8. Drake – Take Care
If you read my review of 808’s & Heartbreaks last week you might guess that I don’t like Take Care as well. Somebody once told me that Drake’s career is a direct consequence of that Kanye West album. That might be an oversimplification, but there is some truth to it, especially as early in Drake’s career as this. The fact of the matter is that indeed, Drake and I are not the most compatible people. His type of R&B is not my thing and as a singer I think he is second rate. On top of that there are the lyrics, which aren’t just unrelatable, which is not a problem per se, but that they have little appeal to me. People like Drake live a lifestyle that I just don’t feel any attraction to and that pairs badly with their reliance on self-aggrandization or self-pity. I just don’t find myself that interested in Drake or what he has to say about himself (and “himself” is pretty much his only subject). Add to all this that I didn’t care about the most acclaimed Drake songs, like Hotline Bling, Work and Hold On, We’re Going Home and I didn’t particularly look forward to hearing all 80+ minutes of Take Care. The best thing is that it isn’t all that bad. Don’t take that as real praise, but I found if I put this on as background music, with no focus on the words, I can listen to this, which can’t even be said of 808’s & Heartbreaks. The music frequently has a mellow vibe that is not remarkable, but pleasant enough. It’s a compliment based on low expectations, but you should always take what you can get.
7. Ja, Panik – Libertatia
A little while ago the song Antananarivo by Ja, Panik appeared in Biggest Fan and I quite liked it then, not in the least because these guys showed me the poetic quality of the name of Madagascar’s capital city. Antananarivo is the final track on Libertatia, so I was looking forward to more, similar indiepop goodness from Germany. Alas, although the songs are all in a similar style, most aren’t as good. I like the opening title track, which comes close, and the ballad Eigentlich wissen es alle is also worthwhile, but otherwise this is rather lightweight indie music, with a rather thin sound. It is appealingly upbeat, even when the lyrics pretend to preach social impact and it goes along nicely, but this is one I won’t remember in years to come, except Antananarivo. Also ACAB is an awful song.
6. Ricky Nelson – Ricky Sings Again
Apparently this is a rockabilly album, but for the most of the time they seem to have forgotten about the rock part. The opener, It’s Late, is the only true rocker here, although the outlaw story of Restless Kid also a nice country-like rhythm. In between these two bookends of the album we have nothing but ballads, all about love in one way or another. Add to that an album cover that highlights Ricky’s clear blue eyes and you might guess that this was made with fawning teenage girls in mind.
If that sounds a little snarky I should add that the album isn’t bad at all. I mean, it’s a little hard to see how a great pioneering rockabilly album like The Dance Album of Carl Perkins is not acclaimed, but this is, yet let’s not hold it against Ricky Sings Again, as it is a very solid effort. It all reminds me most of the more mellow stuff Elvis put out around the time. Nelson certainly doesn’t have Elvis’ great voice, but Elvis’ songs were never as tastefully arranged as these. Just listen to those backing vocals alone, something which sounds tacky to me in a lot of music of the time, but here is done just right. It also helps that Ricky himself never overdoes his lovelorn persona, something which annoyed me two weeks ago with that other teenage rock star of the era, Ritchie Valens. I just wished more of these songs were like Lonesome Town, obviously the best ballad here, with a hollow production that makes the song haunting and vocals that make you feel Nelson has indeed be completely alone for all his 18 years. It’s superb, whereas most of the album is merely good.
5. Yoko Ono – Fly
Yoko Ono, a name I mostly know for her part in John Lennon’s tale, but whose music I never really sampled outside of the collaborations with the ex-Beatle. It was supposed to be weird. That assessment is correct. This is real experimental music. It starts out safe enough, with a relatively straight-forward rocker in Midsummer New York, a song Björk might have considered. After that, the breaks are off. Still, it all remains manageable for a long time. The 16 minute Mindtrain (“dab dab”) is very strange, but oddly catchy and cute. Mrs. Lennon is a ballad that could have been considered by Nico, if she would ever have been married to John Lennon that is. And with Toilet Piece Yoko Ono pays her debts to Duchamp, who was probably a big influence.
So the first dics – so to speak – is all fun and games. Avant-garde that remains relatable for those with an open mind and open ear. The second disc is a lot more extreme. The whole thing starts to depend more and more on squeals, squeak, screams and whatever other shape Yoko decides to pour her voice in. All with a lot of a-tonal music. It all culminates in the 22 minute title track, which is almost nothing else but Yoko vocal effects, with barely any instrument. In fact, I didn’t mind that one too much, but the few songs before, especially Don’t Count the Waves and You, started to grate on me. 90 minutes of this is a lot, after all. Still, there are several tracks here, I enjoy and it is certainly a unique work. Just not one I can commit to for all of its length.
4. Dinosaur Jr. – Farm
In the late zeroes Dinosaur Jr. surprised fans by returning to form with a couple of well-received albums, of which Farm might be called the highlight. Does it indeed hold up to their classic run of the late 80’s and early 90’s? I don’t know. This is one of those places I could say I only have a passing familiarity with Dinosaur Jr., but in this case that means I have heard the song Freak Scene. So I have to rate Farm on its own, without any legacy questions. Going into this with a relatively blank slate I did enjoy it a lot. It feels a bit lost in time: like a sort-of-grunge, sort-of-noise-rock album that would indeed have been a possible hit in the golden years of this band. It would have deserved to be a classic of that era because this is a remarkably consistent record, which can afford to get by on riffs alone, although there is a surprising amount of good melodies here. I think one hour is a little long for this, but that has more to do with me always tiring a bit of noise rock after a while, so that’s personal.
3. Burkhard Dallwitz, featuring Philip Glass – The Truman Show
I had to include Philip Glass in the naming here. It just doesn’t feel right without him. That Glass is sometimes credited as a main artist on this film and sometimes is not already gives you a feel of the strange hybrid nature in which the music of this film came to be. More interestingly, it was all something I never knew, despite The Truman Show being a five star movie for me, that I’ve seen many times. I just never considered the soundtrack on its own, but having done that now has only enriched the film.
Peter Weir, director of The Truman Show had this idea that Christof, the in-film director of The Truman Show, would be on top of the music played in the show and would chose some of his favorite pieces to accompany key moments in Truman’s life. Christof was meant to be the kind of guy who would be very much into dramatic, classical or modern classical music and the idea came to be that he is a fan of Philip Glass. That was why several Glass pieces were added to the soundtrack, during very specific highlights. I always loved the music that played when Truman finds out that he can control traffic at will, but I never knew that piece came from the movie Powaqqatsi (I repented by watching that film yesterday).
Still, it wouldn’t quite work to fill the whole movie with just Glass music, so Burkhard Dallwitz was asked to “fill in the gasps” so to speak. Now I tend to know my film composers, but Dallwitz is not a familiar name to me. He has now composed over 50 soundtracks, but only for obscure movies and series. How he came to be attached to this project I don’t know and neither do I get why despite the acclaim for this work he dropped off to b-movies pretty much immediately (his only other notable film is another one directed by Weir, The Way Back, which isn’t particularly memorable). I’m not sure what they told Dallwitz to do with this film, but the result seems that he has tied the whole thing together, with mostly short pieces that do sound very much like Philip Glass compositions. It’s too bad most of them don’t get developed beyond a minute or so, because they are appealing. To complicate matters, somehow Glass himself got to compose two more pieces specifically for the film, one of which – the very short Truman Sleeps – has become one of his most streamed songs.
So this album becomes something of a hybrid between a compilation (there is also a Chopin and a Kilar classical piece, as well as a T. Rex cover by Big Six, all expertly placed on the album, maintaining a good flow), a patchwork and some true film composing. What is remarkable is that the whole thing manages to stand as a real album, even more so when you think that The Truman Show is essentially a comedy and Philip Glass music isn’t known for its humor. The reason it works is basically an expert job in curating, finding those Glass works that are at once imposing, but also have a little magic in them or else some lightness. It helps that the film itself plays with mood a lot, mixing comedy with faux-sentimentality, surprising earnestness and even some effective existentialism (I once called The Truman Show half-jokingly a better version of The Matrix, a year in advance). It is music that both shapes the film, but is also shaped by it, which is what great soundtrack should do.
Whoever nominated this, thanks for enlightening me some more on this great film. I agree with Mileswide that this is a great left-field choice, as this is not your average soundtrack pick. I didn’t know that this film had a soundtrack that could stand on its own, but it does.
2. Cocteau Twins – Treasure
One of music fandom’s favorite hidden treasures is of course Cocteau Twins and Treasure is the closest they seemed to have ever gotten to mainstream acceptance. What I like about this album is how it manages to be weird and accessible at the same time. They were the pioneers of dream pop and a quality of that genre is usually that the music goes down easy and works soothingly. So it is here, but let us not also forget that most dreams are deeply weird, something missing in much dream pop. There is something other-worldly here that seems to stem from strange, off-kilter musical touches that I find hard to describe. They make me never quite at ease. Of course, the nonsensical lyrics with unusual words help a lot here too. It all makes Treasure not just one of the most influential dream pop albums, not just one of the best, but one that still stands out the most.
1. Kate Bush – The Sensual World
The follow-up to the much acclaimed The Hounds of Love has always stood in that classic’s shadow. It seems to be admired well enough, but not referred to that much. In fact, I ignored it until now and only knew This Woman’s Work. That’s a shame, because this album is really good. Again it is a very dreamy, otherworldly set of art pop, although perhaps a little less quirky than previous albums. That’s a shame, but with so many amazing tunes that isn’t a big problem. Love and Anger is a discovery in particular. Some eighties “world music” production is a little dated, but otherwise this is another beguiling set by Kate Bush.
A simple overview of my votes:
1. Cocteau Twins - Treasure vs. Drake - Take Care
2. Kate Bush - The Sensual World vs. Ricky Nelson - Ricky Sings Again
3. Dinosaur Jr - Farm vs. Ja, Panik - Libertatia
4. Burkhard Dallwitz - The Truman Show vs. Yoko Ono - Fly