Thursday, February 12, 2009

What Are You Listening To Lately (Part 11)?

Sly & the Family Stone - Stand!
If it were not for the just-OK "Somebody's Watching You" and the slight excess of "Sex Machine," this album would be perfect - the absolute inverse in its brightness, drive, and optimism of There's a Riot Goin' On's murk, languor, and pessimism. There's nary a hint of the darkness that would consume Sly a year or so after the making of this album - it's all hope and optimism and direct confrontation of problems, none of the resigned negativity he'd essay on the next record. And it's beautiful for most of its length, with "Everyday People" standing as not just one of Sly's best songs, but one of the best pop songs of all time. A true, indelible, A+ moment. But it's only one standout of Sly's grand statement of purpose - or at least of the purpose he espoused in 1969. On nearly any other record, "Everyday People" would be a career-topper the artist would try forever to recapture. On Stand! the song, brilliant as it is, finds at least three others on par with it - the bruising funk of "Sing A Simple Song," the tense equality plea of "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" and the nearly-surpassing-it masterpiece of "I Want to Take You Higher." It's a landmark album, kept half a star short for me only by some minor flaws which in truth never cross my mind while it's playing, only in reflection afterwards.

Meat Puppets - II
In a way, their best because it's got the most breadth but it's also a little on the side of wild youth - they got wiser as they continued, and I for one appreciate that. But even so, they're pretty damn smart even this early on in their career and I don't think they were ever more fun, singing however they feel it without worrying about, y'know, pitch and stuff and playing their wacked out guitar/bass/drums the same way. Which just means that Kurt & co. cleaned them up a bit for their respectable stab at the MTV crowd, not that Nirvana improved on the melodies or the words. Cobain was right to pick three songs from this album for their big acoustic special because it's the Puppets' catchiest, their easiest to absorb (especially in the cleaner Nirvana versions) and he knew as well as anyone that "grunge" fans fans not acclimated to the underground that spawned Nirvana would be able to glom on to these shoulda-been hits more readily then the thrash of the first record or the wide-eyed (or should I say wide-pupiled?) psychedelic wonder of some of the later ones. So yeah, I guess it really is their best, a repository of melodies, riffs and memories, even though I find that I don't always go to this for my Puppets fix, which just means there are more great ones lurking out there.

Various Artists - Produced by Trevor Horn
Before I had any idea who Eno was, before I made any connection between Phil Spector and the multitude of hits he produced, I could identify a Trevor Horn production within a few bars. So his 80's material collected here holds a special place for me. He's the magic link between ABC, my heroes in Art of Noise, my favorite Pet Shop Boys song, the wacko "Buffalo Gals," and my otherwise inexplicable attraction to Yes and Godley & Creme. I don't necessarily need his 90's and 00's stuff the way I love his 80's, but neither do I mind hearing how he's developed (though I have yet to develop my own tastes enough to enjoy t.A.T.u for more than 2.5 minutes at a time.). Like the key AoN releases, like "Buffalo Gals," like "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and "Cry," the bulk of the 80's material here takes me to a sentimental place that I enjoy visiting. And if I don't love it all equally, this is a fundamental piece of my musical development. Eno and Spector came later and I can't in truth say that they've meant more to me.

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