154

154

Album: 154

Artist: Wire

Released: September 23rd, 1979

Highlights: I Should Have Known Better, The 15th, On Returning, Map Ref. 41°N 93°W3

Much like The Stooges, the MC5, the Sex Pistols, and the New York Dolls, Wire was a punk rock band that rather than fading away slowly, burned out quickly. In their case, the interval between 1976 and 1979 was all that it took for the quartet to burst into the scene, put out three influential records, and call it a day. Sure, anyone who knows of the group’s history will point out that they would eventually return into the fray nearly one decade later in 1987 and go on to publish more than a dozen new works. However, by the time of their comeback, not only was the whole punk rock explosion a distant sight in the rear-view mirror, but Wire itself was – naturally – quite a different band.

Unlike their short-lived punk rock peers, which used their brief careers in the genre to pound mercilessly at the same style of music, Wire went the other way and took advantage of their concise classic run to cover a lot of ground. Their legendary debut, “Pink Flag”, was not just purely punk to the core; somehow launching into twenty-one tunes in thirty-five minutes, the album was actually defined as the genre’s operatic suite. Released only a few months later, “Chairs Missing” was still quite direct and focused, but it had firmer song structures and – more notably – a heavy dosage of experimentation in dark sparse songs that signaled post-punk was the new tendency in rock.

Coming out one year later and serving as the third piece of that puzzle, “154” – a number that refers to the amount of shows the band had played up to that point – is another type of animal altogether. A quick glance at the duration of the record’s thirteen tracks is enough to reveal that Wire is, here, dabbling into material that is rather different: none of the tunes are shorter than two minutes and more than half of them go over the three-minute mark, which is – for those who had written “Pink Flag” – the equivalent to progressive rock running time. Of course, such lengths could indicate Wire has actually become a standard rock band that writes normal songs, but listening to “154” reveals that is far from the case. This is an album that is more artistically ambitious than all of those that preceded it, digging even deeper in the experimental direction of its predecessors.

“154”, similarly to “Chairs Missing”, can be safely labeled as a post-punk album. There is a deal of irresistible pop catchiness to it, which does the favor of bringing accessible counterpoints to its otherwise mostly confrontational nature, but through most of the way the record checks all of the boxes expected out of the more somber spectrum of the style. “154” is cold, dark, industrial, disturbing, and distant. It does not display these qualities to the extreme of contemporaries like Joy Division or The Cure, because Wire simply does not have the serious and dramatic artistic inspirations of Ian Curtis or Robert Smith. Nevertheless, those defining elements are certainly in the package, albeit in a very distinct format, which ends up doing the album a whole lot of good.

Ultimately, what makes “154” unique is the same set of ingredients that turned “Chairs Missing” into a notable work, with the difference being that they appear more prominently this time around. This is threatening and mechanical post-punk that goes hard on synthesizers, keyboards, and – especially – guitar effects to create a peculiar atmosphere. But instead of going for such oppressive environment via the meticulously constructed path taken by other post-punk bands of the sort, Wire shuns those approaches and bets on a more basic road. What the band is doing here is essentially taking the do-it-yourself punk ethos and applying them to somber post-punk. Although much of the material is daring, nothing is pulled off in a musically ambitious way. “154” is, therefore, as basic, raw, and stripped down as it gets, using that punk spirit not to play fast-paced rock and roll, but to create experimental music.

In general, the best cuts in the album are those that match wild sonic trips with strong melodies, serving as a perfect middle ground between straightforward punk and boundary-pushing music. “I Should Have Known Better” is a cavernous track that anticipates the early releases of Echo & the Bunnymen; with cold narrated verses that reach subdued despair in the hooky chorus, it moves forward at a mechanical pace, with the song’s central beat being mostly provided by the guitars, as the drums focus on adorning the ominous soundscape with clicks. “The 15th” is melodically gorgeous; built on a layer made up of a pair of guitars, one quite clean that plays arpeggios and another drenched in noise that forms the base, the track uses synthesizers to put together what is the closest Wire has ever gotten to a post-punk ballad. With sparse instrumentation, the lengthy “A Touching Display” plods in a threatening way with dissonant guitars and drones that make it a distant offspring of The Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs”. “On Returning” follows with a fast-paced progression filled with alien keyboard sounds that frantically build to a culminating emotional release. And similarly drenched in effects, “Map Ref. 41°N 93°W3” is a lighter poppier tune that flirts with new wave.

On the more purely experimental side, none of the tunes match the greatness of these five songs, but interesting results emerge nonetheless. “Two People In a Room” has a relentless paranoid groove that, in two minutes, features talking, shouting, and an attempt at a more melodic passage. Likewise, “Single K.O.”, which carries an iconic riff as its central hook, shows the members of Wire are still masters at packing unpredictable undefined structures into short running times, given this is a free-flowing composition that keeps attaching itself to different melodies as seconds pass. Finally, “Blessed State”, probably the album’s only relaxing song, has entwining guitars that – in a less technically proficient way – recall Television, since the two play contrasting arpeggio-based lines that clash in beautiful synergy.

As it happened with “Chairs Missing”, however, the downfall of “154” and the factor that keeps it away from being an equal to “Pink Flag” is the fact that Wire’s experimental detours – as commendable and inspiring as they were – fail to be totally productive with a considerable frequency. “The Other Window” and “Indirect Enquiries” are horror movie material of surrealistic musical quality, but are not exactly appealing as songs from a studio record. “Once Is Enough” and “40 Versions” have potential thanks to their interesting guitar lines, the former heavy and the latter nigh electronic, but disintegrate into chaos before they are able to build on their ideas. Lastly, “A Mutual Friend” reaches a satisfying melodic conclusion, but it takes a while wandering through dull experimentation to get there. Because of these weaker moments, “154” is far from being the stone-cold classic it could have been given the stylistic uniqueness of its construction. However, be it due to its influence on future generations or as a consequence of the bridge it builds between punk rock and avant-garde music, listening to it is not just generally enjoyable, but also key in understanding the changes rock went through when the spark of punk started to fade.

three-half

Metal Box

Album: Metal Box

Artist: Public Image Ltd

Released: November 23rd, 1979

Highlights: Albatross, Memories, Swan Lake

When John Lydon, mostly known to the world by his stage name, Johnny Rotten, opted to leave the Sex Pistols behind to form a band over which he would have far more control, the singer often justified his reasons to do so in two ways. Firstly, he claimed he wished for musical freedom, an asset that was quite difficult to find in the restrictive punk rock scene, where any step away from speed, guitars, and anger was prone to generate mighty backlash. Secondly, he stated he longed for interested bandmates and creative partners, for much of the new ideas and concepts he proposed to his Sex Pistols entourage were met with total aloofness.

