An analysis of Spotify data in 2015 quantified how listeners stray from popular titles as they age. I don’t know if the music I listened to in my 20s could have ever been called “popular”, but compared to the excitement of discovery in the ’80s, the ’90s were bit of a let-down.
Grunge was conflated to represent all forms of post-punk music, and the major label gold rush to find the next Nirvana eventually dead-ended into Nickelback. In response, I took up Celtic music, downtown New York jazz, modern classical music, Japanese indie rock and country music.
I was at sea.
Shiina Ringo, Shousou Strip
Sure, the loud guitars, infectious melodies and epic production could have won me over, but it was the conclusion of “Gibusu” where the effects go utterly bugfuck that convinced me Shiina Ringo was a keeper.
NUMBER GIRL, SCHOOL GIRL DISTORTIONAL ADDICT
I may have eventually found my way to Sonic Youth and Pixies by some other means, but it was NUMBER GIRL that was my gateway to old school punk.
Madonna, Ray of Light
This album arrived when I was exploring the gay bars in Austin after I moved away from home. I still like this album. I cannot say the same for gay bars or Austin.
Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Like probably most people who love this album to death, I didn’t discover it till about many, many years after it was released. But it has enough of a late-’90s patina to evoke that period.
The few articles about Cocco translated into English I found on the Internet at the time seemed to credit her for paving the way for Utada Hikaru and Shiina Ringo, and we should all be thankful for that.
Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians (Nonesuch)
I wouldn’t encounter this 1996 Nonesuch recording till it was compiled in a 2005 boxed set. Philip Glass was waning as my favorite minimalist, and this recording pretty much catapulted Reich to the top.
Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball
The only people in Hawaii who listened to country music lived on the military bases. But a interview promo disc of Emmylou Harris talking about Wrecking Ball got me interested in the album. It made my move to Austin, Texas two years later slightly more plausible.
Talitha Mackenzie, Solas
As much I loved Clannad and Enya, Talitha Mackenzie drew the connections between Scottish waulking songs and hip-hop, Bulgarian folk music and techno.
Duran Duran, The Wedding Album
It was great seeing people getting back into Duran Duran, but I don’t think my love for this album would have been reinforced without the aid of the Tiger Mailing List, the first Internet community in which I participated.
Smashing Pumpkins, Gish
Nevermind would have been the easy choice, but I would have never picked up the seminal Nirvana album if Butch Vig hadn’t worked with Smashing Pumpkins on Gish beforehand.
Rewind takes a look at past Musicwhore.org reviews to see how they hold up today. The albums featured on Rewind were part of my collection, then sold for cash only to be reacquired later.
Whew, there’s a lot of vitriol in my review of American Life. Oddly enough, my opinion has turned around somewhat on the album.
What I thought was “thin and unconvincing” now strikes me as angular and off-beat. It’s certainly one of Madonna’s weirder sounding albums, and it should get some credit for stretching her sonic palette.
So what accounted for the strong reaction in 2003?
Pretty much: Ray of Light.
The 1998 album was in constant rotation in my car CD player, and its singles could not be avoided at gay bars. Madonna’s voice had strengthened after getting a workout on Evita, and the songs were her most emotionally resonant since Like a Prayer.
Any follow up to such a watershed work would have a high bar to surpass.
I tried to give Music the benefit of the doubt, but recent plays of that album has revealed it does not hold up well. American Life turns out to have improved on the ideas of Music. The rapping still sucks, but the acoustic guitar flourishes sound fresh even now.
I still consider it one of Madonna’s weaker albums, but it no longer sits at the bottom of the heap.
And I’ve actually welcomed a physical copy back into my collection. I had owned a promo copy I snagged from my job at Waterloo Records, but once I discovered I disliked the album, I gave it back. The current copy was acquired at the Lifelong Thrift Shop for $1.
The moment I announced I’m taking a break, a whole bunch of new releases appear on the schedule. I’d be remiss not to preview them.
Royal Wood, Ghost Light, Jan. 27
Ghost Light was released in Canada back in April 2016, but an international release had to wait till now. The cover for this edition — Wood in silhouette — matches the title, but I prefer the Canadian cover because Wood looks hotter in a t-shirt.
Sleater-Kinney, Live in Paris, Jan. 27
I’m still kicking myself for missing the band’s three-night run in Seattle.
Onitsuka Chihiro, Syndrome, Feb. 1
I haven’t paid much attention to Onitsuka Chihiro since her lackluster cover album FAMOUS MICROPHONE. So it was a surprise to find out she’s on yet another new label, and she released an independent album with a band in 2014.
