, haunting, shambling third album by the seminal band seems to be the sound of breaking apart – mentally, physically, and as a band. 

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Probably the most famous ‘lost album besides the Beach Boys’ Smile, Big Star’s Third (also known as Sister Lovers, though that could have been the name of the band, maybe) is a haunting stroll from power pop oddness to absolute bleakness. From the off kilter but fun “Kizza Me” to the haunting and devastating “Holocaust” is just one half of the album, yet it feels so complete.

Listening to this closely (the only way to really hear it), you find production effects and sounds all over. Cellos creeping from the back. Piano played low and soft. Guitars in and out. Mysterious crackles. Time signatures steady or wavering. Vocals either ebullient or tragic. By the end of the first half, the hope seems gone, and Chilton and Jody Stephens are left wandering around in the devastation. “Kanga Roo” begins side two with a totally obtuse lyric, and slowly they pull themselves out of it, somehow, with Stephens’ “For You” being absolutely romantic and lovely.

All through Third, you get the feeling that this was a record that needed to be made, but not necessarily released, though test pressings were done in 1975. A release in 1978 came out, but by then Chilton and Stephens moved on. In 1992, producer Jim Dickson released a version he claimed was the true running order plus bonus tracks. We don’t know, but that 1992 release was clear, clean, and you were able to hear the madness, the gentleness, and the heart and mind of the band.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There are so many notes here that I need to direct you to the various articles about the album, and books on Big Star and Alex Chilton. Basically, he purposely self-destructed some tracks to get back at…someone. complete third

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The 1992 Rykodisc release had five bonus cuts (all covers but the bonkers “Downs”) and there’s a box set with pert near every demo and finished take. 

GRADE A+: Not for everyone, but dang it’s compelling.

The Beautiful South – Choke

ARTIST: The Beautiful South         Choke_(The_Beautiful_South_album_-_cover_art)

TITLE: Choke

YEAR RELEASED: 1990

CHART ACTION:  #2 UK

SINGLES: A Little Time (#1 UK), My Book (#43 UK), Let Love Speak Up Itself (#51 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not in the US.

LINEUP: Paul Heaton, Dave Hemingway, Briana Corrigan, Dave Rotheray, Sean Welch, Dave Stead. Gary Barnacle, Kevin Brown, Pete Wingfield, Tony Robinson, and Damon Butcher added horns and keyboards all over the record.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album by the elegant and cynical pop group may have been to clever for regular punters in the UK, but it’s still a fine album.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Listening to the first few tracks of their second album, you get the sense that the Beautiful South is coming into their own – not that their first album wasn’t fully formed. But Briana Corrigan is now a full member, and Dave Hemingway’s vocal contributions are more noticeable.

The second track. “My Book”, while not a successful single, was clever and brilliant, sounding like an older pop track with modern embellishment and with clever lyrics that seem to skewer the narrator and society at the same time. Then, for some reason, the ballad “Let Love Speak Up Itself” didn’t hit, either, probably since the lyrics were twisted, which on the heels of “A Little Time”, a ballad Hemingway and Corrigan shine, was a disappointment.

Through the album, though, the production and arrangements are adult sounding and sophisticated, yet playful and inventive. The band wasn’t trying to make singles, it seems, and that was just fine, as the album plays well as a whole.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The video for “A Little Time’ won the 1991 Brit Award.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but the final track (a cover of “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics, was left off the first pressings by accident.

GRADE A-: A clever, almost too clever, pop album.