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Old 04-21-2021, 02:10 PM   #1 (permalink)
No Ice In My Bourbon
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Default SGR's Underrated, Unsung, and Underappreciated Albums

I used to write a lot more when I was younger - I figured I'd try to get back into it here. My initial thought was to do a deep dive into the Fall's discography, ranking each and every album with explanation - but I figured I'll let elph finish his Fall journal before I do mine.

In this journal, I'll go through albums that I've listened to that I think are underrated, unsung or underappreciated by either the critics, the fanbase of the artist, or the artist themselves. This won't really be a list of of great albums that are simply mired in obscurity, but rather more along the lines of fairly well-established artists with albums that I don't think ever got their due. All of my opinions on these albums will of course be colored by my nostalgia and bias, but that's unavoidable - of course - feel free to tell me why I'm wrong.

We'll start with one of the first albums that comes to mind in this general category.

Manic Street Preachers - Lifeblood (2004)

The Manic Street Preachers are mostly known for their mid to late '90s work. And of course, they're also well known for Richey Edwards, who disappeared after the release of the Manics' magnum opus, The Holy Bible (I do consider that to be their best work).

10 years after The Holy Bible, and many hit songs later, the band released Lifeblood - and if you didn't know any better, it doesn't even sound like it's from the same band.

In some moments, it sounds like it's trying to recreate the synthpop of the '80s and in other moments, it's presenting beautiful piano backed poetry in attempt to soothe and caress the listener.

The overall atmosphere is icy and detached. James Bradfield's vocals sound better here than perhaps they ever have - and they sound like they've been a little front-loaded in the mix. I will say, in terms of how this album was's been mastered too loudly. Every time I put this album in after something else I've been listening to at a reasonable volume, I have to turn it down before the synth assault of "1985" hits my eardrums - that's perhaps the strongest criticism I can levy against this record.

A little backstory - when I was in 11th grade, I had to get my wisdom teeth removed. On the way there, I pointed out a record store to my Mom and told her that I wanted to stop by on our way back home. She said: "How about we see how you feel first?".

After the surgery, I was doped up on something, mostly my thoughts were hazed and I felt halfway to a fugue state - an overwhemling numbness washed over me and I had trouble initially standing up.

But as soon as I, with help from my mom and grandfather, sauntered my way to the car and got in, I said: "Don't forget the record store". Keeping her word, she stopped by. I don't remember what the hell I was looking for, but I didn't find it. Out of curiosity, I looked to see if they had any Manics stuff since I was on an Everything Must Go kick at the time. I think I was looking for Know Your Enemy - but they didn't have that - they had Lifeblood. I bought it eagerly.

After I got home, I anxiously ripped the CD to throw it on my iPod Classic so I could listen to the album with lossless audio through headphones. By that point, it was time for me to pop my first prescribed oxycodone. I did so, put my headphones on, and hit play. As the numbess from the drug washed through me, so did the calm and ethereal soundscape of this record, beginning with one of the highlights, "1985".

It was a cerebral experience. JDB's wistful vocal performance found throughout the album accompanied by those smooth and nostalgia-inducing synths just suffuse my mind with tranquility...every single time.

Often times, throughout your young life, when a record really hits you - the time and place and smells are unforgettable and so it is for me with this album. The oxycodone was also a factor, without doubt. With that drug, and this album, all of the worries in my mind simply evaporated, and I was left with a feeling of wandering thoughts - going nowhere in particular but definitely going nonetheless. A sense of reflection - both reflection of myself and reflection about others.

There are other songs too - and I enjoy all of them. "The Love Of Richard Nixon" serves in some ways as a reflection of his presidency from a more personal standpoint. I won't lie, Nixon's time in the White House has always fascinated me - I've read multiple biographies and books on the time, including Nixon's own Memoirs, which was a long, but fantastic read.

The world on your shoulders
The love of your mother
The fear of the future
The best years behind you
The world is getting older
The times they fall behind you
The need it still grows stronger
The best years never found you
The love of Richard Nixon, death without assassination
The love of Richard Nixon, yeah they all betrayed you
People forget China and your war on cancer
Yeah they all betrayed you
Yeah and your country too

I had the privilege of seeing the Manics on their 20th anniversary tour of the Holy Bible - they played a show in Boston - and honestly, it'll probably be the only chance I had or ever will have to see them - and I got to see them play my favorite album of all time in full. It was fantastic and they played an incredible show. Despite that, I still drunkenly yelled "Play Nixon!!" between songs, perhaps in a vain hope that they'd give me ****.

Another highlight - the beautiful piano-driven "Empty Souls".

