An album per year, part 3


1988: Galaxie 500 — Today

The Pixies’ Surfer Rosa was a seminal debut album of 1988, but I give the nod to their fellow Boston band Galaxie 500, who also debuted that year. On one hand, the Pixies heavily influenced grunge with their loud-quiet-loud dynamics, but on the other, Galaxie 500 basically invented slowcore, so it’s a push there. But while the Pixies did better work on their followup, Doolittle, Galaxie 500’s sound arrived fully formed on their first album. On “I’ve Been Tired” (which is actually from the earlier Come on Pilgrim but is included with the rest of that EP on the CD version of Surfer Rosa), Black Francis sang about wanting to be a singer like Lou Reed; on “Tugboat”, Dean Wareham sang about wanting to be a tugboat captain like Reed’s Velvet Underground bandmate, Sterling Morrison, who skippered a tug in Houston in the ’80s. (Velvet Underground vocalist/model Nico has had a few songs written about her, though I don’t believe any are about wanting to fall off a bicycle, sustain a cerebral hemorrage, and die, as she did. And no one appears to have written a song about wanting to work as a Wal-Mart greeter, as drummer Moe Tucker was reduced to doing in the ’80s.) And lastly, Black Francis and Joey Santiago went to (and later wrote a song about) the University of Massachusetts, but the members of Galaxie 500 went to Harvard. I’m not being snobby; it’s just that it allows for the neat historical footnote that the drum kit heard on many of Galaxie 500’s early recordings was borrowed from Damon Krukowski’s college roommate, future talk-show host Conan O’Brien. So Galaxie 500 wins on points.

1989: The Stone Roses — The Stone Roses

I’m deeply indebted to Jon, a fellow writer at my campus paper and co-worker at a summer job, for opening up my ears. He’s the one who first mentioned a band called Big Star to me, for example. He also lent me a copy of the first Stone Roses album. My feedback was that the music was pretty good, but Ian Brown couldn’t really sing. True, Jon agreed, but that wasn’t really the point. Of course it wasn’t. The point was that The Stone Roses is one of the greatest debut albums ever. Besides, Brown’s singing may sound lackadaisical, but he was once convicted of an air rage incident in which he threatened to cut off a flight attendant’s hands with plastic cutlery, so you can’t say he’s not willing to put in some effort. You know what would be cool? If he and R.E.M. guitarist (and fellow bane of British Airways) Peter Buck recorded a really heavy, aggressive cover of the Replacements’ “Waitress in the Sky”.

1990: Jane’s Addiction — Ritual de lo Habitual

Ritual de lo Habitual wins even without “Stop!” and “Been Caught Stealing”, as it boasts the greatest side two of an album since The Beach Boys Today!, an epic opium den of an orgy from “Three Days” onward. I have fond memories of introducing the band via this album to an artist girlfriend in university. She promptly fell in love with them, and Perry Farrell would have loved her right back. She was just his kind of girl — beautiful, artistic, and constantly stoned. When it ended, I made her return my copy, only to find it had been scratched. So I made her give me the new copy she’d gotten for herself, which took nerve on my part, since I was completely the shitheel at fault for the breakup. I’m sorry, Katie. If it had been a lesser album, I’d have let it go. But this was Ritual de lo Habitual.

1991: U2 — Achtung Baby

Nirvana’s Nevermind tops most critics’ lists for 1991, except for Spin who infamously anointed Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque its record of the year before apologetically retracting the honour. That seems unfair. It may not have sparked any revolutions, but Bandwagonesque is a fine little power-pop album, albeit one with awful cover art that’s made all the more regrettable because money-grubbing toad Gene Simmons was somehow able to get paid off for it, having previously trademarked a similar image. (Although, this still isn’t quite as bad as former Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein suing the Verve to snatch up 100 percent of the rights to “Bitter Sweet Symphony”, which causes one to hope that the rights to “Bitter Sweet Symphony” somehow cause bowel cancer.) Since this is a list of favorite albums, not best ones, I’m actually tempted to pick David Lee Roth’s A Little Ain’t Enough for this year. Its unfortunate timing got it critically drubbed, but as an album, it’s better than either of the ones Roth cut with Steve Vai, and so is the DLR Band album. But when it comes down to it, I’ve never claimed Bandwagonesque or A Little Ain’t Enough was my favorite album ever, which I’ve repeatedly done with Achtung Baby. As with other U2 albums, though, I’m compelled to tinker with it, usually working B-sides such as “Salomé” and “Lady with the Spinning Head” into the running order.

1992: Screaming Trees — Sweet Oblivion

Screaming Trees are sort of the forgotten fifth pillar of grunge. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains all got plenty of attention, but because of poor timing and infighting, Screaming Trees never really capitalized on the huge exposure they got from the appearance of “Nearly Lost You” on the Singles soundtrack. It’s a pity, because Sweet Oblivion is one of the best grunge albums. I’d go so far as to argue it’s the best. It’s more consistent than Nevermind, which drops off considerably in its second half. It’s the only grunge album I still have in heavy rotation, anyway. (Speaking of heavy, I recently proposed that behemoth brothers Gary Lee and Van Connor of Screaming Trees ought to link up with Tad Doyle and the biggest drummer they can find, and form the fattest possible grunge supergroup.)

