The bands/artists I spent the most time listening to during 2018 were: David Bowie (1969-1983), Eagles (1972-1979), Neil Young (1969-1970, 1975, 1979, 2005), Jethro Tull (1969-1972) Rush (1976-1978), Kraftwerk (1974-1978, 2003) Beck (1999-2002, 2006), Nine Inch Nails (1989-1994), Bob Dylan (1967, 1975) Emmylou Harris (both 1975 albums), Massive Attack (1991-1998), Enya (1988-1991), Fiona Apple (1996-1999), C.V. Jørgensen (1977-1980), and Tommy Seebach (1975-1986)
Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan (1975)
Recorded in the midst of marital discord, has been categorized as “a comeback” and “the definite breakup album”. I love the first half. His 1975 LP contains some of Dylan’s best known songs: Tangled Up in Blue, Simple Twist of Fate, and Shelter From the Storm.
Asked about the music, Bob Dylan remarked: “I wanted to defy time, so that the story took place in the present and past at the same time”
What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye (1971)
Breaking the mould of the traditional Motown sound, and told from the point of view of a returning Vietnam soldier. What’s Going On is arguably one of the best protest albums of all-time, about world conditions, drug abuse, poverty, the ecological disaster, the next generation, war, and other aspects. There’s an earnestness in Marvin Gaye’s vocal so you believe what he sings. The artwork reflects his project of looking outside of himself, with the iconic cover image presenting him in a rain coat looking towards the horizon.
Yet remarkably you can also just take the album for its relaxing mood and catchy songs that have become classics; What’s Going On, Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
Sea Change by Beck (2002)
With a deliberately quieter sound featuring orchestral flourishes, a big departure from the funkiness of 1999’s Midnite Vultures. Going for an introspective, serious approach, I’ve heard Sea Change described as the definitive break-up album (and in a far more direct, matter-of-fact way than the ambiguous Blood on the Tracks mentioned above).
Certainly melancholy with lyrics such as “And the sun don’t shine, even when its day”. Beck is at his most vulnerable, using the songs as self-therapy, telling the listener about his loneliness and failed relationship, and in turn we can empathize and maybe relate. Lost Cause and Guess I’m Doing Fine are Beck classics. I’ve only listened to a third of his discography (as of March 2018) but this feels like Beck’s masterpiece. Whether you can handle the sadness is subjective. You need to be in the right mood and I’d only listen to it sparingly.
Year of the Cat by Al Stewart (1975)
Wonderfully produced, Al Stewart’s vocal reminds me of John Lennon. Someone compared the album to Kaputt by Destroyer, and you can certainly hear echoes of Dan Bejar in the song Midas Shadow.
Year of the Cat is a strong single, the lyrics combine Vietnamese astrology and the film Casablanca. Yet there are so many other quality songs here such as Lord Grenville or On the Border. The album has plenty of replay value due to its instrumental variation.
Low by David Bowie (1977)
An experimental, atmospheric album with the b-side including instrumentals, and several of the A-sides very cinematic. The writing is quite sparse and open to interpretation. Musician Brian Eno was moving towards his ambient phase at this point in the mid 70s, he was a collaborator on various tracks. The photographic image, under the album’s title, formed a deliberate pun on the phrase “low profile”. Low has also been regarded by music analysts as being a crucial influence on the post-rock and britpop genres (the track Be My Wife), which would come to prominence among underground musicians many years after the album’s release.
Bowie’s (never completed) work on The Man Who Fell to Earth soundtrack became the inspiration behind his experiments on Low and “Heroes”.
Station to Station by David Bowie (1976)
Blending funk, krautrock, balladry. A transitional album, developing the funk and soul music of Young Americans, while presenting a new direction towards synthesizers and influenced by German electronic bands such as Neu! and Kraftwerk.
The consensus seems to be that the album is experimental, technically brilliant and enigmatic.
A showcase for his new alterego The Thin White Duke, an impeccably dressed hollow man who sang songs of romance with an agonised intensity, yet felt nothing.
The title track Station to Station starts with the rhyme of a train and could be about the tension between the desire to experience deep feelings while also wanting to protect yourself and attain an aloofness.
Golden Years was originally written with Elvis in mind and has been described as carrying with it “an air of regret for missed opportunities and past pleasures”.
Word on a Wing, suggests a connection to God, and a blurring of reality and “grand delusion”.
Hotel California by Eagles (1976)
Sometimes labelled Pop Rock, Country Rock or Soft Rock. To me, it’s closer to the rock opera sound of The Who’s 1973 album Quadrophenia. The bigger production I think suits the Eagles. Considered one of the best-selling and most divisive albums in rock history. Critics accused them of being too polished.Some interpret the record as a statement about the times, the spirit of peace and love was turning into cynical hedonism, a decline into materialism and decadence, about a “loss of innocence”.