Deee-Lite, World Clique (Deluxe Edition), March 3
Yeah, it’s about time this album got the reissue treatment.
George Michael, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 (Deluxe Edition), March 3
I’ll deal with George Michael’s untimely death in a future entry. I didn’t pick up this album till after I heard the news, and I can understand both the initial underwhelming reception and its subsequent critical acclaim.
Cocco, 20 Shuunen Request Best + Rare Track, March 21
What? I’ve been listening to Cocco for 20 years now?
The Old 97s, Too Far to Care, Jan. 13
When I first started buying up vinyl in 2013, I considered getting the reissue of Too Far to Care. I decided against it because I wanted to track down titles preceding the CD era first. By the time I was ready to get it, all the copies had been snatched up. I snagged a used copy two weeks before I saw Music on Vinyl would reissue the original album without the bonus tracks. *sigh*
MONO, Under the Pipal Tree, Jan. 20
I don’t think MONO really topped this debut album till Hymn to the Immortal Wind.
Madonna, The Immaculate Collection (Colored Vinyl), Jan. 24
Am I really going to drop cash on a compilation where I have most of the tracks on other vinyl releases? Evidently.
Eurythmics, Greatest Hits, Jan. 27
I still have all the Eurythmics albums I bought back in the ’80s. I only had to flesh out my collection with In the Garden and We Too Are One.
Madonna, Confessions on the Dance Floor, Jan. 31
This album was really welcome after a pair of back-to-back disappointments with Music and American Life.
Eluvium, Copia, Feb. 3
I would be so on board with a reissue of An Accidental Memory in Case of Death.
Duran Duran, The Wedding Album, Feb. 10
Let’s see if this release date sticks. I think it’ll have been nearly a year since this reissue popped up on the schedule.
John Zorn, Spy Vs. Spy: Music of Ornette Coleman, March 3
I found an original Nonesuch pressing of this album many months back, but it’s a definite recommendation for anyone who loves Naked City.
I’ve been a Madonna fan since 1990, but it’s taken me 26 years to include True Blue in my collection.
I probably wouldn’t have if I didn’t find a decent copy on vinyl at the Lifelong AIDS Alliance Thrift Store selling for $6. That was a price point with which I could live, and it was for charity.
I can’t disentangle the heavy marketing of the album at the time of its release with its critical reputation over time. The album contained only nine tracks, but 2/3 of them were released as singles, all of them played to within an inch of their lives on radio.
“La Isla Bonita” is the only track that really caught my imagination, and it’s still a favorite. The synth strings of “Papa Don’t Preach” also put it in a class above the other tracks on the album. Otherwise, I’m not entirely convinced the songs which have become Madonna canon really deserve their spots.
“Live to Tell” shows up on numerous Madonna compilations, but the track has always left me underwhelmed. Music from the 80s was often accused of being cold and robotic because of its over-reliance on synthesizers and MIDI. “Live to Tell” would certainly be guilty of this accusation.
Bill Frisell did a tremendous job infusing humanity in the song, replacing the brief, ambient middle section of the original with an extended downtown New York freak-out.
The title track is something of an ear worm, but it’s not the strongest song on the album. It didn’t even make the cut on The Immaculate Collection. Does anyone even remember “Where’s the Party?” being a single?
Unlike Like a Virgin, the non-single tracks on True Blue don’t attempt to be anything other than filler. I’m pretty baffled by the gangster movie samples in “White Heat”. They made more sense on I’m Breathless.
Marketing muscle made True Blue a success, but without it, I’m not sure its excellent bits are enough to make up for its middling moments.
Well, Frank Ocean finally dropped his much anticipated album Blonde. I think the fall 2016 release schedule can get drunk and go home now.
John Adams, Scheherezade.2, Sept. 30
John Adams brought Scheherezade.2 to the Seattle Symphony last season. Leila Josefowicz must have dropped some mean gauntlet for Adams to create a work of such athleticism. I’m not sure if I absorbed enough of the piece in the concert hall because that was a lot of music.
Steve Reich, The ECM Recordings, Sept. 30
From what I can tell on Amazon, this reissue of Steve Reich’s albums on ECM won’t split the movements of each work into individual tracks. That would seem to be an important oversight to correct on a reissue.
MONO, Requiem for Hell, Oct. 14, 2016
Reports indicate the orchestras are on their way back on this album.
Nico Muhly and Tietur, Confessions, Oct. 21
Songs inspired by YouTube comments performed by a Baroque ensemble — if anyone can make this premise work, it’s Nico Muhly.
Shaprece, COALS, Oct. 28
Shaprece’s performance with Seattle Symphony was riveting, and I’ve been looking forward to this album since.
