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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. 

Available over at patreon.com/riotactpodcast

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Classic Albums

CA37 R.E.M. – Automatic for the People (Part 1)

In the first part of our two part Classic Album Special, we look at the 8th album from Athens, Georgia alternative rock megastars R.E.M., 1992’s Automatic for the People.

After a decade in the US indie underground R.E.M. had achieved a significant mainstream breakthrough after signing to Warners and releasing 1988’s Green and 1991’s Out of Time albums. The latter turned the band into near household names with the success of Losing My Religion, so when they came to record a new album they did so with the pressure of following up a legitimate smash hit. As if that wasn’t enough the musical landscape had been changed hugely with the success of Nirvana’s Nevermind, which made the alternative rock of a band like R.E.M. now the hottest sound in music. But, rather than copy the previous album or try and incorporate the sounds of bands that they themselves influenced, R.E.M. stood staunchly to the belief that their own artistic vision was all that mattered. That vision was to lean on their own sense of mortality as frontman Michael Stipe suffered a series of losses in his personal life and wrestled with feelings of grief and thoughts of his own mortality. It resulted in a record that is slower, more melodic, grander and thematically more reflective than anything that was happening in music at the time. Despite the risks, Automatic for the People would go on to become an even bigger success than any of their previous material, spawning a series of hit singles that remain staples of mainstream rock to this very day.

Go to patreon.com/riotactpodcast to hear part two

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Classic Albums

CA35 Joy Division – Closer

For this week’s Classic Album podcast we take a look at one of the most significant, if short lived, careers of any band of the last 4 decades, as we try and reach beyond the story and mythology of Joy Division’s second and final studio album Closer from 1980.
It’s a name that everyone knows, but just how important are Joy Division? We look at their lasting impact on the Manchester scene, from the birth of Factory Records, their groundbreaking and fractured work with producer Martin Hannett on their debut album Unknown Pleasures, the illness and depression of frontman Ian Curtis that cast a shadow over the band, the recording of the record, Curtis’ tragic death before the records release, the reaction to them after his passing and the success of Love Will Tear Us Apart. All coming before Closer had even been released to the general public. So, what exactly are Joy Division? A short lived hyped band, famous only for one song and the circumstances surrounding the cult of their iconic lead singer? Or a genuine one off band who made unique, unusual, honest and widely influential material that continues to inspire bands way beyond the confines of the early 80’s post-punk bubble to this very day? We discuss it all here.
Available over on our Patreon page. Sign up for £5 a month for access to this and all our deep-dive Classic Album specials. https://www.patreon.com/riotactpodcast

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Classic Albums

CA34 Neil Young – After the Gold Rush

Sweet Ham Alabama(!) it’s a new Classic Album podcast and on this particular episode, Remfry goes in deep on his oldest album covered on Classic Albums thus far, 1970’s After the Gold Rush, the third full-length studio ‘solo’ album by Canadian / American musician Neil Young. It is one of four high-profile albums released by each of the members of folk rock collective Crosby, Stills Nash & Young in the wake of their chart-topping 1970 album Deja Vu. The album consists mainly of country folk music, along with the rocking “Southern Man”, inspired by the unproduced Dean Stockwell-Herb Bermann screenplay After the Gold Rush.

Remfry and Steve go through all 11 songs from the album individually as well as discussing the long lost screenplay that two of the songs from this album were inspired by. We also discuss Young’s history in bands before this album, the Skynrd/Young ‘feud’ and esoteric lyrics to the title track that have stumped fans for the past 50 years. Neil Young is an absolutely phenomenal talent, and this 2-and-a-half hour deep dive into one of his best works will tell you why.

Available over on patreon.com/riotactpodcast.

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Classic Albums

CA33 Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness

On this week’s Classic Album podcast we take our first tentative steps into the world of extreme metal, as we look at Altars of Madness, the debut full length record from Floridian death metal legends Morbid Angel. 

Released on the 12th of May 1989, Altars… represents something of a full stop for a metal scene that was in the process of obsessing over outdoing itself in terms of speed, ferocity, gruesome imagery and brutality. We look at the birth of the band, and how they could have been considered one of the first names in death metal had their original debut album back in 1986 not sat on the shelf for 5 years, the sound that set the band apart from their peers and, even more tellingly, the lyrical inspiration from the infamous Necronomicon book that the members of Morbid Angel obsessed over. Before delving into the record itself and looking at the aftermath of death metal, and discussing whether Altars of Madness set a bar for death metal that was so high that it immediately helped to contribute to its creative downfall.

Available over on patreon.com/riotactpodcast.

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Classic Albums

CA32 The Mars Volta – Deloused In The Comatorium

Released on June 24, 2003, Deloused in the Comatorium is the debut album from The Mars Volta, the progressive salsa latin jazz art punk collective spearheaded by ex-At The Drive-In members Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez Lopez. An album quite unlike any other, Deloused in the Comatorium was released into a world where progressive music was just beginning to seep it’s way into the public consciousness again, what with the likes of Tool’s Lateralus, Opeth’s Blackwater Park and the gigantic success of Muse paving the way for making the term ‘prog’ legitimate again. But Deloused in the Comatorium followed no preconceived notions of formula or commercial enterprise. Instead, the project was born out of De Facto, a dub/reggae/electronica hybrid that Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez used to jam with after At The Drive In shows alongside Isaiah ‘Ikey’ Owens and Jeremy Michael Ward (cousin to ex-At the Drive-In / current Sparta guitarist Jim Ward).

De Facto gradually metamorphosed into The Mars Volta and one of the most forward-thinking modern ‘rock’ acts was born onto the world. Despite its far from commercial sound, Deloused in the Comatorium featured extensively on a wide range of Album of the Year lists including Q, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, NME, Spin, Drowned in Sound, Mojo and Terrorizer, effectively picking up accolades from every major guitar music publication in the UK. We trace the lineage back to the musicians that influenced the band, discuss the tragic circumstances that inspired the album and deliberate over how The Mars Volta have inspired a whole scene to push boundaries and innovate beyond the usual musical formulas and templates.

Available over on patreon.com/riotactpodcast.

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Classic Albums

CA31 Soundgarden – Down On The Upside (Part 2)

For the second part of our double Classic Album series podcast we take a look at the follow up to Soundgarden’s monolithic Superunknown; 1996’s Down on the Upside. Whilst grunge was in its commercial pomp back when their previous album was released, it’s a very different story in this part of the story. In the aftermath of Kurt Cobain’s death, and with pop-punk and Brit-pop the new fashionable genres to name check, Soundgarden were sitting ducks in 1996 purely for the crime of coming from Seattle.

We look at the build up to the record, and the effect that the disintegration of the Seattle scene had on the band, before tackling the album itself and then looking at the, frankly fucking embarrassing reaction from a sneering, lazy music press to the album. But, it matters not, because 25 years after the release of Down on the Upside the songs on the record still stand up as some of their best, and definitely most underrated work.

Available over on patreon.com/riotactpodcast.