The worst debut albums by good acts

The thing is, Leisure was lame at the time. Released as shoegaze as a force had waned, Blur’s debut album features bored vocals and slack rhythms; no one is trying very hard, “She’s So High” and the still terrific “There’s No Other Way” aside. I wasn’t around at the time, but Sonic Youth’s debut EP bears traces of what the quartet became but no clue about accessing their id. Listeners would never know from the dourSend Me a Lullaby what lightness the Go-Betweens were capable of. And so it goes. Continue reading

Ranking #32 singles, U.S. edition: 1974-1978

One of the tuffer Stones covers competes with an epochal Cars hit (whose lowly chart position proves how bullshit charts are), EW&F keep sewing fantasies, while John Denver and Stephen Bishop keep balladizing and Jimmy Buffett makes a career out of indolence by writing indolently. I want passion out of a song about cheeseburgers! Buffett’s no Joey Ramone, though. Continue reading

Redefining work in the post-COVID era

At a Mother’s Day gathering yesterday I overheard conversations repeated in backyards and pool decks across the land: the restaurant workers on whom we depend to wear the masks we don’t and who catch COVID in exchange for cooking, bussing, or delivering our food get better money from taxpayers in the form of relief packages. Moreover, they don’t want to go back. Continue reading

Ranking #30 singles, U.S. edition: 1974-1977

Their name is Roxy Music. Thanks to payola or dumb luck, they watched as the Ferry-McKay composition called “Love is the Drug” peak at #30, their only top 40 breach. Jimmy Buffett (contributing his only winsome tune) and Ohio Players boasted surfaces this clean, but only Roxy understood the bleakness of the pickup scene. I don’t know what a “singles bar” is — I tend to think every bar pre-COVID was a place to to pick up singles and STDs. Continue reading

Singles 5/7

To notice a Young Thug-Gunna single coming up on the roster swells my heart. In a life of fleeting pleasures, I’m delighted I can count on them for consistency. But consistency can suck too. CHVRCHES have barely altered their approach to songform, to the usual middling results; as I wrote in my blurb, they haven’t figured out for whom they write these desiccated “’80s”-leaning crypto-pop tunes. Sam Hunt doesn’t bother with anything but mercenary considerations which often serve him well. Continue reading

Ranking #27 singles, U.S. edition: 1975-1977

An act adored by rock critics who lived in New York and listeners who might’ve found the Pointer Sisters’ similar retro nuevo experiments too recherche, Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band brought lightness and wit to a chart not wanting for either. Though I prefer other August Darnell productions for Machine, Cory Daye, Cristina, and, of course, Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Frisky and infections, “Cherchez Le Femme” should’ve been sampled more often; Ghostface understood. Continue reading

Ranking #12 singles, U.S. edition: 1966-1968

For once the Beatles own this list, thanks to John’s guitar suggesting revolution.


The Shades of Blue – Oh How Happy
Herman’s Hermits – This Door Swings Both Ways
The Buckinghams – Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song)
The Happenings – Go Away Little Girl
Bob Kuban and the In-Men – The Cheater

Sound, Solid

The Doors – People Are Strange
The Beach Boys – Heroes and Villains
Sandy Posey – Born a Woman
The Turtles – You Know What I Mean
Stevie Wonder – I’m Wonderin’
Spyder Turner – Stand By Me
The Dave Clark Five – Try Too Hard
The Status Quo – Pictures of Matchstick Men

Good to Great

The Beatles – Revolution
Miriam Makeba – Pata Pata
Big Brother and the Holding Company – Piece of My Heart
Sandy Posey – Single Girl
The Animals – Don’t Bring Me Down
The Isley Brothers – This Old Heart of Mine
Mama Cass with the Mamas and the Papas – Dream a Little Dream of Me
Sandy Posey – I Take It Back
The Hombres – Let It All Hang Out

Shimmering neon lights: Ashley Monroe and Dawn Richard

Two of my favorite artists immerse in electronics. The results? Mixed for a certain country artist.

Ashley Monroe – Rosegold

Her last album had hinted at the shift in priorities, but the transformation into electronica will surprise listeners. This is not to say Ashley Monroe has turned into Roisín Murphy; rather, she and her collaborators look to strummers who sought a synthesized spritz to match the increasingly carnal songwriting. If a precedent exists, look to k d lang’s somewhat obscure All You Can Eat (1995), in which she replaced torch and twang with ice and croon, or even adult contemporary touchstones like Rosanne Cash and Amy Grant. No way do Monroe’s new songs match their best, though the stillness of “See” and the multi-tracked husk on “Til It Breaks” boast some of her intensest performances to date. But “Groove” is no such thing and “Drive” stalls. That’s the problem with Rosegold. With each album Monroe’s humor has ebbed. As one-third of Pistol Annies she’s in charge of the heartbreak, the trio’s Tammy Wynette and Barbara Mandrell; by herself she has turned into a specialist in pressed-flower pathos; she’s become too precious. Brandy Clark’s Big Day in a Small Town (2015) is a superior example of baby-I’m-burnin’. So for that matter was All You Can Eat, especially when lang consented to dance remixes.

Dawn Richard – Second Line

Most herself when she hides or distorts her voice, the former member of Danity Kane offers fifty minutes’ worth of dance-inflected R&B in kinetic and languorous moods. The first half, which she has called “a machine version” of King Creole, doesn’t let up: dance tracks with hooks as sharp as “Bussifame” and peaking with “Jacuzzi,” pronounced with a stress on the last syllable and devoted to every use for water (let your imagination run as free as hers, readers). The second half offers meandering electronic tracks dependent on the strength of Richard’s declarations. “They tell me slow down, bitch, never me,” she rasps before the album does. But “Perfect Storm” zips from ballad to jungle and makes you like it and “SELFish (Outro)” is like the Kraftwerk of “Neon Lights” with extra wattage. Also of note: here’s one album whose spoken word interludes don’t deserve a skip. The recordings of Richard’s mom answering questions about family and faith are touching in themselves and add necessary gestalt.