Monday, April 27, 2020

Five Canonical Albums You Just Don't Get

I had a brief discussion with my friend HG regarding my comments on yesterday's post about Bob Marley and his early singles versus his Island output. To sum it all up, we like what we like and we don't like what we don't like. We can't fake it, yet there is still plenty to discuss. If you like the early Studio One singles but none of the Island output, does that mean you like rock steady but don't like reggae?

Just an hour or so later, I found myself tagged in a post by my friend Dusty. Here's what he had to say:

"Five Canonical Albums You Just Don’t Get!
This isn’t to say that they’re bad records, but maybe a bit overrated and/or inordinately over-praised. Cite your choices and reasons. I typically tend to stay away from albums I dislike and bands that made them. However, this is a fun exercise. There are plenty of albums I don't get, especially the too-numerous-to-mention new acts who've been lavished with praised as releasing albums that will "stand the test of time" or "5 out of 5 stars." Sometimes artists get lazy and release crap to fulfill their contract with their label."
I figured two friends, two similar yet unrelated discussions hours apart, might as well run with it.
First Up, Dusty's choices.
1. NEVERMIND by Nirvana - I prefer their "MTV Unplugged" album. Much more interesting album. Better songs, too.
2. APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION by GnR -  I never cared for them. Saw them live, too. Boring! Give me the Faces, The Black Crowes, even Hanoi Rocks over them any day of the week.
3. DIFFERENT CLASS by Pulp - Okay, so I love the single "Common People," but I could give a toss about the rest of the album. Must be a Brit thing.
4. ABACAB by Genesis - After Peter Gabriel left it was slow slide into sugar pop land. Why some claim this to be the pinnacle of their post-Gabriel era... must be on the FM radio promo payola plan... and please don't get me started on Phil Collins' "neo-soul routine. Uncle!!!!
5. YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT by Wilco - When was the last time any of you listened to this album top to bottom and crowed that it was a masterwork? Not me. And I hail Wilco. I don't believe they will ever top the track "Impossible Germany." Nels Cline is a revelation on it. In fact, Mr. Tweedy is damn lucky to have one of the best guitar players in the entire expanding universe in his band!  
To answer Dusty's Wilco question, not long after seeing Wilco in October, I pulled out YHF and thought, this is a masterwork. So go figure! Also, regarding Genesis, I don't mind "Abacab," or any of their MTV-era records, except for maybe the "Invisible Touch" album which really threw in the towel. But I disagree about their post-Gabriel output being a "slow slide into sugar pop land." As a matter of fact, the first release post-Gabriel, "A Trick Of The Tail" is arguably their best record, and the two that followed, "Wind & Wuthering" and "And Then There Were Three" are also solid and smart, combining the early art rock of the Peter Gabriel years with a slightly more accessible pop feel that got them airplay for the first time in their careers. And before this turns into a Genesis post, "Duke" is pretty damn good, too. 

Next up, my choices.

1. Trout Mask Replica
I've tried too many times. I love records before and aft--"Safe As Milk," "The Spotlight Kid," & my very fave, "Clear Spot." But "Trout Mask Replica" feels like a joke I am just not part of. The only thing more annoying to me than this record, are the endless articles and videos dissecting all the complicated chords and notes and augmented 9ths that you could only play with eleven fingers, some toes, and your tongue. Might as well read "David Copperfield," it's about as musical and as much fun.

2. The White Album
I'll keep this brief, since we've discussed The Fabs and this album a number of times.  I love "The White Album." But I like nine Beatles albums a lot more.
3. Exile In Guyville
To be fair, I haven't heard this record in ages. But I heard it too many times when it was released, and it never took. It feels amateurish, with weak vocals and instrumentation. It's that "indie" thing that I just won't buy.

4. Bitches Brew
I know, I know! I don't hate it, but even as far as Miles fusion goes, I prefer "In A Silent Way" and "Jack Johnson." Listening to music should never be a chore. Even the heaviest records that couldn't be further away from pop music, should have something, and yes "Bitches Brew" has something. It's just takes too long to get there for my purposes. Again, I don't hate it. 

