The Joup Friday Album: The Cure – The Head on the Door

Head on the doorThe Christmas when I was 13, my elder siblings decided enough was enough. It was time for me to stop listening to Madonna and Whitney Houston and whatever else Top 40 radio was serving up in late 1986. It was time for me to start listening to “real music” like they did. And to that end, I was gifted with three cassettes that I’ve come to think of as the Holy Trinity, the albums that informed the musical taste I’d hone for the rest of my life. I spent all of eighth grade poring over these albums, memorizing every lyric, relishing how my burgeoning gothiness discomfited my Catholic school teachers and classmates.
I’ll probably get to the other members of the Holy Trinity in later reviews, but for now let’s talk about the one that was most important to me at the time – The Head on the Door by the Cure. Though I would have claimed back then that every song on this album was a flawless gem, each song perfect in its own way, the truth is that even back then there were songs I fast-forwarded through a lot more often than others. Assessing it now with old lady ears, the songs seem to fall into three categories: those I still adore with every ounce of my being, those that get a “meh” of varying magnitude, and those that make me want to slap my former self for being such a miserable little goth.
I wish everyone could spend a day as a teenage goth girl and feel the joy of swirling your long black skirt around yourself as you spin and twirl to “In Between Days.” Who cares if the lyrics are about lost love – who can resist those jangling guitars and calliope keyboards? Then you fast forward through “Kyoto Song” and keep on dancing to the flamenco guitar of “The Blood.”
Though you can’t necessarily dance to it, “Six Different Ways” is still cheerful and optimistic of tune if not lyrics. It sounds cut from the same cloth as “Close to Me” a bit later in the album. In giving it a studied listen for this review, I’m a little bummed it never occurred to me to place “Close to Me” in the running for first dance at my wedding.  The pretty little flute lilt, the xylophone driven melody, the hand claps – all complement the nervous excitement of the lyrics.
These days the dance beat and big bass of “Screw” remind me a bit of Gang of Four, a band I’d not yet discovered back in the day when this album was my everything. Back then, I just giggled like the silly adolescent girl I was at a song titled “Screw.” “Push” has a huge, epic sound, all ringing guitars and shouted vocals, that’s almost U2-esque, and I don’t mean that as even a little bit of an insult. “A Night Like This” comes across a little INXS-ish, like a deep cut from side 2 of Listen Like Thieves, and I do mean that as a bit of an insult. Just a straight forward, guitar-driven rock song of the 80s that does nothing particularly interesting. If I’d never heard it, and today someone told me that the Cure had a song with a disco guitar riff and a drum machine, I’d strap on my dancing shoes and get ready to be impressed. If what I got was “The Baby Screams,” I’d be sorely disappointed.
I suppose I’ve always been kind of a lousy Cure fan since I am far more partial to their upbeat songs than the slow, moody  dirges. “Kyoto Song’s” Japanese tinkle laid over a funereal beat is the perfect soundtrack for the world’s most boring opium den. The album ends not with a bang but a whimper in the form of “Sinking,” one of those songs best suited for driving home on a rainy night after something that was supposed to be fun but ended up depressing, like a hockey game where a guy gets Malarchuked by a skate, or a Rob Schneider movie.
Though I’ve always had a hallowed place in my memory for this album, I found it mostly unlistenable in my late teens and early twenties, as I scorned all that I thought was cool as an early teen. These days, I think I give it a pretty fair shake – that scorn tempered by middle-aged nostalgia. I’ve recaptured the joy of the truly joyful songs, while being willing to admit that the clunkers clunk. I probably wouldn’t have said so ten or fifteen years ago, the happiness this album has brought me over the course of 30 years of intense music fandom earns it a spot in my all-time top ten.

The Joup Friday Album: The Libertines – Up the Bracket

2002Libertines600Rising above the Strokes and their imitators during the garage rock revival of the early aughts, the Libertines embraced the fuzz and scuzz of the garage, but overlaid it with a pretty tunefulness better suited to a campfire singalong than a garage jam session. “Up the bracket” is a British slang term that means a punch in the throat and it’s a fitting title, as this album strikes fast and hard, forcefully grabbing your attention.
The Libertines’ co-front men Pete Doherty and Carl Barat don’t fall into a typical lead and rhythm guitar confederation, instead their melodies intertwine and climb over and under each other, reminiscent of Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine’s trade-offs in Television’s “See No Evil.” Likewise, the dueling vocals of Doherty and Barat wrestle and tumble over each other like a pair of puppies fighting over a toy, equal parts playful and combative. Barat is the croon and Doherty is the yelp. This interplay is in full effect on the opening track “Vertigo” in which the two harmonize like the Everly Brothers in the midst of a bender. Barat and Doherty get all the attention, but “Vertigo” demonstrates that there’s a talented rhythm section backing them up.
Doherty’s slurring delivery on “Horrorshow” and “The Boy Looked at Johnny” bring to mind another famously wasted front man, the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan. Many would happily write Doherty off as just another off-his-head wastrel, but the lyrics of a song like “A Time for Heroes” place him firmly in the junkie poet mold, and many a fan spent years expecting to shake their heads sadly at another talent tragically squandered in an OD.
Meanwhile, Barat’s talents are best demonstrated in the striptease swagger of “Boys in the Band,” a tribute to groupies or bar fights, or maybe bar fights with groupies? Barat also takes the lead on “I Get Along,” which along with “What a Waster” ends Up the Bracket with a double barreled bang that renews one’s faith in British punk and dares you not to pogo along.
Up the Bracket is a perfect example of one of those songwriting duos, like Strummer and Jones or Morrissey and Marr, whose combined talents are far greater than the sum of their parts. Nothing either Barat or Doherty has done since has matched up. And now that they’ve reunited, the pieces no longer fit back together quite right. Perhaps the angry young men have mellowed with age and lack the previous angst that fueled them. Maybe Up the Bracket was just lightning in a bottle – the rare kismet of the right people coming together at the right time to make a brilliant album.

