Yeah, I confess — I bought this album because of the cover.
Sonic Boom Records holds an annual clearance sale where new, unopened vinyl records are steeply discounted. I stopped when I spotted Bobby Long’s A Winter Tale as I flipped through the stacks. “Hmm, he’s … photogenic,” I mumbled to myself.
Having never heard of him, I made a note to check out his music later.
Bobby Long is a Brit, but his music is Americana. He signed with ATO Records in 2010 and released two albums and two EPs on the label. I found it remarkable that he managed to snag the attention of a large indie label such as ATO, rather than graduating up to that level.
Then I found out he’s buds with actor Robert Pattinson of the Twilight movies. One of his songs, “Let Me Sign”, wound up on the Twilight soundtrack. That would help.
A few streams and two days later, I went back to Sonic Boom and picked up A Winter Tale and its follow-up, Wishbone, for $5 each.
These kinds of … “impulse” purchases are prone to a Halo Effect, so it’s tough to gauge the effect of the cover art on my opinion.
I can say this much — he’s not bad.
Long’s rough-hewn voices comes from the Tom Waits school of delivery, and his writing is as rustic as anything you’d find on a Whiskeytown album. But he wouldn’t knock Jason Isbell or Sturgill Simpson off of any critics’ lists.
If any criticism can be lobbied at Long, it would be his music is probably too safely Americana. Subscribers of No Depression journal would probably eat it up. I’m not sure how much of a blip he would register outside that demographic.
Wishbone is the better album, but its cover photo is not as … compelling.
All that aside, Bobby Long turns out to be a satisfying discovery.
If ever I had an on-again, off-again relationship with an album, it’s Marquee Moon by Television.
Kronos Quartet introduced me to the band when they covered “Marquee Moon” for the compilation album Rubáiyát.
I didn’t get around to listening to the actual album till the early 2000s, when file sharing and a record store job made access to music easy. At the time, the likes of Interpol, the Killers and Franz Ferdinand were repackaging Joy Division, Duran Duran and Gang of Four (respectively) to much acclaim.
Television was a commonly cited influence and a gap in my knowledge of pop culture. So using my employee discount at Waterloo Records, I bought a copy of Marquee Moon.
I eventually sold it back to the store because I needed cash, but I had miscalculated my attachment to the album.
Marquee Moon had the disadvantage of being a garage rock influencer, and my tenure at Waterloo eventually soured me on the genre. That is, my co-workers played way too much garage rock, and I dislike it to this day.
But the album had already sunk its hooks into my subconscious. Over the subsequent decade and a half I would not own it, certain riffs would play in my head. The stuttering open of the title track, for one. The cadence on the word “Evil!” another.
If I encountered a track from Marquee Moon playing in the wild, I would start humming along as if the album had always been a part of my youth. It was an odd reaction to a work I relinquished but was unwilling to reacquire for more than what I originally paid.
I would eventually spot a used copy of a remastered version, and I’ve welcomed Marquee Moon back into my collection. Then I played it in its entirety and remembered why I may have let it go.
Marquee Moon was not designed for the compact disc format. The epic length of the title track makes sense as a conclusion to Side A, but it’s less effective when building to a mid-point. On CD, the subsequent tracks seem to lose steam. On vinyl, it feels like a reset.
Tom Verlaine’s voice is an acquired taste. The Kronos cover of “Marquee Moon” seemed to lack a clear melody. Listening to Verlaine’s delivery serves as an explanation.
But it’s tough not to be lured in by the guitar interplay between Verlaine and Richard Lloyd or by the funkiness of Fred Smith’s bass lines.
I may not feel much sentimentality for Marquee Moon, but I’m certainly charmed by it.
What is the memory you most associate with this title?
I read about Sarah McLachlan in a Pulse! magazine article that linked her with Sinéad O’Connor and Tracy Chapman. I didn’t actually make the leap till I heard Touch playing in Jelly’s Books and Music, and I asked the woman behind the counter who it was.
The woman turned out to be Claudette Bond. In 1992, I recognized her onstage at Pink’s Garage with a band called Spiny Norman. They were opening for another new band called Smashing Pumpkins.
What was happening in your life when it was released?
1988 was my junior year in high school. Before I got into McLachlan, O’Connor and Chapman, I had gotten into … musical theater.
The high school band director floated the idea of programming Jesus Christ Superstar for the football game half-time shows. A rather unconventional priest at my family’s parish had a habit of showing movie excerpts to demonstrate ideas in his homilies, one of which was Jesus Christ Superstar.
I borrowed the soundtrack from the public library and got smitten with Andrew Lloyd Webber. He could clearly write a tune, but in those moments between showstoppers, he had rock bands playing dissonant music straight out of Prokofiev. That was the gateway drug to stronger, weirder stuff.
What was happening in your life when you bought it?
I probably didn’t pick up the cassette till 1989. At the start of high school, I had tried to ingratiate myself with the so-called cool kids by listening to the same music they did. By the end of high school, my tastes had diverted further than some faculty members.
My musical theater phase subsided to make way for more post-punk music. And all the things adults were telling me about how I would eventually feel for girls … wasn’t happening for me.
What do you think of it now?
History has not been much kind to Sarah McLachlan.
