Monday, March 13, 2017

Two dozen bad Strange Music albums

From the reblime to the subdiculous. Here's a list of 26 bad Strange Music albums that I somehow managed to listen to all the way through. In descending order of awfulness. Cringe in horror with me, and watch out for these.
* Gentle Giant --THREE FRIENDS (1972). Not truly awful, but very disappointing. "Schooldays" is haunting, "Peel the Paint" does just that, "Mister Class and Quality" is OK. But the album is short a couple songs. There should be more here. Side 2 is barely 14 minutes long.
* Emerson, Lake and Palmer -- WORKS VOLUME I (1977). Four long sides, three great songs! Defines "waste." Picks: The great "Fanfare for the Common Man," "C'est La Vie," "Piano Concerto, Third Movement." But the rest is real crap.... ELP's LOVE BEACH is worse than this? Not sure I'd survive it....
* Steely Dan -- GAUCHO (1980). The gorgeous title song and "Third World Man" make the cut. The rest is boring and lazy, barely able to rise above its drug-induced lethargy. Their worst, by far.
* Caravan -- CUNNING STUNTS (1975). "Dabsong Conshirtoe" has a sweet opening and almost everything else a fan would want -- except a decent ending. "Show of Our Lives" is sludgy. And it's the second-best thing here. Not enough of Pye Hastings' funny songwriting to save this. Their only appearance on the U.S. charts. BETTER BY FAR and THE ALBUM are even worse, but I couldn't get all the way through them....
* Gentle Giant -- GIANT FOR A DAY (1978). Once I thought this was the worst "prog" album ever. Boy was I wrong. First side has some nice, gentle love songs. But it's miles less adventurous than their best work.
* Rare Bird -- EPIC FOREST (1972). "Birdman" and the title song are prog classics. The rest is absolutely flat, with no inspiration or life. Available now for 99 cents at a Goodwill near you....
* Renaissance -- PROLOGUE (1972). "Rajah Khan" is a swirling psychedelic classic, so brave and noisy that it almost makes up for the rest -- which is VERY polite middle-of-the-road pop.
* U.K. -- DANGER MONEY (1979). "Rendezvous 6:02" is a pretty mood piece. "Nothing to Lose" sounds like a warm-up for Asia, where bassist/singer John Wetton would go next. The rest is heavy-handed prog doominess. No fun.
* Renaissance -- ASHES ARE BURNING (1973). "At the Harbour" is a stark death-at-sea piece, unlike anything else they ever did. "Can You Understand?" and "Ashes are Burning" both sound WAY better on their LIVE AT CARNEGIE HALL. The rest are polite-pop leftovers.
* Yes -- TORMATO (1978). Yes on speed. "Release, Release" is almost good. "Madrigal," "Onward" and "On the Silent Wings of Freedom" are almost not-bad. But they're so BUSY! Too many notes, Mozart....
* Wigwam -- LUCKY GOLDEN STRIPES (1976). Following up the classic NUCLEAR NIGHTCLUB with edited studio jams and half-baked songwriting. "Tramdriver," "Wardance," "International Disaster" and "Never Give You Up" aren't terrible. The rest is pretty lame.
* Hatfield and the North -- (1st) (1973). Richard Sinclair's vocals are always good to hear, and his occasional lyrics are whimsical and fun. But the fragmentary songwriting doesn't build, nothing leads anywhere, nothing's delivered with any force. Lightly pleasant, but airy, meandering.
* Genesis -- DUKE (1980). "Turn it On Again" is as "good" as this gets. The rest is muddy, sludgy, endless. And also their U.S. pop-chart breakthrough....
* Strawbs -- GRAVE NEW WORLD (1972). "New World" is shockingly bitter. "Oh Me, Oh My" is a brief, funny piece about pop culture and fashion. The rest is overdone, humorless, overbearing. Come back, Rick Wakeman....
* Barclay James Harvest -- THE HARVEST YEARS 2-CD best-of. "Taking Some Time On" is an excellent basic rocker, "Ursula (The Swansea Song)" is a sweet, catchy love song. "Poor Wages" and "Brother Thrush" are charming, innocent early stuff. "Mocking Bird" is a pretty song swamped by an orchestra. The rest is aimless and overwrought. And there's a LOT of it. And if you want to know how bad the Alan Parsons Project COULD have been, check out the hideous, endless "Dark Now My Sky" and "She Said." What were they thinking? The worst best-of ever.
* Pink Floyd --  A SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS (1968). Lotta noise here. But except for departed leader Syd Barrett's chilling closer "Jugband Blues," nothing will hold your attention. Or stick in your memory.
* King Crimson -- ISLANDS (1972). "Sailor's Tale" has an interesting, banjo-like guitar sound. But the rest is too mellow, too quiet, too stuck-up arty. "Ladies of the Road" breaks out -- but it's pretty embarrassing. Album closes with an orchestra tuning-up. Their worst.
* U.K. -- NIGHT AFTER NIGHT/LIVE (1980). Former prog supergroup profit-takes by dumbing-down formerly good songs in front of an oblivious audience. Sad.
* Beach Boys -- FRIENDS (1968). Only the wordless "Passing By" makes it. The rest has a TM/India undercurrent ("Anna Lee the Healer," "Meant for You"). Couple Dennis Wilson fragments are passable. Brian Wilson's solo spot is disgraceful. "Diamond Head" and "Transcendental Meditation" are worse. Lazy.
* Barclay James Harvest -- XII (1978). Absolutely flat pop songs, no inspiration or magic anywhere. Beautiful album cover.
* Barclay James Harvest -- OCTOBERON (1976). ROLLING STONE once called them "morose progressive rock," and they were right. Want to see how much you can take? Try "Suicide." And don't blame me afterward....
* Gong -- EXPRESSO II (1978). Steve Winwood and Allen Holdsworth try to liven up this jazz-rock background music with no foreground. Titles include "Sleepy" and "Boring."
* Gong -- GAZEUSE!/EXPRESSO (1977). As I was saying.... Zzzzz.
* Pat Metheny -- ZERO TOLERANCE FOR SILENCE. The melodic-jazz-guitar master cranks it up to 11. No melodies, no tunes, just wailing feedback. Around the fourth track he adds acoustic guitar for contrast. Why'd he bother?
* Cromagnon -- CAVE ROCK (1969). Music for the Zombie Apocalypse. Alien folk ditties, some guy SCREAMING in a bonfire or rockslide for five minutes, a tribe of cave men chanting around a fire, dinosaurs stomping across the land as volcanoes erupt in the background. Not music -- an "Environments" record. "Thanks" to Crabby for inflicting this on me.
* Borbetomagus -- (1st) (1980). New York punk-jazz. Screaming noise, though the two saxophonists can REALLY blow. They HAVE to, to be heard over the rest. Cars rev up and drive through the studio, guitars get sawed in half, chipmunks get chopped up in blenders -- no melody or structure to any of it. Good luck.

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