As it turns out, his desires were probably not just quite true, but also rather strong, for the break away from his destructive origins came very fast. Right on the debut of his new outfit, “Public Image: First Issue”, Lydon and his new collaborators were seen operating far from the realm of punk: the tunes were longer, the grooves over which they were built showed a thickness and a sway akin to African-American music, and the tracks carried a loose free-form nature that indicated much of the material was built under an improvisational setting. As different as it was, though, the tunes still showed links to punk, be it in their propelling power, in their wild pace, or in their noisy guitars.

Surely, the work was both experimental and pivotal in the formation of post-punk, but fans only got a true taste of how adventurous Lydon was willing to get in the group’s sophomore effort. Aptly titled “Metal Box”, the original pressing of the album came packed inside a metallic canister that aimed to emulate the containers in which movie reels were distributed. Within it, buyers would find three LPs that, reportedly, could be so difficult to remove from the can that the whole process could lead them to be either dented or scratched. The record’s oddity, however, extended far beyond presentation, as “Metal Box” unites so much strangeness into one package that it makes the infamous closer of the band’s debut album, the eight-minute sonic collage of “Fodderstompf”, seem more like a prelude and less like a throwaway joke.

Despite the fierce stylistic turn that “Metal Box” represents, one that was going to get much weirder in its successor, “The Flowers of Romance”, there are plenty of similarities between it and “Public Image: First Issue”. For starters, the songs tend to be long; in fact, only three of the twelve cuts fall below the four-minute mark, while opener “Albatross” extends beyond ten minutes. Furthermore, their general instrumental bed is so lax one can safely bet most of them came to be through jamming. Finally, Lydon sings over the music with so little care for melodic cohesion that both improvisation and recording whatever the group came up with on the spot seem to have been the norm.

Still, “Metal Box” is radically different from “Public Image: First Issue”. At times, the long-winded menacing grooves of the latter recalled “Fun House” by The Stooges, in the sense they captured a punk rock band blasting away out of control. In “Metal Box”, contrarily, there is no such aggression. Instead of being highlighted by the mix, the guitars actually take a considerable backseat to the drums and, especially, the bass. “Public Image: First Issue” had already given notable attention to those instruments, as it is often and rightfully claimed rookie bassist Jah Wobble shines throughout the proceedings. But “Metal Box” turns the spotlight even further in his direction, and – in the end – the grooves that he comes up with turn out to be the compositional compass of the work.

Thanks to its focus on rhythm, its steady beats, and its frequent ornamentation by an onslaught of odd sounds that seem to have been electronically manipulated, if “Metal Box” can be pinned down inside a genre, then it is dub, thereby showing The Clash were not the sole punk Englishmen interested in the Jamaican sound. With the exception of closer “Radio 4”, a strangely beautiful keyboard-centered piece of ambient music recorded by guitarist Keith Levene on his own, all tracks on the album follow a strict formula: with the drums and the bass in the center of the mix, always bouncing around in firm patterns, Levene and Lydon toil away like mad decorators. The first delivers grinding, noisy, unpredictable guitar lines that are simultaneously misty and metallic; meanwhile, the second spills out conceptual poetry in an equally errant fashion.

In what could be a nod to or an influence of “Unknown Pleasures” by Joy Division, yet another major piece in the construction of post-punk music, the record’s production creates an environment that is both cavernous and claustrophobic. As such, Public Image Ltd seem to be locked away somewhere in the bowels of a decommissioned English factory, with the sound they make appropriately recalling a cold industrial clang, one that is so distant and otherworldly it might be the product of ghosts from the foggy Victorian era. And while his bandmates stand for the machines themselves, Lydon comes off as the voice of a ghastly undertaker, for rather than emerging like angry rants that spit out acid, his vocals float and haunt the tracks of “Metal Box”.

In terms of style, this second showing by Public Image Ltd is unquestionably unparalleled, as it paints a very unique and significant image of England. Here, one can find the sad darkness of the country’s industrial past; the constant desire and talent its youth has shown in regards to breaking into significantly new musical ground; and the open-minded multicultural spirit that slowly leaked into part of its population. As far as quality goes, however, the matter is far foggier, for although artistically interesting, the lengthy, monochromatic, and steady nature of “Metal Box” can turn it into one tough record to get through. There are no pop hooks being served, only grooves, beats, guitar-scratching, and alien electronic noises. As such, even if clearly more daring than “Public Image: First Issue” and more aligned with Lydon’s desires, “Metal Box” is not quite as fun.

A Kiss In The Dreamhouse

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Album: A Kiss in the Dreamhouse

Artist: Siouxsie and the Banshees

Released: November 6th, 1982

Highlights: Cascade, She’s a Carnival, Melt, Painted Bird

Despite often – and rightly so – being labeled as one of the forging forces of the gothic rock movement, Siouxsie and the Banshees were rarely strangers to the concept of light. It is undeniable that when the band started their career with the sequence of “The Scream” and “Join Hands”, there was little space in the ominous darkness of their work for some luminosity to break through. But by the time their third effort, “Kaleidoscope”, came out, the idea that there was not enough room for artistic creation in the tight corner in which they had originated seemed to be quite clear in the minds of the band members, and so Siouxsie and the Banshees began to expand their sound in order to allow light to leak into the music.

To a point, such evaluation could be made about any gothic rock outfit that lived long enough to question themselves about the direction in which they should go next; eventually, in most cases, the music got brighter. But following “Kaleidoscope”, Siouxsie and the Banshees developed a very unique relationship with light. The Cure, their most popular followers, for instance, would go on to constantly operate inside the extreme dichotomy of utter gloom and joyous bubblegum pop, producing songs that were entirely in only one of those two camps. For Siouxsie and the Banshees, though, light and darkness never achieved total domination over one another, transforming most of their discography – especially their classic run – into a display of how those two elements could coexist.

During that period, there is little doubt that “Juju”, their fourth album, stands as the strongest proof of that formula’s greatness, as the popularity of singles “Spellbound” and “Arabian Nights” ought to confirm. But it is its successor, “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse”, that qualifies as the most interesting piece, because in it what is bright and what is sinister converge in rather intense states. The result of that radical mixture is a record that although firmly anchored in the post-punk tradition is also able to drive straight into psychedelia; merging the grayness of the British industrial towns that generated angry and dark acts such as The Fall, with the daring artistic extravagance of someone like Kate Bush.