1993: Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

I hate liking Billy Corgan. He’s whiny and pretentious, but he does have a way with a tune. I actually listen to more of the Adore and Machina-era material these days and find it quite underrated. But Siamese Dream contains such an embarrassment of riches that it’s a wonder a modern-rock radio staple like “Frail and Bedazzled” was left over until the Pisces Iscariot compilation. It’s definitely the band’s finest hour. With Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, I always end up playing the Use Your Illusion game of trying to distill a bloated double album down into one all-killer-no-filler disc running about an hour at most. (It’s even harder with Mellon Collie, considering the two bonus songs on the vinyl release and the B-sides collected in The Aeroplane Flies High box set. But I might go with something like this: “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” / “Tonight, Tonight” / “Jellybelly” / “Zero” / “God” / “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” / “Cupid de Locke” / Galapogos” / “Muzzle” / “Thirty-Three” / “1979” / “The Boy” / “Rotten Apples” / “Beautiful” / “By Starlight” / “Farewell and Goodnight” / “The Last Song”)

1994: Morrissey — Vauxhall and I

When I showed her the cover to this album recently, my girlfriend was surprised to find that Morrissey is quite a striking man. If I may say so without compromising my heterosexuality (but then, compromising one’s heterosexuality is what being a Morrissey fan is all about), his looks peaked around this time. Supposedly, he was actually a surprisingly good athlete in his youth, being a particularly good runner (less surprising — one imagines young Morrissey running away from bullies a lot), but he was kind of fey and skinny as a Smith. By 1994, he’d beefed up, having taken an interest in boxing, or rather, boxers. Now, he’s a little burly and round-faced, but then, he’s nearly 50. Anyway, re-establishing my heterosexuality, around the time of its release, I was mad about a girl who owned a copy of Vauxhall and I. She was in a long-distance relationship, so she was heavily conflicted about the whole affair. (This is the only girl who ever got drunk and woke up in the morning on her living room floor surrounded by empty bottles because of me, so far as I know.) During this fling, I learned that there are Morrissey songs you can and cannot fool around to. For instance, “Jack the Ripper” is, despite the ominous title, a pretty sexy song. “Such a Little Thing Makes Such a Big Difference”, however, is a mood-killer. When Moz sings, rather pointedly, “Most people keep their brains between their legs”, and you’re with someone who’s not entirely sure she should be there, there’s bound to be a pause and a nervous snicker.

8 Responses to “An album per year, part 3”

  1. 1 jtl

    1988, Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation. ‘Nuff said.

    1991, My Bloody Valentine – Loveless. Doesn’t even get an honourable mention? It was a watershed year for music to be sure, and this album has to merit some consideration.

    This is two posts off, but if you’re into mid-’70s power-pop (as I am these days) you should look into Badfinger’s 1974-recorded, 2000-released album, Head First. It’s crammed full of gems, even though it doesn’t feature original guitarist Joey Molland; it was their last album with the brilliant Pete Ham before he offed himself (which was a couple albums before Tom Evans, in turn, offed himself).

  2. 2 Peter Lynn

    You’re listening to the stuff I respect the hell out of, but can’t bring myself to love. I pulled out Daydream Nation a couple of months ago, but found it a little long and tiring. I fare better with Loveless, but it’s a little samey and doesn’t quite grab me. It’s probably more that these are relatively difficult albums and I just haven’t put in the time needed to let them grow on me, the way I’ve done with other stuff I came to like, such as the Pixies.

    For whatever reason, I’ve never put in much time with Badfinger either, though I should correct that. It’s exciting to have an lost album suddenly come available, though, the way the proto-Big Star album Rock City did a couple of years back. Also, while it’s a shame that Tom Evans offed himself, it does give me a bassist for my fantasy dead power-pop band, which goes John Lennon / Chris Bell / Gene Clark / Tom Evans / Dennis Wilson. Some terrific songwriting there — there’d have been some great songs. I might even throw Bobby Fuller in there to give them a legitimate lead guitarist; he was basically doing power pop before it had a name, but brings a little rockabilly into the mix too. Note that all are members of bands with names starting with B; they could be called the Killer Bs, or Killed Bs, or something.

  3. 3 hilly

    BAH! JTL is right on both counts. But this is YOUR list, so it’s very forgivable. We see eye-to-eye on a number of years, especially 1989. It’s always nice to recall that I finally slipped free of high school’s clutches to the strains of a fantastic album.

  4. 4 Peter Lynn

    This is a good time to mention Jay’s original idea for the list, which was to pick your favorite album for each year at the time, which is a more difficult, honest, and embarrassing enterprise. So while he’d like to pick something that’s still awesome like Appetite for Destruction for 1987, he’d have to go with Kick. And I’d have gone with Hysteria.

    This reminds me of this time when I was about 13 and I was watching the video for “Pour Some Sugar on Me” when my dad walked through the living room and said, in a completely neutral way, “Oh. So this is the kind of music you like now.” I actually got kind of apologetic. I thought he’d be all pissed off that I was, you know, all metal now.

  5. 5 hilly

    I don’t think I would be much better. And I might still go with “Hysteria.”

    I also like the fact that, as read right now, the italics in your comment seem to imply that, to your horror, Jay WOULD HAVE PICKED “KICK.” “KICK”, PEOPLE!

  6. 6 Peter Lynn

    Ha. I forgot to close that first italics tag, but it’s too funny to change. Kick isn’t that bad, actually. Kick isn’t that bad!

  7. 7 hilly


  8. 8 jtl

    Hysteria has really, really stood up well over the years. I remember my buddy in Grade 7 making me a copy of it, and having it being my first real rock album (unless you count Make It Big by Wham!, but I wouldn’t).

    True, Daydream Nation is long, but that’s the whole point: it doesn’t work if you hack the songs down to 3 minutes each. “Teen Age Riot” needs all seven minutes to stretch out and become itself, or else it just wouldn’t be the same. I don’t think I could ever get sick of listening to this album, ever.

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