Ty Herndon, House on Fire, Nov. 11
Ty Herndon announced this album was to be released back in May when he performed in Seattle back in February, but now it looks like he has some label interest. No date has been specified for the release.UPDATE, 09/11/2016: Herndon announced a release date of Nov. 11, 2016, with pre-orders starting on Oct. 11, i.e. National Coming Out Day.
Angelo Badalamanti, Music from Twin Peaks, Sept. 9
I can’t hear that descending/ascending bass line without picturing the dancing little man.
Madonna, Something to Remember, Sept. 13
Ray of Light seems to have dropped off the release schedule for now with Something to Remember taking its place.
Emmylou Harris, Red Dirt Girl, Sept. 23
Like Wrecking Ball before it, Red Dirt Girl was a pivotal album for Emmylou Harris, marking her transition from interpreter to songwriter.
Kronos Quartet, Pieces of Africa, Sept. 23
I’m hoping this release is the first in a series of Kronos Quartet vinyl reissues because I’m not yet in the financial straits to track down the European pressing of Black Angels.
Duran Duran, The Wedding Album, Sept. 23
This reissue was actually listed for a March release, which came and went without notice. Then it popped back up for September.
Sting, The Studio Collection, Sept. 30
Brand New Day and Sacred Love make their first appearance on vinyl, but the only album I’m really interested in is Ten Summoner’s Tales, a European release of which I can still snag online.
UA released a new album earlier this year. Cocco will release her next album in a few weeks. Utada Hikaru is on the release schedule for September. Would it be too much to ask for Shiina Ringo to drop some news about new album as well?
The Bad Plus, It’s Hard, Aug. 26
Covers have always been a special treat from the Bad Plus, and this album marks the second time the trio dedicates an entire album to other people’s music. Or third if you consider The Rite of Spring a “cover”.
Jack Ingram, Midnight Hotel, Aug. 26
First, Jack Ingram was a part of a new generation of country rebels that included the brothers Charlie and Bruce Robison. Then at some point, he traded in the rebellion for a spot at the top of the country charts. Now he’s back to his indie roots.
Eluvium, False Readings On, Sept. 2
I’m still looking forward to a new album, despite not warming up to the last two albums.
Pansy Division, Quite Contrary, Sept. 9
Pansy Division isn’t the first punk band with gay members, but they managed to go further than most, opening for Green Day and Rancid during the ’90s. New albums from the band are few and far between these days.
Utada Hikaru, Fantôme, Sep. 28
When Utada Hikaru announced she was taking a break from pop music, I figured she was making good on her promise to retire early. So her return is a welcome surprise.
Pixies, Head Carrier, Sept. 30
Well, maybe they worked out the kinks since Indie Cindy …
Madonna, Bedtime Stories, Aug. 16
Madonna, Ray of Light, Sept. 13
A 2013 European reissue of Ray of Light might still be floating around online merchants for a not-so-exorbitant price, so the real treat is the reissue of Bedtime Stories.
The Favorite Edition 2016 list will be published next week, and if it’s any indication, the release schedule for the rest of the year will probably not be terribly impressive.
James Blake, The Colour in Anything, July 1
Blake dropped this album many weeks back, and I’ve listened to it enough times to make me question whether I would really want to own a physical copy of it. Does it really need to have 17 tracks and be more than an hour long? A lot of interesting things happening on the album, and as many things that induce sleep.
YEN TOWN BAND, diverse journey, July 20
I wonder what prompted YEN TOWN BAND to reunite after 19 years. The band is actually fictional — CHARA played the role of Glico in the film Swallowtail, in which she led a group called YEN TOWN BAND. MONTAGE is probably one of my favorite CHARA-related albums.
Faith No More, We Care a Lot (Deluxe Edition), Aug. 19
I’m hoping a reissue of Introduce Yourself becomes an eventual reality.
Blood Orange, Freetown Sound, Aug. 19
I think Dev Hynes is responsible for softening my decades-long dim view of Michael Jackson.
Cocco, Adan Ballet, Aug. 24
Cocco has added stage and screen to her résumé as author and singer. So it’s no surprise the gaps between albums have gotten longer in the last few years. That makes Adan Ballet remarkable for coming out a year and 2 months since Plan C.
De La Soul, And the Anonymous Nobody, Aug. 26
I haven’t gotten through that backlog of De La Soul albums the trio offered for giving them my e-mail address.
Dead Can Dance, Dead Can Dance, July 8
Dead Can Dance, Spleen and Ideal, July 8
Dead Can Dance, Into the Labyrinth, July 8
I can haz Aion and Spiritchaser reissued on vinyl?
