This week, we bring the second instalment of our ‘Top 3 Albums’, with Joe’s list of personal favourites.
Low (1977) – David Bowie
Of all of Bowie’s albums, Low never ceases to sound as crisp and incisive as the first listen, and this is perhaps no more or no less a reflection of its dualistic nature; Side 1 gives the listener a moody and frenetic cluster of pop songs gone askew – the anxious tone moves impatiently from the cock-eyed menace of “Breaking Glass” and stifled romance “Be My Wife” to a more anaesthetized introspection guarded by a razor-sharp edge of snappy drums twisted guitar-work. The summit of Bowie’s foray into the alcoves of madness and isolation is the unforgettably haunting brood “Always Crashing in the Same Car”, yet still Low’s first side cannot escape an almost dogmatic groove. Bowie’s relentless motion perhaps betrays an uncertainty and alienation, but also a certain freedom.
What makes Low that much more enduring than those albums coming before and after it is the ever-radical minimalism of its second side. Through the brooding, elusive atmospheres of “Warzsawa” to the subdued, melancholic majesty of “Subterraneans”, with the assistance of producer Brian Eno Bowie conjured a gloomy, seductive suite of instrumentals that infect the imagination with an alchemy of uncertainty, dread, but ultimately an intangible sense of wonder. Indeed, a gift of sound and vision.
Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007)
Radiohead’s seventh studio album allows their trademark overtones of tension and alienation to remain unconscious but always waiting in the wings and allowing them to pull off a remarkable feat: In Rainbows gives us a Radiohead at their most intimate and even as enigmatic and perhaps even bleaker than ever before. Thom Yorke’s lyrics conjure the familiarly chilling images of post-millennial dread and uncertainty anyone familiar with the band would be no doubt acquainted with, only this time round the words find themselves ever closer to the personal rather the political.
The band provide a warm, vibrant foundation for every bold cry of desperation, particularly on “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and “House of Cards” exchanging their traditionally sharper, alienating textures for a brooding and lucid intimacy. Skilfully, the band are able to be groovier and more melodic than ever before without losing any of their bleak and enigmatic lifeblood. Radiohead never do things the easy way, and their ability to make the nuance seem so natural always astonishes.
Thus with “Reckoner” the band deliver a naturally understated masterpiece; flanked by the humble pluck of guitars, rattling cymbals and the modest majesty of the cello, Thom’s soft, pure vocals dive and soar majestically, its lyrics just as exalted and heart-piercing in their simplicity. “15 Step” and “Jigsaw Falling into Place” bookend the album with that familiar visceral edge and flashing taste for rhythm, securing In Rainbows as Radiohead’s most diverse, adventurous album – perhaps because it is at once their most darkly intimate, romantic and life-affirming work too.
The La’s – The La’s (1990)
The La’s first and last album has a certain ramshackle charm to it, which is ironic considering that its frontman and chief architect Lee Mavers, who notoriously hated it for being too “overproduced”, ensured it was the first and last studio project the band embarked on. Regardless, though its standout single ‘There She Goes’ track will always and forever be the song that secured the band a chink in the annals of pop history, their painfully overlooked debut features some of the most ferociously endearing melodies and well-crafted jangles that it’s mind-boggling to see them consigned to the back-handed category of one-hit wonder. The painful perfectionism of Mavers’ craft ensures that every song is as taut and efficient as a figure-8 knot: never too lengthy, never too dirty or too clean, and always so elegantly homespun and unpretentious.
Famously also hailing from Liverpool, the Beatles and the shadows of the Sixties are ever present in the La’s music, most ecstatically on ‘Feelin’’, yet never overbearing or particularly obvious. John Lennon’s seductive scouse wit finds a new familiar in Mavers’ coarse, charming drawl, and while it is the band’s enchanting simplicities that sink marvellous hooks into the skull, the La’s are also no strangers to the epic, swirling wall of sound so reminiscent of their pop forefathers (see ‘Timeless Melody’ and the album closer ‘Looking Glass’).
While it may in fact be this irreconcilable tension between the album’s rickety heartbeat and the more adventurous soundscapes that tragically halted any serious progression for the band, thankfully they left an album that at the very least injected that good ol’ fashioned heart, soul and jaunting rock n’ roll that precipitated the Britpop tsunami of the 90s. Even if they were here and gone in the flash of a heartbeat, it was the La’s that possessed that canny authenticity and mystique that the Gallaghers, Albarn et al could only ever aspire to.