Album: Definitely Maybe
Released: August 30th, 1994
Highlights: Rock 'n' Roll Star, Live Forever, Supersonic, Cigarettes and Alcohol
“Definitely Maybe” is one of the records in rock history that portrays the reaching of songwriting nirvana. Its greatness is so organic, its hooks so natural, that it is hard to come to grips with the fact that, at some point in history, those songs simply did not exist. It is as if all those melodies had been floating in space for many centuries until Noel Gallagher, in a moment of enlightenment, translated them into chords. It has such a ridiculous amount of stellar songs that if someone unknowingly stumbled upon it a few decades from now, the conclusion that it is a great “best of” album would not be far-fetched.
Coming more than an year after Blur's “Modern Life Is Rubbish”, “Definitely Maybe” is not the first Britpop album, but it has a much stronger connection to the baggy movement that preceded it. That link can be seen on the gargantuan wall of sound produced by the guitars, Liam's loose vocals that transit between nonchalant and defiant, and the band's tendency to indulge themselves in long intros and outros. Even if its influences are clear, “Definitely Maybe” turns those elements into a whole new louder, bigger and more aggressive monster. It is heavy layered rock dressing up hooks whose accessibility can be traced back to The Beatles, and powered by feel-good lyrics that, while not great, don't compromise. It is the work of a group that knows where they come from, and is fully aware of where they want to arrive.
Album: Rocket to Russia
Released: November 4th, 1977
Highlights: Rockaway Beach, Sheena is a Punk Rocker, Teenage Lobotomy, Do You Wanna Dance?
Joey cannot sing, Johnny moves songs forward by playing loops of three chords, Dee Dee follows along with some of the most straightforward bass lines ever, and Tommy seems to play the drums with the same approach for every single song. Yet, the Ramones click like no other band. They are not embarrassed by their lack of skill, hence making their sloppiness neither pitiful nor ridiculous. It is, instead, their major allure, and they wear it so nonchalantly that the boldness of such attitude dignifies them. While British punk groups were challenging the world by either setting it on fire (The Sex Pistols) or trying to change it (The Clash), the Ramones were just out to have fun, and nowhere did they do it better than on “Rocket to Russia”.
Even if all songs are pretty much played the same way, it is a record that shows an uncanny versatility. Within the confines of their limited musicianship, the Ramones pull off a couple of surf rock numbers in “Surfin' Bird” and “Rockaway Beach”; a few ballads, such as the mournful “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” and the energetic “Locket Love”; and many of their signature punk songs. “Rocket to Russia” has the variety, and it also holds some of the group's most iconic melodies. All songs pleasantly stick to one's mind after a couple of listens and, even when Joey sings “I Don't Care” for nearly two minutes, you cannot help but feel good about it. It is the ultimate Ramones statement, and one that makes it clear that, sometimes, all that it takes to be a great rock band is having enough courage to face a crowd; and that is precisely how the Ramones conquered the world: 1% skills, and 99% attitude.
Artist: Arcade Fire
Released: October 28th, 2013
Highlights: You Already Know, Joan of Arc, Afterlife, Supersymmetry
Arcade Fire has always been a band fueled by grand ideas. Their albums, like mini rock-operas, have invariably focused on specific themes around which all songs gravitated. Now, while the ambition of concept remains untouched, as all of “Reflektor” deals with how we live isolated in a deeply connected world, there is also an ambition of sound. Gone are the introspection and familiarity of “Funeral” and “The Suburbs”, and in comes music that is expansive. Even if the band had already touched upon wider music on “Neon Bible”, “Reflektor” sounds vastly different. The credit goes to both the band's positive wish to change and the participation of James Murphy as a producer, which when joined, crafted a sound built upon dance music and electronic elements occasionally infused with Haitian rhythms.
In the wake of commercial success, the fact that “Reflektor” is such a big departure for the band is commendable. However, the final result is a frustrating record. Aside from “Porno”, which has B-side written all over it, all of the album's songs have moments of great inventiveness and songwriting, but rare are the songs on which the greatness is constant. The matching of the group's melodic talent and their wish to go for new sonic grounds is not always natural, as if their musical ambitions got in the way of a smooth composition process. “Reflektor”, therefore, only truly soars on the unpretentious “You Already Know”, on the dancing groove of “Joan of Arc”, on the masterpiece that is “Afterlife”, and on “Supersymmetry”, that bumps into the accessible moments of “Kid A”. The rest of the record alternates brilliant Arcade Fire moments with occasions of artificiality and indulgency, as indicated by the inflated length of some numbers. The group took a praise-worthy leap, but it failed to land safely on its feet.