The despondent post-punk undercurrent comes from the mechanical clank of the drums and bass; as it happens in the songs of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ contemporaries, Joy Division, these instruments loom tall, serving as the body of the tracks and broadcasting an uncomfortable aura thanks to their inhumanly steady plod. Meanwhile, the colors come from what is built on top of that framework, which – in the case of “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse” – turns out to be quite a lot. Specifically, the album is not notable because it brings keyboards and strings into the equation; the former had already been used to great effect in “Kaleidoscope” and the latter only appear in two songs. “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse” is actually remarkable due to how audacious it is sonically, as its tunes – straightforward in construction – are decorated by layers of noises, overdubs, and effects that lend the pop contours of the band’s music one lush body.

The oddity of the parts greatly benefits from the versatility of Siouxsie Sioux herself, a woman that could sing – without ever feeling out of place – in a graveyard, at an avant-garde music festival, at a pop show, or in an opera house. And throughout “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse”, the singer and the Banshees make good use of that wide palette. Over a hypnotic and robotic duel of bass and guitar, “Cascade” dramatically builds to its chorus three times; and in every instance, it does so differently, with new instrumental lines and noises appearing in each run. “Green Fingers” takes a similar approach, but rather than feeling like a build-up, it is more of a constant rush adorned by occasional distorted hums and one quirky psychedelic hook played by a recorder. “Obsession”, meanwhile, follows the opening pair with industrial minimalism; part sinister march and part haunted nursery rhyme, the song is a repetitive melodic line sung over what appears to be a rainy landscape which is punctuated by a beat constituted of a guitar and a bell, as well as by the occasional appearances of menacing strings.

“She’s a Carnival” brings a radical shift of pace and mood to the album, throwing listeners into a hyperactive celebration of love that perfectly captures the vibe of the song’s festive title. In “Circle”, on the other hand, the once happy carnival seems to have taken a disturbing turn; led by a keyboard that plays what is best described as the sound a carousel makes when it is either broken or stuck in a bizarre time loop, the tune is a dissonant mass of elements that clash as Siouxsie sings about how children are negatively affected by the bad behaviors of their parents. “Melt” takes “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse” back to the denser atmosphere of its first few tunes with a wide and majestic dream pop song that is, in both lyrics and music, drenched in sexual pleasure.

“Painted Bird” is, in the vein of “She’s a Carnival”, another slice of energetic pop rock, but in it the omnipresent darkness is more palpable, not only because of the grand cutting guitar line played by John McGeoch and the discomforting vocal overdubs by Siouxsie, but also due to how the song deals with the shocking story present in the book of the same title, where a man paints birds in a different color and returns them to their flock only to see them killed by their peers. “Cocoon” is bepop jazz but with a twist worthy of “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse”, as the band appears to improvise a simple shuffle over a thick layer of odd sound effects and an echo-laden atmosphere. And “Slowdive”, which merges crude post-punk instrumentation and strings, describes a dance that – thanks to the moves it includes and the song it should be performed to – is ideal for a decrepit club whose attendees are mentally deranged or greatly affected by drugs.

There are times when the off-the-wall experimentation of “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse” dents it to different degrees: “Circle”, though conceptually excellent, verges on annoying because of the cycle in which its keyboards are stuck and of its length; “Cocoon” is a unique take on jazz, but could have benefited from firmer hooks; “Obsession” has a captivating melody, but its instrumentation could have been more developed; and “Slowdive” works as a post-punk dance number, but does not really leave any considerable marks. However, when “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse” is firing on all cylinders, it displays one of the finest and most inventive bands of the era doing what they did best; that is, packaging both light and darkness into accessible songs that push the envelope in artistic terms but retain an irresistible appeal. Siouxsie and the Banshees may have produced a few records that are better than “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse”; they have, though, never been as fascinating, jarring, psychedelic, and extreme as they were in their fifth release.

Victorialand

victorialand

Album: Victorialand

Artist: Cocteau Twins

Released: April 14th, 1986

Highlights: Lazy Calm, Fluffy Tufts, Oomingmak, Little Spacey, The Thinner the Air

Ethereal. That is likely the adjective most frequently associated with the sound of the Cocteau Twins, a Scottish trio formed in 1979. Such link is, in fact, so strong that the band is often cited as one of the points of origin for all kinds of musical styles that lack an anchor that firmly ties them to the ground, be it dream pop or shoegazing. From the very start of the group’s career, their music, first introduced to the general public via their 1982 release, “Garlands”, took flight on how the guitar playing of Robin Guthrie – a misty cloud of screeching, ringing, and grinding – was accompanied by elements that were hardly solid. The percussive work that backed it up, either handled by a human or a drum machine, was sparse and punctual; meanwhile, the vocals, delivered by the gifted Elizabeth Fraser, were an indecipherable chant.

As unique as the Cocteau Twins might have been, though, their discography had – up to the days preceding the coming of “Victorialand” – held somewhat blatant ties to the scene that surrounded them. The dark and gothic aura produced by the music in “Garlands” and “Treasure” made it easy for one to draw comparisons between the trio and Siouxsie and the Banshees, especially when the sonic audacity that permeates the two bands’ work is taken into consideration. Meanwhile, the meatier moments of their second effort, “Head Over Heels”, such as “Sugar Hiccup” and “In Our Angelhood”, pointed to the more forward-driving and accessible instances of the post-punk scene.

Named after a region of Antarctica, “Victorialand” bucks the trend of easy comparisons and throws the Cocteau Twins towards the unknown. Guthrie, the instrumental heart of the band, chooses to strip the trio’s music bare, removing pieces from a constitution that was already quite basic in the first place. In the process of doing so, he bumps into a sound so light that it floats; so lacking in physically solid particles that it simply cannot be touched. As such, “Victorialand” is an absolute landmark in the band’s career. Within a trajectory that was all about making ethereal tunes, their fourth album is the point in which the Cocteau Twins show the world how heavenly and spiritual they can get. And they drive so intensely in that direction that they blast through the stylistic limitations of post-punk and land directly in ambient music.

There are no drums whatsoever throughout the entirety of “Victorialand”. Likewise, there is no bass. The album’s credits, actually, reveal that aside from Elizabeth Fraser’s voice and Robin Guthrie’s guitars, the only two other instruments present in “Victorialand” are a saxophone – audible in the lengthy introduction of the first track, “Lazy Calm” – and a tabla, the record’s sole percussive element, which makes a brief appearance towards the ending of the very same song. Looking at the album as merely a radical exercise in ethereal music, however, is misguided, because the Cocteau Twins presented here produce far more than a lighter and less anchored version of the band’s previous sound.

