Saturday, December 15, 2007

albums of the day

A veritable mountain of washing-up to be done today, plus a stew to cook, so I had a bit of time to fill, hence three - count 'em! - albums for you today.

Innervisions by Stevie Wonder.

I think I own precisely two albums issued by the legendary Motown label. This is one of them. Its nearly-as-good predecessor Talking Book is the other. You may, if you wish, deduce from this that soul music isn't really my thing, and you'd be mostly right. But you've got to defer to genius, and I think that just for a handful of years in the early 1970s (Innervisions was released in 1973) that's what we were dealing with with Stevie Wonder. Needless to say by the time I Just Called To Say I Love You came out in 1984 that time had long since passed.

Wonder had renegotiated his Motown contract in the early 1970s to give him complete artistic control over his albums, and he exerts that here - almost all the instruments on all the tracks are played by him. He'd also become a lot more politically conscious and a couple of the highlights reflect that - Living For The City and the ridiculously funky Higher Ground (later covered by the Red Hot Chili Peppers). But it's all great - and if you're not up and dancing during the final two tracks Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing and He's Misstra Know-It-All then you are clearly either too white for words, or paraplegic, in which case I apologise.

Temple Of Low Men by Crowded House.

Speaking of too white for words....Crowded House never really did themselves any favours by having (possibly not of their own volition) a slightly "wacky" image, reinforced by their more straightforward (and hence popular) songs like Weather With You. Dig a little deeper, though, and there's something a great deal more interesting going on, and this, their second and least commercially successful album, is the best thing they ever did.

It's less lushly produced than their big commercial breakthrough Woodface and its follow-up Together Alone, but that's a good thing as it gives Neil Finn's songs some room. And strange and wonderful things they are too; in your basic pop-rock idiom musically, but dark and mysterious lyrically. Into Temptation in particular has something very disturbing going on, and When You Come is unequivocally the sexiest song ever written or recorded, anywhere, ever.

The Velvet Underground by, erm, The Velvet Underground.

It's another mellow, getting-it-together album following a couple of more abrasive efforts, in this case The Velvet Underground and Nico and White Light/White Heat, both of which had their terrifying moments. This is a lot more friendly, and it's probably their best album.

You can spot the difference right from the start - Doug Yule's almost folky Candy Says - and the rest of the album is in similar vein, lightly-amplified and relatively undistorted electric guitars and some conventionaly-structured songs, the best of which are What Goes On with its ringing guitar coda, the much-covered (by R.E.M. among others) Pale Blue Eyes and Beginnning To See The Light, which may just be the most joyously uninhibited vocal the notoriously grumpy Lou Reed ever recorded.

There you go. And the stew was excellent, by the way.

No comments: