Thursday, 15 March 2012

eleven underrated albums...

In no order, here are 11 (10 would be obvious, but equally random) albums worthy of anybody's attention:

1. Trini Lopez - 'The Whole Enchilada (1969)

There are lots of reasons this shouldn't work - most obviously because it is the work of an old fashioned showbiz type entertainer trying to hijack the youthful zeitgeist of what was already a bygone era. But when Mexican-American folky cheesemonger & guitarist Trini Lopez (best known for his 1963 version of the irritating 'If I Had A Hammer') decided to get in with the flower power generation, he teamed up with Monkees producers/writers Boyce & Hart, with excellent - if not commercially successful - results.
The album sees Lopez ably trying his hand at soul, psychedelia, folk and Merseybeat, and if the album isn't free of cheesy moments it's still (like Scooby Doo) a charming and soulful relic of the era when mainstream showbiz tried to catch up with the younger generation.

2. Absentia Lunae - In Vmbrarvm Imperii Gloria (2006)


Black metal that tackles the modern and urban is now almost a sub-genre in itself, but few albums can match the despairing intensity of Italy's Absentia Lunae, and for me this is their greatest work so far. It takes the approach that Mayhem had with the insane Chimera and adds something that was sadly missing from that album; great tunes. The vocals are noteworthy too; few BM vocalists are as varied and expressive as Illdanach is here. A grim masterpiece.
3. De La Soul - Buhloone Mindstate (1993

Although it didn't capture the times in the way that 3 Feet High and Rising did, or (at the time) get the acclaim or sales of its predecessor De La Soul Is Dead, the reputation of Buhloone Mindstate has steadily grown over the years - and for good reason, it's probably the band's most consistent album - no coincidence, as throughout De La Soul declare their determination to stick to their style no matter how unfashionable it becomes.

4. Kiss - Unmasked (1980)

Many people (including Kiss themselves) see Unmasked as a weak, pop album, lacking the fire of 1982's 'heavy' comeback Creatures Of The Night. While it's true that Unmasked is a lightweight album, that only really matters if you see Kiss as a heavy metal band, which they arguably never were. This has some of the bands best pop-rock songs, along with perhaps Gene Simmons' best vocal performance on cheese-rock classic 'Naked City'.

5. Eartha Kitt - Not So Old Fashioned (1970)

In a similar move to Trini Lopez (see above), feline crooner Eartha Kitt tackles more modern material than usual (notably songs by Donovan) on this album. It's not all great, but it's nice to hear Eartha backed by a band rather than an orchestra, and her unique voice gives a spooky quality to 'Wear Your Love Like Heaven', and her version of 'Catch The Wind' is lovely.

6. Black Sabbath - Technical Ecstasy (1976)

It's often said that Ozzy's later albums with Black Sabbath are weak, tired and uninspired, but while (title track apart) I'd say that's true of Never Say Die!, Technical Ecstasy is for me up there with their best, and a possibly even an improvement on its (very good) predecessor, Sabotage. Okay, the songs here are more catchy and 'pop' than early Sabbath, but with tunes like 'Gypsy', Back Street Kids and (best of all) 'You Won't Change Me' (on which Tony Iommi's soloing sounds almost like an evil Brian May), that's no bad thing. Bill Ward's 'It's Alright' adds a touch of variety and manages to do so without lowering the quality.

7. Jay Berliner - Bananas Are Not Created Equal (1973)

Jay Berliner is mainly known as a backing musician who has played guitar with jazz greats like George Benson (as well as backing calypso superstar Harry Belafonte on many of his hits), but in 1973 he released this great instrumental album, which seems to have been influenced by the kind of funk/jazz now associated with 'blaxploitation' movie soundtracks. It's pretty much all good, but opener 'Getting the Message' sets the scene and is as good as anything that follows.

8. The Beach Boys - Wild Honey (1967)

Pet Sounds is considered a masterpiece, follow-up Smiley Smile is famous for not being Smile and Friends is seen as a return to form, but between them came probably my favourite Beach Boys album, Wild Honey. At the time, the group thought it was fatally 'underproduced' but in comparison with the lushness of Pet Sounds and the all-over-the-place-ness of Smiley Smile, the album's minimalist sound (like a rock band rather than an orchestra) is hugely refreshing. But a nice production would be nothing without the songs, and Wild Honey has not only the great title track and hit single 'Darlin'', but also two of the bands nicest but least cloying songs, 'Aren't You Glad' and 'I'd Love Just Once To See You'. Plus, Carl Wilson covers a Stevie Wonder song without embarrassing himself by comparison; no mean feat.

9. New England - New England (1978)

Post-Glee, it's hard to remember how deeply unfashionable melodic soft-hard rock like Journey used to be. Somehow New England failed to have a hit with this near-perfect album even when melodic soft-hard rock was the radio music of the US. Even a production credit by Kiss' Paul Stanley couldn't help this, despite the fact that virtually every song is a gem of its kind. New England did a couple of other albums, but I don't really want to hear them; this one is enough.

10. Michael Nyman - Gattaca soundtrack

Much as Vangelis' Bladerunner soundtrack encapsulates the atmosphere of the film - grim, futuristic and full of a sense of yearning, Michael Nyman's beautiful music captures the glossy perfection of Andrew Niccol's (also underrated) film, and the loneliness that lies at its heart. Gattaca is so pretty that bits of it crop us as incidental music on TV all the time - but that doesn't spoil it.

11. Geto Boys - Making Trouble (1988)

Geto Boys were not as good as NWA; but although this album isn't in any sense as good as Straight Outta Compton, it was released a few months earlier than it and so is (unlike most gangsta rap post-'88) refreshingly uninfluenced by it. The fact that Geto Boys were based in Houston and not LA, and the fact that this album is more influenced by Run DMC than anything else makes it a unique bit of rap history even though some of the lyrics are not entirely free of clichés, to say the least.

No doubt there will be more of these to come

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