There is a visible change in mood brought by “Victorialand”. Borrowing a page from its Antarctic title, there is a palpable distance and coldness to the music. Fraser and Guthrie can be heard through waves whose origins are far away, and the inherent reverb they carry indicate the duo is somewhere which is vast and wide open. Furthermore, a wintry chill seems to envelop them, one that indicates that walking into the breeze in which they are can be deadly. Differently from the band’s previous material, though, which tended to care threatening undertones, in “Victorialand” the danger is subdued by beauty. It is a definition that may sound incongruent given the perils of low temperatures, but it makes sense when the alluring wonders of white snowy landscapes are considered: the danger is certainly there, but it is easy to forget about it when confronted with so much visual splendor.

Fraser’s signature soprano voice, in all its technical wonder, mostly utters words rather than the seemingly random sounds that made up most of “Treasure”. Yet, Elizabeth remains an enigma. She bets on cryptic poetry constructed by disassociated words, and names the tracks by quoting the book “The Living Planet: A Portrait of the Earth”, especially its passages that deal with both the Arctic and Antarctic. More importantly from a stylistic standpoint is the fact that her vocals, following the tradition of the Cocteau Twins, act like yet another musical component; instead of being highlighted at the forefront, they are as much a part of the songs’ instrumental body as Guthrie’s guitars. And together, they form a cold breath that takes the shape of beautiful music.

Abandoning the cacophony and the grind that dominated the guitars of their previous albums, Guthrie takes a much more delicate approach to playing, focusing – instead – on light arpeggios, picking, and clear tones, going so far as using acoustic sounds to form the core of two tunes: “Throughout the Dark Months of April and May” and “Feet-Like Fins”. Fraser, at the same time, avoids melodies that verge on pop – which do show up punctually in songs like “Lazy Calm”, “Fluffy Tufts”, and “Oomingmak” – for material of more classical inspiration, a quality that is undoubtedly made stronger thanks to the soprano nature of her voice. “Little Spacey”, for example, is part waltz part airborne ballet; and numerous are the tracks whose vocal lines boast a dramatic and operatic value that would sit comfortably in a music hall, even if the singers – in that case – appear to be floating in the mist miles away from the audience.

“Victorialand” is an album of remarkable musical and thematic consistency, as its packaging, title, and music uniformly pull in the same direction. Moreover, its tunes hold a hypnotic draw that drags listeners into its icy claws, keeping them immersed through the brief thirty-two minutes for which it lasts. Some of its cuts are certainly better than others, as at least a couple of tracks go by without building towards something significant or truly hooking audiences to notable instrumental and melodic baits. But the overall experience it presents is excellent, not only because it is the most ethereal work of a band that is tightly associated with the word, but also thanks to how it boldly drives post-punk to the realm of ambient music. Sonically, the Cocteau Twins were always daring; they, however, never showed as much audacity as they did in “Victorialand”.

EVOL

evol

Album: EVOL

Artist: Sonic Youth

Released: May 1st, 1986

Highlights: Tom Violence, Shadow of a Doubt, Starpower, Expressway to Yr. Skull

There are, quite naturally, plenty of elements to be found in “EVOL” – Sonic Youth’s third album – that can be easily linked to pieces of the two full-length releases that preceded it: “Confusion Is Sex” and “Bad Moon Rising”. The guitars, whose sounds expand and hang in the air for a while like a thin mist, present a delicacy in their physical manifestation that heavily contrasts with the uncomfortable feelings their atonal essence gives life to. As a consequence, the instrumental backing of the album’s tracks becomes shapeless, mysterious, and looming; the kind of material that could be employed as the musical basis of a psychological thriller that takes place in an urban, dirty, and industrial dystopia. And on top of those pieces lie vocal performances that are bold in their cold sloppiness, using partial indifference as a pathway to artistic value.

Yet, despite those glaring similarities, if there is one turning point to be found in the career of a group that – through thirty years, fifteen studio albums, and numerous labels (both big and small) – remained true to their alternative roots, “EVOL” is certainly it. The work marks the departure of drummer Bob Bert and the arrival of his replacement, Steve Shelley, which would stay with the band until the end of their run. And although it is hard to say how much that new addition contributes to the leap that is taken, as “EVOL” seems to be the natural conclusion of an evolutionary arch that was already relatively visible in its two predecessors, the fact of the matter is that a lot of that transition goes through Shelley.

“Confusion Is Sex” and “Bad Moon Rising” were morbid, mean, and menacing like a film depicting horrifying madness that threatens to break through the screen and drag listeners into its downward spiral towards insanity. “EVOL” is not too different; but, in it, the noise of Sonic Youth gains notable muscle. Where in their first two albums the band was prone to getting lost amidst their unique craft, with the quartet going on to produce many songs that degenerated into aimless attempts at creating dark atmospheres through racket; in “EVOL” the group emerges as a more focused entity. Instead of drifting out dully into the ether, their more experimental hours are anchored to the ground; meanwhile, their ability to construct tracks whose structures have a more traditional lean – which do so without ever abandoning their noisy edge – is more explored.

“EVOL” is, as such, the moment when Sonic Youth realized that their relentless desire to challenge the limitations of guitar music should not bar them from looking at the possibilities that reside in the more straightforward pop approach. It is a record that proves to the band as well as to their followers that pushing for abrasive tones, aesthetically unpleasant tunings, and weird distortions are not mutually exclusive with embracing the power of good hooks; and, in that process, “EVOL” shows that the extremist and confrontational rejection of conventional rock and roll values captained by the no wave movement – in which Sonic Youth was born – could be tamed into an excellent middle ground.

The record opens with a triple punch that immediately announces Sonic Youth has changed for the better. “Tom Violence”, “Shadow of a Doubt”, and “Starpower” are not just the finest tunes the band had coined up to that point; they are also testaments to how Moore, Gordon, Ranaldo, and Shelley could embrace sheer catchiness without losing their personality. By far the poppiest points of the album, they are fully developed pieces that merge immediacy and experimentation. In “Tom Violence”, sandwiched between segments with beautiful ringing guitars and a fantastic melody, there is a gripping instrumental break that disintegrates before slowly springing back to life. The delicate whispers and picking of the dreamy “Shadow of a Doubt”, Kim Gordon’s signature song, are interrupted by a nightmarish slice of noise that has the singer screaming in the background as if trying to escape from perturbed sleep. Finally, “Starpower” catches a hold of its racket to alternate between occasions when it drives forward in punk rock fashion and instances when it becomes abstract.