5. Nevermind
Apologies for copying Dusty but, I've had Kurt Cobain/Genius issues since "Nevermind" was released. It's half good. Really good. So was "In Utero," about half good. And "Bleach," about half good. And dat's dat. Three and done. Meh. 

Care to weigh in?


rick said...

well personally I love ''Trout Mask'' and '' bitches brew'' but tastes are just that personal, my five would be 1] Bruce Springsteen's ''Born to Run'' 2)''Sgt Pepper's'' yeah just can't do a deep listen to it my mind wanders 3)Led Zeppelin 4 to me it is just so far below the first three lps 4) Metallica ''black'' disappointing to me after their previous lps 5)Boston s/t just yech lame to my ears

cjbennett said...

Sure do agree with you on Trout Mask Replica. I've tried and just never got it. Got to disagree on Wilco's YHF, but I think that Sky Blue Sky is a much better album. Impossible Germany is the best for all the reasons you stated. I will have to think about my list.

Troy said...

1) The Wall - still cannot figure out what is so great about this
2) Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - it's no Summerteeth, that's for sure
3) Imagine - much prefer solo George or solo Paul; I've certainly tried, just don't get the appeal here
4) Pop/Zooropa - I really tried here because I like U2 a lot, but these were noisy and didn't contain good songs (IMO)
5) Blue Moves - I know Sal has spoken highly of the last album of the classic Elton years, but I listened to it again a few weeks ago and still cannot get into it.

Shriner said...

Five albums? Hmm...

I'll lead off with not getting:

1) "Fetch the Bolt Cutters" -- but maybe that's not canonical yet (though from the praise, it must be, right?) I gave it all my attention and when it was over I had forgotten everything about it except the title track.

2) Yankee Hotel Foxtrot -- I've tried many times (and this was my first thought reading the post title before actually reading the post.

3) Bowie's Berlin Trilogy -- apart from the singles -- which are awesome -(who doesn't love the "Heroes" or "Sound and Vision"? -- these albums are tough for me to listen through all the way.

4) REM -- Monster. To me, it's just noise. Yet it was a #1 album.

5) Prince's "1999". Hit singles -- great. The rest of the album -- meh.

And, yes, I could say what's been said about "Trout Mask Replica", but that was too obvious. I think that's one of those "you get it or you don't" albums. I've never heard anybody say "it's ok" about it.

Shriner said...

And, hah, I debated adding "Imagine" to the list (if only because I'm so tired of the title song -- but I do still like the rest of the album -- but I also thought about adding Mind Games and/or Walls & Bridges...)

Sal Nunziato said...

Has anyone "canonized" Monster?

And I think I am the only one who "canonized" Blue Moves.

Ralph said...

Good idea this. The problem I suppose is defining canon - it's not just a disappointing album by a favourite artist is it? I picked 5, all of which I like and contain some great songs, but overall disappoint me in a way, despite featuring on plenty of those greatest ever albums lists... I've not considered albums by artists I don't like.

1. Elvis Costello - Armed Forces. Actually the second album I ever bought, but in hindsight despite the hits, it isn't a patch on what came before or what would come after (I prefer This Year's Model, Get Happy!, Blood and Chocolate).
2. Joni Mitchell - Blue. I like it, but it's far from the masterpiece that I consider Hejira, Hissing or Court and Spark to be.
3. Rolling Stones - Aftermath. Again some great songs but like Armed Forces, there are much better ones from before and after.
4. PJ Harvey - Rid of Me. Just can't get into it.
5. Neil Young - Harvest. Again, good album, but if I had to save a dozen of Neil's best, this wouldn't be included.

Sal Nunziato said...

I sorta just addressed "canonical." You're right. It can't just be records you don't like or have been disappointed by.

And Shriner, I'll try not to be "too obvious" next time. ;)

Troy said...

Fair enough on Blue Moves...replace that with My Aim is True. I'm a big fan of most of the early EC stuff, like Armed Forces, Get Happy, and especially Trust. But that first one just doesn't do it for me. Can't see what everyone else sees in it.

Shriner said...

REM had two albums that went to #1 -- "Out of Time" and "Monster" -- wouldn't having a #1 album -- and still including Bill Berry -- be considered canonical? (Not to derail the conversations about the lists, by any means!)

