New Order: Low Life. Purchased September 1985
Album 7 of the Albums that Shaped Me review. I bought New Order’s Low Life in September 1985, just a few months after its release. I was drawn to the backstory of the band, the disaffected vocals, the pulsating bass and the analog synths. While many would point to the dance song mega hits this album spawned, it’s the darker, atmospheric moments that make this record for me, with This Time of Night and Sooner than You Think a sort of sound track of my introspection as a young adult. Manchester’s New Order.
The Smiths: Hatful of Hollow. Purchased June 1985
Manchester. A city of comparable size to Buffalo, grey and gloomy as well in England’s industrial north. 35 miles to the due East of Liverpool. Who would guess that this area of the world would produce such an incredible music scene.
This is the 8th Album that Shaped Me entry, and I present, from Manchester, The Smiths and their 1984 compilation album, Hatful of Hollow.
Johnny Marr was the first guitar hero of the new wave generation. His combination of arpeggios, open tunes, capos and multi tracked guitar layering shimmers over the music. Bass Player Andy Rourke and Drummer Mike Joyce groove out a beat with the bass pushed up in the mix driving the melody.
Stephen Patrick Morrissey: Could there have been a more unusual character, ahead of his time, flamboyant, intelligent, sexual and asexual all at once. Like him or hate him, you couldn’t ignore him.
The album simply rocks. The Smiths wrote over 75 songs in their brief five year career. Prolific, with lots to say and an unstoppable force until they stopped themselves in 1987. It’s hard to keep a candle burning that bright for that long.
My personal favorites are William It was Really Nothing, This Charming Man, Hand in Glove and Still Ill.
It’s hard to overstate how important a band this was to me and my friends from 1985-1987. Generational talent.
Talk Talk: The Colour of Spring. Purchased June 1986
Album 9 of the Albums that Shaped Me review.
I first was introduced to Talk Talk through a TV Show on Canadien TV in 1984. The show, the name of which now escapes me, was a 30 minute review of current music and snippets of the accompanying videos. The song of course was It’s My Life, a mega hit which became a mega hit again when No Doubt recorded it in 2003.
At the time, Talk Talk was considered a ‘Duran Duran’ clone, with catchy pop sensibilities and dance hits. The band, however, had different ideas. Using the money they made making records that didn’t satisfy them and only further pigeonholed their music in the dance genre, they bought Hammond Organs, Fretless Basses, and invested in studio time and studio musicians to change their sound radically. With their hair grown long, an utter hatred of the music press and the business of selling themselves, they created a masterpiece of music, soulful, deep and a hauntingly beautiful. Intelligent without peers.
Just as quickly as they ascended to a higher and more prominent position in the music scene they threw it all away in the name of integrity and art. Two albums would follow, radical departures in form and function. It’s hard to describe the brilliance they displayed over their last three albums, but in my opinion, the last three albums were as perfect in their demonstration of studio genius as Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds LP.
Lead singer Mark Hollis was an uncompromising man. He lost his older brother (and also rock star) Ed to drugs in 1988. Mark spoke of his brother in songs. Mark walked away from music after one solo album in 1998. In one of his last interviews before dropping completely out of the public view he said he could be a rock star and he could be a husband and father, but he couldn’t be both. Integrity as a musician and a man.
Mark died tragically and suddenly at aged 64 in early 2019. His music lives on. The picture on the back of album says it all: None of them looking, Mark turning his face away.
REM: Fables of the Reconstruction. Purchased June 1985
Album 10 of the Albums that Shaped Me micro blog.
REM Fables of the Reconstruction was recorded in London with obscure record producer Joe Boyd whose only credits in the years prior were with Fairport Convention folk rockers Richard and Linda Thompson. Released in June 1985, it coincidentally was the first album I ever purchased with money I earned myself. I bought it at a record store in beautiful downtown Waukegan, Illinois on the day that would have been my Senior Class Day.
This is what I think of when I think of REM. To me, REM stopped being interesting by the mid 90’s. Competent, yes, but just not that interesting. The albums before this, specifically 1983’s Murmur and 1984’s Reckoning were very similar, with jangling Rickenbacker tones, impenetrable lyrics and danceable. Fables was a departure, dark, less jangle, more sparse, muted tones. The album draws you in, whispers to you, and reveals an audible blanket of deep fog covering the hillside in which to get lost in.
Their next few albums were very good, no doubt, and commercially the band grew much larger two albums later with 1987’s Document, but as the lyrics became clearer, as the jangle became less, as the social justice and politics became more focused, I lost interest.
On a side note, 10,000 Manics were recording The Wishing Chair at the same time in London with Joe Boyd. The bands were linked in the early days, especially by fans, with similar guitar sounds and eclectic singers. Are there any Mary Margaret O’Hara fans in the audience? Joe Boyd was the uncredited producer of that Canadien classic of the late 80’s.
Special thanks to Todd Nave. My Fables cassette died on a long trip at sea and Todd loaned me his. His copy was a bit wonky too but it was that trip to sea that made me love this album forever.
Todd and me. San Diego. Pacific Beach. Mannequin Nightclub Circa 1989.