They say that if you have a choice between printing the facts and the legend, print the legend. But with the immortal Nigel Tufnel, the legend and the facts are one in the same. Since he first came into the public eye with the beat group The Thamesmen, Nigel has been turning it up to eleven night in and night out, blazing heavy metal trails that are still too hot for anyone to trod upon and follow. This Spinal Tap axe god, who shares a birthday with actor-director Christopher Guest, is still working on his first solo album, and perhaps we can all encourage him, by getting out your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
The Go-Gos — Yes Or No (Talk Show): The third Go-Gos album is a hidden gem, fueled by stylized production by Martin Rushent. The album crackles with prominent drums, ultra jangly guitars and Belinda Carlisle’s dramatic singing. This mid-tempo track was a collaboration between guitarist Jane Wiedlin and Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks. The song is decidedly more conventional than most Sparks tracks, but has a few clever lines here and there.
The Last — And They Laugh (Confession): The first reunion album from The Last ditched some of the garage-ier elements of their classic early work (like the L.A. Explosion album) in favor of the folkier Paisley Underground aspects. This wasn’t a problem, because these guys added teeth and guts to their post-Beau Brummels jangle. This is one of the best tracks on an album that overflows with passion.
Gary Numan & Tubeway Army — Bombers (single version)(The Plan): Brittle sci-fi punk from Numan in the days before he discovered a synthesizer and began finding his direction. This song is based on a clipped guitar riff and Numan’s equally choppy vocal phrasing. His distinctive voice always oozes discomfort and paranoia. A reasonably catchy song indicative of the promise that his future work fulfilled.
Jim Croce — Stone Walls (50th Anniversary Collection): I’m a big fan of Croce’s work. He found a unique conversational bluesy vocal style to go with his poppy folk story songs. Without looking at the CD, this is clearly an early work of his, as he sounds a lot more like a conventional folk singer on this far from authentic tale of prison life. Better things were ahead.
Nomads — Stranded On A Dateless Night (Showdown! 1981-93): This Swedish garage rock band laid on the guitars thick but never too heavy. This sounds like a ’50s rock and roll number, a la “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care”, beefed up. The Nomads didn’t often venture into Cramps territory, but this comes close.
Eleventh Dream Day — Dream Of a Sleeping Sheep (Lived To Tell): This is an electrified country stomp with the patented Crazy Horse-ish guitar stylings of early Eleventh Dream Day. Rick Rizzo’s lead guitar work is magnificent, while Janet Beveridge Bean slams out a bopping beat.
Darker My Love — Waves (2): This L.A. band melds retro psychedelic rock with shoegazer dreaminess on its most recent album. Some songs reach a midpoint of those two styles, but this leans heavily on the psych side, with some genuine guitar freak outs, with a mellotron breakdown in the middle before one last dash of feedback and spectral harmony vocals.
Nick Heyward — Whistle Down the Wind (North Of A Miracle): I’m still baffled why the first solo album from the former leader of Haircut One Hundred wasn’t a worldwide smash. Heyward knows how to write a big hook and this widescreen ballad sounds like it would have been perfect for the early-‘80s pop charts. It’s the rare song of this type that isn’t overwrought, which is a credit to Heyward’s measured vocal performance and the lovely string and horn arrangements that make this emotionally affecting instead of manipulative cheese.
The House Of Love — Touch Me (1986-88 The Creation Years): Another appearance by Guy Chambers and company. This mid-tempo song is keyed on a gently ebbing drum pattern with accompanying strumming guitars. Chambers’ vocal is doubled up in a very ’60s style harmony vocal, making for a pleasingly retro pop song. Then Terry Bickers rips off a spectacular dramatic guitar solo which gives the song a lot more heft.
Neil Finn — She Will Have Her Way (Try Whistling This): Neil’s first solo album found him experimenting more with keyboards and textures, freed from a band format (not that Crowded House didn’t do some of this) leading him into some new territory. But there was still room for a straightforward guitar pop song, and this showed that Finn hadn’t exhausted his supply of silky smooth melodies. The way he draws out that melody in the chorus and little arrangement tricks show why Neil Finn is a pop master.