Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ten Underrated Rock Albums

Building on the 10 best rock albums, I thought I'd throw together a list of underrated albums. These are just some albums I thought of.

1. Midnight Oil, Blue Sky Mining--generally a greatly underrated band all around. They put out some really solid music in the 80s, a time of a whole lot of shit. Their later albums moved over that ever so fragile line from political to preachy. Blue Sky Mining might be the last of their really strong work.

2. John Cale, Fragments of a Rainy Season--I find a lot of Cale's solo material a bit trying. He overproduces almost everything, from his own work to Alejandro Escovedo's latest album. This live performance though is just him with a piano and guitar. It showcases his great material and strong voice.

3. Julian Schnabel, Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud--I remember the first time I heard about this album. I was more than skeptical that Julian Schnabel had actually put out an album. But it's actually quite strong and continues to grow on me.

4. New York Dolls, Too Much Too Soon--This one is a little complicated. For years, the Dolls were almost totally forgotten about. That was utterly ridiculous. They produced something new and real in a period (the early to mid 70s) when rock was at a real low point. Now though, their renaissance may move them clear into the overrated category considering the music itself really isn't all that amazing. But still, for now, it deserves more attention from rock fans than it gets.

5. PJ Harvey, Four Track Demos--This is extremely raw music and it works for that reason. An angry woman, loud guitars, low production. In this case, it's a recipe for utter success.

6. Pink Floyd, The Final Cut--Normally I would never say a Pink Floyd album is underrated. Quite the opposite. But this 1983 album, the last the band did before Waters left, is really quite good. No, it doesn't have the loud (and I think annoying) David Gilmour guitar solos. But it packs a lot of bitter emotion, history, and politics into a fine album. Certainly different than anything else in the Floyd canon, it remains significantly underappreciated by the band's fans and rock lovers in general.

7. Frank Zappa, We're Only In It For The Money--At this point, Zappa albums are hard to judge. Most combine great and crappy moments. I really think that with the exception of Hot Rats and The Yellow Shark, both instrumental albums, he never truly achieved a great album. His often juvenile lyrics, even if he was really making fun of juvenile lyrics as a whole, detract from the great music. As I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate his earlier work more because he managed to say some pretty interesting things while also producing interesting music. Nowhere does he do this more than on his 1967 album We're Only In It For The Money, where he savages both hippies and conformist mid 60s society. Great stuff.

8. Palace Music, Viva Last Blues--The most recent inclusion on this list, even though it is from the mid 90s. The various incarnations of Will Oldham usually produce really interesting music but he's never caught on much with a broader public. I like this album a lot because it rocks more than anything else he's ever done. He's always had that ability and it comes not too infrequently, but not as often as I wished. His I See A Darkness or Superwolf albums could also make this list, both while performing as Bonnie Prince Billy.

9. Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy--Zevon's best work. It's popular among big music fans but I think remains largely unknown for someone without a pretty deep appreciation of rock's history.

10. Mandrill, Composite Truth--Mandrill is the most forgotten band on this list. They were pioneers in the funk/rock/soul music of the 1970s. This multiracial band combined all the elements that more popular acts such as George Clinton, War, and Earth, Wind & Fire, but they did it first and better. They made some absolutely awesome music. Probably Composite Truth is their best album, with such tracks as "Fencewalk" and "Hagalo." Kick ass.