Clockwise Cat’s Second Top Five Fave CDs Ever, Yo!
by Alison Ross
Issue Nine showcased the Cat’s First Top Five Fave CDs Ever, Yo! so now we’re aiming to finish it off. Herewith, the final five:
FEAR OF A BLACK PLANET - PUBLIC ENEMY
Those who know me are well aware that rap music is one of my least esteemed musical genres. I am very open-minded musically, embracing everything from classical to country to Rumba to rock to metal to mellow. I typically shun American Idol-style fluff-pop, but hey, there’s even a gem or two with that arena of music.
But for me, Public Enemy is the kick-ass exception to my persistent mantra that Most Rap Sucks. PE offers respite from the bellicose monotony of gangsta rap (a genre PE helped spawn, for better or for ill) or the vapid tunelessness of popular rap and hip hop. Indeed, PE’s latest abum, as reviewed in an earlier issue of Clockwise Cat (LINK) proves that after 20 years, Public Enemy “still got it” and still decimates the competition with sassy flair.
But it’s the seminal 1990 album, “Fear of a Black Planet,” that has snared my heart and soul forevermore. It’s a classic album on par with Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or Led Zeppelin IV or any Beatles album (or so they tell me - I’m only a very casual Fab Four fan). It’s a sprawling swaggering masterpiece of audacious innovation and manically invigorating intensity. Lyrically the songs exude righteous rage toward black oppression, of course, and basically serve to incite the black community (and anyone who empathizes with their plight) to bold action. And the most refreshing part is, the songs and their message aim to uplift rather than grind down the black community. This is in consummate contrast to much gangsta rap today, which is contrived to sap people of their hopes and dreams. This is because the peddlers of such acts are corporate dark lords with profit hard-ons, and the acts themselves are hapless puppets, plucked fresh from the grim grime of the ghetto and shoved into the glaring spotlight with their profane crime rhymes and clownish attire. They are craven caricatures, nothing more (exploited by money-grubbers of all racial stripes) and yet tragically, entire generations savor their every word and gesture.
So yeah, Public Enemy is the real thing. The crackling grooves and ferocious beats and lithe rhythms and lyrical smack-downs on “Fear of at Black Planet” have been indelibly inscribed into our high-caliber pop culture psyche. And nothing in rap or hip hop has come close to parallelling its flamboyant brilliance. Public Enemy are the daring darlings of a genre viciously violated by corporate pimps and their talentless whores.
JOY DIVISION - CLOSER
Back when I first started listening to the Cure, I read that Robert Smith liked a band called Joy Division. I ended up purchasing one of their albums and being a bit underwhelmed by it all. It turns out mere musical illiteracy impeded my ability to appreciate the dank atmospheres that Ian Curtis and company so prodigiously offered up. Only in the past decade have I been able to wholly cherish such chilling sounds. Back in the day, Joy Division was the haunting embodiment of what had been termed post-punk, with its primitive yet artful percussion, frigid fretwork and Curtis’ cavernous vocals. Joy Division’s signature sound allowed for so much eerie spaciousness, such an absence almost became an instrument unto itself. Joy Division was a lamenteably short-lived band; it only bred three albums before Ian Curtis horrifically hanged himself. And yet, more than 30 years after the band mutated into New Order following Curtis’ death, reverberations of Joy Division’s influence can be heard even today (among bands like the Editors and Interpol, more brazenly, and many others less conspicuously). The bands’ album, Closer, is a towering testament to the intemporality of an arctic sonic articulation. The album is like the musical personification of a Kafka novel, relentlessly bleak, and yet captivating in its expression.
MINISTRY - THE MIND IS A TERRIBLE THING TO TASTE
When Ministry moved from Chicago to Texas in the 1990s, it wasn’t because they had decided to overhaul their inimitable intense sound in favor of the twangy George Strait vibe. Rather, it was because frontman Al Jourgenson reveled in the bulging underbelly of Texas music culture, one which frenetically merges psychedelic punk stylings with classic country overtures. He astutely discerned in Texas manic musical possibilities, the side of the state that is unfortunately eclipsed by the cowboy caricatures and “Dallas”-style big money-sluts.
Of course, The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste pre-dated Ministry’s historic Texas trek (which spawned some insane “psychobilly” tracks, “Jesus Built My Hotrod” chief among them), but the 1989 album evinces the darkly adventurous proclivity the band have become renowned for. On previous efforts, Ministry mined industrial dance/new wave elements, growing ever more vigorous in their industrial leanings with each album. The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste is the culmination of that sound, welding the freaky psychosis of industrial sonic imagery with the unhinged fury of the weightiest metal. The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste is a terrifying journey into the mad inferno of a psychic landscape barren of light or joy. It is the bleak vacuity of industrialized scenery encapsulated in aural form. It is music that wields a pitchfork dripping with entrails. Thes black anthems contained on this album could coalesce into the soundtrack of Armaggedon.
BACK IN BLACK - AC/DC
What would the world be without AC/DC? A lot less sexist, that's for sure. But despite the band's misogynistic mischief, "Back in Black" remains my most treasured hard rock album. The album's brutal beats, crisp guitar grooves, and delightfully guttural vocals offer a kind of raw redemption for the band's debasing lyrics. On this album, AC/DC ministers the perfect marriage between soulful blues and slammin' rock and roll. The best part about "Back in Black" is its refreshing lack of pretense; unlike many hard rock albums from the same era, it's a polished but pure package, trading in cheap gimmicks for jagged sincerity. Cacophony never sounded so good.
LET IT BLOOM - BLACK LIPS
When I first bought this CD, I treated it as a novelty. I played it on my small CD player before bedtime, reveling in the ragged tunes but not really fully captivated by the disc. But when the CD migrated to my actual stereo, I began to take more notice, and now this album has evolved into one of my favorites.
The Black Lips' signature sound is a searing blend of 60s blues and jangle-pop, screeching 80s punk, and modern hipster garage rock, with nuanced dips into Motown and R&B. The tunes are a trashy mishmash of musical styles, and exude a sort of slimy charisma, the way they wrap catchy hooks and singable melodies in a sort of chain mail of dissonance. Each song exists as its own freaky entity, evoking just about every rock and roll era and genre without being in any way cheaply imitative or derivative. And the surrealistically profane lyrics only add to the sleazy charm of the songs. On Let it Bloom, the Black Lips carve a rougher, rawer soundscape than that of some of the sleeker, more packaged garage bands. Let it Bloom owes more to the unwashed sounds of the Sonics and Stooges than the slightly more sanitized Strokes, that's for sure. Nowadays, of course, The Black Lips have encroached onto more commercialized territory with Good Bad Not Evil, but Let It Bloom shows that their true prowess lies in wedding the muddy discordance of punk to the bouncy buoyancy of rhythm and blues.