Madonna, Like a Prayer, July 12
Second-hand copies of the self-titled album, Like a Virgin and True Blue can be found for reasonable prices. Like a Prayer, on the other hand, is a bit harder to find, which makes it probably the only recent reissue worth getting.
XTC, Skylarking (Deluxe Edition), July 12
XTC, English Settlement (Deluxe Edition), July 12
Andy Partridge’s reissue label APE House is not messing around with these reissues, and the prices for them reflect that.
Sonic Youth, Murray Street, July 15
The release date for this reissue is a moving target. I imagine it will show up the next time I write this round-up.
Prince, Sign O the Times, Aug. 23
Prince, Lovesexy, Oct. 18
Prince, Graffiti Bridge, Nov. 22
Prince, Love Symbol Album, Dec. 13
I know I want to get the Love Symbol Album on vinyl. I’m partial to getting Lovesexy if I don’t find a used copy before then. I’m on the fence about Sign O the Times and Graffiti Bridge. And I’m disappointed The Black Album reissue was canceled.
John Zorn, Naked City, Aug. 26
I won’t tell you how much I spent on an original pressing of this album. So if you want it on vinyl, place your pre-order now!
2015 is turning out to be one of those years where the really good albums suck so much oxygen out of the rest of the release schedule that it’s tough to put together even a speculative list.
That’s a long-winded way to say Sleater-Kinney’s return has pretty much overshadowed everyone else.
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love: Sleater-Kinney left at the height of their career, and a 10-year hiatus did nothing to dim that achievement.
Björk, Vulnicura: I like Björk best when she’s more beat-oriented because her more introspective work tends to meander. This album is too wrenching to mess around.
Madonna, Rebel Heart: I would agree this album is Madge’s best since Ray of Light mostly because it’s head and shoulders above the last few meandering discs she put out, Confessions on the Dancefloor not withstanding.
Steve Grand, All American Boy: The rockist in me should rally against everything about this album, but I can’t bring myself to do it.
Takaakira “Taka” Goto, Classical Punk and Echoes Under the Beauty: The decidedly non-orchestral direction of MONO’s Rays of Darkness was a welcome direction that I feared this album would be a relapse. It’s not.
Kronos Quartet, Tundra Songs: I was bracing myself for more international crossover, but this album is some pretty adventurous and spellbinding music.
Torche, Restarter: I liked Harmonicraft, but Gaytheist’s Stealth Beats was more my speed. Then Torche recorded this album.
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, The Traveling Kind: I hate to say this, but this album is what you would expect from artists with the calibers of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. Old Yellow Moon, though, kind of exceeded that.
My brother’s acquisition of Madonna’s Like a Virgin was a prescient stroke in the Sibling Rivalry Collection Race. Madonna was on the cusp of becoming ubiquitous when he swiped her, and that move precluded the rest of us from laying claim on her discography.
At least, that’s how the rules went.
By the time she put out True Blue, we all felt Madonna fatigue. Radio and MTV played her to death. Her marriage to Sean Penn was all over the news. Her provocations crossed the line to tastelessness.
In short, my brother had buyer’s remorse. None of us wanted True Blue, and he wasn’t enough of a fan to get the self-titled debut.
As all that was happening, I got into Stephen Sondheim. By 1990, attention to Madonna had become de rigeur. She pushed some buttons, the media covered who got offended. Then news hit she would sing three songs written by Sondheim for a movie adaptation of Dick Tracy.
My skepticism probably crossed over to offense.
But a Rolling Stone review of I’m Breathless convinced me to check it out, and thus a breach in the Sibling Rivalry Collection Race took hold. I’m Breathless was followed by Like a Prayer. Then every Madonna album afterward.
It took a long time for me to wind back to Like a Virgin. Madonna really didn’t become critically viable till Like a Prayer. Till then, people assumed the music was just the vehicle for the fame payload. And I was dismissive of the early albums as everyone else.
Streaming services have made it easy for me to reassess my perception, and no — those early albums aren’t as good as her later work. Like a Virgin, though, is the exception.
Opening the album with “Material Girl” but waiting to release it as the second single was a genius move. It’s actually a catchier song than the title track. “Angel” is a nearly forgotten classic, which the Dead Betties recognize in their blistering punk cover of the song.
All the hits are front-loaded at the start of the album, leaving Side B hanging. But even those album tracks aren’t just filler. “Pretender” links back to “Holiday” and “Borderline”, while “Stay” looks forward to “True Blue”.
Madonna’s output has since varied wildly. For each Like a Virgin, Ray of Light or Bedtime Stories, there’s a corresponding turkey in American Life, Erotica and Hard Candy. Like a Virgin was the first of Madonna’s better side.