Moss and Joe’s Big Reggae Adventure

Introduction

Word up chums, in me and Joe’s column here we’re going to be reviewing the 50 top reggae album’s as selected by Mojo Magazine (http://www.mojo4music.com/15098/50-greatest-reggae-albums/), because it was the first one to show up on Google.

The reason we are doing this is because we are both two white men who are not overly familiar with reggae, so we can show our ignorance and provide entertainment and eventually, enlightenment.

On with the reviews, and apologies in advance!

Advertisements

THIS HEAT – Deceit (1981)

Review by: Graham Warnken
Album assigned by: Joseph Middleton-Welling

What if “Revolution 9” were an album?

Now that I’ve grabbed your attention with that shamefully clickbaity opener—that’s not this album. “Revolution 9” was a sound collage, not a piece of music, and was probably ill-advised even though I don’t mind it so much in the context of The White Album—it’s exhausting and unpleasant, sure, but those adjectives are sort of part and parcel of listening to the Great White Whale in full (I say this with the caveat that it vacillates between spots 2 and 3 on my list of Favorite Beatles Albums), and it makes “Good Night” that much more of a relief when it arrives. And here I am writing a whole paragraph that has nothing to do with the album I’ve been assigned! “Will this long-winded git ever get to the music I actually told him to listen to?” Joseph must be thinking.

Anyway, to get back to where that diversion was supposed to be going, “Revolution 9” is not music. Deceit is, to varying degrees, although like “Revolution 9” it is by turns exhausting and unpleasant. There’s a whole lot of white noise going on, to be sure, but floating through its currents are melodies and structures and all that good stuff.

The thing is, I’m not sure that makes it better. In fact, it might have the opposite effect. The melodies, when they rear their heads, whet the listener’s appetite, but they all too soon vanish into the foam again, leaving the listener frustrated and waiting for the next palatable bit to appear rather than focusing on the ambience of the sound collage. Not to say it’s impossible to fuse melody with ambient hellscapes (witness The Downward Spiral), but I think that the former has to be more present in order to balance the equation out; as is, the record is probably 70% noise and 30% melodic, and that’s an uneasy listening experience.

It’s probably my damnable Romanticism coming out, but I don’t necessarily think the political points This Heat are trying to score are best made by an album of abrasiveness. The Wall, for example, remains for me the most successful picture of hell ever put to vinyl primarily because it’s a dance of mingled beauty and destruction, the melodies and quiet moments becoming horrifying in context and making the terror of the more abrasive bits stand out. When the terror becomes one long drone it’s really hard to sustain interest. Not to say that the kind of music Deceit consists of is worthless, or that all music must be melodic, just that in this particular instance some moments of levity might have mattered more than sheer grinding agony for forty minutes.

The production is incredible, all that said. It must have taken a lot of effort to craft this album’s sound, and I would never take that away from the band. And I’m sure that in the context of post-punk, which I know nearly nothing about and to which I gather this album was rather important, its merits become a lot more clear. This one just wasn’t for me. (Even The Wall isn’t, really. I can only bring myself to listen to it maybe once every six months due to its complete horror. When it comes to music I’m less ready to abandon pleasure than I am for films or books.)

*retreats to Anthology 3 to recover with Paul McCartney’s dulcet tones and soothing acoustic guitar*

WALL OF VOODOO – Dark Continent (1981)

Review by: Joseph Middleton Welling
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

The drums on this album are insane – but not in the way you’d expect. The first note I wrote when listening to this album for the first time was ‘drum machine.’ Imagine my surprise when I looked up this album online and found out that Wall of Voodoo have a real live drummer. Presumably with arms and everything. All I can say is that he does a great job of sounding like a machine, all the drums on this album sound like clinky synth pads and old style drum machine patterns. Really martial rhythms that are an amazing foundation for some demented New Wave. But enough about the drums,

The rest of the band is also great. The guitar alternately scurries and clanks, in the classic post-punk style. Some songs are dominated by synths, which have a cool 50’s sci-fi style. Every other song or so the bass will punch in with a really bulbous riff. ‘Back in Flesh’ is probably the album’s best bass moment. The whole song sounds like Joy Division trapped in a malevolent circus. The vocals on this one are amazing too, real paranoia taken so over the to that it becomes hilarious. Most of the songs seem to be about paranoia to be honest. The vocalist reminds me a bit of Jello Biafra. 

There are a number of great choruses on the album and a couple of tracks that rely more on unhinged atmosphere. Honestly the album is very consistent and that makes it hard to pick highlights. I’d recommend listening to ‘Red Light’ ‘Animal Day’, ‘Back in Flesh’ or ‘Crack that Bell’ for a good precis of what this album is like. But the whole thing is so consistent that I could see almost any song being picked as a highlight. 

In conclusion – a fun album. Will listen again.

CODEINE – Frigid Stars LP (1990)

Reviewed by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by: Joseph Middleton-Welling

In many ways, this album has a somewhat Pink Floydian feel: simple drums, prominent guitar (circa Animals, I think), mostly minor chords, a sad and pessimistic atmosphere and a voice that is a little lower than Gilmour’s and a little less sadistic than Waters’. Keyboards are almost absent however, and they lose to Pink Floyd in other fields as well. Overall starting to listen with Pink Floyd in mind may not be honest or helpful, but I could not get it out of my head.
Generally, the album is very monotonous and it has a slow, dragging, drony feeling in many places. In “Gravel Bed”, the singer has real trouble to stay in tune and it’s quite painful to hear. “Pickup Song” starts with some quieter guitar, before becoming a drone again. Next point of reference was Ragged Glory by Neil Young, also 1990-ish. Neil’s voice may be an acquired taste as well, but as far as energy goes Neil Young and Crazy Horse win hands down.
OK, let’s give them a “Second Chance”: five songs in, we get a different sound. Probably still a guitar, but it sounds like a cross between a mellotron and an organ. Here the drone works and it may be the best song so far.
In “Cigarette Machine” the singer is not really singing but telling the story, such as it is. There is some use of dynamics here, that elevates the song somewhat. “Old Things” employs a similar trick, although the singer is trying to sing again. “Pea” is the best song of the album to my ears, partly because it’s mostly acoustic, perhaps…
This is really nothing for me, too few ideas (it’s all one song, really) and poorly executed, but I may be an old conservative dad-rocker. Youtube reviews on the whole are (very) positive but this music fails to engage me at all.
This album is probably ideally suited for a depressed 16-year old boy who can empathize with the feelings expressed here, while contemplating his own (apparently) shitty future. “Luckily” I was 15 when the Wall came out! If waterboarding will not return (as per current CIA director), playing this music loud, ten hours a day, might be a good follow up.