Category: Grade: A

The Breeders – Last Splash

ARTIST: The Breeders 

TITLE: Last Splash

YEAR RELEASED: 1993

CHART ACTION:  #33 US, #5 UK

SINGLES: Cannonball (#44 US, #2 Alternative, #32 Mainstream, #40 UK), Divine Hammer (#104 US, #28 Alternative, #59 UK), Saints (#109 US, #12 Alternative)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Do You Love Me Now

LINEUP: Kim Deal, Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs, Jim MacPherson.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An out-of-left field breakout hit that made the band bigger than Kim Deal’s former band, at least for a few years..

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Well, after years of hearing praises about her work for the Pixies, and the underground buzz from the Breeders first album, success came along without much warning for Kim Deal in 1993.

“Cannonball” was a goofy, funny, ever-changing song that wouldn’t have been a hit except during this time in the history of music, but here we are, and it’s beloved to this day. It overshadows the album a bit, which is a shame, since there are some decent tracks here that would startle the non-hip “Cannonball” listeners.

Unlike their debut, this record has some lightness (“Divine Hammer”, “Drivin’ All Night”,), some rawk (“Saints”) and yet goes really dark and experimental at times (“Roi, “Mad Lucas”). Track-for-track it’s not as strong as Pod, as some of the experiments really don’t quite hit and a couple tracks do seem like filler. But, it’s still a fine record that people who bought it for the single may be surprised they like.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Do You Love Me Now” was also on Safari in a much less dark and distorted version.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a lot of demos, B-sides, and the Safari EP too.

 GRADE: A-: A hit, unexpectedly so, but deserved.

The Breeders – Pod

ARTIST: The Breeders 

TITLE: Pod

YEAR RELEASED: 1990

CHART ACTION:  #22 UK

SINGLES: None. Hellbound was a video

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover Happiness Is a Warm Gun

LINEUP: Kim Deal, Tanya Donelly, Josephine Wiggs, Brett Walford. Carrie Bradley and Michael Allen contributed on one track.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Two ‘second bananas’ from influential alt-rock groups form their own band and release a record that’s dark, twisted, and glorious.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Both Kim Deal (Pixies) and Tanya Donelly (Throwing Muses) were frustrated by the lack of songwriting opportunities in their respective bands. They met and worked to from a band to release their creative energy. Grabbing Josephine Wiggs from Perfect Disaster and borrowing the drummer for Slint, they recorded Pod.

Due to contractual issues, the songs on this debut album were all from Kim Deal, and what songs they are. They explore the dark side of things – bad sex, bad families, and other pitfalls for women in the alt-rock scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Engineered by Steve Albini, the performances were raw and emotional, filled with excellent guitar work by Donelly , a solid rhythm section, and ragged yet spot on vocals from Deal.

At times, the bleakness is interrupted by poppy moments, like the melodies in “Doe”, “Hellbound:, and “Fortunately Gone”. The sparseness makes it hard to miss the blackness of the album, making it a direct artistic statement.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Brett Walford went by “Shannon Doughton” for the album and when they played gigs he played in drag.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, They released the Safari EP as a transition as Donnely was moving to form Belly. The title track is definitely worth having.

GRADE: A-: This isn’t the Breeders that casual listeners remember from the 90’s, but you can hear glimpses of the melodies of their hits. This still packs a wallop.