Sal Nunziato said...

Shriner, I think there is a difference between sales/chart position and perception. I personally have never heard of "Monster" being praised by REM fans. It can be said that of all the Bill Berry records, "Monster" was the least praised. But we don't need to split hairs. I can't confirm any of this, just a feeling.

M_Sharp said...

I never got Trout Mask, put it on my iPod a few years ago to play during long commutes, still didn't get it. Good cover though.

Exile has some fine tunes, I thought it was homemade, so I didn't ming the amateurish quality too much (remember DIY?), and she's a mediocre singer. A better band and singer would have been a great improvement. I still don't understand how it was the female answer to the much better Exile On Main Street.

Agree with your Nirvana comments.

GnR and Genesis- never cared for either band or either Genesis.

Still haven't listened to much Wilco, not sure why. I hated that song about the heavy metal drummer, maybe that did it.

cmealha said...

My number 1 is "Exile on Main Street". It seems like everyone sites it as their favorite Rolling Stones album. Granted, some of their best songs are on this album but there's more that I don't care about than what I do.

Number 2 is "Physical Graffitti". I love Led Zeppelin. After The Beatles, they/re my favorite band. But there's a lot on PG that I think is just throw away material. It would have probably made a killer single album.

I'm in agreement with Troy on "The Wall". I found it a downer when it came out although over time I've learned to dislike it less.

Any Cream album. My first Cream album was "Best of ..". Along the way I went back and listened to the complete albums and thought that, with a few exceptional cuts here and there, they mostly sucked.

Blind Faith is mostly boring

Sal Nunziato said...

I didn't expect this post to cause me such heartbreak.

No one likes Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
My fave LZ- Physical Grafitti is "throw away."
My fave Stones record Exile on the list.
Cream sucks?
Blind Faith boring?
Never cared for Genesis?
The Bowie Berlin Trilogy???

I hang my head.

steve simels said...

Hey Sal -- we both posted about Liz Phair today.

What were the chances?

Keith35 said...

Well, as we have discussed before, I also don't get TMR. It makes me nervous. And I'm open to prog and the avant garde. I disagree with you about The White Album. Yes, there's filler. But the first side is perfect. So many other great songs. While I love Bitches Brew, like you, I prefer IASW and JJ

Shriner said...

I'll throw two more on my pile to rip off the band-aid of heartbreak now that I've had time to think about it:

Big Star -- Third. It's not that I don't like it because it's not exactly like the first two BS albums or that it's "depressing and dark". I just don't think the songs are that memorable or strong (and, yes, I own it and have played it plenty of times and keep listening to it and all those boots of the live concerts from artists that I'm sure are heartfelt live "celebrations" of the album -- it just doesn't work for me.)

Beach Boys -- Pet Sounds. Yes, it has my absolute-most-favorite-perfect-song-ever in "God Only Knows" on it. I could listen to that song on a loop 24x7 and never tire of it. Full Stop.

But take that and "Wouldn't It Be Nice" off the album and I'd rarely listen to the rest. And that includes "Sloop John B" and "Caroline, No". (And I can hear Sal wailing in anguish all the way across the country when I typed that. Sorry!)

And Liz Phair's Exile: I remember buying it because of the hype. I remember first putting it on and thought the first song was really good, but the next 4 songs were just -- eh. Then it kicked up a huge notch after that and the rest blew me away. I always use that as an example of bad sequencing where all the really great songs are in the middle/end of the album.

But people put the Stones' Exile on this list? SMH...

kevin m said...

The Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks: I understand the cultural impact this record had but I've never been a big fan of the songs on this record. Yes, God Save the Queen is great but just writing this and I'm blanking out on other songs on the album

Radiohead - Kid A: I remember music critics stumbling over themselves to praise this record upon its release. What I can't remember is the last time I listened to it. That being said, I really like their other stuff; Bends, OK Computer, Hail to the Thief, etc.

The Strokes - Is This It: The buzz for this band around their debut release was enormous. Yet, I was completely underwhelmed when I listened to the CD. A few months later I saw them open for the Stones and their lackluster performance didn't help. Haven't bothered with these guys since.

