After reading Paul Trynka’s Iggy: Open Up and Bleed, I was struck by his observation that Pop’s first solo album The Idiot is more respected than loved. I thought about the statement for a bit, concluding The Idiot is a far more interesting album if you look at its influence as a pre-cursor to the new-wave movement. You can hear the ghost of The Idiot in much of Joy Division’s work (indeed Ian Curtis had the album in his record player when he hanged himself.) Just as The Stooges’ stripped down had paved the wave for punk years earlier, it’s only natural that their lead singer would create a work that would signify the death of punk, just as it was starting.
But I don’t really listen to The Idiot very much – I tend to listen to Lust For Life or any of the Stooges albums. But this got me thinking: what other albums do I respect, but don’t love?
Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changing
Obviously, this is an important record. It’s Dylan at the height of his protest-era. The title track is among his best, and will always be immortalized as an anthem for “the people” frustrated at the government. The Times They Are A-Changing works extremely well as a protest album, but that is also it’s major flaw. For me, Dylan’s albums have always been varied but The Times They Are A-Changing is a little too one dimensional in its attack on the establishment. It almost seems like a slight step backward after the masterpiece of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan which found Dylan humorous, angry, and sad.
The Clash – Sandinista!
It’s easy to make a snide comment about the album triple album monster that is Sandinista! I once commented it was ironic that for a band that bitched about prog-rock, they made one of the most pretentious albums of all time. I don’t entirely take back that statement, but I’ve grown to appreciate Sandinista! more in recent years. This is the sound of a band taking on every single genre of music (with mostly mixed results.) There a few gems – “Charlie Don’t Surf”, “Somebody Got Murdered”, and “The Call-Up”. But what other band besides The Clash would dare put out a 36 track album and weave their royalty fee so it would be priced at lower rate?
M.I.A. – Kala
I actually bought this album before “Paper Planes” blew up all over the charts due to the glowing reviews it got. I listened to it a few times and forgot about it. It’s an interesting album – full of samples from The Clash (“Paper Planes”) and the Pixies (“20 Dollar”) and setting third world music to a hip-hop beat. Perhaps Kala will be seen as a water-mark for music in a few years. For now my consensus is that it sounds awesome when you’re listening to it, but except for “Paper Planes” I couldn’t tell you how any of the songs go.
Beck – Odelay
One of the defining albums of the 90s for sure, but I’m not sure it’s aged well. Its reliance sound relies on a collage of sounds, it seems stuck in the late 90’s. Like Kala it sounds awesome, but too often I find Beck is so full of ideas that he incorporates as much as he can into one song – “Hotwax” and “Where It’s At” for instance. And “Where It’s At” mock-rap just sounds embarrassing 14 years later. A great product of its time, but ultimately not timeless.
The White Stripes – Elephant
This album used to be on the “love” list actually. “Seven Nation Army” remains of the best guitar-heavy singles of all time. It also was inventive – the guitar sounded like a bass, and its hook wasn’t a vocal melody but rather a hypnotic guitar line. If I complained Odelay was too scatter-shot, Elephant sounds too focused even while the songs rock. Jack White wanted to achieve his own place in rock history with Elephant by making a modern days blues record. But with the exception of “Seven Nation Army”, he failed to add bring anything new to the table.
What albums do you respect, but don’t love?