Her albums litter the dollar bins and thrift stores, and in the same way I used Carole King as shorthand for milquetoast music of the 1970s, McLachlan has become the same kind of cudgel for music of the 1990s.
But I also followed McLachlan’s albums throughout the ’90s, and I don’t feel the promise of Touch was realized.
Her operatic training set her apart from Chapman and O’Connor, but that smoothness let labels steer her in a safer direction. The last single I liked from McLachlan was “Building a Mystery”, but it was no “Vox”.
Touch is the album you must own if you had to pick up a Sarah McLachlan album.
Quite a number of interesting vinyl reissues and deluxe editions coming down the pike …
Cher, Dancing Queen, Sept. 28
I think some gay cultural norm dictates I should show interest in this convergence of iconography, and I do, albeit more from an anthropological standpoint.
Johnny Hates Jazz, Turn Back the Clock (Deluxe Edition), Oct. 5
“Shattered Dreams” is an awesome single, and Turn Back the Clock was a decent album — something I’m glad I encountered but couldn’t consider a must-have. And yet I’m looking forward to this deluxe edition release.
Camouflage, Voices and Images (Deluxe Edition), Oct. 19
I actually like this album more than Turn Back the Clock, and the limited pressing of 1,500 copies for the CD (500 for vinyl) is nudging me to pre-order.
Sasagawa Miwa, Houjou -BEST ’03~’18-, Oct. 31
Has it really been 15 years since Sasagawa Miwa’s debut? This best album contains 10 previously released tracks, 3 new songs and a new version of “Himawari”.
Art of Noise, In No Sense? Nonsense! (Deluxe Edition), Nov. 2
This album doesn’t lend itself to singles as easily as In Visible Silence, but it’s a worthwhile, challenging listen, a period where the band pushed the limits of technology and music.
Dead Can Dance, Dionysus, Nov. 2
Dead Can Dance has always struck me as a band I should have been digging in high school, but at the time, their albums were available only as imports.
Hajime Chitose returns to her roots as a shima uta singer on this 7-track mini album.
Mikami Chisako, I AM Ready!, Nov. 28
Mikami Chisako starts anew with music reminiscent of fra-foa’s second album, if the YouTube clips on her official site are any indication. I have to admit I’ve missed her, and Chuu no Fuchi is still one of my favorite albums. It’s criminal that it’s out of print.
Living Colour, Time’s Up, Sept. 28
I’d be all over this reissue from Megaforce Records if I hadn’t already found an original pressing a number of years ago. This album doesn’t seem to have had the same impact as its predecessor, but it some ways, it expands and perhaps improves upon Vivid.
YEN TOWN BAND, Montage, Nov. 3
I’ve never encountered a vinyl reissue from YEN TOWN BAND that didn’t immediately sell out.
Utada Hikaru, Hatsukoi, Nov. 7
Any chance for a vinyl reissue of ULTRA BLUE?
Bill Frisell, Nashville, Nov. 9
Bill Frisell had always incorporated Americana, country and folk into his music, but Nashville is the strongest statement of those influences, resulting in one of his most accessible albums. Robin Holcomb shows up on two covers.
One of the first songs I learned to play on the piano was “Human” by the Human League, and I learned it out of a sense of survival.
“Human” was all over the radio in 1986, the year I graduated from eighth grade. I have no fond memories of junior high. I missed being placed in the honors class by a few test points, and the classmates with which I was placed didn’t appreciate my presence.
I was never physically harmed, but my social status was pretty obvious — I had none.
I didn’t have an aptitude for sports, and my school had no arts program. If I was going to turn things around in high school, I had to distinguish myself in some way.
So I learned how to play piano, and I learned popular music as a means to ingratiate myself.
I knew I wouldn’t have impressed anyone with classical repertoire — not that I had developed sufficient skills to tackle it — but with songs you heard on the radio? I could at least not look too square.
I wasn’t looking to become popular — I was realistic enough to know that would be dead end — but I wanted to make myself a less-appealing target. My band teacher seized on my ability and kept me busy. Before long, people didn’t mess with me because I had a talent.
I never repaid the Human League this change in status by buying their album. I loved “Human”, but other singles from Crash failed to make a dent in the US. So I moved onto other music.
I picked up a vinyl copy of Crash more than 30 years later at the Lifelong Thrift Shop.
At that point in the band’s career, the Human League had difficulty following up some big hits from earlier in the 1980s. At the urging of their label, the band teamed up with Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, the producers who helped Janet Jackson break through with Control.
The resulting album is more Jam and Lewis than Human League, but it’s a rare instance where American funk rubbed against an English art school aesthetic. It’s actually an appealing convergence that deserves multiple spins on the playback device.
If I had listened to the album at the time of its release, I might have found it likable, but I’m not sure I would have appreciated the meeting of Sheffield and Minneapolis.
Crash is not a well-regarded album, not even by the band. “Great experience,” Phil Oakley said about working with Jam and Lewis,”but it’s not our album.”
I’m not familiar enough with the band’s earlier work to know what qualifies as a “Human League” album, so that probably allows me to have a more forgiving perception of Crash.
It’s an anomaly, for sure, but one that ought to be re-evaluated and maybe appreciated anew.