Thursday, September 22, 2005

In No Particular Order:

Van Morrision: Moondance (Warner Bros., 1970). Where Astral Weeks was, well, aloof, this becomes his coming out record of sorts. Face it, he's a long way from Brown Eyed Girl. For an Irish R&B singer, he's got more soul than most of the black artists he portends to worship. And there's more spirituality here than in most of the gospel albums you're likely to find. Catchy, rhythmic, and with an eye toward the pop audience, many of whom will probably not be able to appreciate its subtler nuances, and will likely throw it in along with the rest of the "soft rock" pretenders. Their loss. A+

The Who: Who's Next (MCA, 1971). If Exile on Main Street is the best rock-n-roll album and London Calling the best punk, then this is, flat out, the best straight ahead rock album of all time. Historically, they were the first true punks - nothing like Led Zeppelin. And they were politically savvy, to boot. "Meet the new boss ... same as the old boss," is as enlightened as it gets in rock. In their prime, there was nothing like them. A+

Neil Young: Rust Never Sleeps (Reprise, 1979). What's amazing here isn't so much that Young released this gem after more than a dozen years, or that he's made three other significant albums during the decade. That would be amazing enough for most rockers. No, what's truly amazing is how little impact the last dozen years have had on his spirit. And by that I mean negative impact. Not only does this album find him indelibly defiant - "it's better to burn out, than to fade away" - but he's developed a sense of humor that was missing from Tonight's the Night and After the Gold Rush! How else to describe a verse like "welfare mothers make better lovers?" Even manages to make it sound like he has first-hand knowledge! A+

Liz Phair (Capitol, 2003). Accusing Phair of selling out and going pop would be like accusing the Mona Lisa of going vogue. While this may be the antithesis of Exile in Guyville in style, in essence it's remarkably similar, if not more refined. The secret to Phair is her sexuality. Adept at knowing just how far to push the envelope, she's no mere flirt. She's still the same indulgent incorrigible at 36 that she was at 26. And her ego hasn't gotten any smaller, if anything it's grown with her celebrity. Mature and cocky. She's smart enough to know she's a woman in a male-dominated industry, but smug enough to believe it shouldn't matter. And when she boldly announces on Extraordinary that she is an "average everyday sane psycho supergoddess," she isn't mincing words. It's the reason for her success. A+

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