Tag Archives: albums

101 Great Albums. No.9: Kendrick Lamar – Section.80

Section.80 is an often overlooked part of Kendrick Lamar’s impressive back catalogue, coming as it did just a year before the critically acclaimed Good Kid M.A.A.D City, but offered the first (inconsistent) sample of the rapper’s desired direction.

Lamar focuses the majority of 16 breezy “chapters” upon specific life events, refusing to accommodate generalisation, and thus conjuring lustrous couplets that knit tightly between exquisitely arranged soundtracks.

Chapter Six refers to the unpretentious pleasure of cruising around in a car whilst clouds of Mary Jane pour freely through ones lips (the most middle-classed description for blazin’ up I could muster).

Kendrick Lamar

With a blissfully soulful beat and repetitious lyrics, the song jabs hypnotically at the listener’s senses, breaking from archetypal flow with its linear structure, whilst also containing the requisite chitty-chatty bridge associated with contemporary rap releases.

Admittedly the first three songs on the album, the delectably titled F**k Your Ethnicity, Hol’ Up and A.D.H.D, are the sparkling apex of the piece, and to have continued in the same vain would have guaranteed further accolades upon release.

This is a bit of shame, as the rest of the album has plenty to offer, and had tracks been dispensed with a little more care, the divide may not have been quite so conspicuous.

The good and excellent certainly outweigh the mediocre, although admittedly a quarter of the one hour output could probably have been trimmed without negatively impacting in any way.

Section.80 is a must for Kendrick Lamar enthusiasts, and a definite for any hip-hop fans keen to avoid the stereotypes churned out Ad nauseam through the 21st Century.

The first three tracks and Chapter Six nail their intention without wasting a syllable, while Keisha’s Song, Rigamortus and HiiiPoWeR remain among the young rapper’s finest work to date.

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

101 Great Albums. No.8: Tracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman emerged as a marketable artist in the late 1980’s, with the release of a self-titled album that sold in its millions.

Tracy Chapman was recorded over an eight-week period at Powertrax studio in Hollywood. As many as thirty different bass players and drummers were invited to come in to play with her.

Having performed acoustic sets for the past decade from the perspective of protest rather than marketability or eventual stardom, Chapman initially struggled to come to terms with the agglomeration of accompaniment – eventually settling on recording her sections separately, with the additional instrumentation added later on.

The exception to this rule is the stirring “Behind the Wall”, which remained A cappella with a subtle reverberation shift confirming its status as the LP’s most haunting sample.

Tracy Chapman album

The album opens with “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution,” a song that embodies the ethos of a performer who grew up surrounded by poverty in Ohio, awash with aspirations to affect change upon the world.

The running order of the other ten songs on Tracy Chapman was determined by writing titles out on three-by-five inch cards and shuffling them around in different sequences.

Single releases such as “Fast Car” and “Baby Can I Hold You?” have been relentlessly covered, re-interpreted, and karaoke-fied in recent years, but the original cuts retain an integrity that none of the newer versions come close to emulating (Sorry Boyzone!)

Although an almost inevitable midsection malaise succeeds those big hitters, the compelling opening sequence of penultimate track “If Not Now” leads into some of Chapman’s most exquisite vocal dexterity of the entire album, with the post-production adding a flourish as it tumbles towards a precise conclusion.

Having spent the best part of a decade performing the majority of these songs before the album’s release in 1988, it is perhaps unsurprising that Chapman was unable to scale such heady heights with future releases.

Tracy Chapman’s music remains defined by the raw, unaffected essence of her inaugural release, an album which retains its place at the apex of folk-rock storytelling, more than quarter of a century after setting her on the road to stardom. 

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

101 great albums. No.7: Funkadelic – Maggot Brain

Maggot Brain, released under the Westbound label in July of 1970, provided a creative zenith for trailblazing all black rock band Funkadelic’s output, and was followed by a series of increasingly commercially appealing LP’s.

