Note to Readers
Just in time for Thanksgiving, I've compiled two lists: Turkeys and Gravy. Turkeys are lousy albums from bands that should know better, and Gravy are terrific albums from otherwise undistinguished bands. I'm starting out small, as I don't want to cover any bands I've reviewed or plan to soon. Of course, these lists are not exhaustive; I'd love to hear your nominations.
Blue Hawaii by Elvis Presley
I know it's the soundtrack to a beach movie, but did he really think his fans wanted to hear "Ku-U-I-Po", "Ito Eats", or "Slicin' Sand"?
VI by Chicago
Between the metric experimentation of V and the jazzy glories of VII, how did they produce this stinker? The ballads are hookless and whiny ("Critic's Choice", "Something in This City Changes People"), the feeble stabs at rocking out flounder in overproduction ("Darlin' Dear", "Feelin' Stronger Every Day') and the horn arrangements are washed out. Only the bridge of "Just You 'n Me" shows any of the strengths of this group.
II by McCartney
When electronica was being heralded as the next big thing back around '97, didn't anyone go back and listen to this record? Irritating bleeps and bloops dominate the arrangements under ridiculously sped-up vocals, and the lyrics sound like something he scribbled on the way down to his home studio. When he turns to conventional instrumentation, he manages to squeeze out one of his most dreary ballads ever ("Waterfalls," which would be nice if the tempo was something other than sedentary) and a couple pointless blues numbers recorded inside an empty bank vault.
I'm Breathless by Madonna
Of course, every great dance-pop vocalist should perform 40's-style novelty tunes. It's the logical career move!
Yellow Submarine by the Beatles
So you plunk down your hard-earned $14.99 and hustle home with your new CD, and what do you get? Two unmemorable novelty tunes (one sung off-key), two formless slabs of psychedelic cacaphony, an entire side of quintessentially soundtracky soundtrack music, and two quality Lennon tunes, one of which you probably already own. "Hey Bulldog" is good, but it's not $15 good.
Talk Show by the Go-Go's
How a band on the verge of breaking up was able to abandon their surf-rock goofiness and produce such a powerful, focused record I don't know. I do know that the band (particularly Gina Schock) sounds immense, the vocals are delivered seriously and the songwriting is top-drawer, full of catchy tunes and thoughtful lyrics.
At Budokan by Cheap Trick
Track for track, not a great record - a bit heavy on the jams and somewhat unfocused in the songwriting (par for the course with this group). But there's something about the atmosphere, with the hysterical fans, the awesome guitar tone, and Bun E. Carlos working overtime with his right foot, that makes this a fantastic experience. "I Want You to Want Me" and "Surrender" is an awesome one-two combination.
Rumours by Fleetwood Mac
Amidst a long string of successful and irrelevant soft-to-medium rock hits stands this monster. The style isn't much different (although in this production the bass has more punch than usual) but the substance is deeper. Lindsey Buckingham's paranoia has focus, Chrstine McVie's ballads carry real emotion (particularly in her vocal delivery) and Stevie Nicks sounds for once as if she's living in the same world as the rest of us. And this record has the finest bass solo ever conceived.
by Led Zeppelin
A band seemingly torn between endless guitar wankery and grating ballads somehow meets in the middle and adds some actual tunefulness. "Stairway to Heaven" is magnificent achievement, worthy of its status as the most-requested song ever, as it incorporates just about every cool idea floating around rock at the time: well-picked acoustic lines, portentous lyrics, jangly 12-string work, keyboard descant lines, even the riff from "All Along the Watchtower", and caps it off with one of Jimmy Page's least irritating solos. The rest of the album is worthy as well. I wish "Black Dog" was a little steadier rhythmically, but you can't deny that riff, and "When the Levee Breaks" is simply awesome in its power. Not a bad moment throughout, except the singing, but you know that coming in.
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