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Classic Albums

CA45 Metallica – Load

Welcome to our latest Classic Album podcast, where Steve and Remfry tell you, our dear patrons, why we hold a record in such high esteem. It’s a pretty controversial one this week, as we are going to be taking a look for the very first time at the single biggest metal band in history by going in deep on Load, the 6th studio album by Metallica, released on the 4th of June 1996… yes, 1996 AGAIN!

This probably wouldn’t be most people’s first choice when it comes to covering Metallica, and whilst neither of us would suggest that this is the most iconic or influential period in Metallica’s career, there is a very strong argument to suggest that it is the most interesting. The toll that the huge success of 1991’s The Black Album, and it’s never ending tour, took on Metallica was sizable. It left them needing to regroup and reappraise exactly what kind of band they wanted to be. The result is a different look, a different sound and a different perspective to anything Metallica had produced before, and the reaction to it was one of illegitimate fury and disgust from certain members of the metal community. These days, over a quarter of a century after its release, everyone still has an opinion on Load. And, like it or loathe it, that makes it worth talking about, and, to add our voices to the noise, as far as we’re concerned this is Metallica’s last great album. A case that we make a pretty compelling argument for here.

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Classic Albums

CA44 Pearl Jam – Vitalogy (Part 2)

It’s part two of our mammoth deep-dive into the career of Pearl Jam and Remfry’s taking no prisoners, delivering the longest single episode we’ve ever recorded for our Classic Album series. But hey … how often do you get to wax lyrical on your favourite band of all time eh?

Recorded during the most tumultuous part of the band’s career, Vitalogy was a dynamic and sometimes disturbing reflection of a band on the brink of self-destruction. Their reluctant, meteoric rise had forced the band to withdraw from the typical major label promotion machine, despite the music press often dragging them kicking and screaming back into the spotlight. Whilst Vs. marked the beginning of this process (see Part 1), Vitalogy was the antagonistic culmination, a middle-finger to the hysteria and hyperbole that followed them no matter how opposed they were to it.

Pearl Jam faced a myriad of arduous challenges during this time; intra-band relations were strained, particularly with drummer Dave Abbruzzese, who was fired just prior to the release of the record. Guitarist Mike McCready was struggling with addiction, entering a rehab facility during recording sessions and bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard represented the band when the US Justice Department asked for their assistance in an investigation against Ticketmaster. Vocalist Eddie Vedder meanwhile, was desperately trying to shake off the unwanted ‘voice of a generation’ tag that he’d been saddled with, particularly in the wake of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s death. The largely fabricated media feud between the two bands meant that the two frontmen never got to bond in a truly meaningful way, despite their similarities, something that was a source of deep frustration to the empathetic Pearl Jam singer.

As a result, Vitalogy contained some of the most antagonistic material of their career (Not For You, Bugs, Satan’s Bed, Hey Foxymophandlemama That’s Me) but also some of the most enduring and beloved songs in their back catalogue (Nothingman, Corduroy, Better Man, Immortality). Imperfect by design, Vitalogy delighted in testing the bands fanbase and divided opinion like no other Pearl Jam album before or since. Whatever people think of Vitalogynow or then, it’s undoubtedly the most important record in the Pearl Jam canon, allowing them to break free of the shackles of ‘grunge’ (a tag that never really suited them in the first place) and become the band they were always destined to be.

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Classic Albums

CA44 Pearl Jam – Vs. (Part 1)

Given the fact that we subtly named our podcast after one of their albums, it was inevitable that we’d be covering Pearl Jam one day on our Classic Albums strand at some point. In the first of two parts, we cover Vs., the band’s incendiary sophomore album released October 19th 1993.

The runaway success of debut album Ten had thrust Pearl Jam into the spotlight and a level of scrutiny that they were entirely uncomfortable with, particularly frontman Eddie Vedder, who was now being widely identified (alongside Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain) as ‘the voice of a generation’. A largely unsympathetic music press couldn’t understand why sudden mega-stardom was such a chore, with some even hypothesizing that the band’s unorthodox approach to self-promotion (no music videos, no pre-release single) was a calculated move.

Calculated or not, the anti-promotion stance didn’t work – Vs. broke records upon its release selling 950,378 in its first 5 days of release. But Vs. was a record in stark contrast to the classic rock stylings of Ten, capturing the sound of a band on fire and raging against the injustices they saw around them. Songs like Go, Animal, Blood and Leash were ferocious and untamed whilst Vedder’s deeply sympathetic worldview was captured to perfection on the likes of Daughter, written from the perspective of a girl with learning disabilities whose mother was unsympathetic to her condition, and W.M.A, a tortured scree against police racism inspired by an incident that occurred outside the recording studio.

