Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Johnny 5; Staying Alive

Since Little Dynamite responded to my challenge to post our top 5 favorite albums, I'll respond now with mine. The only difference here is that my Top 5 favorite also happen to be the 5 greatest albums of all time as well. Lucky for you, the reader, to be able to read about both my favorite and the greatest in one go.

First off - ground rules: No Greatest Hits. No live albums (although if somebody wanted to make the Live at Folsom Prison argument, I'd be listening).

Let's do this climactic order.
This album has it all. The killer title. The rocking lead track (title track). The pop hit (Fairy Tale of New York). The instrumental track that holds up (Metropolis). The soul stretching introspective-but-not-self-conscious track (The Broad Majestic Shannon). This is a near perfect album put together by an unstable group of musicians at their apex. In fact, it should be pointed out that the fact that this band even reached their full potential is incredible. When they could barely get Shane MacGowan on stage most nights, let alone on stage sober enough to remember the words to his own songs, how could they have held it together for long enough to write and record this is a mystery to me.

This album is punk. It's traditional Irish music. It's cheeky, irreverent, fun, calamitous, potent and ultimately cuts right to the core of human existence. It's impossible for me not to simply quote from the lyrics and hope that starts to shine some light on this work.

In "Fairytale of New York," the man courting the woman is accused near the end of the tune of taking her dreams away when he met her. How does he respond? "I kept them with me, babe. I put them with my own, can't make it all alone, I built my dreams around you." Exit air from room. In Shane's own words (and I know this isn't the first time I've quoted him on this) "Lovely song, I wish I could rememeber writing it."

This album is absolute genius. One more fly-by highlight is the greatest horse racing song of all time ("Thanks and praises, thanks to Jesus, I bet on A Bottle of Smoke / I went to hell and to the races to bet on A Bottle of Smoke / The day being clear the sky being bright, he came up on the left like a streak of light / Like a drunken fuck on a Saturday night, up came A Bottle of Smoke / Twenty-fucking-five to one, my gambling days are done / I bet on a horse called A Bottle of Smoke and my horse won"). I dare The Weepies to write a horse racing song.

Maybe you don't get this album if playing tin whistle isn't one of your hobbies, but I don't think that's the case.

4. Bruce Springsteen - Greetings From Asbury Park New Jersey

The first we hear from "the future of rock and roll." He starts us with "Blinded by the Light," a song best known for being butchered by the Manfred Mann Faggot Band. And after a few lines, we get it. Bruce is going to bring us to his little slice of America, and introduce us to the quirky personalities who somehow resonate as weightily as Conrad's Marlow and Hemingway's El Sordo. This album oozes it's so smooth. The energy skips out of the speakers and takes on size and weight as it fills the car, room, backyard, or wherever.

This album contains my favorite (read: the greatest) song of all time in "For You." This song is not-so-ostensively about a suicide, but even given the dire subject matter the indominable spirit of the album can not be subdued. The ultimate sense is of a sort of hope. You feel that there is a great big eager exciting world swirling around the tradgedy at hand, knocking at the door and threatening to enter and make all well again at any time. Ironically, perhaps, in this song the Boss postulates that his intended "did not need [his] urgency."

Maybe she didn't need it, but we do and always have. The best of Bruce is his urgent, honest, bright-eyed assessment of our world. This album is full of that best, at its best. These qualities are still apparent even in The Rising, The Seeger Sessions Band stuff, and Magic, which is why Bruce is still the greatest after all these years.

As a side note - this album contains the name of this blog, which I only hope is as youthful and exuberant as its namesake. There's nothing worse than a dispassionate, scientific exploration of music.

3. Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

I am going to continue to put my money where my mouth is on this album. Despite being just over 3 months old, this collection of songs has to be one of my 5 favorite of all time. I can't even tell you with what excitement and disbelief I found myself listening to the album for the first 500 times. It is a complete effort, and in fact it shares many of the same youthful and energetic qualities of the previous disc. I would also like to mention at this time that having 6+ words in the album title is NOT an element of my album choice discernment process, it's just a coincidence that IISFfGwG, GfAPNJ and THCoJR all happen to be similarly titularly verbose. Although I will say, all three are fairly arrogant titles (the current album being the most egregiously so) and that does tickle my fancy.

Anyway, there's not too much to say about this album in addition to the current buzz surrounding it. The lead track is brilliant, and "The Temptation of Adam," to use Little Gun's own words, is like "a five hundred page great American novel in 4 minutes and 12 seconds." I still think that the line "fusion is the broken heart that's lonely's only thought" may still one day prove to be scientifically accurate when the medicinal pendulum swings back toward the primacy of the 4 humours and leeching as a viable treatment for influenza.

I started to write that Josh Ritter brings us back to a simpler, more decent time with his music, but I caught myself. Rather, I believe he shows us what is simple, important, and true in the very world we're all caught up in. His phrases are clear and transparent yet do not lack the least in beauty. This album will stand up for a long time to come.

2. Martin Sexton - The American

"Freedom came my way that night
Just like a jet plane in and out of sight
I was hauling ass at a million miles an hour
Wondering how hard I'd hit.

Singing sweet Cherie, Cherie, Cherie,
Cherie, won't you dare to
Leave a message and your number please
Wrap them in a big red bow and then send them care of me

I've taken my chance on the wind
I'm packing up all my bags
Taking a mistake I gotta make
Then I'm glory bound."

If I ever have a band, I'm going to name at least two of my albums The American. It's the best album title I've ever seen. And this album is dynamite to boot. It's like a fucking Kerouac novel set to music and performed by an angel choir. The lyrics here almost outshine Martin's pipes. And that's saying something.

This album captures all the wonder and heartache of one forced by his own circumstance and weakness to flee to the comforting anonymity of The West. This is the only story worth telling in America. Every other story has been told thousands of years ago in China, India, Greece, Egypt and Italy. All we have as Americans is this one story. In "Glory Bound", "The American," "The Beast In Me," "Love Keep Us Together," and "Way I Am" Martin spins this very tale with effortless skill and fascinating variation. Perhaps he draws on his own experience. Perhaps he's the pro(an)tagonist of "Love Keep Us Together." Regardless, this album is THE truly American experience. This is why it will always be my second favorite album.

To bad Martin Sexton sucks now (see: 2007 release Seeds).

1. Van Morrison - Astral Weeks

If Martin Sexton has told the American story, George Ivan Morrison tells the human story. In 8 tracks. The best word for the album, I think, is magical. Mystical, maybe. The instrumentation is remarkable, varied, and unstable. Van Morrison himself brings the cohesiveness to each track with near constant repetition of lines. It's a deep, passionate and personal journey we are permitted to follow him down, and I feel almost embarassed to listen, as if I am prying into something that should be between a man and his god, and not to be shared with anyone who has $20 and an account.

I think that this album is uncoverable and without flaw. Every note, stammer, pause or otherwise seem to be simultaneously intentioned as well as improvised. The songs do not only tell of stories, the instruments do not merely play notes. The songs themselves become love, panic, change, rain, wine, sunlight and everything else that has ever or will ever exist. Describing this album is impossible. I'm done trying. Hopefully that was over-the-top enough.

- JtR


Little Gun said...

Sweet post...although your quote about Temptation of Adam was actually said by Little Gun, and not Little big deal, just that it was a really good quote

Little Dynamite said...

i was going to say...

although i would love to take credit for it...great post jtr...

Jack the Rabbit said...

i meant to say gun...