At the same time, though, “EVOL” holds enough room for Sonic Youth to go purely experimental, and in those cases the band also displays notable growth; particularly in how they are – almost always – able to steer clear from pointless indulgence. Boasting spoken vocals that seem recklessly thrown over its fantastic backing track, “In the Kingdom #19” recreates a car crash. “Green Light” flirts with pop when it opens with Moore singing a hypnotizing melody, but quickly ventures into noise. “Death to Our Friends” is an angry and fast-paced instrumental. “Secret Girl” is half a weird intro filled with dull sounds and half a fantastic recitation of poetry by Kim Gordon, who does so over a simple but touching piano loop. And “Marilyn Moore”, the album’s sole misstep, has bored and irregular vocals by Moore, which match an equally uncertain instrumentation.

Appropriately, the catchy and the experimental sides of “EVOL” meet in perfect harmony to give birth to the record’s culmination: its closing track, “Expressway to Yr. Skull”. Clocking in at seven minutes, the song starkly opposes the rest of the album, which delivers its contents in relatively brief spans. “Expressway to Yr. Skull” uses a format, of which “The Diamond Sea” is likely the best and most extreme example, that Sonic Youth would go on to tackle multiple times during their career, as the tune grabs a melody many pop songwriters would have killed for, uses it for a small amount of time, and makes a sudden turn towards the land of lengthy musical freak-outs, essentially pushing the formula of “EVOL” to its utmost limits before the record slowly decomposes and comes to a close.

Although a surprisingly strong effort by a band that, slightly more than one year earlier, was clearly looking for solid footing, “EVOL” ranks among Sonic Youth’s best efforts without quite making a serious run for the top spot. Almost entirely free of instrumental frivolity, it still falters in lyrics and vocals, two areas which – for many – the band would never exactly nail, but that would nevertheless see clear evolution in the following years. Yet, as the muscular backbone of their tracks would start gaining notable strength with the follow-up, “Sister”, and as the substance in the band’s songwriting would also increase, “EVOL” is a unique middle ground between Sonic Youth’s purely atmospheric beginnings and the rest of their career, which would be more firmly grounded on the alternative scene. And, in that sense, it is a key – and thoroughly enjoyable – moment in the history of all kinds of rock that see noise as an integral part of their constitution.

Fall Heads Roll

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Album: Fall Heads Roll

Artist: The Fall

Released: October 3rd, 2005

Highlights: Pacifying Joint, What About Us?, Blindness, Youwanner

Word on the dirty back alleys of rock music has it that The Fall, the highly prolific English post-punk outfit led by Mark E. Smith, produced – during their forty-two-year career – thirty-one albums that were all variations on a single theme. To a point, such poisonous gossip is true; after all, the group’s leader himself, in one of the most notable tracks put together by the band in the years that preceded the release of their debut record, boasted that: “We dig repetition in the music / And we’re never going to lose it”. Aptly titled “Repetition”, the song would go on to serve not just as a defiant anthem, but also as a musical manifesto to which The Fall would always remain faithful.

The repetition, however, though steady and relentless, was sneaky; constantly coming in different flavors. The band, slowly yet surely, incorporated new elements into their sound and dropped countless others in such an organic way that those who were tracking it closely did not see it happening, for exactly like looking at oneself in the mirror every day, the change could only be perceived by being confronted directly with the past. Therefore, even if most entires that stand side by side in the discography of The Fall are at times hard to tell apart, the differences come in droves when the items being compared are chronologically distant.

“Fall Heads Roll”, although certainly a product of various shifts, does not exactly respect that norm. Undoubtedly, like the albums that came right before it and similarly to every single piece in The Fall’s oeuvre, it grinds in a way that is as demented as it is threatening, like a chainsaw-wielding killer who is trying to break into a house and murder its occupants by using his only weapon against all obstacles that stand in his path, whether they are as solid as walls or as easily breakable as windows. Additionally, under the endless cyclical destruction, there can be found a myriad of synthetic noises, brought in by talented keyboardist Elena Poulou, that add a modern touch to the roughness while nodding to the electronic beats with which The Fall played during much of the 90s.

Yet, “Fall Heads Roll” feels rather different. Coming close to many releases, with its predecessor “The Real New Fall LP” being the exception, in which Mark E. Smith sounded bored and the band lacked any sort of forward energy, it is full of vitality; as if that old grumpy and drunk neighbor who could do nothing but yell threats from his window suddenly decided to get out of the house and attack by-passers. More relevant to that notable distinction, however, is the fact that the album simply sounds extremely muscular: it surpasses all other The Fall records as far as sheer strength is concerned, meaning that “Fall Heads Roll” pounds so heavily at its loudest moments that it might as well be pointed out as Mark E. Smith’s shot at hard rock.

It goes without saying that if “Fall Heads Roll” can indeed be labeled as such, then it is hard rock in The Fall’s own terms. The riffs are, as usual, so short and simple that it is sort of surprising nobody had ever used them before; or perhaps their absurd straightforwardness is what kept them from being taken by other folks in the first place. Moreover, the only sort of musical acrobatics that occur can be found in the band’s ability to build mighty grooves that sometimes go the distance by repeating the same idea over and over again while Mark E. Smith rants like a maniac over them. At last, while the instruments are captured with a clearness and crispness that is nearly unforeseen for a group like The Fall, the iconic singer is – as rules dictate – positively impossible to understand to many people in Britain and to almost everyone outside it.

Out of that fine-tuned formula, the band extracts a few career highlights. “Pacifying Joint” is a delightful racket; an obvious pinnacle in The Fall’s integration between repetitive riffs and electronic music. “What About Us?” follows the same recipe, with the difference being that the pulsating waves coming out of the keyboards build to an amazingly catchy chorus based on a call-and-response hook sung by Smith and Poulou where a man from East Germany complains to Harold Shipman, a real-life doctor and serial killer, that the criminal should give the morphine he uses to murder old ladies to him instead. Meanwhile, “Youwanner” is constructed like a vicious ever-descending spiral that drags listeners into its deadly guitar-based downward trip. And then there is “Blindness”; easily ranking among the best tracks The Fall produced during their incredible run, it is a gripping seven-minute jam that starts only with drums, bass, and keyboard but slowly swells to a tsunami of sounds that is both unstoppable and inescapable.