The imaginatively titled cut retains a raw, fervent energy that perfectly epitomises a period when psychedelics were regularly associated with mainstream artists. To coin a phrase; the way out stuff is way fucking out there.

The instrumental title track transitions through a slew of unsettling sections, with the late Eddie Hazel’s 10+ minute guitar soliloquy a spiralling model of traditional blues filtered through a hallucinogenic lens, effectively transporting listeners into a realm more commonly synonymous with the names Hendrix, Page, and Clapton.

Far from peaking too soon, the album continues to effuse through various hypnotic phases: “Super Stupid” shares an overview of low budget junkie-ism, flanked by strains reminiscent of embryonic Black Sabbath.

Funkadelic

Hit It And Quit It is a funk canticle exuding potency from the keys of pianist Bernie Worrell, who decadently dispenses with convention until the chorus kicks in.

Can You Get to That is a slightly more conventional pop tune that showed Funkadelic had a serious side, in spite of their penchant for the surreal, particularly when it came to social commentary (the track also featured Isaac Hayes’ female backing vocalists, giving it a further veneer of classic soul.)

Another stand-out, Wars of Armageddon (Sampled a decade ago by Optimo on the Psyche Out mix) is a knock-out-drag-down, knuckle dusting death match between the world’s best rhythm section and paranoid crowd scenes.

Maggot Brain remains a volatile recording to this day, bursting at the seams with larger than life virility; apt for a band going by the moniker Funkadelic.

Regrettably this is a release that has been overlooked by large sections of contemporary funk fans, rarely mentioned within a hundred breaths of other artists of the era such as James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield.

Despite that admission, Maggot Brain is indisputably an album worthy of a place in the collection of any advocate of the genre.

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

101 Great Albums. No.6: Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

In 1971 Marvin Gaye sought to defy the pop blueprint that had come to identify the Motown label, instead delivering a profound, contentious chronicle of the political and social disparity present in America at the time.

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Motown founder, Berry Gordy, unfortunately did not share Gaye’s vision for revision, dismissing title track “What’s Going On?” as the ‘worst song he had ever heard’ and imploring his potentially pioneering artist to return to honey-bloated, tried and trusted methods.

Marvin indignantly rebuffed such a proposal, asserting that if the track wasn’t released as a single then he would never record for Gordy again, while privately confiding in family and friends that he felt stung by his mentor’s reaction.

Marvin Gaye

Following extensive negotiation, Motown acquiesced and the album’s title track was released, subsequently reaching the US billboard’s top five and acting as catalyst to an era of LP’s strung together by socially pertinent narrative.

To dismiss “What’s Going On” as a one track album would be frivolous of course. The inaugural glut of half a dozen songs are blended together with evident precision, and although a first listen may provoke criticism towards sentimental sameness within the first half of the album, it is soon discernible that this deliberately dovetails with closing cuts.

“Inner City Blues (makes me wanna holla)” arguably showcases the pinnacle of proceedings, with its timely mesh of multi-tracked vocals and gritty lyrics creating an affecting springboard that never threatens to outstay its welcome.

Others of note are the pleading “Mercy, Mercy Me (The ecology)” and effortlessly uplifting “God is Love”, the latter of which delivers optimism in spades, albeit from a religious standpoint.

At the eleventh attempt, Marvin Gaye produced a studio album that broke him out as a legitimate and conscientious solo-superstar.

In the embryonic stages of what was to become Cocaine dependency (and rarely sans-doobie in the studio) Marvin produced and recorded an album which set his career on a fresh (ultimately tragic) course – that’s a story for another time though.

“What’s Going On” topped the R&B charts in America in 1971 and is justifiably regarded as a trailblazing album of its time, as well as being integral to Motown’s shift of gears throughout a fertile decade.