And when I'm feeling lonely and depressed, "Solitude Sometimes Is" and "I Live to Fall Asleep" are always my friends.

Why it's underrated, unsung, or underappreciated:

The band's fanbase generally doesn't have a highly favorable view of it. Within their pantheon, it's viewed probably as slightly above average at best by the fanbase (probably because it was such a departure in terms of sound). It was met with a lukewarm reception by critics - and the band themselves don't have any love for it, as can be seen in various interviews.

That said - the album is a personal favorite of mine. It's my second favorite Manics album, only The Holy Bible succeeds it in terms of significance for me. It helped my through an important time in my life. Loneliness and isolation were no stranger to me growing up - and this album was one among many that kept me company. Being doped out on oxycodone only accentuated the numbness and calm this album instills in me. At the same time, it showed me the feelings I would not want to have in old age. The excitement and curiosity of the young can be replaced, if one is not careful, with the uncloying and nauseating repetition and numbness of adulthood - going through each day only to get by and collect the paycheck, while chucking down the pills to help you forget that you're still alive. It doesn't have to be that way, it can be filled with the possibilities and pulchritude of youth. But in the meantime, this album is always there.

So lazy, lazy, lazy, chuck down all the pills
Needing to remember how and why to live

P.S. While I was using the oxycodone - I somehow bought Know Your Enemy on Amazon twice - the second time, obviously forgetting about the first time. Without getting into that album, I happily gave my second copy to my brother.

Last edited by SGR; 04-21-2021 at 07:26 PM.
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Old 04-21-2021, 07:13 PM   #2 (permalink)
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You write well, and you know your stuff. More importantly - in fact, the most important thing when writing a journal - you have a genuine passion for what you write. Congratulations on your first journal; I think this may be a lot more popular than you expect.
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Old 04-22-2021, 04:44 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
You write well, and you know your stuff. More importantly - in fact, the most important thing when writing a journal - you have a genuine passion for what you write. Congratulations on your first journal; I think this may be a lot more popular than you expect.
Thanks a lot TH, I appreciate the kind words and encouragement! I plan to cover an array of genres and decades, so hopefully there'll be something of interest to a multitude of people.
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Old 04-22-2021, 06:38 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Massive Attack - Protection (1994)

That bassline hits with unforgiving tenacity, the drum cymbals begin to fill the empty space and then, Tracey Thorn starts to decorate it with syrupy-sweet lyrics about sacrifice and devotion. This is how Massive Attack’s second album ‘Protection’ begins. Brilliance is immediately obvious. Relax and enjoy it.

Massive Attack is a Bristol collective and was one of the pioneering acts in the genre of trip-hop, characterized by downtempo electronica beats laden with hip-hop and breakbeat soundscapes - though it incorporates a variety of sounds including funk, dub, jazz, soul and more. One of the founding members of Massive Attack, Daddy G, described it as “dance music for the head, rather than for the feet”.

Their first album ‘Blue Lines’, widely considered to be the first trip-hop album, broke a lot of conventions. Drawing many inspirations from the modern hip-hop scene in America, the British group incorporated not only raps and sampling, but live instruments, generous studio overdubs, and the unique vocals of Horace Andy and Shara Nelson into their songs. Perhaps the absolute peak of that album in both vision and execution can be exhibited with the track “Unfinished Sympathy” - a synthesis of all of the aforementioned characteristics into something that was, at the time, absolutely unique and in a way, it remains unparalleled to this day in its creative vision. Initially sounding like a cold and detached ballad, it managed to be a heartfelt and warm ode to love and longing - being human and somewhat inhuman at the same time. It remains one of my favorite songs of all time.

But while this album reverberated across the landscape and influenced many, Massive Attack still had more to give. Exactly what they had to give would come around three years later with their followup album, ‘Protection’.

While the overall tone of their first album was warm and soulful, I’d describe ‘Protection’ as more chilled and lethargic in delivery. It is not ‘Blue Lines’ in way of its goals or in its style. It is, most certainly, its own unique piece of work - a standalone album that thankfully does not simply try to replicate its popular predecessor.

