Thursday, January 15, 2009

Under-Appreciated Albums, Part 2: The '80s

I thought the '80s would be full of under-appreciated albums, but after scouring my iPod in search of some, I came up pretty empty. I think the recent wave of '80s tribute bands like Junior Boys and Interpol has kind of paved the way for bands who might have slipped through the cracks to be found by interested and backwards-looking music fans. Like me. Seven years ago, I thought that The Cure was only that band with the ridiculous looking lead singer and that The Jesus and Mary Chain was some sort of ancient bondage relic. Now I realize that both of those bands' '80s output is classic and that Robert Smith still looks ridiculous. I'm not alone. If you look at any best of the '80s list, they're generally full of what I believe they should be full of. But I did find some bits of '80s music that I still feel don't get their due. Because I had trouble finding full under-appreciated albums, I'm going to change the rules for this round and then return to the album-only treatment with the '90s. So, same as before: listen to this shit.

Duran Duran - Rio (1982), Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983)

Duran Duran was my first favorite band. I had all of their records and knew them by heart. I remember watching MTV for hours just hoping to see one of their videos. I even carved "Duran Duran" into our nice, wood dining room table with a steak knife. My parents were not amused. I grew out of them in probably 1986 or so because they were lame or something, I don't remember, but people grow out of things and I grew out of them. About three years ago though, I was going through some boxes at my parents' house and dug out my old records. I found my battered, scratched copy of Rio and brought it back to my apartment. I threw it on and quickly came to a realization: Duran Duran is (still) completely fucking awesome.

Everyone knows and loves "Rio", "Hungry Like the Wolf", "Union of the Snake", etc. But everyone loves them as guilty pleasure hits from the '80s equivalent of a boy band. Duran Duran is not a boy band. First of all, they took their name from the sci-fi cult classic Barbarella. I'm not sure what that means, but it's not something some pussy boy band would do. Also, they wrote and co-produced their own stuff and were one of the first bands to remix their own songs. The only similarities they have with a boy band are that they're good looking and that, during their heyday, they couldn't go outside without being deafened by screaming teenage girls. And, I guess, they wore makeup, but who didn't wear makeup in the '80s? I strongly maintain that if Duran Duran's classic-period career spanned from 2000-2008 instead of 1980-1988, they would be the Strokes (who I also believe are [still] completely fucking awesome) and would be critical darlings.

So, I ask that you listen to Rio and Seven and the Ragged Tiger with fresh ears. Don't listen to them as Duran Duran albums--try to listen to them thinking you've never heard them before. Sure, there are some duds, but pay attention to the great intro to "Rio", the uncharacteristic strangeness of "The Chauffeur", how "The Reflex" is brilliantly constructed with a bunch of sounds that shouldn't work together, and the pop perfection of "New Moon on Monday", one of my favorite songs ever. Then realize that one of the most successful bands of the '80s was also one of the best.

David Bowie - "Modern Love" (1983)

Say what you want about Let's Dance: that it's one of Bowie's bigger missteps, that you took one look at the cover and ran away, that the title track makes you have a seizure, but don't knock "Modern Love." It starts out with a little guitar part, then the drums kick in, then Bowie quietly growls as the piano starts, "I know when to go out / I know when to stay in / Get things done". Then the next four-and-a-half minutes are propelled by that classic drum beat and piano riff with this awesome sense of urgency that Bowie's voice matches. The horns even work to add to the tension and everything comes together at about the 4:15 mark in a great climax before the fade-out. It's one of those songs that, no matter the situation, I'm always glad to hear.

The Smiths - Louder than Bombs (1987)

All right, I'm definitely cheating a bit here because there's no way that anything by The Smiths should ever appear on any list having anything to do with not being appreciated. Especially because they're probably the most loved '80s band whose career began and ended within that decade. But I think Louder Than Bombs gets overlooked a bit because it's a compilation. But, somehow, maybe because it's perfectly sequenced, it's a compilation that also works as an album. I just checked my iTunes and it turns out that this is the Smiths album I listen to the most by far. It's got everything you need: poppy Smiths ("Ask", "Is it Really so Strange", "Panic"), angry Smiths ("William, it Was Really Nothing", "You Just Haven't Earned it Yet, Baby"), weird Smiths ("Golden Lights", "Rubber Ring"), and, of course, depressing-as-hell Smiths ("Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want"). It's far better than any of the Smiths' greatest hits collections that are out there, probably because their greatest hits are greatest when they're heard in the context of a whole album. I think that's why Louder Than Bombs works so well. Because it's a collection of one-off songs, each track doesn't belong to another album first--it belongs to Louder Than Bombs.

Roger Waters featuring some of Pink Floyd – The Final Cut (1982)

I think you either love The Final Cut or hate it. I love it. It gets dismissed as a Roger Waters solo album and, therefore, it must kind of suck. That's half right. It is basically a Waters album, but it doesn't suck. I don't really have more to say about it because I don't think I can influence anyone's opinion who has already heard it. But if you haven't heard it, listen to it. If you hate it, it's only about an hour of your time. If you love it, though, it might become one of your favorites.

--Jim Powers


Brian said...

Louder Than Bombs is amazing--doesn't feel like a compilation at all. Also, I read somewhere that Andre 3000's favorite song is "William, It Was Really Nothing", which, if true, rules.

cooky-monster said...

Ah yes, Duran Duran! Great observation. Seven and the Ragged Tiger was the first album that really turned me on to electronically enhanced music. Our family had all the DD albums on vinyl back then, bc there weren't CDs. The Reflex Remix was genius, but my favorite songs are a toss up between it, New Moon on Monday, and Rio.

Travis said...

I'm glad you brought up "Modern Love", it's completely awesome.

Seizures aside, I don't think "Let's Dance", the song, is really that bad. As Jim notes, one usually equates the song with the hypercolor 80s. However, I saw the offical video a couple of years ago and it made me see the song in a different light. (I think the live video got more airplay back in the day, but I could be wrong).

This video extracts the song from the stereotypical 80s-ness that it is usually ingrained with, and I think reveals it to be more Bowie-like and not just him trying to conform with the 80s pop scene.

Alex said...

Even when I was a huge Pink Floyd fan back in college, I could never bring myself to listen to the Final Cut. I wish I could go back ten years and listen to it, because I bet that person would have given it a more fair shake than this person today. And maybe if I could go back ten years, while listening to the Final Cut, I could kill two birds and also make friends with a completely different set of people and free myself of Valpo. That's a much bigger regret of mine than never having listened to the Final Cut.

Audrey said...

As a kid, I remember watching my older brother carefully taking out Rio out of the paper sleeve and playing on the turntable. The album cover was so distinctive and cool at the time. XTC's Skylarking and Naked Eyes' Burn Bridges are other 80's albums that I loved.

Anonymous said...

I'd add INXS's "Shaboo Shoobah" to this list. Still a great album after all this time!

Anonymous said...

Underrated albums:
Madonna - Madonna (1983)
Runaway Horses - Belinda Carlisle (1989)
Into The Fire - Bryan Adams (1987)

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