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Albums of the Month: May 2014

Album: The Complete Animals

Artist: The Animals

Released: July 1st, 1990

Highlights: Boom Boom, Dimples, Gonna Send You Back to Walker, The House Of The Rising Sun, Memphis Tennessee, It's My Life, I'm Gonna Change the World

“The Complete Animals” displays one of the most relevant bands of the British Invasion at their peak, registering every single tune the group recorded between 1964 and 1965. Though the name is deceiving, after all the band still produced a lot of music after that period, it does paint a very full image of what The Animals were. The band earned its name on its energetic live performances, and that unshakable soul is clear throughout the record. Featuring forty songs, only a handful of which are original compositions, the double album is trip down the rich field of American rock and roll, and R&B music that came to inspire all the blokes that rode the airwaves to conquer the world when their success made it through the Atlantic ocean.

The flooring reinterpretation of the traditional “The House of the Rising Sun”, certainly most famous song on this set, is a perfect summary of why the band was so powerful. Eric Burdon is deeply in love with the material he sings, and his emotion and passion show on every corner. His voice is sweeping, and when it is joined by the legendary keyboards of Alan Price, they form a partnership that is able to give new wings to the great songs they chose to do. The whole band plays tight rock grooves, and knows how to switch to more menacing and haunting tones when the songs ask for it. Although they were not prolific songwriters, the few originals (especially “I'm Crying” and “I'm Gonna Change the World”) are able to stand up well side-by-side with historically huge music. However, make no mistake: the meat here are the re-imaginations of American music. It is what made The Animals great, and it serves as a gorgeous catalog to grasp why all those British boys were so fascinated by what had been done by American musicians.

Album: Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One

Artist: The Kinks

Released: November 27th, 1970

Highlights: Strangers, Lola, This Time Tomorrow, A Long Way From Home

After writing two straight conceptual masterpieces - one aimed at memories of the past cuddled in beautiful nostalgia, and the other at the dreadful state of post-war Britain - Ray Davies turned his unbelievable songwriting abilities towards his next obsession: the greedy music industry. At first, it seems like an incredibly difficult subject to digest; it is tough to conceive how the average listener would connect to a rock star's complaints about his métier. It was a choice that could have easily made this record the point on which the band crumbled under the weight of Ray's wild thematic ambitions (something that would actually come to happen a few years later). However, the album manages to reach sympathetic ears for, aside from featuring stellar compositions, it approaches its central matter with a lot of sensibility by transforming itself into a working-class statement against “the man”.

“Powerman” attacks the power-hungry people whose lives gravitate around climbing up the hierarchical ladder, while “Apeman” mocks our modern way of life and, almost fifty years later, their lyrics resonate. The beautiful ballad “Get Back In Line” portrays the dual nature of unions, which are supposed to help workers but often act against them, and “The Moneygoround” displays Ray's love for music hall, criticizing those who collect the fruits of labor without much effort – in his case, the business managers. Though it manages to shine through its gorgeous melodies when dealing with very specific subjects related to the industry - the hit parade on “Top of the Pops” or publishers on “Denmark Street” - the record reaches its absolute peaks on more thematically generic numbers, like Dave Davies' desperate love ballad of “Strangers”, or “This Time Tomorrow” and “A Long Way From Home” two works of art that depict life on the road but could serve as musical support to anyone who is far away from where their heart is. It shows great thematic cohesion and varied musicianship from a band at their very peak, and it should serve as ultimate proof that Ray Davies is one of the finest composers of our days.

Album: The Gilded Palace of Sin

Artist: The Flying Burrito Brothers

Released: February 1st, 1969

Highlights: Christine's Tune, Sin City, My Uncle, Hot Burrito #1

One year after joining The Byrds, suddenly taking the creative reigns of the group, and – consequently – delivering the country-rock masterpiece titled “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, Gram Parsons left the group. In order to follow his dream of merging various traditional genres of American music, he formed The Flying Burrito Brothers. Where his record with The Byrds mostly consisted of covers, “The Gilded Palace of Sin” - his new group's first record and his most everlasting legacy - showed that, aside from having exquisite taste and a great voice, Parsons was a talented songwriter. He knew how to bring his musical vision to fruition and, joined by The Byrds' Chris Hillman, he achieved what he set out to do.

Hillman's presence was key to the album's musical success, for he provided Parsons with a reliable songwriting partner. The duo composed six of the album's tunes, including the highlight “Christine's Tune”. Moreover, he brought over his talent as a backing vocalist, giving The Flying Burrito Brothers the the ability to dress the pain of country music with the velvety harmonization that was everywhere on The Byrds' work. Pete Kleinow complements that beautiful choir with a precise and gorgeous pedal guitar that becomes the central thread on the album's most melancholic songs. In spite of its sad country mood, though, the record manages to touch on a great deal of humor on “My Uncle”, offer a slight social critic in “Sin City”, and nail a mysterious storytelling monologue on the closer “Hippie Boy”. Although it is a debut album, “The Gilded Palace of Sin” is done by four experts that absolutely adored the kind of music they were performing, and it shows on each of the record's seconds.

Album: Love Bites

Artist: Buzzcocks

Released: September 28th, 1978

Highlights: Real World, Ever Fallen in Love, Nostalgia, Love is Lies

Differently from their hard-edged debut, that thrived in rebellious power but still left a little bit to be desired in terms of melodies, the Buzzcocks' second album shows the band finding their stride. They leave a rougher sound behind, one that only allowed a very limited scope for variation in song structure, and embrace a crispier production that still supports energy and speed, the two calling cards of punk rock. Consequently, the straight punk numbers here are far more rewarding than they were on “Another Music in a Different Kitchen”, and the group also has enough room to try a few experiments that would have never surfaced in the midst of the no-bullshit approach that dominated their first record. “Love Bites” is a step forward, and though the term “reaching maturity” might be too much for a band that mostly focuses on teenage angst on pretty much all of its lyrics, musically, it would be quite adequate.

“Real World” and “Ever Fallen in Love” open up the album as a pair of fast-paced songs with catchy choruses. Much like the rest of the record, they touch on subjects that are very real and powerful to all teenagers, and it quickly becomes clear why the band was so successful during a time on which British music was being taken over by the wild Sex Pistols and the politically engaged The Clash. The mood is eventually broken up by “Love is Lies” a simple acoustic ballad on which Steve Diggle takes over the vocals, and the lengthy – for punk standards – trio of songs that close the album. They feature different structures, and culminate with the instrumental “Late for the Train”, an intriguing song that might mark the point on which a punk band has come the closest to reaching progressive standards. All in all, “Love Bites” manages to occasionally leave the mold the band created on their debut while maintaining the thematic and songwriting simplicity that made the Buzzcocks so well-regarded.

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