I agree with the comments about Exile in Guyville. And like others have posted, here, I prefer Nirvana's Unplugged over Nevermind.

cmealha said...

I love "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" ;-)

cmealha said...

How on earth is it possible that someone does not like "Caroline, No"!!! I can't fathom it.

Bill said...

I may be giving you some more heartbreak, Sal:
1. Van Morrison--Astral Weeks. I've tried on a number of occasions, but all the meandering is just not my cup of tea.
2. Joni MItchell--Blue. A similar thing going on here. I much prefer Court and Spark.
3. Bruce Springsteen--The River. This album put me off the Boss for awhile. I like most of the ballads, but all the rockers start to sound the same. I hadn't listened to this album in 20 years, and a year or so ago I played, thinking I'd give it a chance since it had been so long. I was good for four or five songs, but I had to grit my teeth to finish the whole thing.
4. Nick Lowe--Pure Pop For Now People. There are some really great songs on here, but the whole thing doesn't hang together for me.
5. XTC--Black Sea. Again. some great songs here. But I prefer English Settlement.

Sal Nunziato said...

That's it. I'm not washing my hands anymore and I'm touching my face! This world is really upside down!!

Tomorrow, and the rest of April, jazz posts! That'll show you people.

cmealha said...

See you in May!

Dusty said...

Great points from your readers, especial about REM's Monster. Even the new mix left cold.

Guyville? I listened to it once. I couldn't tell you the name of one song, let alone whistle a melody.

I partially agree about your take on Genesis. I should have written "after Wind & Wuthering, which I still play on vinyl. And I like Trick even more."

Totally agree about The Wall. Would have been a much better single album.

Disagree about The Beach Boys. Worthy of praise when it was released. And still is. Never get tired of playing it.

I've always felt that Kid A was a record that had some killer guitar parts and then they purposely mixed them off the record to keep it sterile and exciting. Try playing your own guitar parts to it. It's cool.

Sky Blue Sky remains my favorite Wilco album. Nels' first album with them. Epic!

Unknown said...

Imperial Bedroom

Sal Nunziato said...

Imperial Bedroom? Yeah, best you stay anonymous.

stewrat said...

Simply stated, I love "Clear Spot"

itsok2beright said...

Agents of Fortune
The Cars
Foo Fighters
All Things Must Pass

Physical Graffiti??? As Sal said, 'we like what we like ...' Sorry Sal, you might feel the same about Agents.(?)

As for Exile In Guyville, I never got it the first time around, though it has grown on me. Not sure if it's been canonized.

As to the 'canonizing', my thought was the album should have been relatively popular and had way too many positive reviews from a broad range of sources, but you personally still didn't get it. It seems that some of these choices here were selected as albums that disappointed, since you may have been expecting more from the artist. I think Sal already had that post.

OldRockr1 said...

I have a few that have left less than thrilled over the years where others have raved.

Brothers in Arms - I absolutely love the first 4 Dire Straits albums. This one (and the one that followed) left me cold. Maybe it was my general dislike of the 80's.

Astral Weeks - I think this is you get it or you don't. It never clicked for me.

Exile on Main Street - It's probably heresy but I don't love it. There are some really great songs but the overall experience is just OK for me.

Tunnel of Love - Again I like some of it but not all. It very rarely gets played around my house. It, like the Dire Straits, sounds terribly dated.

Eliminator - A huge hit but this is not the best little band from Texas for me. I really hated the 80's sound from, well, most everyone I listen to. I am realizing there is a trend here...


Chris Collins said...

I disagree with SO much here! what i'm reading basically is "Oxygen? meh. Overrated".

But thats the fun!

I definitely prefer Nirvana's "Unplugged" to Nevermind. That said, the second half of Nevermind, to me, is still flat out great. I never need to hear any of the singles ever again. I arrived at this point about 20 years ago, btw.

I'll agree with OldRockr1 and say that somehow Astral Weeks never really clicked. And I'd definitely consider Van Morrison one of my favorite artists. I LIKE "Astral Weeks", but it's not even one of my top 10 Van Morrison albums.

