Happy Mondays – Yes, Please! (1992)

IMG_5168My review of Devo’s Shout! last month caused me to consider the term “disaster album”.  Yes, Shout! was a critical and commercial failure which got Devo dropped from their label and (temporarily) split up the band, but I figured I could do one better.  When I think of a total disaster album, the first thing that comes to mind is Yes, Please! by the Happy Mondays.  Not only was it a commercial flop that was savaged by nearly everyone (including the infamous Melody Maker review – “No, thanks”), but it wound up costing so much money that Factory Records went bankrupt.  The money of course ended up going mostly up the noses of the band members – in an attempt to get the group off heroin, the label sent them to Barbados, resulting in the Mondays developing a newfound affinity for crack cocaine.  When they ran out of money, they sold Eddy Grant’s furniture to buy more drugs.  Which then led to Shaun Ryder rather infamously holding the master tapes hostage for more cash, even though the songs were still very much incomplete.  (He got £50)  Bez wound up crashing a car and breaking his arm, halting production of the album (and sucking up more Factory cash).  And so on.
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The Plastics – Welcome Plastics/Origato Plastico (1980)

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I’ve had a post about The Plastics half in the can for nearly a year now, but the sudden death of Toshio Nakanishi inspired me to get off my ass and finish it.  For those not in the know, Toshio (also known as Tycoon To$h) was one of the most important figures in the Japanese hip-hop and electronic scene, having fronted half a dozen different projects and collectives which brought the sounds of the west to the east.  Granted much of that is difficult to find in the States, outside of compilations and one-off projects by artists like Cornelius where he’ll suddenly appear.  This scattershot approach is understandable, as Toshio always seemed to be splitting his time between music and graphic design, which is what wound up giving him his big break.  He did designs for a Talking Heads book during one of their Japan tours, and slipped David Byrne a Plastics demo tape, which he promptly sent off to the B-52’s manager, thinking they sounded somewhat alike.  Eventually this leads to a deal with Island Records, which allowed them to tour in the US.
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CDs I bought in 1998

For my 12th birthday, I received a particularly great gift – a $50 gift certificate to the local music store.  Back then this was a pretty big deal and not something to be taken lightly.  I had maybe six CDs tops, plus whatever I could steal from my parents.  And with a two-dollar allowance, whatever I got was probably going to have to last until Christmas at the very least.  But it’s more than that when you’re in those preteen years; music was an identity.  I have no clue if middle schoolers these days are sharing Spotify playlists or whatever but back then it was all about what’s in your CD jacket.  As someone just about to enter 7th grade this was very important to me.  If you had cool music tastes then you were somewhat cool, unless you weren’t cool, then you were a poser.  If you listened to what your parents liked, then you were a loser, or you were poor.  If you liked stuff that nobody ever heard of, then you were an enigma, but nobody wanted to talk to you.  Am I getting this right?  Unfortunately there were not very many avenues for me to discover new music; I had MTV and the radio, and that was about it.  Every music video was like a sales pitch.
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Jonzun Crew – Lost in Space (1983)

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About five years ago I went on a major old-school hip-hop kick.  I am not sure what spurred it but I think it might have had something to do with “Looking for the Perfect Beat”, which  totally knocked me on my ass the first time I heard it.  Surely there must be something else out there that sounded like this.  Trouble is that hip-hop before 1984 is sort of a nebulous thing.  Lots of singles and a ton of difficult to find 12 inches, many of which are still difficult to find even in digital form.  But I’m an albums guy, and sadly the era didn’t really produce a whole lot of classics there.  Mostly because there aren’t too many, and those that exist tend to be either repackagings of singles (see Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s first LP) or cut with bad soul covers (those early Sugarhill Gang releases).
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Neil Cicierega – Mouth Moods (2017)

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Quick quiz:
1) Were you born in the 80’s?
2) Does Smash Mouth make you angry?

If you answered Yes to 1 and No to 2, then Neil Cicierega’s mash-up albums may be your new favorite thing on the planet.  In 2014, Neil dropped a pair of them titled Mouth Sounds and Mouth Silence, and if you heard them and liked them, then let me just say that Mouth Moods is just as good, if not better than those two albums, so drop everything and download this thing right now.
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Devo – Shout (1984)

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The nifty thing about Devo’s discography is that it follows this fairly straight downward trajectory, consistent with the band’s overarching message of de-evolution.  In an earlier post, I singled out New Traditionalists as the turning point, the moment where the band started losing touch with the elements that made them stand out, perhaps at the behest of Warner Brothers, who were suddenly seeing dollar signs reflecting off those goofy red hats.  But it wasn’t until Shout that the band made an album that just sucked, one that even the diehards had trouble defending.  It is the very definition of a disaster album – it drew awful reviews, it sold poorly, all of the singles flopped, and it got Devo dropped from Warner before they could even tour.  It even wound up convincing drummer extraordinaire Alan Myers to finally quit the band.  To this day Gerald Casale shivers when you mention it, recently remarking that the recording sessions were “too painful to talk about”.
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King Crimson – Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind) (2016)

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“Unless you’ve seen this King Crimson live, you don’t quite have the right to hold an opinion about it.  And secondly, unless you’ve seen this band live three times, your opinion is not likely to be substantial.” -Robert Fripp

Well, there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth: my opinion on this latest incarnation of King Crimson ain’t worth a rat’s ass, but guess what, you’re going to get it anyway.  You know, as haughty as that quote sounds, truth is he’s right; when it comes to King Crimson, every night is often very different, which is why there’s 25-some CDs of live material from the ’73-’74 lineup, enough to almost give one the impression that they played an infinite number of shows.  But ’15-’16 Crimson is an entirely different beast – they use set lists, they play the hits, they don’t really improvise outside of premeditated sections.  In other words they do what every other band of the 60’s and 70’s lucky enough to still be around is doing, though in Crimson’s case, they’ve earned it.  Their live shows have always been about exploration and not looking back, to the dismay of many a casual fan, though it does earn them the distinction of being one of those bands you really do have to see live in order to really “get it”.
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