I opened a recent issue of Rolling Stone at my mandatory "Rock Writer Training Seminar" and was immediately surprised and impressed to see that Mr. Bruce Springsteen received FIVE stars for his latest recording accomplishment, the album Magic.
Five stars is the magazine's highest honor and is usually reserved for dead people and R.E.M. And considering that Mr. Springsteen stole away one of the magazine's chief editors years ago to become his manager, I would've thought there'd be one hard grudge against him. Stealing one's employees isn't always looked upon fondly. But the big-hearted lugs at Rolling Stone looked past their petty grievances and single-handedly re-defined what a "five star" album really means.
Actually, they did this years ago with Mick Jagger's stunning solo tour de force Goddess In The Doorway, an album that has since gone on to redefine music as we hear it!
So, it has always been my fantasy (and probably not yours!) to open up a music reference book and see the tables turned. To suddenly see the glorified classics dismissed as rubbish and the rubbish raised to the level of the revered--where it belongs. Imagine learning that R.E.O. Speedwagon's You Can Tune A Piano (But You Can't Tuna Fish) was the album of the 1970s. It's enough to make you throw yourself in front of a moving train.
But I'm not looking to plead temporary insanity. I decided to take the high road and choose five albums that legitimately should receive 5 stars, that in retrospect represent very nice pieces of work that if the universe worked right would be given their due.
Send in your suggestions. Send in your comments. I'm doing this off the top of my head and so should you. There is no "science" to this. You just stare into the nothingness and remember how you liked that Cure album more than life itself and that's why you never amounted to anything. At least, that's my story.
In what I hope will be a recurring column: Five Albums That Deserve Five Stars:
Pornography: If this album doesn't kill you, you have earned the right to live. Play this late at night after you've broken up with the girl of your dreams with a handful of muscle relaxants on a nearby shelf and chances are you'll never make it to the deafening, unlistenable roar that ends this album. I once called up a radio DJ and asked him to play the closing/title track and his response: "Have you ever heard it?" He didn't play it, but instead played the one about laughing in the mirror for the first time in a year, which, it should be pointed out, is just as good as Bob Dylan who once sang, "In fourteen months, I only smiled once and I didn't do it consciously." Musicians are fun.
The Apartments--A Life Full Of Farewells: The guy in charge of this whole shebang, the one loyal readers keep heaping praise upon for his insightful record reviews in New This Week, once insisted this album was more important than the air we breathe. I was a tad skeptical until I heard what he was talking about. Since then, "The Things You'll Keep" has made it on to far too many mixtapes and "The Failure Of Love Is A Brick Wall (You Prayed For Me To Hit It)" and "Not Every Clown Can Be In The Circus" have remained central truths from which great civilizations have sprung. Better than air, for sure.
Mercury: You're getting the idea that I'm a real joy to invite to parties. If this album can be considered a concept album with a narrator walking through a world primed for disaster then it ends with the poor guy wandering off to sea because all he wants out of life is to hide somewhere. Lowered expectations are everything! At one point, the singer says he boils all of history down to a forty-five minute wait. I have no idea what he means, but it sounds like a good day at the DMV is had by all!
Ron Sexsmith--Other Songs: He sounds a bit like Tim Hardin. He writes quick little songs that never overstay their welcome. Unfortunately, he got tons of hype from people like Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney and Elton John, which is kind of like having your book liked by Oprah, except nobody buys it. Something about celebrity endorsements always backfires to some degree. But Ron is a heckuva nice guy. He has to be. He's --dare I say it?--Canadian. It's in his blood. Uplifting fare such as "Pretty Little Cemetery" and the fact that he frequently looks uncomfortable while performing make him a sure-shot for this column where we value discomfort more than the average columnist.
Fairy Tale: Some people think Bob Dylan was the poet of the 1960s. We're here to tell you, he was OK. But he was NO Donovan. Donovan went on to record some really wild and cool studio albums with lots of psychedelic trimmings and orchestrations, songs to his girlfriend, sea animals and his shirt. But this is early Donovan when he still had the harmonica rack around his next and sang songs about stopping war and trying for the sun. Devendra Banhart wishes he could be this cool.
- Bruce Springsteen