The Joup Friday Album: R.E.M. – Green

remgreenI am the youngest of four siblings, with nine years separating me and my nearest brother. As a grade school-aged kid, I could wander from bedroom to bedroom getting a fairly thorough musical education from my teenaged siblings. There was the Zappa and Zep that wafted out of my oldest brother’s room along with a strange smelling smoke that would become more familiar to me as a teenager. If I hung out in my sister’s room, it was most likely the Who – she had every album, every single, every bootleg she could get her hands on. She was literally a card-carrying member of the official fan club and even had Who fan penpals – sadly lost artifacts of a bygone era killed by the internet. But the room I most frequently gravitated toward was my nearest brother’s where I was extensively educated in 80’s punk, new wave, and college rock. Though I later came to greatly appreciate the music my other siblings exposed me to, it was here in alterna-brother’s room where the musical preferences that would last a lifetime were first forged.
Having first heard R.E.M. in his room circa “Radio Free Europe,” they were always there in the background waiting for me to really notice them. Once I became a teenager myself, they found their way into medium rotation, up until I was about 15 when they released the album Green and my full-blown R.E.M. obsession struck with a vehemence that would amuse family, alienate friends, and become mildly embarrassing in retrospect.
Yes, R.E.M. could be obnoxiously erudite, showing off their smarty-pants in obscure allusions that are really nothing more than the intellectual equivalent of whipping your dick out on the table to make sure everyone sees how big it is. And yes, R.E.M.’s environmental and social consciousness could be overbearing, with a chiding smugness and pomposity that borders on being Bono-esque. And as a smug, pompous, socially and environmentally conscious honor student, that was right up my alley.
Fortunately, the high-handed lyrics were laid on top of some solid tunes. Despite my lofty airs, I was still a teenaged girl who was helpless against the wiles of a catchy pop hook, provided in songs like “Stand” and “Pop Song 89.” And as a teenaged girl who desperately sought some form of romance, the wistful, pretty “You Are the Everything,” “Hairshirt,” and the untitled 11th song were the perfect soundtrack for a hormone-fueled, why-can’t-I-have-a-boyfriend crying jag.
And then there are the vaguely political songs that made me feel really smart and, like, aware, man. I didn’t know much about the Vietnam War other than it was bad, and a song like “Orange Crush” allowed me to nod gravely and say, “Yes, Vietnam was bad. Bad indeed.” “Turn You Inside Out” seemed like it could be a defiant, cautionary tale against blindly following a leader or movement. Looking back on all of these songs and reading the lyrics today, they don’t seem early as deep or meaningful as they did back then, which makes my youthful take on “Turn You Inside Out” amusingly ironic.
“World Leader Pretend” was my favorite song on the album back then, with its self-doubt and moodiness, but what stood out most to me was the interesting percussion. R.E.M.’s tour for Green was my first-ever concert and I was delighted to see that the interesting percussion of this song was performed by Michael Stipe whacking on a metal chair with a drumstick. I’ll admit, I still think that’s pretty cool.
These days I get my politically-tinged pop culture served up in the form of fake cable news shows and I allow comedians, instead of rock bands, to keep me abreast of the things I should be outraged about. As for R.E.M., these days I can listen to these songs, give the lyrics a cynical smirk, and just enjoy the tunes.

The Joup Friday Album: The Stone Roses’ Self-Titled

The-stone-roses-the-stone-rosesAs a 16 year old in 1990 who worked with a bunch of ladies in their 30s, I swore that I would never let my musical taste stagnate. I’d never be like they were, still listening to the Styx and Boston and Bad Company albums they loved in high school.

It’s funny what can happen over 25 years’ time. You get busy. Driving an hour into the city to go to good record stores starts feeling more like a chore than a treat. Then the music industry fundamentally changes in ways that give you instant access to more music than ever, but the sheer immensity of it makes it seem so difficult to pull the wheat from the chaff that it hardly seems worth trying. Lacking the time and energy to hunt down much new music, you turn back to the old reliables.

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