Although these tunes stand tall amidst the collection that surrounds them, the rest of the cuts in “Fall Heads Roll” are not to be ignored either. “Midnight in Aspen” and “Early Days of Channel Führer” are oddly introspective and nearly beautiful, with the latter featuring a very rare sight in The Fall’s catalog: an acoustic guitar. In “I Can Hear the Grass Grow”, a brilliant The Move cover, and “Bo Demmick”, which uses the Bo Diddley beat, Smith pays homage – in his own way, of course – to a passion of his that has always been present in the band’s sound: old-school rock and roll. “Ride Away” is an odd piece of stumbling reggae which immediately qualifies as the weirdest opener to a The Fall record. “Clasp Hands” has the group coming quite close to their post-punk origins. “Assume” is centered on an interesting snaking guitar line. “Breaking the Rules” is short and carries a riff that is almost playful. And “Trust in Me” is a bit of a lackluster closer that could have worked better towards the middle of the album as it does have a hypnotic weirdness to it despite a general lack of inspiration.

Given the overall consistency of The Fall’s lengthy and productive musical journey, “Fall Heads Roll” does not – in the end – feel like a revelation or a culmination. Its excellent integration between guitars and keyboards had already been achieved, albeit under much lighter distortions, in 1993’s “The Infotainment Scan”. Furthermore, the mightiness of Mark E. Smith’s band, although never captured so clearly, was not a secret to those who were paying attention. Yet, “Fall Heads Roll” is significant, not just because it is – ultimately – the heaviest album ever put out by The Fall, but also due to how it is a very strong late-career work. One that announced, twenty-four albums and twenty-nine years into the group’s arch, that they still had fuel to burn; and one that, with Smith’s passing and The Fall’s retirement, shines among the best pieces assembled by a one-of-a-kind relentless and repetitive madman.

Machine Gun Etiquette

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Album: Machine Gun Etiquette

Artist: The Damned

Released: November 2nd, 1979

Highlights: Love Song, Melody Lee, Plan 9 Channel 7, Smash It Up

The Damned were great pioneers. After all, not only were they the first punk rock group from the United Kingdom to release a single, 1976’s “New Rose”, but they also – beating both The Clash and the Sex Pistols by some months – hold the distinction of being the first representatives of the genre based on the Queen’s islands to put out an album, 1977’s “Damned Damned Damned”. History, however, ended up not being too kind to the blokes from London, for while The Clash and the Sex Pistols seem to be eternally interlocked with the idea of British punk rock, The Damned remain too obscure to have their name recognized by a wider audience.

Perhaps, such a fate can be attributed to the fact that, despite writing some pretty remarkable tunes, the band clearly lacks that transcendental track that refuses to fade into the abyss and succeeds, therefore, in reaching new generations; or maybe what The Damned truly miss is that one defining record that leaves such a considerable mark in history that its title and quality resound through time strongly enough for it to be rediscovered over and over again by young music lovers. The most accurate answer, however, is probably a combination of these two factors and a few others, but regardless of the solution to the mystery, the fact remains that The Damned are relatively unknown.

If there is an album by the band that could carry their name forward, though, it would be their third effort: “Machine Gun Etiquette”. One could easily argue that “Damned Damned Damned” is a more relevant piece due to its historical value and its truer adherence to the fast, raw, and basic ethos of punk. And that evaluation would not be too out of the mark, because “Machine Gun Etiquette” – as its release date indicates – sits right in the middle of a transition, one where the world was abandoning the tight confines of the genre’s smoking wreckage and heading to the much wider palette of sounds of the post-punk movement.

And The Damned, as a living organism that existed in that context, was not immune to that change, because the album shows the group beginning to shed their original skin for something different, a much needed transformation considering the disaster of their sophomore work, “Music for Pleasure”. Certainly, the position of “Machine Gun Etiquette”, stuck right between The Damned’s fast-paced origins and their unexpected turn towards gothic rock, makes it a weird pick as the band’s signature work, for transitional albums rarely feel sufficiently well-formed and focused to reach that status, but the bottom line is that it encompasses the best of the two worlds The Damned would end up embracing during their career, for its rougher tunes are nicely written, vicious, and varied; while its stylistic experiments in post-punk, still not straying too far from pure rock, stand as nice complements to the record’s most aggressive moments.

On its more raucous side, “Machine Gun Etiquette” exhibits an excellent nose for matching brutal strength with catchiness. “Love Song”, the opener, is very much punk in speed, but it pairs the simplicity of its verses with a chorus that is poppy in melody and a constant soaring guitar that delivers an abundance of short solos; the call-and-response format of the title track works like a call to arms, a characteristic that is accentuated by a short instrumental interval that evokes the image of marching rioters; “Melody Lee” opens with a sweet piano introduction, an annunciation of the odd sweetness of its melody, before the band blasts recklessly into a relentless attack; “Anti-Pope” is sung so quickly that the group appears to stop in the middle of it for some improvisation in order to allow Dave Vanian to catch a breath; “Looking at You” is a very well-executed MC5 cover; finally, both “Noise, Noise, Noise” and “Liar” have fantastic choruses built for some angry sing-along.

Meanwhile, the album’s cuts that completely go beyond the boundaries of punk rock, which are a minority, seem to anticipate some of what was to come for rock music in the 1980s. “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” and “These Hands” use keyboards to evoke very distinct feelings, with the former going for an apocalyptic vibe in its darkness and structural chaos, as if it were a lost Echo & the Bunnymen track, and the latter assembling an unexpected circus tent that attracts demented clowns.

The highlights of that diverse bunch, however, are two tunes that are more grounded in straightforward rock. “Plan 9 Channel 7” is punk rock for the cemetery, as the junction of its church-like keyboards and expansive guitar sound creates a dense gothic atmosphere that gains contours of vampirism thanks to Vanian’s baritone vocals. Aiming towards a rather different target, “Smash It Up” – broken into two parts – slowly builds to a destructive conclusion: the guitar of its opening instrumental segment rings with a cleanliness that would make it fit like a glove in an R.E.M. or The Smiths track; the song, however, soon speeds up into music that is the perfect soundtrack for an audience to do exactly what its title and chorus urge one to before ending on a drunk choir that seems to be performed by individuals that are about to realize they may have gone too far in their inebriated outburst.

With that aggregation of odd parts, “Machine Gun Etiquette” does ultimately come off like a document that captured a creature right in the middle of its metamorphosis, as it is clearly leaving behind the past whilst not having its feet totally planted in the future. Still, the quality of its pieces (with “These Hands” being the sole weak tune) as well as the strong show put on by the band, as both Vanian and guitarist Captain Sensible pull off the performances of a lifetime while drummer Rat Scabies appears in much better form than he did in the debut, make “Machine Gun Etiquette” not just the definitive The Damned album, but also an excellent portrait on how the bridge between punk and post-punk was constructed.