Pearl Jam ramped up the alienation even more for the follow-up Vitalogy, which we will cover in great detail in part two…

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Daughter / It’s Ok – Touring Band 2000
https://youtu.be/uNKnFmIIh2k

Categories
Classic Albums

CA43 Bloc Party – Silent Alarm

Once again we pull out one of our collective favourite albums ever for a Classic Album Podcast. On this episode Steve and Remfry look at the debut album from London’s post-punk revivalists Bloc Party, Silent Alarm, released on the 2nd February 2005.

We’ve often spoken about the mid-00’s indie landfill scene, usually in quite scathing and unflattering terms, and whilst Bloc Party would be considered peers of many of the bands that we dislike, on this particular episode we concentrate on showing that there can be music of worth from any and every genre, and the London quartet are proof of it. We look at the early days of the band and the starting point for what Bloc Party initially sounded like, the school of bands that came up with them, and wonder why none of them seem to have endured in the way that Bloc Party have, before turning our attention to just what made Silent Alarm such a different and special album. Much of it has to do with the work of producer Paul Epworth, who pushed Bloc Party in a far more interesting direction sonically than what was happening in indie at that time, and lots of it has to do with the influences that the band were pulling from, such as Sonic Youth and Four Tet, that were utterly alien to mainstream guitar music at that time. The result is an album, to our ears, that sounds just as fresh, contemporary, individual and essential today as it did upon release in 2005.

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Classic Albums

CA42 Deafheaven – Sunbather

It’s Remfry’s pick for the latest episode in our Classic Albums series and he’s picked one of the most contemporary albums in our series so far in the form of Deafheaven’s second full-length album Sunbather.

Released to a largely unsuspecting public on June 11th 2013, Sunbather caused a bit of a sensation that few would have been able to predict prior to its release. Deafheaven weren’t the first band to mix elements of black metal with shoegaze and post-rock, but they were the first to do so who truly resonated outside of traditional metal circles, being embraced with fervour by an audience who were roundly dismissed by ‘cvlt’ metal fans as hipster poseurs.

8 years later after all the fuss had died down, it all seems rather silly to be honest and neither Remfry nor Steve have any qualms what-so-ever hailing this as a modern classic which ushered in a whole new audience to black metal. Sure, some of that audience might’ve have come and gone but Deafheaven endure and have become one of the biggest underground successes of the past decade due to their persistence and refusal to be bound by arbitrary limitations. 

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Classic Albums

CA41 The Black Crowes – The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion

It’s the return of our Classic Album Series podcast, where we dive into one of our favourite albums of all time. On this episode Steve picks the second album from Georgian hard rock revivalists The Black Crowes; The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion, which was released on the 12th of May 1992.

The Black Crowes were already climbing the ladder to superstardom in the early part of the 90’s after their debut record Shake Your Money Maker had gone five times platinum in the US and had seen them labelled as ‘the new Rolling Stones’. But then the spectre of grunge appeared in 1992 and all of a sudden classic hard rock bands began either dropping like flies or shamefully and cynically adopting the zeitgeist look and sound of early 90’s Seattle. The Crowes decided to take the completely opposite approach and go even further down the retro rabbit hole, adding gospel, funk, country and Hendrix worship to their bluesy blueprint. The result is this album, which, far from destroying them, saw them rewarded for digging their heels in and refusing to conform as The Southern Harmony… sat atop of the US Billboard Top 200 chart upon its release. Now, 29 years after its release, we look at the record in depth and see how The Black Crowes managed to avoid the curse of grunge, and instead flourish both commercially and artistically.

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Classic Albums

CA40 PJ Harvey – Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

We take a deep dive into the career of one of the most illustrious and admired artists of modern times; PJ Harvey’s fifth full-length studio album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea is our latest entry into Classic Albums.

Released on 24 October 2000 by Island Records, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea became the second major commercial success of her recording career, following her successful breakthrough To Bring You My Love (1995). Whilst it received generally favourable praise, placing 4th in Metacritic’s Albums of the Year list, there are a small but vocal crowd who bemoan the album’s shaved edges and melodic ‘pop’ sensibility. But Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea merely proves that Polly Jean Harvey is a chameleon who can take on any musical form whilst remaining at the top of her song-writing game.