If "Boston" is cannon then i am missing something. That band has never moved me in any way shape or form. Don't get it.

with the exception of the title track (which is a flat-out masterpiece) and "Dancing in the Dark", "Born in the USA" does nothing for me.

And I saw "Imagine" on here. Yep. Me too.

vanwoert said...

OK, My five in no real order would be:
Forever Changes by Love
Any Doors album
Days of Future Passed by The Moody Blues
Hotel California by The Eagles
The Wall by Pink Floyd

All canonical, all lost on me.

Bill said...

This is a tough thread, Sal. But fun, too. Thanks for starting it...I think.

Sal Nunziato said...

To echo Chris Collins' "Oxygen?" Meh. Overrated. --I'm looking at so many of my fave records of all time piling up and being tossed aside. Hey, fun comes in all colors.

Cleveland Jeff said...

Wow. Someone listed Imperial Bedroom. There is just no accounting for taste.
My 5 off the top:
Trout Mask Replica- I don't get it, and I can't convince myself it's any good. I've heard all of the arguments.
Miles Davis in general. I know, there's something wrong with me. In my defense, there's no trumpet music I really like much at all. And not much that qualifies as fusion works for me either. Hey, I'm shallow. (Now you don't have to tell me yourself).
Doors. Pick one. I think the most pompous, overrated pop-rock of all time. "C'mon c'mon c'mon and touch me, babe. Can't you see that I am not afraid." Barf.
Pink Floyd The Wall. Meh.
Exile In Guyville is just not up to the hype.
I know I'm missing a lot. I've listened to lots of music I don't like, and some of it is considered great. But it is hard to remember the ones that left me cold.

Puffinrandy said...

Trout Mask Replica... a great album... to play when you want everyone to to go home because the party is over.

kevin m said...

I agree with Vanwoert about Hotel California

Andy said...

Great post! I love YHF, Physical Graffiti, Astral Weeks. As an REM fan Monster is one of my favorites - don't know why but it resonates with me. Prefer Safe as Milk and can't stomach Hotel California. Also, thanks to you, Sal, I've given two albums I never "got" more time and really enjoy them - Procol Harum and A Wizard, a True Star. Thanks for all you do and keeping us going during this time!

cmealha said...

Now that I've caught up with all the posts, I can't believe I forgot "Hotel California". It's so not on my radar that I didn't even thin of it but that's gotta be number 1. I give you back "Physical Graffiti". You're welcome. Sorry about the others.

Michael Giltz said...

I def agree on The Wall. Bloated. Hell, I like The Final Cut more than The Wall.

The Doors have weak albums but that double CD greatest hits collection is the perfect distillation of the band's pop skills and essential.

Ditto The Eagles and Hotel California (and every other studio album I've listened to of theirs). They too are beautifully served by their greatest hits album (1971-1975) which is all you'd ever need from them.

I don't think Sal would be upset at people not seeing Pet Sounds as the emperor wearing no clothes since he's repeatedly argued for elevating other albums of theirs. I on the other hand think Pet Sounds is sonically and lyrically miles above their other work (and the other work of most anyone else ever) and a joy forever.

On the other other hand, I love Astral Weeks and will join Sal in loving Exile On Main Street and the Bowie trilogy and Imperial Bedroom and YHF (though I must admit it's been a long time since I've played it). Thank god no one trashed Dylan!

I think the two R.E.M. albums that are canon are Murmur and Automatic For The People and I think that's a pretty uncontroversial stand. Myself, I equally love Life's Rich Pageant, which is by far their best rock album and gives me great joy. Everything up to LRP is a great body of work and then AFTP tops it off beautifully.

But W...T...F??? You don't like David Copperfield and imply it's no fun? Though four or five can vie for the title, it's the most autobiographical of Dickens' books and like almost all of them funny and sharp and sad and dramatic and gripping from start to finish. War and Peace or In Search of Lost Time it ain't! (Both masterpieces but understandably work.) Whereas David Copperfield is just such fun. Maybe you were forced to read it for school?

Sal Nunziato said...

