I’ve rediscovered two solid CDs from the ’80s: World Party’s Goodbye Jumbo and Living Colour’s debut, Vivid. (Living Colour has reunited; their new one is on my Christmas wish list.) Both CDs are full of memorable songs.
World Party, which had a minor hit in Way Down Now, combines a Beatlesque sensibility with a New Wave vibe. Most of the songs are full of hippie optimism or relationship trouble, but the lyrical peak comes in a stirring putdown of theocracy called God On My Side. (See lyrics excerpt a couple of entries ago.)
Living Colour deserved more acclaim in its time. While rappers claimed to be the “CNN of the black community,” Living Colour backed up its incisive commentary with a blazing guitar-bass-drums approach. (That’s not to say the band turned its back on hip-hop; in their later releases, they blended some rap elements very well.) They lighten things up with a couple of amusing looks at relationships, and they have the best Talking Heads cover ever recorded in Memories Can’t Wait.
One thing these CDs have that most of today’s releases do not: Almost every song is memorable for one reason or another. I wouldn’t devote time every day to listen to a song like Living Colour’s Funny Vibe, but a couple of lines will pop into my head every once in a while.
I might be romanticizing the past a bit — I do remember back when I was buying tapes that I’d often have one side of good songs and one side of filler. But then there were CDs like these and the occasional entry that made an artistic statement as a whole, like Fishbone’s The Reality of My Surroundings, which sounds like a guided tour of a neighborhood by a bunch of witty guys who occasionally talk two or three at a time and have a great drummer.
You see where I’m going with this. Downloading sucks.
Sure, it’s great to go out and legally download some one-off song from an inconsistent band. But when I hear that we might be returning to the days when “singles” were far more important than “albums,” I worry that we’re losing a valuable form of artistic impression. Seriously.
(Incidentally, most music critics argue that Sgt. Pepper was the release that cemented the album art form. Perhaps so, but I’d argue that Revolver is better as a whole.)
I’d be inclined to wind up on these kids who spend all their time online with their blogs and downloads, but I’ve noticed that many of them tend to be Guster fans, so I can’t complain too much.