The Beastie Boys – Check Your Head

ARTIST: The Beastie Boys 

TITLE: Check Your Head

YEAR RELEASED: 1992

CHART ACTION:  #10 US, #106 UK

SINGLES: Pass the Mic (#47 UK), So Whatcha Want (#93 US, #21 Alternative, #122 R&B), Jimmy James (#55 UK), Gratitude, Professor Booty, Something’s Got to Give

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Funky Boss, The Maestro

LINEUP: King Ad-Rock, MCA, Mike D, Money Mark Nishita. Mario Caldato produced. Biz Markie did a vocal, and various percussionists helped.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Beasties evolve again, adding their own instruments into their highly-sampled tracks.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Beastie Boys started as a punk band, back in the day, and even after they moved to hip-hop they still had a punk ethos. So after playing their own backing for a couple of tracks on Paul’s Boutique, they created more songs that utilized their own instruments on bass, guitar and drums. (MCA a/k/a Adam Yauch really loves to use pedal effects on his bass). Augmented by keyboardist Mark Nishita and other percussionists (congas and what not), the Beasties add a bit funk and Latin rhythms into their songs.

Meanwhile, they continued to experiment with sounds and samples, and while they weren’t as snotty and misanthropic as before, tracks like “So Whatcha Want” and “Pass the Mic” had plenty of their old attitude. And then, as the album winds down, “Namaste” shines a light on MCA’s journey to Buddhism and peace.

This is an ambitious project and encompasses quite a bit of musical territory. The number of instrumentals really shows the Beasties as serious about their musical chops. It’s not as fantastic as Paul’s Boutique but is impressive just the same.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Caldato was the third producer in three albums for the Beasties, though he did engineer quite a bit of Paul’s Boutique

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a Japanese version and then a big Deluxe version.

 GRADE: A: It’s not Paul’s Boutique, but it’s still pretty fantastic.

Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness

ARTIST: Smashing Pumpkins

TITLE: Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness 

YEAR RELEASED: 1995

CHART ACTION:  US #1, UK #4

SINGLES: Bullet with Butterfly Wings (#22 US, #2 Alternative, #4 Mainstream, #20 UK), 1979 (#12 US, #1 Alternative, #1 Mainstream, #16 UK), Zero (#49 Airplay, #9 Alternative, #15 Mainstream), Tonight Tonight (#36 US, #5 Alternative, #4 Mainstream, #7 UK), Thirty-Three (#39 US, #2 Alternative, #18 Mainstream, #21 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: X.Y.U., Muzzle

LINEUP: Billy Corgan, D’Arcy Wretzsky, James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlain. Greg Leisz played pedal steel.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A L-O-N-G record with some masterful songs, and some songs that needed pruning.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: You talk about bloat? You thought the Smashing Pumpkins last album was too long and hard to get through at once? Well, you ain’t heard nothing yet.

This double CD (28 tracks, originally thought of 32 early on out of 56 they considered after recording about 70 or so, and 30 on the original vinyl version) has a wide array of tracks in both length and motif.

This is where Billy Corgan and his mates break out of their alt-rock motif and dabble in chamber pop, acoustic folky songs, prog rock epics, and guitar freakouts. Many of the songs are classics – touchstones of the mid-90’s. The deep cuts were interesting and revelatory. They were all over radio and MTV.

Yet, for all the accolades and sales, this record could use a good whacking at times. A lot of the songs go about a minute too long, sometimes two minutes. The quieter tracks aren’t sequenced in a way where they would be most effective – they get lost in the noise. I don’t know if I’d trim a track myself but a couple could go missing without being a big loss.

Corgan thought of this as a concept record about a teenage day in the life, and despite this being his concept for once the entire band contributed arrangements, solos, and played their instruments. It does sound like more collaboration instead of being a one man gang, for sure. 

But this is an album that is tough to listen to all at once, simply because it’s just way too long. The extended endings on many songs make one say ‘get ON with it’.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: One of the outtakes was a pastiche of about 70 songs that they demoed and / or considered for the album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, of course. The original vinyl version had two extra tracks. They released another version with lots of extras and demos and a live DVD.

 GRADE: A-: I don’t know if it deserves to be cut down to a single album, because of the breadth, but an editor was really needed on some tracks for it to earn an A.

Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

ARTIST: Smashing Pumpkins 

TITLE: Siamese Dream

YEAR RELEASED: 1993

CHART ACTION:  US #10, UK #4

SINGLES: Cherub Rock (#7 Alternative, #23 Mainstream, #31 UK), Today (#103 US, #4 Alternative, #28 Mainstream, #44 UK), Disarm (#48 Airplay, #8 Alternative, #5 Mainstream, #11 UK, Rocket (#28 Mainstream. #89 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Starboy, Mayonaise

LINEUP: Billy Corgan, D’Arcy Wretzsky, James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlain. Mike Mills played piano on a track. Eric Remschneider and David Ragsdale played the string parts.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The album that put the Pumpkins on the map, and still a favorite of Generation X today.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The first thing you notice about Siamese Dream is the guitar sound. THE guitar sound that made Billy Corgan famous. Yes it was all over Gish, but here, it’s layered and layered to an inch of its life. Producer Butch Vig and Corgan constructed a monolith of sound. There are pages on the ‘net and videos about that tone

Then there’s the songs. Here’s where Billy and the Pumpkins perfect (or steal) the famous Pixies Loud-Soft-Loud (or Soft-Loud-Soft, depending). The songs here are long, sprawling discourses – mostly on mental health and other assorted issues. There’s some dialing back of the alt-rock pummeling, with two tracks (famously “Disarm”) being string-driven, and songs like “Today” which crank down the urgency to bring some emotional heft.

Most of the songs are very familiar to the Gen X Alt-Rock masses, but before writing this review I had to wonder when I played the whole thing through. It just seems like it goes on forever, with many tracks (five) over five minutes long, and others just seem long. Some of those long cuts seem a bit ponderous and momentum-stalling.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This took a long time and was way over budget. There are conflicting reports on how much James Iha and D’Arcy actually played on the record.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with lots of bonus tracks and demos.

GRADE: A-: It’s an alt-rock touchstone, but it’s got its flaws and needed some pruning.

My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything

ARTIST: My Bloody Valentine 

TITLE: Isn’t Anything

YEAR RELEASED: 1988

CHART ACTION:  #61 UK, #1 UK Indie

SINGLES: Feed Me With Your Kiss (#2 UK Indie), Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not really, no.

LINEUP: Kevin Shields, Billinda Butcher, Colm Ó Cíosóig, Deb Googe

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After a few years of mucking about, My Bloody Valentine signs to Creation and gets carte blanche after their first single for the label was a hit.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Beating the indie bushes, moving from noisy pop to C-86 jangle, My Bloody Valentine were developing their revolutionary sound all the while. Creation signed them and they released “You Made Me Realise”, a landmark of guitar layers, feedback, and hazy production that kickstarted shoegaze.

When it came time for the album, Creation Records said, “more of the weird stuff”. And so, the My Bloody Valentine sound emerged. Taking notes from the Jesus and Mary Chain, and adding even more dissonance, MBV became unique among all shoegaze and UK indie rock.

Basically, it’s distortion, layers and layers of guitar and guitar riffs that are usually bent or used a slide or something out of the ordinary. Meanwhile the vocals had nice melodies, and harmonies, but they were mixed in the back. Sometimes so far back it was hard to hear the words.

The effect was a collage of noise that was noticeable even in the quietest songs. But in tracks like “All I Need”, “Feed Me With Your Kiss”, and “Sueisfine”, the music moves, the noise envelops, and the concept of song is altered.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Unlike later MBV albums, this was recorded in two weeks in Wales.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: They had a noisy instrumental single appended to some US copies and later releases.

 GRADE: A-: Obviously not for everyone. It’s a landmark though in UK indie rock as it kicked off shoegaze and introduced layered guitar noise as an instrument in of itself.

