U2 - October
Released in 1981, October is routinely dismissed by critics and fans as the worst early album by the Irish quartet. Bono has called October a “difficult second album.” It should have been because the subject matter is bold for a pop rock band: god and spirituality. It was the perfect preface for what was the band’s break-out album – the stunning War. But to dismiss October is foolish. The album is a wonderfully complex, atmospheric mediation. Highlights include:
- The gritty, drum-heavy “I Threw A Brick Through A Window” that sounds like it was recorded in a basement
- The wailing lament of English occupation of Northern Ireland in “Stranger in a Strange Land” (just listen to the emotional anguish of Bono’s voice).
- The piano ballad about the death of Bono’s mother “October” feels like a modern church hymn.
R.E.M. – Fables of the Reconstruction
After three successful albums, R.E.M. made some major changes for its generally overlooked fourth album recorded in 1985. The band switched to a producer known for working with English folk bands and left the United States to record in London. The result is moody, sinister reflections about the myths of Southern culture and folk music. If William Faulkner was a musician – he may have recorded Fables of the Reconstruction. The album contains many of the bands best music including:
- The portentous “Driver 8,” which was supposed to be the albums big rock number – yet it feels dangerous and secretive. The song is about the landscape around train tracks.
- “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” opens the album and announces that this won’t be an album filled with jangling guitars. It’s about falling asleep while reading and it signals the bands mysterious direction on Fables.
- The wonderful song “Kohoutek” (which is a comet), but the song is really about (and trust me it gets dangerous trying to interpret R.E.M.) lost friendship.
Pearl Jam – Vitalogy
This 1994 album (and the third) for Pearl Jam was a departure from its Seattle roots rock anthem sound that drove its first two efforts. Vitalogy is more experimental and can feel a bit adrift for fans that were used to the first albums. But Vitalogy shows the band maturing and taking chances – as well as experimenting with different sounds. While it was a critical and commercial success – Vitalogy isn’t often held up as one of the band’s best – but it is. Take these gems for example:
- “Corduroy” is a strange little number that starts with a cool guitar riff and then just builds. It’s a huge concert favorite and despite never being released as a single reached 13 on the Billboard charts.
- “Not for You” is one of our favorite Pearl Jam songs. It’s just got riff – and is very, very cool.
- “Better Man” is a song lead singer Eddie Vedder wrote in high school. It’s a straight on rock ballad about abusive relationships – done right.
Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food
Could there be a worse name for an album in existence? Perhaps, the poor name is responsible for why this album doesn’t get much attention from critics and fans – other than the fabulous cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.” But despite the lack of commercial success for More Songs, it perfectly captures the eclectic nature of Talking Heads – a mix of reggae, pop, country, and punk rock. Highlights include:
- “Warning Signs” is a bouncy number that hard not to enjoy. It’s infused with that edgy Talking Heads energy.
- “Found a Job” is a cynical little jab at corporate workers and makes you want to dance like a robot.
- Call us crazy, but “Take Me to the River” is one of the best cover songs of all time.
Led Zeppelin – In Through the Out Door
In 1979, Led Zeppelin released its last studio album before the death of drummer John Bonham. In Through the Out Door was disliked by both Bonham
and guitarist Jimmy Page, who thought the album was weak. It also received mixed reviews from critics (although the fans ate it up). It’s generally considered the forgotten album by the band. But that’s a mistake. In Through the Out Door, quite frankly, rocks. It’s a tighter package than the band’s earlier blues infused tunes. Highlights include:
- The seminal rocker “In the Evening” which begins with an eerie, creepy introduction that was going to be used for a film called “Lucifer Rising.”
- “All of My Love” is a song written by lead singer Robert Plant about the death of his 5-year-old son. One of the only Zeppelin songs that Page wasn’t involved in writing.
- “Fool in the Rain” is the last song by the band to reach the pop charts. It has a soulful, playful sound.
The Doors – Soft Parade
Generally considered the worst studio album by the Doors, Soft Parade actually is very good. The band experimented with added strings to its music with mixed results, but there are several songs on the album that stand out among the best the band ever recorded. Some of the best material on Soft Parade is:
- “Touch Me” is a rollicking good pop song that has become one of the band’s most popular hits.
- “Wild Child” is a hard hitting rock number with a heavy bass line and some fine organ work.
- “Shaman’s Blues” is one of the forgotten Doors’ anthems, but it holds up quite well.
Aerosmith – Draw the Line
Draw the Line was a commercial success in 1977, but hasn’t lived up beyond the 1970s and even the band has been critical of the LP. It was recorded in an abandoned convent in New York – and the band was heavily into
drugs during most the sessions. Yet there’s a raw tension going through Draw the Line that’s difficult to ignore – and it features some of the band’s better songs. Highlights include:
- “Draw the Line” is an explosive guitar rocker that features driving guitars and some vocal free play by lead singer Steve Tyler. Lots of great screaming.
- Long and mournful “Kings and Queens” is an underrated gem by the band.
- The jamming “Milk Cow Blues” which the band rolled out for an unplugged performance on MTV. Awesome harmonica.
The Cure – Pornography
When Pornography was released in 1982, it shocked critics and was generally polarizing for fans. To say Pornography is dark isn’t giving credit to darkness. Yet it was th
is album where the band really found its sound for the foot gazing anthems that made it famous in the 1980s. Highlight (or low lights) include:
- “The Hanging Garden” features lyrics about waiting for animals to die. It’s brilliant stuff.
- The very depressing “Pornography” opens with a police siren and somebody definitely cried during the making of this song.
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- “The Hanging Garden” is a Cure staple (also known as “A Single”) and it rocks in a depressing kind of way.
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Labels: Aerosmith, Doors, Led Zeppelin, Music, Music Review, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Rock, Talking Heads, The Cure, U2