Come 1987, REM had already conquered the world of indie-cool with four solid albums of ever increasing finesse, articulation, even a hint of crossover commercial success. Which made album #5 Document pivotal in terms of what might happen next. Yes, it continued the commercial ascendancy, but it also went the other way with the likes of Oddfellows Local 151, a track that Peter Buck referred to at the time as either the worst thing they’d ever done, or the best, he wasn’t sure yet. Either way, its deeply fried Southern weirdness helped set the stage for one of those outfits who, love ’em or hate ’em, were going to be around for a good long while.
Original reggae upsetter Lee Scratch Perry plus the Dub Syndicate plus Adrian Sherwood‘s mix mastery equals Time Boom X De Devil Dead, arguably the greatest (mostly) forgotten album of all time. Mad rants, left field boasts, insights that only make sense once you stop trying to make sense of them — all set to grooves that can’t help but melt in your mind. “Needless to say, we listened to this a lot whilst tripping the old lysergic back in the day. Who ever said reggae wasn’t psychedelic, or the 1980s for that matter?” (Philip Random)
It took samplers a while to get cheap enough to fall into the hands of sort of folks who could figure out how to truly make them sing, with Greater Than One (mostly long forgotten now) one of the first to get what now seems bloody obvious. That is, take Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech, add an opera sample or two, plus various odd ball sound effects, even some Sandinista era Clash and Brain Salad Surgery Emerson Lake + Palmer, then just lay everything over some cool grooves and call it a song. And the thing is, it worked brilliantly, it humanized the machinery, and it abruptly reinvented the music of the near future as an impossibly odd and yet beautiful Frankenstein’s monster of possibilities wherein the entirety of recorded history was just lying there, waiting to be treated, twisted, appropriated, manipulated, abused and exploited. But then, of course, the f***ing lawyers got involved.
Proof that underneath all the noise and provocation of their early gigs and releases, The Jesus And Mary Chain were first and foremost a damned good rock and roll band doing their bit to keep the western world from imploding. Or more to the point, encouraging the right kind of implosion. Stark and raw, bleak but beautiful, like those first hints of spring sunlight after a long, bitter winter, and even then you know there are some fierce winds yet to blow. Because the Winter of Hate was a long one, no question there. Ended up lasting more than a decade.
“Track one, side one from the first Pixies album, Come on Pilgrim. I even heard it at the time and, genius that I was, decided it was pretty good, but I was more into noise in those days. I needed things falling apart, a soundtrack for the corrosion inherent in my late 80s worldview. Then maybe eight years later, couch-surfing in Berlin, a half-condemned building east of where the wall had been, I stumbled upon a beat up Eastern Block bootleg copy, left over from those grey and perilous days. I was finally ready.” (Philip Random)
Yello being one of those outfits that defy categorization. Yes, their greatest renown has come from their dance floor stuff, but dig into any of their albums and you’ll find nothing if not variety. In the case of Si Senor The Hairy Grill (no idea what any of that means), it’s techno beats and textures crashing into full-on metal wailing. And it actually works.
In their early days, Pop Will Eat Itself presented as mostly just dumbshit grebos, getting wasted, kerranging away in the garage with guitars and beatbox. And yet, the future genius was already, as evident, hiding in plain sight as near as a cover of an obscure Shriekback groover turned sideways and rocked up into two-and-a-half minutes of full-on psychedelic revelation. Because it is true, everything that rises does converge … if you’re high enough.
“Speaking of Wire, I finally paid attention to them in 1987 when, after more than seven years doing various solo and other things, the four original members recombined with the The Ideal Copy (and some dynamite single-only releases). Ambitious gets the nod here because it’s more or less the title track, and it does a sharp, tidy job of touching on all manner of essential 1980s topics such as paranoia, the Cold War, competing intelligence agencies and, of course, the ever present end of the world.” (Philip Random)
“I realize it’s not cool to prefer REM’s cover of Strange to Wire’s original, but who even heard Wire’s first three albums when they were new? Not anyone I was hanging with. So to me, REM’s more jangly, more rocking, more fun take is the original. And given that it comes from 1987’s Document, that means they’re at their pre-mega-mainstream peak. Still suitably artful and obscure, but beginning to enunciate.” (Philip Random)