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

101 Great Albums. No.5: The Fugees – The Score

Released in 1996 under the label of Columbia/Ruffhouse Records, The Score was the second and final studio album recorded by The Fugees and contained an assortment of choice hip-hop tracks and homages.

Lauryn Hill: Widely regarded as the premier female rapper on the planet in 1996
Lauryn Hill: Widely regarded as the premier female rapper on the planet in 1996

A cover of Roberta Flack’s 1973 chart topper, “Killing Me Softly” received a Grammy award and allowed Lauryn Hill to fully exhibit her stirring vocals . The second single released from the album, it emulated the  original by reaching number one in 16 countries.

“Ready or Not” is another to benefit from sampling, this time using Enya’s Boadicea as a backdrop for verses and the Delfonics’ “Ready Or Not, Here I Come” during a pulsating chorus.

This time Hill demonstrates her prowess with the spoken word, unfurling a pinpoint delivery to elucidate why she was at one point widely regarded as the premier female rapper on the planet. With that said, it would be remiss to disregard the dynamic patter of band mates Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel, both of whom feature heavily throughout the LP.

While those two compositions are probably the most easily recognised among non-Fugee patrons, there is much more to The Score than a couple of big hits.

“Cowboys” is energetic and thought provoking, “No Woman, No Cry” a satisfying cover (even though admittedly obedient to the Bob Marley original) and title track “The Score” combines a job lot of cuts from other parts of the album with a punctuation of bass guitar to provide an almighty dissonance.

Later versions of the album include the expletive drizzled “Mista Mista”, where Jean takes a pragmatic view of a homeless person who has abused the kindness of a stranger, including a string of “mother fuckers”, it varies between emotion and dark humour.

A string of adaptations of the original “Fu-gee-la” are also available on later issues of the album, with the global remix the pick of the bunch.

An exceptional release, “The Score” should have a place in the collection of any hip-hop habitué, serving as a valuable vestige to the pinnacle of the Fugees’ collaborative output. 

Homage: The Score had contributions from a number of performers

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

101 Great Albums. No.4: Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life

During his 1972-80 pomp Stevie Wonder released a litany of LPs that could easily end up featured in this series, the first of those is the 21-track double album and bonus EP, Songs in the Key of Life, released through Motown/Universal in 1976

Songs in the Key of Life. Stevie Wonder.

The dedication afforded during the recording and production of a tirelessly crafted album is clear from the early going of “Songs in the Key of Life”, with the buoyant tempo of ‘Sir Duke’, funk infused ‘Ordinary Pain’ and exquisite ‘Knocks Me Off My Feet’ stand-outs among the initial gambits.

The second stanza commences with one of Wonder’s most enduring memoirs, “Isn’t She Lovely”, a song penned in celebration of the birth of his daughter Aisha. Although unapologetically effusive, the unbridled elation of Stevie’s contagiously raspy mouth organ solos provides enough value to balance musical integrity with saccharine sentiment.

“As” is another breezy poesy that embellishes the tranquil aura of the album, covered by George Michael and Mary J. Blige in 1999, this is one of a string of songs that were subsequently sampled on future tracks.

To that end, the pertinence of “Songs in the Key of Life” remains palpable within the contemporary music scene; “I Wish” receiving a belated homage via Will Smith’s “Wild West” and, more notably, the eerie “Pastime Paradise” responsible for placing American rapper Coolio on the mainstream map, with his pimped out, updated “Gansta’s Paradise”, topping 18 separate singles charts upon issue in courtesy of a mid-1990’s interpretation of the original.

Opinion is split amongst disciples of Wonder, over where the pinnacle of his output can be pinpointed; although Innervisions may have the higher hit rate, ‘Life’ is a more expansive LP that reflects a transitional passage in the career of an enduring artist whose zenith undoubtedly occurred during this decade – providing a vital facet of an astounding legacy.

 

 

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

101 Great Albums. No.3: Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

Released in 1977, ‘Rumours’ was Fleetwood Mac’s 11th studio album and narrated a drug-fuelled tale of waning love, interpreted through the gaze of a host of trembling optics – with four of the quintet in the midst of ending relationships with one another.