War – Anthology: 1970-1994

ARTIST: War 

TITLE: Anthology 1970-1994

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Top 20: Spill the Wine (#3 US), All Day Music (#35 US, #18 R&B), Slippin’ Into Darkness (#16 US, #12 R&B), The World Is a Ghetto (#7 US, #3 R&B), Cisco Kid (#2 US, #5 R&B), Gypsy Man (#8 US, #6 R&B), Me and Baby Brother (#15 US, #18 R&B, #21 UK), Ballero (#33 US, #17 R&B), Why Can’t We Be Friends? (#6 US, #9 R&B), Low Rider (#7 US, #1 R&B, #12 UK), Summer (#7 US, #4 R&B), LA Sunshine (#45 US, #2 R&B), Galaxy (#39 US, #5 R&B, #14 UK), You Got the Power (#66 US, #18 R&B, #58 UK), Outlaw (#94 US, #13 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They covered Tobacco Road. Who didn’t?.

LINEUP: Howard Scott, Lee Oskar, Papa Dee Allen, Charles Miller, BB Dickerson, Lonnie Jordan, Harold Ray Brown. Eric Burdon peaced out after two albums (for the best). Others came in after their glory days.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: LA socially conscious soul band discovered by Eric Burdon and producer Jerry Goldstein sheds Burdon after two records, and becomes an chart mainstay for the 70’s

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Playing around LA for most of the 60’s, War (then known as Nightshift) was brought on to back Eric Burdon on his next venture. Burdon brought in Danish harmonica player Lee Oskar, who soon became an integral part of their sound.

Burdon left mid-tour after two albums because of health reasons, but War kept chugging along. Their second album after Burdon left established their popularity, and through most of the 70’s were mainstays in the R&B charts, and making some impact in crossing over.

The unique sound of War was fueled by congas along with drums, mixed with the combo of sax and harmonica, over the typical funk bass, drums, and keyboards. They had a tendency to jam and extend on the albums (and live, their mid-70’s live double had SEVEN tracks spread over four sides), but a collection like this distills their meanderings to a pretty concise package, at least for the songs.

They’re an important and vital group, as shown by the number of samples of War material in hip-hop now. A large collection is warranted, but this dips too much into their 80s and 90s material, which diminishes the impact of their key period.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: When Goldstein and Burdon found them, they were backing football player Deacon Jones in clubs around LA.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but in 2003 there was another comp called “The Very Best of War”, which has many of the same cuts. However, they truncate some of the songs even more (for better or worse).

 GRADE: A-: Their 70’s work is so critical to R&B and hip-hop, I can safely exile the later stuff and still be happy with this grade.

Squeeze – East Side Story

ARTIST: Squeeze 

TITLE: East Side Story

YEAR RELEASED: 1981

CHART ACTION:  #44 US, #19 UK

SINGLES: Is That Love (#35 UK), Tempted (#49 US, #8 Mainstream Rock, #41 UK), Labelled With Love (#4 UK), Messed Around

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: In Quintessence

LINEUP: Glenn Tillbrook, Chris Difford, John Bentley, Paul Carrack, Gilson Lavis

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Squeeze recruits Paul Carrack to replace Jools Holland and comes out with a fantastic chameleon of an album, full of witticisms, hooks, and changing motifs.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Going into 1981, Squeeze was on a roll in crafting new-wavish pop tunes, charting in the UK and getting a cult following in the US. Though keyboardist and funnyman Jools Holland left to go solo, the band recruited ormer Ace leader Paul Carrack and didn’t miss a beat.

For this album, Chris Difford and Glenn Tillbrook came up with a group of songs that all had different motifs and structures, with most of lyrics focusing on love, cheating, drinking, and other combinations thereof. It shouldn’t have worked, really, with all of the disparate styles on one record. But it does work – it’s brilliant. The production (by Elvis Costello with engineer Roger Bechirian) is probably the clearest and brightest Squeeze had ever sounded.

