On Second Thoughts: Re-Assessing The World's Most Maligned Albums
As the world continues to press pause, Rich Stephenson presses play on some historic albums with crap reputations...
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Lou Reed - 'Metal Machine Music' (1975)
Panned by critics and withdrawn from sale within months, in 1975, the doyen of NYC’s dark underbelly produced an instrumental double album of guitar feedback, white noise - and dread.
A first listen is shocking - where’s the next 'Perfect Day' or 'Satellite Of Love'? Why is Reed not telling tales of glorious freaks and misfits?
I’ll be honest, like many before me, I couldn’t get to the end - but there is something about it. Further listens aren’t easy, but you can hear the influence it had: for moments, the brain falls into a hypnotic, almost transcendental state, akin to a concert by hooded drone merchants Sunn o))).
Listen carefully and you can also almost hear Thurston Moore and Kevin Shields salivating at the guttural guitar squeals.
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Neil Young - 'Trans' (1982)
Hands up. I have always avoided Neil Young’s 1982 effort. Music fans have told me stories of synths, electronic drums and (shudder) vocoders having a heavy presence.
Young couldn’t win in the early 80s. In 1984, record label owner David Geffen sued him for creating music that was “unrepresentative” of Young’s style. But, strangely, initial recordings of Young’s self confessed “Harvest II” album, 'Old Ways', were rejected by Geffen at the start of the decade.
With fresh ears, 'Trans' feels like an artist at a crossroads. Opener 'Little Thing Called Love' fizzes along like any of his earlier West Coast creations, but then the electronica of 'Transformer Man' and 'Computer Cowboy' launch California confusingly into space. It’s not an easy ride, but when the two styles merge together on 'Hold On To Your Love', it feels like Young might have been on to something.
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Happy Mondays - 'Yes Please' (1992)
The album that inspired an infamous review by Melody Maker (“Yes Please. No thanks.”), the Madchester hoodlums final album charted with a tiny squeak at number 14 - and gave a fascinating window into the inevitable comedown of 80s acid culture.
True, this album can be a mixed bag; Ryder’s world weary, but gloriously forlorn lyrics on 'Stinking Thinking' (yes please!), the instrumental 'Theme From Netto' (no thanks!), but a fresh listen shows a band and a frontman teetering precariously on the edge.
Shaun Ryder was to have one of the most unlikely comebacks with Black Grape a couple of years later - and (even more unlikely) with I’m a Celebrity... , but 'Yes Please' shows a vulnerable side to a lyricist and band famed for being bold, brash and thuggish.
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Oasis - 'Be Here Now' (1997)
You’ve sold out two nights at Knebworth and are the undisputed kings of Britpop - but where to next? During the documentary Supersonic, rhythm guitarist Bonehead speculated Oasis could have just stopped at their peak. But no, the Oasis circus bulldozed on and created 'Be Here Now', the fasting selling album in British chart history at the time, but infamously dismissed later by Noel Gallagher as sub- standard.
Now, listening to some of the chaos is thrilling: 'My Big Mouth' and 'It’s Getting Better Man' scream through the speakers, and even a cameo from Johnny Depp on 'Fade In Out' shows a band that could experiment if they wished.
Maybe some editing could have helped - none of the songs have the lean, sharp punch from previous albums - but it did spawn the nine minute UK number one 'All Around The World', so who’s arguing? No one at the time, as the band were nigh-on untouchable.
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Words: Rich Stephenson
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