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Friday, 5 June 2009

Classical Gassing

Oh dear, oh dear - I have done a bad thing. I guess the shiny newness of blogging had worn off - and I was busy! Anyway, must get back off the wagon.

Classic albums - a subject to fuel endless debate, and yet in everyone's Top 10 list there are undeniable true classics that tower above what should really be described as 'favourites' rather than anything else. What is a classic album? Well it will transcend any attempts at pigeon-holing in any genre, and it will not be allowed any duff tracks (well maybe just one). It should probably be something that stands that test of time too, just in case it turns out to be a favourite masquerading as something more. So, how many of the 'classic' albums from my collection do you think are actually classic, or just very good - or not even that? (As usual in no order.)

The Killers - Hot Fuss (2004)
Radiohead - Ok Computer (1997)
Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Queensryche - Operation: Mind Crime (1988)
Marillion - Fugazi (1984)

Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)
AC/DC - Back In Black (1980)
Diamond Head - Canterbury (1983)
Alice Cooper - Killer (1971)
Rush - Signals (1982)

Okay, so let's see how many 'rules' I've broken. Is Hot Fuss too new? I say not. I used to dislike The Killers - so there's the zeal of the convert at play - but the sheer inventiveness of the songs is a blessing and Brandon Flowers' vocals are emotional and compelling. Radiohead - whiny English navel-gazers? No! On O.C. Radiohead chew up genres and spit them out, the scope of the musical ideas and their ability to realise them is staggering - and it's got Stephen Hawking on for fox hake! Shame they have never matched it.

What can you say about Dark Side... for me it is the anti-concept album. The concept is not, I think, in the lyrics as you might expect, but in the music and its progression. The Floyd utterly in tune with each other. Operation: Mindcrime is everything that Dark Side is not, and no worse for that. It is a single narrative from start to finish. Is there a theme emerging? Song writing is the key. Queensryche take 80's metal somewhere it had never been and never reached again in my view. The power of Geoff Tate's vocals, the melodic pyro of DeGarmo and Wilton, enthralling.

Marillion are like Marmite (you know the rest). As with The Killers I used to loath them until one day I got it. Fish lays himself bare in every song - anger, heartache, fear, loathing... As with The Floyd the band, all expert in their field, meshed as if one mind to concoct one haunting dream after another on an album that rode the crest of the new prog wave that Market Square Heroes generated. Several poles apart Nirvana cut loose with such manic intensity that the listener is left almost breathless. The sheer, vital energy of Nevermind, the seemingly casual and careless brilliance of Nirvana, is truly awesome, but without the mind-boggling song writing their crazed virtuosity would have been so much hot air.

The term Rock (and Roll) is used very casually these, mostly by people who don't know what they are talking about, but it used to mean so much more. AC/DC knew how to rock like no-one else. They understood it. Bon Scott lived it, and ultimately died it. How could they ever reach the heights of Highway to Hell and Dirty Deeds again? Few believed that they could and they would never be as truly masterful again, but there was one white hot parting shot, the 2nd best selling album of all time, a scorching tribute to the man from Kirriemuir.

Diamond who? Their star burned bright, but not long (although they are going still). The band who are most famous for inspiring Metallica were truly innovative songwriters, taking their brand of hard rock down a side road that led to their crackling 1983 offering Canterbury. This is surely what medieval metal would sound like.

Like AC/DC time has change Alice Cooper - as it does everyone. Unlike Bon Scott the Coop survived to conquer his demons, staggering through a distinctly sub-average period to start producing some fine material these days. But his heyday was with the classic 70's line up of Smith-Bruce-Dunaway-Buxton-(Ezrin). There are obvious classic songs in Cooper's back-cat, but to me no other of his albums is so consistently brilliant in the diversity and consistency of the material.

And finally Rush. They were my favourite band for at least one decade, probably two. Despite my evangelism for NiN and Tool, I can't help feeling that Rush are still there are at the hub of everything, waiting for me to come back. Intellectualism, compassion, virtuosity, heart, mind, soul, poetry, science, history, Earth, galaxy, universe. The Big Bang. Rush's canvas is the entirety of human existence. No theme is too big or too small. They are truly masters of the possible and the impossible. But which album? It was a close run thing between Signals and Moving Pictures, but ultimately the dark angst of Subdivisions; the summer breeze of Analog Kid; the sweep of Chemistry; the optimism of New World Man; and the intense excitement of Countdown tipped the decision.

It's a personal list, but so is everyone's. There is no right answer.