As the second track “Karmacoma” hits, you realized pronounced basslines may become a theme on this album. Tricky contributes vocals here and he does an incredible job affecting the song with his unique vocal style. The song, on its own, sounds absolutely beautiful - but the song sounds better the less sober you are. I dare anyone to roll a joint, have a smoke, and listen to this track and tell me it isn’t brilliant. Little known synth pop group Startled Insects actually wrote two of the songs on this album, “Karmacoma” being one of them (“Eurochild” being the other). The main rhythmic loop is taken from Indian playback singer and Bollywood-starlet Alka Yagnik, the song being “Aaja Sajan Aaja”:

The refrain is taken from a Russian opera (Prince Igor) - and, not being satisfied, also includes Tuvan throat singing with a sample of “Dream Time In Lake Jackson” by the KLF:

This is to say that there was a geyser of creativity bursting forth on this album - if this is the most creative song on the album, then the others are certainly close behind. Enough about the samples - listen to the song for yourself and see how expertly it all comes together:

“Sly” was the first single of the album - and honestly, it’s an excellent representation of what you’re going to get if you buy it. It’s chilled out, detached, and smooth as butter, helped by an accompanying beautiful vocal performance from singer Nicollete. And oh yes, the strings at the end of the song make my heart melt with joy every single time - it is a euphoric experience:

I try to believe what I feel these days
It makes life much easier for me
It's hard to decide what is real these days
When things look so dizzy to me
I already know my
Children's children's faces
Voices that I've heard before
There's always more
There's always more
Wandering, leaving the sea behind
To my home which everybody owns

Perhaps I’m delusional, but I think “Euro Child” would’ve made a better single than “Karmacoma”. It’s catchier - it’s a little easier to digest - and it’s a little more straightforward. Not to mention, there’s still a lot of depth with the track. Which includes, of course, the lyrics which are…well…cryptic, to say the least:

Sitting in my day care, yard is deco painted
Blessed by the drink
Upon the corners where we've seen it
Chased by the planet
Haunted by the medium
Too high to flow toward to break the tedium
Glow from my T.V. set was blue like neon
Activated the remote I put the BBC on
I've seen this city somewhere
I'm looking out for no-one
Pallor in my eyes it get blue like neon
Hell is round the corner where I shelter
Isms and schisms we're living helter skelter
If you believe I deceive then common sense says shall you receive
Let me take you down the corridors of my life
And when you walk, do you walk to your preference
No need to answer till I take further evidence
I seem to need reference to get residence
A reference to your preference to say I'm a good neighbour
I trudge so judge me for my labour
I walk in a bar and immediately I sense danger
You look at me, girl, as if I was some kind of a
A total stranger

I can’t lie - I love this track - the placement of it is perfect within the album - it manages to maintain the chilled out vibe but yet ramp up the intensity at the same time. From Massive Attack’s website, here’s a little background info on the track:

Originally Posted by Massive Attack
3D claims that himself and Tricky both wrote the majority of the lyrics to Eurochild and*Karmacoma*while both high on drugs backstage at a music festival somewhere in England. Tricky also took some direct inspiration and borrowed (?) some of the lyrics from a song called*“Blank Expression” by The Specials, who Tricky has publicly stated many times as being of one his most favourite and most influential bands. The borrowed lyrics in question are“I walk in a bar and immediately I sense danger. You look at me girl as if I was some kind of a, a total stranger”.

The album comes equipped with two instrumental tracks. With Massive Attack, one of the biggest appeals are the beautiful vocals laid over smooth and chilled out soundscapes - but these tracks (“Weather Storm” and “Heat Miser” [they call me Heatmiser, whatever I touch…No! Not THAT Heatmiser!]) suit the album absolutely well and actually accentuate and help the flow and pacing of the album. “Weather Storm” is probably the more beautiful selection (and doesn’t feature Darth Vader breathing) though “Heat Miser” is distinct enough with its vibrant piano to perhaps be my pick for my favorite closing track of a Massive Attack album….but…

Oh yes, there’s one more track - a cover of The Doors’ “Light My Fire”. I pretend that this is a bonus track and I never listen to it. I recommend that you do the same (Yes, in reality - this is the biggest problem with the album. Whoever thought it was a good idea to tack this on at the end should be brought out to a dark alleyway and should be shot - but I won’t say anymore about it.)

Why it's underrated, unsung, or underappreciated:

All in all, this is not an album that is disliked by either fans or critics. But - it is often forgotten. And the reason? It is sandwiched between two albums that receive even more praise and fanfare (‘Blue Lines’ and ‘Mezzanine’). In my eyes, this album is just as good as those ones are if not even better. I can listen to it over and over and over again. I don’t get sick of it. It’s as smooth as butter - it’s chilled out to the point that it’s an auditory toke of weed - it’s numb enough to be that dose of oxy I enjoyed with the Manics’ ‘Lifeblood’ - it’s self-aware enough to know that it will never be ‘Blue Lines’ - and it doesn’t try. It’s Massive Attack’s second album - a creative whirlwind forgotten in between two albums that are more distinctive, more immediate, and more genre-defining. But those albums are not, and will never be the familiar hand I reach out to in times of need like this album has been.
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