New York plays a big part in the album as does the feeling of falling in love, a topic perhaps too romantic for those who revelled in the bleak, stark black and white vignettes of Dry or Rid of Me, but Harvey never makes the topic mushy or overly sentimental. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea proved that indie and pop sensibilities could be bedfellows, an idea that seems obvious in 2021 but was often derided at the dawn of the 21st century. The album went on to receive acclaim from most music critics and earned Harvey several accolades, including the 2001 Mercury Prize.

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Classic Albums

CA39 Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

It’s time for us to delve into yet another classic album and on the surface at least, we are going quite far outside of Riot Act’s original remit, as we look at the debut solo album by New Jersey soul, R&B and hip-hop queen Ms. Lauryn Hill, the groundbreaking The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, released on the 25th of August 1998.

We chart the rise of Hill’s first band The Fugees and the incredible success they achieved whilst being led by an enigmatic 21-year old girl who still lived at home with her parents. Their 1996 sophomore album The Score turned them into multi-platinum megastars but the aftermath of the band’s success was peppered with controversy, as Hill and fellow Fugee Wyclef Jean’s relationship fell apart whilst on tour, and the young singer fell pregnant, setting in motion a chain of events that would inspire the creation of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

Despite a lack of label and bandmate support for the project, Hill relocated to Kingston, Jamaica to record a deeply personal, organic and multi-faceted album that dealt with everything from the breakdown of her relationship, her joy at becoming a mother, her love of music and her religious upbringing. Hill’s gritty, determined insistence that her unique meld of modern hip-hop, classic soul and R&B was the sound she believed in was gloriously vindicated when the record entered the US Billboard Top 200 at number one, making her the first female hip-hop star to obtain that position and breaking the first week sales for a female artist in the process. She went on to win 5 Grammys for the album, pick up numerous accolades, sell 20 million copies worldwide and firmly ram the words of the doubters down their throats before vanishing from the limelight almost completely. With no follow up to the record looking any more likely 23 years on, we look at the context, importance and legacy of one of the most groundbreaking and influential albums in the history of modern music.

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Classic Albums

CA38 Slipknot – Vol.3: The Subliminal Verses

After the tragic news of Joey Jordison’s passing, it seemed fitting to dedicate our next Classic Album podcast to the band that made him a superstar and put the virtuoso drummer on the map … ladies and gents, Riot Act’s first deep dive into the biggest metal band of the 21st century … Slipknot.

But rather than dive head-first into the oft-told-tales behind Slipknot’s 1999 self-titled debut and their no-holds-barred follow up Iowa, Remfry plumps for his favourite record Vol.3: The Subliminal Verses.

With Iowa, Slipknot had been deigned Metal’s crown but with Vol.3 The Subliminal Verses, they had the far trickier task of retaining that crown. Slipknot did so by expanding their sound into far wider-reaching sonic territory, by attempting things that even the most clairvoyant maggot would never have been able to predict.

Vol.3: The Subliminal Verses was the first (and arguably last) time Slipknot sounded like a nontet. All 9 band members got time to shine on the album but they managed to marry this abundance of voices and ideas with intricate song-writing and a sense of craft that was previously lacking. Some fans grumbled at the changes, but 6 albums deep, Vol.3 The Subliminal Verses may not be the album most go to as the ‘classic’, but itfeels like the most complete, cohesive and filler-free album of their career to date.

Iowa is the album that made Slipknot colossal but Vol.3 The Subliminal Verses is the album that kept Slipknot colossal.

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Classic Albums

CA37 R.E.M. – Monster (Part 2)

In part two of our two part look at the career of alternative icons R.E.M. we consider posit that the bands 9th studio album, 1994’s Monster, is actually worthy of inclusion in our list of Classic Albums. 

Determined never to repeat themselves, R.E.M. regrouped in 1993 to start work on the follow up to the multi-platinum selling Automatic for the People with the goal of making a loud, raucous rock record and to head out on the road for their first tour in six years. Best laid plans were severely tested in the making of Monster, as the relationship with the band members fell to an all time low, the deaths of close friends River Phoenix and Kurt Cobain severely affected the mindset of Stipe and, with the band being as close as they would ever get to legitimate mainstream celebrities, their relationship with fame confused and unsettled them. The result is an album of confusing, arch, ironic playfulness, that eschews the heart on sleeve approach of Automatic for the People for an album that is often brilliant and often unbalanced, but always interesting, as R.E.M. fucked with their own formula maybe more than they ever have or would. The critical reaction was one of confusion, the fan reaction was one of disappointment, but, 25 years plus down the line, does Monster actually stand up a great record that has been unfairly maligned and misunderstood? Spoiler…. Steve thinks so. 

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