Sunday, October 18, 2009

The jwalkernet Musical Canon: Part Six (82-78)

It occurs to me now how much longer I have until we finish this thing. I mean, we're just now getting out of the 80s. It didn't really settle in until yesterday, when I was tweaking the list -- I'd made a few egregious errors in ordering the albums from 40-60, but that's all settled now. I've got the whole thing in an Excel spreadsheet, of which here is a tiny, tiny piece:

(The titles in red -- which are numbers 51-100 on this list -- I've given a four-star rating at Rate Your Music. The gold albums, ranked 16-50, have a four-and-a-half star rating. The top fifteen, ranked a perfect five stars, are green, but aren't in this image, obviously. I can't imagine why I thought you would give a damn about this.)

Anyway. With that in mind, tonight we're gonna be a little more brief. One paragraph, if I can manage it. And even though I didn't do this on purpose, it's all '90s rock this time around. Go figure.

82. The Verve Pipe, The Verve Pipe
The Verve Pipe - The Verve PipeYou remember from earlier in the list: I seem to love the album bands make after the one that makes them famous. In this case, the Verve Pipe followed the one-hit-wondertastic smash "The Freshmen" with this album-long meditation on stardom and the temporary nature of fame. The Verve Pipe is the rare sophomore album that seems to know it's a sophomore album, and there's no way the band could have actually believed these dark, sarcastic songs would actually hit. Even the songs that don't fit that theme are resigned and defeated, filled with broken hearts and bad dreams.

81. Oasis, Be Here Now
Oasis - Be Here NowThe first three Oasis albums, to me, each sound like the controlled substance the Gallagher brothers used most during its creation. Definitely, Maybe has the loud, clumsy roar of a good, drunken bender; (What's the Story) Morning Glory? has the sound and pace of a contemplative cigarette. Be Here Now, with its endless track listing and mammoth songs and arrangements, could only be the result of a mountain of cocaine. And it sure didn't appeal to audiences at the time -- Be Here Now is apparently the most-often pawned record in Britain, and not a single track from it made their greatest hits collection a few years back. But you know what? All that sound, all those guitars, all that noise? That's why I like the album so much. "All Around the World" could just be a throwaway pop song, but Noel Gallagher -- bless his douchebag black little heart -- stretches it out to over nine minutes, adds three (!) orchestras and something like fifteen key changes, and it becomes a fucking work of art. "D'You Know What I Mean?" doesn't need the two minutes of helicopter noises and Morse code at the beginning, I guess...but at the same time it really does. These songs have what Oasis songs had never had and would never have again -- weight. They could have just rewritten "Wonderwall" a dozen times and made everyone happy, but instead they took their body weights in Bolivian marching powder and recorded the longest, loudest fuck you they could muster. And it doesn't hurt that these are the best, most compelling songs the band would ever put together, with some of Noel's strongest lyrics (and Noel's lyrics are always awful -- he makes Coldplay look like Leonard Cohen). It's too bad they never tried anything this incredible again.

80. Foo Fighters, The Colour and the Shape
Foo Fighters - The Colour and the ShapeDave Grohl recorded most of the first Foo Fighters album in his spare time, while Nirvana was still a thriving entity. After its success, he had to prove on his second album he was more than just Nirvana's drummer -- he needed to prove his chops as a genuine frontman. Luckily for him, he knocked it out of the park, and The Colour and the Shape is his best post-Nirvana work. This is late-nineties modern rock at its very finest -- "Monkey Wrench" is one of the best songs ever written, and "Everlong" isn't far behind. This is the first album of what I think of internally as my High School Trilogy -- the three albums that, honestly, I don't think I could have survived those four years without. The Colour and the Shape was one of them: when Grohl ends the record by repeatedly screaming I'm not scared, I felt like I could find a new way home, too.

79. Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite SadnessBilly Corgan is kind of an insufferable tool, but this is the album he was born to make. (It's also the third double album on the list. I can't help it, I like epics.) Everything Smashing Pumpkins was great at, everything they weren't so great at, all of it on display here. The loud ("Bullet with Butterfly Wings"), the melodic ("1979"), the twee ("Thirty-Three") and the insane ("We Only Come Out at Night"), stretching out as far as humanly possible. Siamese Dream seemed better at the time, but they've flipped sides completely looking back now: Mellon Collie feels like a perfect document of its era, when modern rock music was trying to morph into something else entirely -- maybe something electronic, maybe something grand and orchestral, maybe something ugly and out of its mind. It did none of those things, as we ended up with nu-metal and the post-grunge trash that Nickelback and Creed would deliver, but Billy Corgan was at least trying, dammit. For all its faults, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was a statement, something most artists of the time couldn't be bothered with. Oh, and "Zero" is just a great fucking song. So there.

78. Days of the New, Days of the New II
Days of the New - Days of the New See my note in entry 82 about sophomore albums. Travis Meeks recorded the first Days of the New album at the age of seventeen, and it got a lot of play on rock radio for its unique sound -- he wrote grungy rock songs, but played them all acoustically, giving his work an amber tint and special quality. So, of course, he immediately fired the rest of his band and recorded this gigantic follow-up, which is about as sharp a turn one can take artistically without switching genres altogether. It's still rock, I guess -- but I can't think of a whole lot of other rock music that sounds like this, with the oboes and violins taking the melodies on several tracks. Meeks ties it all together as one massive piece, dropping in instrumentals and sound effects freakouts whenever the mood strikes. Suffice to say, Days of the New II was a massive commercial bomb on release, as fans of the first record fled to Creed concerts in horror.

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