OK, this idea of making favorite edition lists for years past is turning into a weekly series from now till the middle of May. I don’t think I really published any year-end lists on the old site, and I certainly abdicated the responsibility of compiling one for 2005. By the end of this endeavor, I’ll have covered 20 years of overview.
I’ve already set aside the entries, and I’ve compiled all the lists. I just need to write about them.
From 1985 to 1990, I developed this superstition along the lines of the Star Trek movies — the odd-numbered years were good, the even-numbered years not so much. (1990 broke that pattern, but we’ll get there in two weeks.) 1988 didn’t impress me very much — I think I was still discovering 1987 releases well into the following year. Like 1986, the resulting list just about represents many of the titles I still own from that year.
I may have to retool my perception — my current exploration of the catalog has unearthed a number of quality titles to which I had little access, and in one case, little interest.
By the way, the first two entries of this list are recycled. I included them in the 1987 round-up, thinking they were released that year. Had I double-checked my facts, I would have discovered otherwise.
Musicwhore.org Favorite Edition 1988
In Tua Nua, The Long Acre
In Tua Nua was poised for pretty big things, having built a name for itself with its European tours and being associated with both U2 and, at one point, Sinéad O’Connor. But it all fell apart before then. The Long Acre was the kind of slightly-country-tinged rock music that attracted fans of R.E.M. and Guadacanal Diary. I just know I hadn’t heard a violin on a rock record before then. Leslie Dowdall had a rich, powerful voice reminiscent of Grace Slick, and the Irish instruments certainly declared the band’s origins. I think it’s a miracle of mass communication that a mid-size band such as In Tua Nua would reach as far as a teenager in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi.
Midnight Oil, Diesel and Dust
This album brought Midnight Oil to the international stage. After touring the Australian interior, the band discovered its boisterous rock sound didn’t always convey the gravity of their message. So they stripped down and discovered a whisper was just as effective as a scream. Diesel and Dust felt Spartan next to its elaborately-produced predecessor, Red Sails in the Sunset, but the cohesive writing really put the band’s message forward. "The time has come to pay the rent," sings Peter Garrett.
Kronos Quartet, Winter Was Hard
The first Kronos Quartet album I encountered was White Man Sleeps, which I borrowed from the library and listened to on my brother’s CD player. (I wouldn’t own one till 1991.) I ended up buying Winter Was Hard instead. This album is perhaps the best introduction to the quartet — it has a diverse program and a gorgeous sound. From the sonic assault of John Zorn’s Memento Mori to the lyricism of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Winter Was Hard covers tremendous ground.
The Sugarcubes, Life’s Too Good
1988 was the year I stopped listening to radio. I wasn’t hearing the kind of music I wanted to hear, so relied instead on music magazines. It was a combination of printed reviews and an appearance on Saturday Night Live that introduced me to the Sugarcubes. I had the vague impression the Sugarcubes really had only one good album in them, and perhaps the band worried about that too by rushing into its follow-up album, Here Today, Tomorrow, Next Week, a year later. My vague impression was the correct one. Life’s Too Good strikes a nice balance between quirkiness and tunefulness. As bizarre as the lyrics of "Motorcrash", "Deus" and "Delicious Demon" were, it’s easy to sing along.
Man does Enya have a racket — she pretty much records the same album time and again, and fans just lap it up regardless. I’m fascinated by the idea that she records hundreds over overdubs of herself, and while the neo-Bachisms of her music aren’t exactly imaginative, the painstaking level of detail in her albums interest me as a home studio hobbyist. Back in 1988, Enya really stood out from everyone. She sang in Latin and Irish Gaelic, wrote simple, clear melodies and turned her voice into a choir. My former co-workers at Waterloo think Enya epitomizes everything milquetoast. In that regard, I’d break ranks, but I wouldn’t tell them that.
Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman
I actually didn’t really like this album so much at the time of its release. I just thought it was a perfect soundtrack to read James Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which I had to cram for a summer assignment in a senior-year English class. It wasn’t till 2006, when I listened to the album with adult ears, that I realize its impact. When I was a teenager, I appreciated the fact Chapman wasn’t writing love songs, but the themes of her songs didn’t resonate. They did 20 years later.
Living Colour, Vivid
Back in 1988, there was a lot of press about raising the profile of black musicians playing rock. About the only bands doing that were Living Colour, 24/7 Spyz and Fishbone. It was supposed to be start of some movement. The fact my memory is hazy about the details pretty much indicates how that movement progressed. Perhaps the optimism was fueled by the fact Vivid rocked as hard — if not harder — than what was produced by the hair metal bands of the time.
Duran Duran, Big Thing
Big Thing is one of Duran Duran’s most accomplished albums. Problem was, there weren’t any singles on it. Still, the trio that remained from Notorious experimented mightily in the studio, creating a work that was dingy and ethereal. Duran Duran found inspiration in underground club music a good decade before Madonna and U2 started working with club DJs.
Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation
I didn’t listen to Daydream Nation till 1998, but after I did, I understood its place as a lionized album in the rock music canon. And so I take a revisionist turn and rank it in the favorite list. I think I might have dug it when I was a teenager as well.
The Dead Milkmen, Beelzebubba
I’m not familiar with the Dead Milkmen’s repertoire beyond Beelzebubba, but I get the impression this album marked the peak of the band’s creative heights. The Milkmen may be jokesters, but on Beelzebubba that humor is driven by some crazy music.
1988 also marked the release of some significant albums of the period, many of which I would not discover till a good decade later.
- R.E.M., Green I borrowed this album from the library and was thus introduced to R.E.M., a band I’d read about in numerous magazines at the time. Thing is, it’s not really that great of an R.E.M. album.
- Throwing Muses, House Tornado I didn’t understand this album 20 years ago, but I do now.
- Pixies, Surfer Rosa I wonder if I would have warmed up to the Pixies back then.
- Cocteau Twins, Blue Bell Knoll I definitely would have warmed up to the Cocteau Twins, though.
- N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton I went out of my way to avoid this album — I had no interest in hip-hop. But the snippets I heard at the time did nudge into my subconscious because it sounded nothing like Run DMC or Licensed to Ill-era Beastie Boys, two groups that shaped my perception of rap. When I finally did listen to this album 15 years later, I was shocked to realize it was actually rock.
- Information Society, Information Society I consider this album reference material. Whenever I want to indulge in some dance floor songwriting, I whip this album out for pointers.