Songs like Hotel California and the uptempo Life in the Fast Lane are ideal for car journeys, as is the whole album. The title track arguably is the Eagles signature song with its unforgettable chorus and guitar duel between Don Felder and Joe Walsh. Another Eagles classic is New Kid in Town, describing someone new in town, or could be lyrics about being replaced in the music industry. The lyrics to Wasted Time and Try and Love Again have a relatableness and timelessness. The closer The Last Resort is about mankind destroying every place he/she finds beautiful.
After the Gold Rush by Neil Young (1970)
Southern Man is a classic and Tell Me Why, After the Gold Rush, Only Love Can Break Your Heart are great too. On the track Oh, Lonesome Me he makes the listener contemplate going to a party or staying home. There’s an earnestness in his vocal. The last four tracks are weaker.
Stand Up by Jethro Tull (1969)
A critic remarked Stand Up was released pre-prog but post-British blues and psychedelic rock. Lots of distinctive moments, a consistently strong album from start to finish, and a new direction for their sound that incorporated many elements from progressive rock, folk, classical and blues. My two favorites are tracks 8 We Used to Know for its relatable lyrics and tracks 9 Reasons for Waiting which is the most beautiful and romantic song on the album. Other highlights include the instrumental Bourée which has an intricate flute melody, an adaptation of a piece by Bach, while A New Day Yesterday is more commercial and goes for a big, repetitive rock riff. Disc 1 of the 2010 reissue features the excellent singles Living in the Past and Sweet Dream as bonus tracks, as well as the B-side Driving Song.
Die Mensch-Maschine by Kraftwerk (1978)
An original, otherworldly, well-crafted concept album. The vocals veer towards robotic (ala Daft Punk), the listener can imagine Kraftwerk as cyborgs playing music in the future. Side A is at times a bit cold and I find The Robot single too repetitive.
Side B I prefer. Tongue-in-cheek The Model sees the group looking inward, about models, fame and appearance. The 9 min Neon Lights has a dream-like quality which is hard to resist, according to a critic celebrating “the glamour of urbanization”. The closer is quite hypnotic, returning to the theme of The Robot, exploring “the science fiction-esque links between humans and technology”. Rolling Stone magazine argued “the band might actually be committed humanists, documenting how emotionless the future will be” (…) and the album “parodies us dumb mortals”. Open to multiple interpretations. Celebrating the dream of technological advances but also a warning about a dystopian future.
Hemispheres by Rush (1978)
There’s less filler than previous Rush albums. Despite its Greek mythology, Cygnus X-1 Book II – Hemispheres is a relatable song about the logic of the brain and emotion of the heart, on first listen the words outshine the music. Circumstances is another identifiable moment, depicting Neil Peart’s struggle to make it as a drummer. The Trees details oppression and democracy, and could be interpreted as an allegory on racism or class difference. The 9 min closer La Villa Strangiato (An Exercise in Self-Indulgence) is a complex instrumental which the band allegedly attempted to record in one take around 40 times. According to Lifeson, it’s based on the various nightmares he would have. While technically impressive, LVS lacks the emotive qualities of the other tracks.
Is Hemispheres as memorable as the Rush albums it’s sandwiched between? Probably not, but a step up in terms of lyrics and consisting of intricate arrangements that don’t reveal themselves immediately. The difficulty that was associated with the album’s production led Rush to create much less strenuous music in the 1980s.
Other new-to-me older albums I enjoyed this year. In no particular order:
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere by Neil Young with Crazy Horse (1969)
Tonight’s the Night by Neil Young (1975)
Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young & Crazy Horse (1979)
Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails (1989)
The Man Who Sold the World by David Bowie (1970)
Hunky Dory by David Bowie (1971)
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars by David Bowie (1972)
Young Americans by David Bowie (1975)
“Heroes” by David Bowie (1977)
Let’s Dance by David Bowie (1983)
Benefit by Jethro Tull (1970)
Aqualung by Jethro Tull (1971)
Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull (1972)
Pieces of the Sky by Emmylou Harris (1975)
Autobahn by Kraftwerk (1974)
Pain in My Heart by Otis Redding (1964)
Desperado by Eagles (1973)
Protection by Massive Attack (1994)
Midnite Vultures by Beck (1999)
Dare by The Human League (1981)
Storbyens små oaser by C.V. Jørgensen (1977)
Vild i varmen by C.V. Jørgensen (1978)
Tidens Tern by C.V. Jørgensen (1980)
Den Med Gyngen by Tommy Seebach (1983)
What do you think ? As always, comments are welcome