Friday, 27 November 2015

A few favourite albums

Here are a few albums in my rotation at the moment.

Pornograffitti, Extreme

Agit pop by way of hair metal, Extreme's second album remains their defining achievement. Sadly, this well crafted collection of funk metal and prog rock was over-shadowed by the monster success of one of its tracks, the acoustic ballad 'More Than Words'. Surprisingly dark and cynical for a former Van Halen rip-off, Pornograffitti is a concept album about finding true love in an over-commercialised world where human interaction is a marketing exercise. Through tracks like the title song, 'Decadence Dance' and 'Money (In God We Trust)' the band take a blow torch to the hypocrisy of modern day society in a way that does not feel dated (even if the music does). Taken within this context, 'More Than Words' emerges as a plea for an ideal of love that no longer exists.
Key track: The perfect start to any party, 'Get the Funk Out' is an unsung anthem that makes up for the relative cynicism of the rest of the album.

Make Time For Love, Keith Washington

Largely unknown today, I covered Washington a few years ago and I am happy to say, he's still one of my favourites. His 1991 debut is the album I keep going back to. Almost every track is a winner, Washington has a great voice, and the production is slick and lush. In today's environment of ramped up bass and dance beats, the more orchestral and expansive sound of Make Time For Love can sound dated, but the performances and songs are strong enough to merit a listen.
Key track: 'Kissing You'. It was the big hit of the album, but it still stands up as one of the best ballads of the early 90s.

Moods, Will Downing

Downing is known as the 'prince of Sophisticated Soul',  a moniker based on the way he is able to bridge the gap between jazz and old school RnB. I am little conflicted picking this album. It's not his best -- that honour goes to 1991's A Dream Fulfilled, but track to track, this is my comfort food. My favourite track of Downing's comes on his next, Invitation Only, but overall I prefer to listen to this one.  From the atmospheric opening, this the work of a craftsman, someone who has perfected their sound and is just there to entertain you. Downing's speciality is writing love songs about relationships -- he can throw out a few party tunes when he wants to, but he is better at more mature songs, like the rather poignant meditation on a failed marriage, 'Sorry, I'.  Written as a letter from a man to his wife, it is a candid reflection on the fractures that have driven the couple apart. It's basically a break up song for adults, with none of the retributive themes usually associated with this type of tune.
Key track: the cover of 'Stella by Starlight'. There is something about the production of this track which gets my juices going in a way that other covers of this standard do not.

Here, My Dear, Marvin Gaye

Not as well known as his early 70s works, Here, My Dear proves that Gaye only got more interesting as he went on. This is the most emotionally exposed of his records, and is known as possibly the darkest 'soul' album ever produced. This is somewhat ironic, in light of its origins. An elaborate revenge aimed at his ex-wife Anne Gordy, Here, My Dear started life as a financial obligation: as part of their divorce settlement, Anne would receive a cut of the royalties from Gaye's next record as alimony. As sessions began, the album turned into a deeply introspective search of the soul. Over the course of the album, everything in Gaye's life is taken apart and examined -- from his ex-wife to  himself, and his approach to relationships. Composed of loose jam-like songs, the album is by turns depressing, sedate and weirdly playful. Gaye, seemingly aware of how bizarre this project is, even throws in a few in-jokes to lighten the mood (directly addressing the target of the album at the outset). It may be a little too inside for casual listeners but Gaye's meta self-immolation is worth a listen.
Key track: 'Funky Space Reincarnation'. Gaye takes a break from mulling the smouldering ruins of his marriage to indulge in a funky space fantasy in which he meets another woman who resembles Anne. Surprisingly danceable.

A Love Supreme, John Coltrane & A Kind of Blue, Miles Davies

For me, you cannot talk about one without the other. Whatever wave-length Davis was on in 1959 jibes perfectly with Trane's most celebrated work 5 years later. Plenty of words have already been written on the power of these albums. Check them out.

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