the Horn Farm Paste Mob

retro listening #31-40

31. Pixies – Doolittle

That Love & Rockets concert I went to… the Pixies were actually the opening band. And they were *incredible*. This was back when they still played their sets in alphabetical order, but I don’t remember what they played. I just know I loved it. So yeah, the first rock band I ever saw play was the Pixies, and they blew L&R off the stage. I can never mention this without feeling like this one caller to Tom Scharpling’s radio show.

32. The The – Soul Mining

This might be one of my favorite records, but it snuck up on me. I think during the years when I was making top 10 lists, I wasn’t entirely okay with loving one album by an artist and not being attached to the others.

It’s kind of an adult record, isn’t it? “This Is The Day” seems to be about changing *again*– having distance from the past (“you’ve been reading some old letters / you smile to think how much you’ve changed”) but realizing the world is going to shift again. I don’t know, it’s an adult idea for *me* anyhow. It was a long time before I could see a big change in myself without concluding that all those OTHER times I thought I had changed weren’t the real thing.

On the other hand, Matt Johnson made Soul Mining when he was 21, so what do I know.

Another bonus track controversy: I grew up with the version that ends with “Perfect”. Matt Johnson’s preferred running order left out “Perfect”, ending with “Giant”. The extra song does diminish “Giant”‘s impact; that minute-long drum solo works better if what it gives way to is the album’s curtain call. But listening to “Perfect” now, I have a theory about why I prefer having it there– it contains, if I’m not mistaken, the only character seen through anything but introspection on the whole album! Some songs do have a “you” in them, but most of those are second-person protagonists; “Uncertain Smile” has both “I” and “you” but they seem to be the same person.

“Giant”‘s final lyric is “How can anyone know me if I don’t even know myself?” and “Perfect” answers that: maybe if you ever left the freaking house, I mean geez. So in the song, Johnson goes out and sees a society approaching ruin… an old man drinks himself into oblivion, the town turns into a Sartrean hell as more people move in… but he’s happy with himself, stable (feet “firmly screwed to the floor”) and seemingly soothed by the world’s predictable awfulness.

I’m not sure Johnson-the-songwriter means us to identify with Johnson-the-character here, nor that he does himself. But it doesn’t matter; the point is that engagement is *inevitable*, and as someone prone to completely losing myself in fits of navel-gazing, I LIKE the album when it ends with a little sunlight and a vision of people’s flaws as being limiting instead of corrupting.

33. The Mekons – The Mekons Rock’n'Roll

This sounded interesting (from MTV again? must have been) so it went on my Hannukkah list. I was disappointed.

Today, I like the Sally Timms songs okay (don’t remember what I thought before, but they didn’t stand out) and the rest… maybe if I were familiar with the band’s foregoing cultural critique, a rock album about the problems with rock music would make sense. As it is, it seems barely different from lampshading.

“Amnesia”, the one song I liked at all back then, sadly turns out to be a cross between “We Didn’t Start The Fire” and “Purple Toupee” (which are already a little too close for me to be comfortable hating the Billy Joel and liking the TMBG).

34. Colin Newman – A-Z

Wire’s singer (well, one of them), solo just after the band split up. I actually (I’m surprised to find) like some songs better than 154: “& Jury”, “Life On Deck”, “Inventory”. On the other hand, Newman’s experiments with no- or low-lyric songs still sound to me like nothing takes the place of the vocals; they’re just songs with a piece removed. Anyway, interesting intersection of Wire, 4AD’s gloomy sound, and a sort of Johnny Rotten-esque ululation that certainly wasn’t out of place in Newman’s style but was never quite as harsh as here.

35. Devo – Now It Can Be Told (Live 12/9/88)

The first version I heard of “Jocko Homo” was the campy soft-rock version that begins this concert. I never ended up liking the original song much either, but listening to this now, it seems like a supreme shark-jumping moment.

“It takes courage to be a Devo fan these days!” Crowd goes nuts. This is just embarrassing.

Eventually it settles into kind of a friendly groove. Devo on VH1 Storytellers.

Devo are self-deprecating but not modest. Their whole schtick is to act superior for knowing that the things people value are really just monkey poop.

36. Madness – The Rise And Fall

Beatles! The new ingredient on this album is the Beatles!

Exhibit A: “Primrose Hill”, not that most people would probably take much convincing. But at age 13, I didn’t think the Beatles sounded like anything in particular other than “old”, so I would never have caught that.

There’s also a lurch sideways to songs about family + home + England… not as jarring as I found Sgt. Pepper doing likewise, but noticeable.

Most of the song titles on side B are unfamiliar, and in a few cases the music is too. I didn’t spin this much, or maybe just always turned it off before “Our House”, which seems as pointless to me as it always did.

37. Otis Ball – I’m Gonna Love You Til I Don’t

They Might Be Giants had some glancing association with this record, which is why I got it.

I was disappointed by some of these songs back then, but now I find it easy to actually see what’s WRONG with them– mostly the lyrics, though the the music and arrangements are generic too. He’s at his best trying to sound like the Young Fresh Fellows, another artist I’d investigate because of They Might Be Giants, but not for another year or two. And I don’t know, geez, I just tried to really write a song for the first time the other day, and it’s hard to begrudge the guy his filler lines and whatnot.

A few years after this came out, I was at a They Might Be Giants concert with friends and a vaguely familiar-looking dude was at the merch table. “Are you Otis Ball?” Ben Smith asked. “Uh… yeah.” “Love the album!” He did not look any less miserable after this exchange.

And then– oh yeah! The last few songs are uniformly decent. I wonder what happened there.

38. Devo – Total Devo

To my surprise (that live album was so smarmy!) this is strangely on-target. Devo’s nihilism here sounds like the nihilism of Las Vegas, or, maybe more accurately, like the nihilism of The Big City in Blade Runner, A.I., Transmetropolitan, you name it. It sounds gaudy and *exhausted*.

Also, there seems to be a sincere self-help song which conflates the Jungian “shadow” with the radio superhero The Shadow. Instrumentally, this is close to that Information Society album, with big booming drums and… did InSoc have that synth xylophone?

39. Ramones – Brain Drain

I was never a huge Ramones fan (I think I taped this from the neighbor kid in a final burst of trying to be friends before high school took us in totally different directions), so I’m a little surprised at how WEIRD Joey Ramone’s voice is. Really it’s two voices– the deep voice with weirdly clipped vowels (the “Ramones accent”) and the higher-pitched strangly voice. Really unnerving. Also, not such a good album.

40. INXS – Kick

I’m just assuming I heard this at the same time, because it was on the back of that same tape. Unlike the Ramones, it’s not clear to me why INXS never became one of ‘my’ bands. This is pretty good! But maybe Hutchence’s rawwk vocals were enough to put me off.

I remember having the conviction that the last three songs were way worse than “Mystify”, so I usually skipped them. As a result, they’re familiar more from Beck’s re-performing of the album than the INXS versions. I have to say, Beck did a really good job adding weight to the title track. The other two… still not standing out.

The world in which I discovered music is starting to feel very small. Pre-mp3 it was a lot harder to hear new music, and pre-job I could only afford so many bad guesses. But I’m also remembering what it was like to not be as good at knowing whether I like something. I remember the excruciating feeling of not really wanting to listen to an album again but knowing there were some awesome things I’d never appreciate if I didn’t give them patience.

My ears are better now, with years and years of listening. But they’re also just faster, and I think without that, I would have gone nuts.

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