Only a couple of tracks have the classic Squeeze sound. Some are more rooted in R&B (“Tempted” of course), and then there’s songs that are country, art and chamber pop, vocal pop, rockabilly, and whatever you call “Heaven” (a drinking song with bouzoukis?). Difford is on top of his game with his lyrics, and Tillbrook somehow weaves them all into melodies and songs that aren’t just run of the mill pop or new wave. It’s fabulous.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Yes, you saw that right. “Tempted” didn’t hit the Top 40, and in the UK was the lowest charting released single. (“Messed Around” was a US single only – and that was an odd choice, really).

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A couple with B-sides and outtakes. 

GRADE: A+ Argybargy and East Side Story are a brilliant one-two of early 80s UK music.

Golden Earring – Moontan

ARTIST: Golden Earring

TITLE: Moontan

YEAR RELEASED: 1973

CHART ACTION:  #12 US

SINGLES: Radar Love (#13 Us, #7 UK), Candy’s Going Bad (#91 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Oh, no.

LINEUP: George Kooymans, Rinus Gerritsen, Barry Hay, Cesar Zuiderwijk. Eelco Gelling and Bertrus Rogers also appeared.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: On their NINTH album, longtime Dutch band breaks through.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Going from Beatle-esque popsters to psychedelic popsters to prog rockers usually wasn’t a career path that many bands took. But this quartet (who solidified in 1970, added a few members here and there, and stuck together as a foursome until 2019, sidelined only by illness) stuck together, and their movement towards prog and rock, with long songs built on riffs and movements, finally got them ears outside of the Netherlands. 

“Radar Love” was the cut that got them noticed, of course, and it was an irresistible radio song. However, the record was more than just that. The opener, “Candy’s Going Bad” was a great exercise in wah-wah guitar, dramatics, and an ending coda that put the story of Candy to bed. Most of the other tracks were long excursions, showing the versatility of the band, and yet they weren’t just jams for jams sake.

It’s not perfect. A couple tracks aren’t as well thought out as the others, which hurts the record a tad. However, it’s more than just “Radar Love”, and should be enjoyed as a unit.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Candy’s Going Bad” is on a compilation called The Long Versions, however, they chose a live version that is SHORTER than the album version. Long? Hmpf.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: They had other albums released in the US, but they were released and soon forgotten over here. So when this was released in the US, MCA scrapped two tracks (one understandable, the other…not so much) and added a track from their 1970 self-titled album – which WAS released in the US.

 GRADE: A- If you like “Radar Love”, you’d really like most of this.

Aaron Neville – For the Good Times: The Allan Toussaint Sessions

ARTIST: Aaron Neville      

TITLE: For the Good Times: The Allan Toussaint Sessions

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Charting: Tell It Like It Is (#2, #1 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Hercules. He covers Baby I’m a Want You, Mojo Hannah, One Fine Day, and For the Good Times

LINEUP: Aaron Neville. Allan Toussaint always had a good band with many of the Neville Brothers or the Meters backing him on occasion.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After leaving Minit Records, a soulful tenor crooner makes a bunch of great sides with famous producer Allan Toussaint, and it’s a shame they weren’t really heard for the most part

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Aaron Neville had been recording for a few years on Minit Records, but nothing really came of those tracks except one minor R&B hit in 1960. In the mid-60s, he recorded a few tracks, including “Tell It Like It Is” for a local New Orleans label and that became a smash.

Later, famous producer Allan Toussaint snapped up Aaron for some work for his production company and released and leased out singles, and recorded a would be theme for a Blaxploitation movie (“Hercules”). He covered some tunes that in other hands are treacly, but with Neville at the mic and Toussaint at the helm they were soulful and funky (he transforms “Baby I’m a Want You”).

This collection shows what we could have had if Neville’s singles would have hit. Alas. But it exists now, and that’s good enough for me.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “”Hercules” had some pressing problems in the UK and never got a release, which is a shame

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. But there is another collection that also has tracks from this era. Also, the rest of his Par-Lo record recordings aside from “Tell It Like It Is” has vaporized.

 GRADE A-: Aaron Neville’s voice makes everything better.