Friday, September 28, 2012

Certain Songs Part VII: Most Anything That You Want

The story so far:

Part I (150–152) here.
Part II (147–149) here.
Part III (144–146) here.
Part IV (141–143) here.
Part V (138–140) here.
Part VI (135–137) here.

Bob Mould

I wasn’t very familiar with Hüsker Dü when singer/guitarist Bob Mould’s debut solo album came out in 1989. Driven by two alternative radio favorites, “See a Little Light” and “Wishing Well,” I was motivated to pick up Workbook after having taped it (yes, taped it...this was a long time ago) from Steven H. Stylistically, it’s all over the map, and while usually that’s a bad thing, it kind of works in this context.

“Sunspots” is a mellow instrumental, opening, kicking into the vaguely Hüsker-ish “Wishing Well,” although the acoustic rhythm guitar is decidedly un-Hüskery. “Poison Years” is a not-too-fond recollection of those old times, but is general enough that it can easily be associated with the listener’s own “poison years.” “Heartbreak a Stranger” is just beautiful, “See a Little Light” survives its use in advertisements (“As the years go by they take their toll on you”), while “Sinners and Their Repentances” brings in strings—heresy for Hüsker Dü, but it works beautifully here. The sprawling—and a bit abstruse—“Brasilia Crossed with Trenton” may be the centerpiece, being the most unadorned song here. The closer, “Whichever Way the Wind Blows,” which is almost bluesy, and points to Mould’s future direction—he was rarely as mellow and acoustic as he was on this album. I have to confess, Mould never topped this record, at least under his own name (look for a Sugar record later in this list). Last Dog and Pony Show (1998) comes close...but then he got into techno and bought a Vocoder.

Viva Hate

I came to The Smiths in 1987 just as they had broken up (Steven H. taped Meat Is Murder for me—see much later in this list), and I was obliged to pick up Morrissey’s debut solo album upon its release. Arguably, he’s done better albums (Your Arsenal, Vauxhall and I, even his three “comeback” albums in the 2000s) but—as I have said earlier—context matters, and Viva Hate made a strong impression on me way back when, and is still the Morrissey record I put on when in such a mood (which I admit is not especially often). (Okay, I do often skip through “Late Night, Maudlin Street.”) “Alsatian Cousin” is a powerful opener, while “Little Man, What Now?” suffers from an annoying drum track. Still, the album has classics like “Suedehead,” “Everyday is Like Sunday,” and “I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me.” I still recall the video for “Suedehead” (which was James Dean-oriented) in heavy rotation on MTV’s 120 Minutes (a Sunday night alternative video show which I watched often up until 1992 or so; Steven H. used to tape them which let me get caught up; we didn’t have cable in college). “Bengali in Platforms” was accused of racism, but “Life is hard enough when you belong here” seems like sage advice. But, yeah, “Late Night, Maudlin Street” drags things to a screeching halt. Again, Morrissey did better records, but Viva Hate occupies an important place in his discography.

Iron Butterfly

And now for something completely different. Okay, tripping back 20 years, this is a hippie classic, as well as a progressive and heavy metal watershed album. The 17+-minute title track gets all the attention, but side one is in many ways better. It owes no small debt to The Doors (or maybe The Doors owe no small debt to them...whatever), with the organ/guitar interplay. In fact, you’d be forgiven thinking, upon hearing the opening track “Most Anything That You Want,” that it was in fact The Doors, albeit without the overwrought lyrics, Jim Morrison’s “it’s-your-dad-singing-in-the-shower” vocals, and a bit heavier. (Oh, but I kid The Doors. See later in this list.) “Flowers and Beads” sums up the fashion aesthetic “Flowers and beads are one thing/But having you, girl, that’s something.” Actually, flowers and beads would be at least two things, but I get the point. Three guesses what “My Mirage” is about: “In my mind I see a mirage on the wall/But unfortunately it’s not there at all/So I guess I’ll draw my mirage on the wall/Then it can be here to see and enjoyed by all.”

Side one is some pretty decent heavy psychedelia that holds up as well as just about anything else from that era does. I gave this one an awful lot of play circa 1981; it was on the same tape as The Kinks’ Give the People What They Want, for reasons passing understanding. Whatever, it made an early impression on me—even if the title track goes on way too long. The story goes that the title is the result of a very drunk or stoned (take your pick) singer Doug Ingle attempting to say “In the garden of Eden.” The track marks the first recorded drum solo. So blame them.

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