First, The Wall, which I love:

Is there not even an argument that maybe it's too long? Most of these comments just toss it aside. Look at this:

In The Flesh
Another Brick In The Wall
Goodbye Blue Sky
Young Lust
Don't Leave Me Now
Hey You
Comfortably Numb
The Show Must Go On
Run Like Hell

That's a greatest hits album right there,

If you don't like these songs, or the brilliance of Gilmour's playing, then you just don't like Pink Floyd.

RE: Pet Sounds, I believe I've said I like "Beach Boys Today" more, but trust me, I LOVE "Pet Sounds." Just think it's got a little more filler than an album regarded as a masterpiece should have.

RE: David Copperfield
Late 80's, I was sitting at the bar at the Hard Rock Cafe on 57th Street one afternoon, reading it. I was waiting for a friend. Maybe I was 100 pages into it, or a bit more. My friend came and we left. I forgot the book on the bar. When I got home, I called the HRC and asked if they found "David Copperfield" on the bar. The voice said, "Yes." I said, "I'll walk over tomorrow, can you hold it for me?" The person said, "Okay, but you really want it back? I figured you left it here on purpose."

It's not just me.

Michael Giltz said...

Ha ha ha! Glad you were tackling it on your own. Did you finish it? I just don't think of Charles Dickens as work -- it's the opposite of a slog. Many many double albums are just fine as double albums. I enjoy a little excess and ambition. I love The White Album. But it's not like I listen to The Wall and think, if only it were a single album. I just don't enjoy the whole vibe of it; I feel dirty after listening to it. It's just...unpleasant intellectually or emotionally or some combination of the two. And I'm a pretty misanthropic guy! Whereas Piper is just wonderfully weird and Dark Side really is a masterpiece and Wish You Were Here wonderful too. But yes it has great stuff, notably Hey You and Comfortably Numb. I just don't enjoy the ride he's taking us on. I think it's inherently flawed or ugly at heart, rather than too long or too much filler or similar double album criticisms. If you took the best songs and made it a single album it would have nothing to do with The Wall as conceived by Roger Waters. And boy, what a crap solo career. God forgive me, I liked The Final Cut enough to buy The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking back when that meant an expensive compact disc and much regret.

Sal Nunziato said...

@Michael Giltz,
WE will have to agree to disagree on The Wall. I look forward to every one of those songs I listed above, for all the reasons I love music--vocals, melodies, arrangements, guitar solos, hooks, etc. The subject matter may not work for everyone, but it shouldn't negate the other brilliance within.

Andrew Christopher said...

1. Use Your Illusion I & II. I understand the Appetite for Destruction hype. I loved it a lot when it came out...the last gasp of the hard rock era for some time to follow...amazing riffs, complex songs, utterly stupid lyrics. And then I had to get a divorce when the nasty racist/homophobic stuff started coming out. But before that divorce, Use Your Illusion came out and bored me to tears, while Rolling Stone was four-starring the damn things.

2. Eagles - self-titled. Three really good songs, two passable songs, and the rest is just filler. I'm trying to reconcile with this band by going through their albums, one per week, and last week I started with this debut. Already, it's not happening.

3. Metallica - ...And Justice for All. I could cheat and do the black album, which was tedium. But this album, too, which I can see as well-crafted, highly energetic, etc etc, just always felt way too long to me. Maybe it's because Master of Puppets, which was my first exposure to the band and thrashy metal in general, blew my teenage mind, and therefore Justice had a lot to live up to. I can take any one song (sick of "One" though). But not the whole thing.

4. Queensryche - Operation: Mindcrime. I love Queensryche. And I find this pretentious. Whenever I think it's time to give it a fair listen again, I look at its length and say nope.

5. Def Leppard - Hysteria. I do feel like I'm cheating here. It's an objectively terrible album, but it sold millions, following up from the genuinely fun, well-written Pyromania.

6. To make up for cheating, here's a sixth: N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton. I fell in love with hip hop in the late 80s, early 90s, and then N.W.A. with it's repetitious shock-value nonsense ruined everything by tapping into the testosterone of the youth, and the genre was infected from there. Luckily alt-hip-hop is fully alive again, and there have always been great artists in the genre, but it was hard to keep up with it while dodging all the bullets, really. And the D.A.I.S.Y Age should have one on a bit longer, dammit. Stupid N.W.A.