Thursday, 20 January 2011

2010: A Year In Music [Part 4 of 5]

Here are five more choice albums that I discovered in 2010.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik

It was pretty commonplace in the late 80s and early 90s (when compact discs became more prevalent) for albums to be over-stuffed with filler just because they could. While early CDs could hold 74 minutes of music, some musicians didn't adhere to the "less is more" philosophy and this often resulted in disjointed listens that you would be less inclined to revisit.

This album's running length of 73:49 was one of the reasons why I hesitated to pick it up earlier. Sure it had a lot of critical acclaim, but I honestly expected to get an album of classics like the beautiful ballad Under the bridge and funk masterclass Give it away surrounded by lots of carbon copies. It turns out that I was wrong; this is a brilliant album that deserves all of the praise that is thrown at it.

This album is a never-ending party, from the moment opener The power of equality hits top gear, through to the fun throwaway cover of Robert Johnson's They're red hot that closes the record. Most of the songs fit the upbeat funk template that RHCP have made their own, but there are a few quieter moments (Breaking the girl, I could have lied and of course Under the bridge) which give the listener a chance to catch their breath.

Every song is different enough to warrant inclusion -- some of the lesser-known classics are Funky monks, Mellowship slinky in B major, Apache rose peacock and the epic (almost) finale Sir psycho sexy (get a load of that melodic coda).

The star of the show is Flea, whose melodic bass lines take centre stage in every song. As great as the musical performances are, they wouldn't be worth anything if they were lost in a sludgy compressed mix. Luckily, this 1991 album is pre loudness war; Rick Rubin's production is air tight but incredibly dynamic, allowing you to pick out individual elements in the mix. It's a pity he didn't maintain the same standard of production on subsequent compressed abominations Californication and Stadium arcadium.

Casual RHCP listeners will probably only need one of their albums; make sure it is this one.

Archie Roach - Charcoal Lane

There was a poll in 2010 where people were able to vote for their favourite Australian album of all time (you can see the results here). What I found more interesting than the actual list (which didn't have too many surprises) was the discussion on various message boards where Aussie music fans nominated albums that they felt missed the cut. This 1990 debut album by indigenous singer-songwriter Archie Roach was an album which was mentioned a few times, so I decided to pick it up. I can now say without hesitation that it is one of the great Australian albums.

The most well-known song on the album is the haunting ballad Take the children away, about the Stolen Generation. This is a topic which is very close to Roach's heart, as he and his sisters were taken from his family by the Australian government and placed in an orphanage. It's a sad
and powerful song about a very sad part of Australia's history, and rightfully considered an Australian classic.

Elsewhere, the album doesn't miss a beat. Most of the songs are sparse folk numbers which allows Roach's powerful voice and poignant lyrics to take centre stage; there are also a few upbeat numbers (Down city streets, No no no) which give the album some much needed diversity. The title track talks about the restaurant of the same name in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy, where Aboriginal and disadvantaged people were given a chance to work in apprenticeship positions.

Elsewhere, closer Summer of my life is an incredibly heartbreaking story of an old lady reminiscing about an old man (who had presumably passed away) looking back on his life from his hospital bed. It's moments like this that elevate Archie Roach to the upper echelon of Australian singer/songwriters.

Bob Seger - Stranger In Town

Not exactly the hippest album in my collection (check out that cover), but what a great record of American heartland rock. Night moves is commonly considered to be his masterpiece, and it's a fine record; I think I may prefer this one even more.

There's quite a few popular songs scattered around, from the driving opener Hollywood nights, the beautiful (albeit a little schmaltzy) ballad We've got tonight, the overplayed cover Old time rock and roll and the wistfully nostalgic Still the same.

But he might save the best until last with the final two songs: the multi-part Brave strangers and the wide-screen epic The famous final scene. Not much else more to say; this is not the most ground breaking or innovative album ever released, but if you're in the mood for classic 70s rock, it doesn't get much better than this.

Paul Simon - There Goes Rhymin' Simon

This album may almost take the record (pun intended) for the longest time on my "to buy" list. For many years, the only Paul Simon albums that I owned were his classic and influential Graceland and his underrated Latin-influenced 1990 album The rhythm of the saints (which I picked up in a 2-for-1 pack in the mid-90s). I also have a handful of Simon & Garfunkel albums.

Quite a few years ago, I decided to expand my Paul Simon collection. Most of the research that I did pointed to this 1973 album (his 2nd solo effort) being one of his best. In the meantime, I had picked up a few more Simon albums: the excellent Hearts and bones (1982), Brian Eno collaboration Surprise (2006) and Grammy award winner Still crazy after all these years (1975). In 2010 I finally picked up There goes rhymin' Simon.

This is possibly Simon's most eclectic album -- there's great pop songs (Kodachrome, the fun sing-along One man's ceiling is another man's floor), poignant ballads (the superb American tune, St. Judy's comet, Something so right), low-key jazz numbers (Tenderness), horn-inflected dixieland (Take me the mardi gras), reggae (Was a sunny day) and even gospel (Loves me like a rock). It all sounds a bit of a mess, but it holds together as a great album.

On a side note, don't you love albums where each song is represented by a picture in the artwork?

Simple Minds - New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)

Simple Minds will forever be associated with their 1985 #1 hit Don't you (forget about me) from the soundtrack to the John Hughes movie The breakfast club. A hit like this can often me a double-edged sword for a band; it gave them much deserved commercial success, but it also changed their music path towards a more "80s pop" commercial sound.

New gold dream was their 5th studio album, released in September 1982. With the exception of the more radio-friendly hit singles Promised you a miracle and Glittering prize, the album is made up of lush, synth-based new wave numbers. Unlike many albums by their contemporaries, this album still sounds remarkably fresh today; many critics indicate that this is due to their use of real drums rather than electronic drum machines which were so common at the time.

Like mid-late 80s Cure, the songs are densely epic and elicit strong emotional feelings from the listener. Opener Someone, somewhere in summertime lures you into the world of this album. Big sleep starts out with a circular synth riff which is repeated throughout the song. Jim Kerr's emotionally effective vocals take centre stage, and the instrumental repetition and vocal wails in the 2nd half of the song puts the listener in a trance-like state. Most of the other songs are just as effective, and even the more pop-oriented singles fit in well.

This album is a prime example of well aged 80s new wave pop, an album which has stood the test of time in a decade which was not devoid of throwaway pop fluff.


  1. Thanks for more great reviews...

    I recently picked up Charcoal Lane and am enjoying it...great album.

    I have a RHCP best of, but as in my previous post, you have sold that album very well..

    I also havea Paul Simon best of but no albums...I agree with your picture comment, and how good is Kodachrome...I love that song!!!

    You lent me Nightmoves a while ago and I didn't think much of it, but that Seeger album you mention above sounds great.I love some of the songs that you mention, so i might have to check it out...

    take care


  2. @Deano - Kodachrome is a choice cut - I remember you including that on your roadtrip collection a few years back.

    I think you'd definitely dig "Stranger in town" - there's a few really nice ballads on that album and overall it's a bit more laid-back than "Night moves".

  3. Hi Jiggy, just picked up that Bob Seeger album, and I really enjoy it, once I get over that woeful cover...a real shocker. Of course I knew most of the songs on the album already though. Of the ones that I didn't know, I agree with you, the second last track is brilliant...really digging it.

  4. Glad you're enjoying it Deano. What a great closer "The famous final scene" is too.


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