Listening Log: March 3rd 2010

Island 1969

Kill Rock Stars 1995


Albums of the Day: Nick Drake Five Leaves Left
Elliott Smith Elliott Smith

I found it fitting that the I-Pod album shuffle randomly paired these two albums. Not only are the artists pretty similar musically and thematically, but these albums represent similar facets of their respective careers.

“Five Leaves Left” is often considered one of the best Nick Drake records, but I think that’s mostly because of how produced it is, and the fact that Richard Thompson plays on it. If you made a record in Britain back in the day and a member of Fairport Convention played on it, you were most likely the shit. The thing is, Drake’s next two records were better. A lot of Drake fans cite “Leaves” as THE one, but it is actually my least favorite of his three studio albums. Saying that brings up a crux, though—do I like “Bryter Layter” or “Pink Moon” better? It’s one of those things where I like each record for such different reasons that they almost enter into different genres altogether. “Five Leaves” was Drake’s first record, and it’s easy to tell that his influence was not at the forefront. It slowly pushed through up to “Pink Moon”, where it became apparent that Drake wanted no extra instrumental arrangements to his songs whatsoever. That being said, there isn’t a single bad song on “Leaves”, and its over-production is about the only thing bogging it down.

With “Elliott Smith”, the only thing keeping listeners from returning to its recorded world is its shortage of human sympathy. Production-wise, it has everything that made listeners fall in love with Smith initially, but its songwriting is lyrically unwelcoming, to say the least. In fact, the lyrical content of this album is mostly what helped Smith to be recognized as “depresso rock”, whatever that means. Seriously, though, he has that stigma about him, and with emotionally pummeling jams like “Southern Belle” (one of the best Smith songs period) and “The Biggest Lie”, it’s easy to see why. From the latter: “Oh, we’re so very precious, you and I, and everything you do makes me want to die. Oh, I just told the biggest lie.” There are a lot more instances in the lyrics of several other tunes that have a pervasively negative and pessimistic vibe, and people kind of responded to that, I think. Even when Smith made the conscious effort to steer away from this negativity, there was something about all his work after “Elliott Smith” that had that feeling about it, too. It’s almost as if he couldn’t escape it.

Dischord 1991

Fugazi Steady Diet of Nothing

I wanted to write something about this album, not because I think it’s amazing or anything, but because it’s widely known by many as one of the worst Fugazi albums, at least out of their early works. My goal is to put a kibosh on that talk—I really like this record! Granted, it was the first Fugazi record I heard, and I realize that’s kinda messed up. Anyone who knows Fugazi surely heard “13 Songs” or “Repeater” first, right? No, not me. I came in late, folks. I’m like the baby cousin that came right before all the grandkids. Actually, that’s exactly what I am in my family, but that’s a whole different story. All I have to say is “Nice New Outfit”. That song is badass, and easily one of Guy Piccioto’s best vocal contributions. Some of Ian Mackaye’s performances on this record, like on the pensive “Stacks” or the burning “Reclamation”, could be described as verbally constipated. It’s like he is trying to restrain himself, but combined with his already aggressive style, it could be opened to that interpretation. That’s too bad, though, cuz it leaves all this room for stupid comments that have nothing to do with the actual music, which for the most part is really good. It’s live, it’s loose, and it’s definitely not Fugazi at their best. It’s intriguing, though—it’s almost like they are trying to fall apart here, just to see what it sounds like.

Virgin 1998

Albums To Revisit…Maybe…

James Iha Let It Come Down

This one and only solo album from the former Smashing Pumpkins lead guitarist (at live shows, anyway—it’s widely known that Billy Corgan played most of Iha’s parts on their albums) has some great moments, but it is not a great record overall. For some reason, though, I keep coming back to it every once in awhile. It suffers from three major dents in its siding—awful lyrics, the fervent use of several songwriting clichés, and most horribly, the uninspired and phoned-in studio musicianship of the album’s players. In the end, though, Iha is a power pop songwriter at heart, and I can’t deny a brother for wanting to write some power pop. Songs like “Silver String” and “Sound of Love” come really close to perfect power ballads, but they are a little too lyrically disjointed to carry a real point across. Yeah, the major downfall of the album is definitely the lyrical content—it’s vapid, shallow, and generally uninteresting. The dude can write some great melodies, but seriously, it feels like the whole second half of the record just passed through me like lettuce.

Epic 1991

Pearl Jam Ten

This is one of those albums that has become pure nostalgia for me. There isn’t really much about this record that I genuinely like anymore, it just kind of gives me the feeling of “Oh yeah, that was cool once.” “ONCE! UPON A TIME!!!” Man, Vedder is such a choad. He actually seems like he’s kind of a cool dude, but musically, he has always resided in Choadville. I loved it back in the day when Kurt Cobain picked on these guys all the time. It’s almost as if he recognized Pearl Jam’s severe choadery right off the bat and hilariously called them out at every turn. Because really, Nirvana was that time’s example of a genuine behemoth, and Pearl Jam were like the poster boys for the wannabe rocker. I think my favorite song on “Ten” is “Jeremy”, even though it has become one of the most overplayed songs of my lifetime. I think it’s pretty telling how we don’t hear it too often on classic rock radio or anything anymore, though—it’s depiction of a crazy kid who lashes out violently at his peers hits pretty close to home these days, in the wake of things like Columbine and several more recent incidents. Back when it came out, though, there was no escaping it. It was played more often than you breathed.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Show Your Bones” ***1/2
The Smithereens “Green Thoughts” ***
Nick Drake “Five Leaves Left” ****1/2
Elliott Smith “Elliott Smith” ****1/2
Pearl Jam “Ten” **
The Rolling Stones “Five by Five” EP **1/2
Frank Black “Frank Black” ****
Uncle Tupelo “Anodyne” ***1/2
Fugazi “Steady Diet of Nothing” ***1/2
Minutemen “Project Mersh” EP ***1/2
John Denver “Poems, Prayers & Promises” ***
Spacemen 3 “The Perfect Prescription” ****
James Iha “Let It Come Down” **
The Promise Ring “Nothing Feels Good” ***

Total Albums Heard=14 (Good day!)

***** Classic
**** Amazing
*** Good
** So-So
* Nope

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