Fleetwood Mac Rumours

Two of those, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks, provided evidence of these varying circumstantial concepts on this seminal LP, with the former’s venomous ode ‘Go Your Own Way’ in stark contrast to the latter’s sweetly melancholic ‘Dreams’ – two of Rumours’ most captivating tracks, and the first single releases from the album.

With all of the shenanigans and discord behind the scenes, the sanctuary of studio life in Miami and Los Angeles provided soft-rock refuge for the group, of whom only Mick Fleetwood wasn’t a victim of protracted heartache (although he did sleepwalk his way through a cocaine stimulated affair with Stevie Nicks during recording.)

Stevie Nicks

Back to the music; ‘The Chain’ provides a glimpse into a  collective self-imposed siege mentality – the band refusing to allow personal trauma to derail their aspirations as an assemblage.

Thudding percussion perfectly compliments dynamic vocals and loose guitar strains, while a scintillating guitar bridge is routinely featured on BBC formula one racing coverage, sounding as fresh today as it did upon inception almost 40 years formerly.

singer-pianist Christine McVie’s “Don’t Stop” is another compelling glimpse behind the fourth wall, with her marriage to bass player spouse John another affiliation glaring down the barrel of imminent dissolution.

It’s not all out warfare though, with the soothing ‘Never Going Back Again’ exquisitely dovetailing Buckingham and hubby McVie’s duelling acoustic strings alongside a plethora of harmonising vocals.

The blissful ‘Songbird’ is perhaps better known by many for later incarnations from Eva Cassidy and Willie Nelson, but Ms McVie, who composed and performed the track, delivers it with typically unassuming benevolence.

Rumours remains at the apex of Fleetwood Mac’s extensive body of work, with an abstract amalgamation of remorse, acrimony, anguish and empathy. It’s no surprise that it’s the seventh highest selling studio album of all-time, with almost 40 million copies sold to date.

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

101 great albums. No.2: Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP

At the turn of the new millennium Marshall Bruce Mathers III, better known as Eminem, released his much anticipated third solo album, The Marshall Mathers LP.

Eminem

Expectations surrounding the rapper’s output had soared after the previous years’ release of The Slim Shady LP, which infinitely raised the profile of a peroxide blonde rapscallion who had only a few years earlier faced eviction from his home having been unable to keep up with the rent.

Rather than trek down the well worn route of other tricky third albums, TMMLP cemented Eminem’s legacy as a bona fide superstar, supplying a combustible cocktail of dark, vitriolic wordplays, derisive satire and light-hearted skittishness.

Highlights include ‘Stan,’ the fictional Dido supported narrative of an obsessed fan whose letters grow increasingly frantic, before culminating in tragedy, the exasperating anecdotal essence of ‘The Way I am’, light-hearted pop infused ‘Real Slim Shady’ and deeply disturbing ‘Kim’.

‘Bitch Please II’ is another triumph, with the collaboration of a host of hip-hop’s big hitters and upbeat tempo combining to create a potent and gratifying arrangement. ‘Criminal’ is another to provide a catchy riff, this time attached to irresistibly tongue-in-cheek confab.

None of this is surprising, indeed from the get go it’s clear that this is going to be an exhilarating expedition; the album inaugurates with a short skit and the tightly bound ‘Kill You’, a track that contains some superlatively sarcastic street thug vernacular;

Cause ladies screams keep creeping in Shady’s dreams
And the way things seem, I shouldn’t have to pay these shrinks this eighty g’s a week to say the same things. Tweece! Twice? Whatever, I hate these things…

Opinion is divided apropos the pinnacle of Slim Shady’s creative output, but this was a richly fertile period in his career, a time when he truly did have things to gripe about and plenty of original turns of phrase to share with an increasingly beguiled audience. 

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.