In many ways, the fun of the early years of this Top 5 Albums project consisted in trying to choose five albums from such a vast pool of worthy possibilities. As I shared my lists with friends on Facebook and elsewhere, they’d pipe up with entirely different lists drawn from the same pool, so that with each new entry I could say, “Oh, right! Crosby Stills & Nash [or whatever]! I love that album!” As we draw toward the end of the 20th century, though, the nature of the game has changed. Now I’m doing much more listening to a) albums I’ve never heard before or b) albums I haven’t heard in a long time, excited to discover what new-to-me gems my fellow music aficionados have to recommend for each subsequent year.
Because for me at least, it’s not about committing myself, now and forever, to a particular ranking, and thereby exalting my own taste. It’s about exploring, album by album and song by song, all that five decades of rock/pop/R&B/folk/whatever have to offer. (By way of example, even though we’ve long since left 1978 behind, just yesterday a friend introduced me to the guitar pop/rock wonderfulness of the Only Ones, of which I had heretofore been wholly ignorant.)
But now, let’s explore 1992, shall we?
5. IMAGES & WORDS (Dream Theater)
Dream Theater have become something of a whipping boy for all the excesses of modern progressive rock: songs that seem to climax for 13 minutes straight, over-the-top vocal histrionics (courtesy love-him-or-hate-him James LaBrie), extended instrumental wankfests that serve largely to demonstrate that, yes, John Petrucci can in fact play guitar like a motherfucker. All of which is fair enough, as far as it goes. Doesn’t mean Images & Words isn’t a prog/metal classic though.
4. INFAMOUS ANGEL (Iris DeMent)
What is it about country music that bothers so many people? Is it the twang? The lazy, so-literal-it-hurts lyrics? The relentlessly middle-of-the-road production values? That’s certainly what bothers ME about a lot of country music. Well, Iris DeMent might have a bit of a twang, but she’s anything but middle-of-the-road. Infamous Angel could’ve been recorded in 1952, 1972, 1992, or 2012, because these songs–and that voice–are truly timeless.
3. TIME TAKES TIME (Ringo Starr)
Ringo realizes that he doesn’t have the songwriting chops to support a full-length album. And so the quality of his solo efforts has largely depended on the quality of the friends he’s enlisted to write for/perform with him. It’s what made Ringo soar (All four Beatles! On the same LP! In 1973!), and what sank many of his less-than-stellar [/pun] 80s releases. Time Takes Time is second only to that self-titled gem in Ringo’s oeuvre; and if he doesn’t bring Paul or George aboard, he does get a little help from the Posies, Jellyfish, Jeff Lynne, and the Heartbreakers, which isn’t such a bad lineup either.
2. AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE (R.E.M.)
R.E.M. have been the victims of something of a shutout so far – mostly because I haven’t really heard that much of their work apart from Green and Automatic for the People, but also partially because they tend to top a lot of critical best-of lists, and I like to be contrary. That said, I decided I needed to re-familiarize myself with the latter album for today’s Top 5. And it’s got me regretting that shutout, because what you know what, this album is absolutely fabulous, and I hadn’t quite realized it until today. “Nightswimming” is just… ugh. So beautiful. Oh well. Now I have a whole back catalog to explore!
1. HYBRIS (Änglagård)
The 80s were a pretty tough decade for progressive rock; and with the rise of grunge at the dawn of the 90s, it seemed the venerable genre was doomed. Then Swedish maestros Änglagård emerged out of the woodwork with one of the darkest, knottiest, intensest, mind-blowing-est prog records since the heady days of Brain Salad Surgery. Did it single-handedly save progressive rock? Maybe not. But it did make it known to all and sundry that prog was alive, well, and quite prepared to blow your doors down.
- Änglagård –Hybris [SW / 1992] (rockalterno70.wordpress.com)
- End of August: A Critical Eye on “Automatic for the People” (rascalmag.wordpress.com)
- Ringo Starr – more than just the ‘nice’ Beatles (musicmissionary.wordpress.com)
- American Treasure: Iris DeMent (timbrosnan.wordpress.com)
- Dream Theater – Images & Words (Album Review) (ourbrainhurtsalot.wordpress.com)
If you’re going to revisit R.E.M.’s catalogue, I recommend “Life’s Rich Pageant” and the harrowing single “Feeling Gravity’s Pull.”