Skewed Pop For Strange People
Just because I know you all have been clamoring for yet another album list…
I love pop, but not the Top 40 variety. It has to be a little left of center for me to embrace it. Lyrically or musically askew, I guess you could say. Psychedelic, ironic, non-traditional, out of touch with the times or just plain weird turn my crank. For your consideration and in celebration of the truly bizarre, I give you some of my absolute favorite pop oddities.
Wake Up! by The Boo Radleys
I go on and on about the Radley’s “Giant Steps” album, but the follow up deserves more than just a passing mention. Lead Boo Martin Carr can write a pure pop song with the best of ‘em, but he can’t help inserting a little (or a lot, depending on the song) bit of weirdness into them. “Wake Up!” is a great example. Coming off the heels of the critically acclaimed “Giant Steps”, “Wake Up!” catapulted the band into the pop stratosphere on the strength of the lead track, Wake Up Boo. This song was indeed pure pop; not a note out of order, fairly conventional in structure and catchy as hell. New fans that went out and bought the album based on that one song, however, were pleasantly surprised or, most likely, horrified and confused by what followed. Almost all of the songs start off pleasantly enough, but Carr’s artistic side makes him interject a Bitches Brew-type horn blast here or a snippet of an alien radio broadcast somewhere else. In other words, he makes the listener work for his supper.
For example: about 2:22 into the song, “Joel” (a straightforward McCartney-like ballad), Carr inserts a mutant fuzz bass ‘solo’ that takes the song into a whole other dimension. It is then brought back down to earth, for a minute, and ends with some strange echo and Enoesque ambiance. It’s all so beautifully bizarre.
Below is that list I promised. All are great pop albums, and all contain elements of weirdness.
Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and The Soft Bulletin.
My Morning Jacket, Z.: “Neil Young plays gig on Mars.”
Olivia Tremor Control, Dusk At Cubist Castle: “Another lysergic road trip from the Elephant 6 folks.”
Suicide, Suicide: “The most frightening thing you’ll hear all year is Frankie Teardrop; amazing they did it all with a drum machine and a synthesiser.”
Dead Kennedy’s, Plastic Surgery Disasters: “Weird…for a punk band, yes, but one of the best.”
Clash, Sandinista!: “Side 6 is the one…”
Frank Zappa, We’re Only In It For The Money: “For Frank, weird often translated to groundbreaking, and this album is definitive proof!”
Talking Heads, Speaking In Tongues: “They went mainstream after this, but aside from Burning Down The House (still a strange top 40 hit) this was one misshapen album!”
Nick Lowe, Jesus Of Cool: “Just a stew of oddities and styles, one of the best albums ever recorded.”
OMD, Dazzle Ships: “No Dazzle Ships, no Kid A (May have been a good thing, now that I think about it…”
Super Furry Animals, Rings Around The World: “Everything they do is off center, and this is one of the most conventional (except the guest appearance by Paul McCartney whose contribution was crunching on a carrot).”
Stereolab, Emperor Tomato Ketchup: “Psychedelic space age bachelor pad music. ‘Nuff said?”
Sloan, Never Hear The End Of It: “The least “weird” of all the albums on this list, but a true boundary pushing album from the power-poppy Canucks.”
Robyn Hitchcock, I Often Dream Of Trains: “I wish I was a little giiiiirrrrllll” sings Hitchcock on this acoustic oddity. Syd Barrett is smiling….”
Beta Band, The Three EP’s: “Slow burns and echoed vocals, the songs never end up where you think they should.”
Queen, Sheer Heart Attack: “Weird and wonderful, but maybe not by 70’s standards. I think the variety here is stranger now than it was then.”
Paul McCartney, RAM: “His most honest and haphazard release. A true ‘indie’ album”
Neutral Milk Hotel, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea: “Hear it and you’ll know why it’s on this list.”
Mercury Rev, Deserters Songs: “Bow saws, Disney rips and a guest appearance by Garth Hudson from The Band? Doesn’t get any better than this!”
John Prine, Bruised Orange: “His free flowing lyrics and left of center voice will always have a special place in my heart. Like your crazy country uncle sitting and strumming on his porch”
Jazz Butcher, A Scandal In Bohemia: “Just a neat songwriter in the vein of Robyn Hitchcock. Catherine Wheeler’s Birthday Present is sublime.”
Funkadelic, Maggot Brain: “Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time, for y’all have knocked her up!”