Dragnet

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Album: Dragnet

Artist: The Fall

Released: October 26th, 1979

Highlights: Psykick Dancehall, Printhead, Muzorewi’s Daughter, Spectre Vs Rector

Accessibility is not a word one would use to describe the work of The Fall, the post-punk English band led by rock music’s most beloved curmudgeon, Mark E. Smith. Yet, when they presented themselves to the world via their first full-length record, “Live at the Witch Trials”, they did so through songs that, although dirty in their aura and rough in their musicality, did receive a production treatment that made them stand somewhat close to the angriest spectrum of the predominant scene.

Nobody really played like The Fall, nobody wrote lyrics like Mark E. Smith, and nobody had the guts to sing their words in a manner that resembled the vocal approach of the band’s microphone-wielder. Yet, a listener with some knowledge on the musical currents that sprung out of the smoky wreckage of the punk movement would easily place the music of “Live at the Witch” trials somewhere towards the end of the 70s. It is a nature that, by all means, is not enough to outweigh the group’s idiosyncrasy to the point it makes the songs of their debut friendly to a wider audience, but it does have the effect of making the tracks slightly approachable.

Released just seven months later, “Dragnet” goes the other way. Like “Live at the Witch Trials”, it contains post-punk music at its boldest and raunchiest state. Unlike it, though, it takes no steps whatsoever towards making its tracks less abrasive. Where the former had found a way to filter its filthiness without extracting the most poisonous particles out of its thick muddy juice, the latter submerges that already radioactive substance repeatedly in the sludge that pours out of the factories that dominate the northern portion of England.

And it all turns out to be a fitting choice; after all, formed in the Greater Manchester, The Fall – from the get go – came up as a vehicle for Mark E. Smith to air the grievances of a working class that was as oppressed by the system that pinned it down as it was by the smoke of the industries that turned the cities and neighborhoods where its members lived into suffocating traps. And Smith did so by ranting, often wildly and incoherently, over circular, repetitive, and psychotic riffs and grooves that sounded as if they had come out of the sewers of his hometown. Unsurprisingly, that is just about what he and The Fall do during the course of “Dragnet”; the difference is that, here, the soot is broadcast through the speakers in lo-fi frequencies, as if the album had been recorded by placing a set of microphones around the open manhole out of which the grime in the city’s bowels sang of the horrors it saw.

Smith’s lyrics, partially a collage of words and partially free prose, stand between surrealistic realism and the incoherent ramblings of a bitter man; yet, even to those who are unable to crack them or understand the words drenched in his thick accent, it is quite clear that they ride waves of anger. He does not care about how they come out or if they harmonize with the instrumentation; it is only important that they get out of his system, not to alleviate his rancor, but to make way for more garbage-laden speech. Always anchored in maniac and frantic repetition, The Fall’s music finds plenty of room to breathe varied air in “Dragnet”.

Frequently, it drinks from literary sources: in Dice Man, based on a book of the same title, Smith nods to freedom of choice by relating the story of a man who makes decisions based on the roll of a dice while the band puts a twist on a traditional Bo Diddley riff; meanwhile, “A Figure Walks” and “Spectre Vs Rector”, the album’s longest cuts, are winding and monotonic jams that become stellar in how their music and lyrics give off a horrifying atmosphere that does justice to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Similarly dark are “Muzorewi’s Daughter”, which verges on the disturbing thanks to Smith’s shrieks during the chorus and verses carried by a riff that resembles the menace found in The Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs”; and “Before the Moon Falls”, where with the apocalypse approaching, Smith, cryptically, speaks of everything from establishing a new regime to thanking the heavens the lack of jobs in the north has helped him avoid the traps of routine and working-class marriage.

The Fall’s favorite pastime, though, seems to be the implosion of musical structures that could – if executed by other bands – be immediately likable; and Smith’s favorite activity is the airing of vicious words towards the music industry. The former can be seen in opener “Psykick Dancehall”, where a stellar snaking riff goes wild in the speedy and energetic chorus; in “Flat of Angles”, in which a rare warm acoustic strum and a noisy guitar are used to illustrate the psychosis of a criminal hidden in an apartment where he believes he is being watched; and both “Choc-Stock” and “Put Away”, which could be catchy if they were not so messy and noisy.

On the other hand, the two preferred strands of band and singer come together in “Printhead” and “Your Heart Out”, which could be poppy if Smith were not ridiculing negative reviews that The Fall got from members of the press that disliked his mixture of talking with singing and even went as far as calling him a drunk and stating the band was “little more than a big crashing beat”. Although – to a point – accurate, those evaluations failed to see that it was through these characteristics that Mark E. Smith and The Fall gained a cult following, inspired other groups, occasionally flirted with the mainstream, took post-punk to unique terrains, and achieved success and respect by following their own rules and staying true to who they were. And in “Dragnet” those qualities were very much present and blatant, even if slightly hidden below inscrutable lo-fi production.

Tusk

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Album: Tusk

Artist: Fleetwood Mac

Released: October 12th, 1979

Highlights: The Ledge, What Makes You Think You’re the One, Storms, Beautiful Child, Tusk, Never Forget

Inside the confines of Fleetwood Mac’s most popular period, “Tusk” is often regarded as the weird one. There is, of course, some truth to that evaluation. After all, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham was reportedly so bent on avoiding repeating the formula of the stunningly successful “Rumours” that he drove himself to the line that separates absurd stress from sheer madness. At the same time, though, there is also a good degree of familiarity to be found in the record.

It is not that “Tusk” comes off as a natural evolution of the sound of its predecessor while also being able to feel like a natural and bold evolution. That would be a way too common path to be followed by an album filled with so much weirdness and that is the product of a band with as much internal turmoil as commercial recognition. “Tusk” is, instead, able to include the unpredictable and the expected because, stylistically, it is absolutely all over the place. Miraculously, the two albums that came before it had – despite the fact they had been written by three songwriters that worked fairly independently – achieved a level of uniformity, as if they had been created with a singular vision in mind. In “Tusk”, however, the magical glue that had been tightly uniting a bunch of wild and creative pieces that did it their own way starts coming loose.

Given their usual status as physical representations of a grand and homogeneous artistic target, most albums would rightfully be panned for such inconsistency. Nonetheless, “Tusk” dodges those bullets because besides being chaotic, it is also very lengthy. Long records have historically benefited from variety, because homogeneity becomes a problem when one has to dive into a piece that lasts for more than one hour, and “Tusk” – with its twenty tracks and seventy-four minutes – is not different. With so many tracks to fill, and with three composers that were either peaking or going through a period of remarkable quality, the album allows them to run loose with their pen.

Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, and Stevie Nicks each turn in five songs or more. And although these tunes do not come together as neatly as the tracks the trio had created for “Fleetwood Mac” and “Rumours”, as “Tusk” often appears to be three solo efforts that have been joined under the same umbrella, it is hard to find fault on what they deliver. The common ground that unites the compositions is the production and arrangements, which are far sparser than those of the records that preceded “Tusk”; everything else, though, from lyrical content to genres covered, works towards separating them.

Stevie, who shines as the member of the band that delivers the best collection of tracks, brings in five character studies that range from personal (“Storms”) to fictional (“Sisters of the Moon”). She channels the mysterious and exotic vein she had uncovered in the classic “Rhiannon” and finds uncanny variety in it. Surely, all of her songs are delicate ballads grounded on pop; but the instrumentation they gain and, especially, their utterly jaw-dropping melodies give each a particular beauty of their own.

Christine, like Stevie, is also responsible for the part of the record that feels familiar, for the styles she tackles are not too distinct from what she had been presenting ever since she joined the group. Hers are the simple and catchy pop rock numbers that are easy to dance to while singing along (“Think About Me”, “Honey Hi”, and “Never Forget”) and the introspective efforts that rank as the album’s most fragile moments (“Over & Over”, and “Never Make Me Cry”). She does, however, find some room for experimentation in “Brown Eyes”, which even if not entirely successful, represents a pleasant addition to her songwriting palette due to its relaxed vibe that merges blues and loose jamming.

With those pieces in place, it becomes clear that the madness that is frequently used to define “Tusk” comes from the member that was extremely worried about repeating himself: Buckingham. His shot at keeping the group relevant through the explosion of post-punk and the upcoming turn of the decade yields complete wildness. With nine tunes, he dominates the album, and much of its incongruity derives from how his pieces clash with those by Stevie and Christine. Partially mad, positively angry, and with no regard whatsoever for pop conventions, his creative output in “Tusk” is noisy, as the drums of Mick clang like cans and the bass of John has some of fuzz to it; and strident, because Lindsey’s voice – as well as those of the backing vocalists – is in an odd place between singing, talking, and screaming. Furthermore, while some of his songs come off as unfinished, as if written in an explosion of insanity; others bang on the same melodic hook repeatedly.

They are weird; they are heavily inspired by the bouncy awkwardness of the Talking Heads, especially on the frantic rhythmic party of the title track; and they are also completely brilliant, as they are unique not only in the Fleetwood Mac canon, but in rock music as well. And they make “Tusk” not only one of the brightest and most special albums of the decade, but a bold move towards the unusual by a band that could have easily kept on shaking the money-making tree they had found with “Rumours”. Certainly, in a way, both Stevie and Christine do not go far from that source of success, but they provide the safe and usually excellent support for Buckingham to go absolutely nuts, a fact that turns “Tusk” into what is perhaps the most individualistic group effort ever created.

Boys Don’t Cry

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Album: Boys Don’t Cry

Artist: The Cure

Released: February 5th, 1980

Highlights: Boys Don’t Cry, Jumping Someone Else’s Train, Fire in Cairo, Three Imaginary Boys

Through the long and excellent arch of their career, The Cure became kings of all existing musical tones of sadness, melancholy, and depression. They did it through the dark jangle of “Seventeen Seconds”, the lethargic hopelessness of “Faith”, the violent sorrow of “Pornography”, the accessible pop rock of “The Head on the Door”, the kaleidoscopic variety of “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me”, and layered beauty of “Disintegration”. However, before throwing themselves into the dark pit they have inhabited until nowadays, only occasionally coming out of it to deliver joyful sugar-coated hits, The Cure was a lot like The Beatles.

No, it is not that Robert Smith and his crew were employing immaculate harmonies to sing about girls, dates, and teenage love; The Cure has never had the vocal assets to pull that off, and Smith’s emotional crises tend to swing to far more disturbing themes. What the band was doing, instead, was delivering a barrage of short songs with immediate choruses, catchy hooks, and straightforward structures.

The Cure stood within that musical spectrum for long enough to produce an album’s worth of material and a handful of great singles, and these tunes were compiled under the title “Boys Don’t Cry” – which was the name of the best of their 7-inch releases – for what would be their American full-length debut.

“Boys Don’t Cry” is far stronger than its British counterpart, called “Three Imaginary Boys”, because it drops some of its least interesting tracks and replaces them with a trio of strong singles: “Boys Don’t Cry”, “Killing an Arab”, and “Jumping Someone Else’s Train”, therefore capturing the very best of what Robert Smith, Michael Dempsey, and Lol Tolhurst wrote and performed during those early years.

Despite the comparisons to The Beatles that “Boys Don’t Cry” tends to evoke due to its delightful simplicity, the album is firmly grounded in the ethos of the genre that dominated its context: post-punk. Consequently, “Boys Don’t Cry” does have a rough do-it-yourself aura, some tinges of restrained anger, and a careless demeanor (which is constantly at odds with a relatively foggy production).

Contrarily to what most of their post-punk counterparts were doing, though, The Cure does not abandon the rejected musical and sociological idealism of punk to explore the shades that exist outside of rock music; what they do, instead, is ride loud drums and a melodic bass that stand in the forefront of most tracks, as well as a distinctive guitar tone and strum that fill the empty corners of the tunes, towards fantastic melodies that are delivered by Smith’s usual and lovable awkwardness.

Save for the odd experimentation of “Subway Song”, “Boys Don’t Cry” is an album where all tracks are as sticky (in a good way) as bubblegum; remembering the core hook or the chorus of every song long after one has listened to the album is not hard. Some of its moodier and more monotonic tunes – namely, the very good duo of “Another Day” and “Three Imaginary Boys” – strongly point in the direction of the dark alleys and forests into which the band would soon walk.

Still, for the most part “Boys Don’t Cry” is made up of brief energetic explosions that are as quick to capture listeners as they are to reach the end of their run, as just a couple of tracks here last for over three minutes. “Boys Don’t Cry” is, as such, The Cure’s most accessible work, even if – in hindsight – it is not representative of the band, making it work as an interesting curiosity for fans that have stuck with Robert Smith for the long run, and as an approachable and well-done look into the rock of the early 80s for everyone else.