Albums that Scaruffi Underrates
Ege Bamyasi, Can (1972). What's the harm in having three Can masterpieces? Never mind the trip-hop 20 years ahead of its time or the hypnotic minimalist balladry, we have the finest Krautrock pop songs in "I'm So Green" and "Spoon"! 7.0 should be 8.0
Meet the Residents, The Residents (1974) One of the most sustained and convincing displays of American (maybe even Western) madness, stunningly original (even though you can pick out bits and pieces of Zappa satire, operetta, and dissonance) in its alienness. It's weird but not for its own sake. This is the dark underbelly of our culture, all our bs and lies exposed from the inside out. It's ugly b/c it is ugly. 8.0 should be 8.5
Jackson C. Frank, Jackson C. Frank (1965) Wow. Can't believe I forgot this one. This guy's life story is one of the saddest ever. But you can feel this album deeply even without knowing the backstory. Taken from my original review: "Produced by Paul Simon, who was probably influenced by Frank more than he'd care to admit, while both were folk musician expatriates in England, the album has that sparse, unadorned feel, but it's more captivating than most folk I've heard (granted I've only heard big names like Dylan and Drake). The music is basically Frank's earnest, though youthful, voice and his superb, nearly intricate fingerpicking on acoustic. The main feel of the album is solitude. But it's the solitude of a guy who locked himself into a room for years and practiced his instrument, who spent a long time reflecting on the past. Few artists sound so zoned in their craft. It's as if Frank played his music to hermitically seal himself off from something -- probably pain but, even more harrowing, maybe life itself." I really recommend it if you don't know it. Songs like "Dialogue", "Blues Run the Game", "Like Anything", "My Name is Carnival" and "Here Comes the Blues" are among the most heartfelt songs I've heard in any genre. Rating? Somewhere between 7.0 and 7.5, but it's definitely an essential part of one's collection.
Fela Kuti's Music. Scaruffi does give him some due credit: "At his best, Kuti concocts lengthy improvised jams of bebop saxophone lines, Frank Zappa-esque horn fanfares, call-and-response vocals, and wild polyrhythms led by Tony Allen's spectacular drumming." Then comes the inexplicable part: "Unfortunately, the quality of his (very many) recordings is often quite low." What? Granted I only have the highly recommended compilation The Best Best of Fela Kuti, but this remark is not justified by the sheer splendor of Kuti's music which is quite loud and wild. You could hold a block party with it, to say the least. No albums get any rating either. Apparently, his main beef is that the pieces are too long, too repetitive. This is ridiculous, these are heaven-sent polyrhythmic/minimalist/James Brown-inspired/funk/jazz/fanciful horn/expressionistic masterpieces that are supposed to inspire people to change the world. Part of the fun is just waiting for Fela to enter the picture around the 8 minute mark with the political mantra. Well -- don't take Scaruffi's word for it. Pick up some of Kuti's work, especially this comp, or at the very least "Roforofo Fight". You might just find yourself leading a revolutionary parade through your hometown. Picture Tehran if you have to.
Boston, Boston (1976) Ok, call me sentimental. Call me corny. I don't really care. This is one of the very best rock/pop albums of all times. Every song on it is a classic rock radio staple. The catchiness factor is off the charts, and it's all so good-natured that it can really bring the edge off after listening to, say, Foetus or Pop Group or even Nico. "More Than a Feeling" is unquestionably one of the most formally perfect pop songs ever, nearly scientifically conceived and executed to achieve its full emotional effect. And, without it, we would not be rocking out to Pixies "Gigantic" (and Nirvana's "Smells like Teen Spirit"). Credit may be due to band mastermind Tom Scholz being an MIT student (potentially, as far as college admissions go, the brainiest guy to venture into rock music). I mean he built a studio in his own basement to record most of the music on this album! But, in any event, hard rock with melodies this good cannot be denied. 7.0 should be 8.0
Begin, The Millennium (1968) Not so much underrated as barely acknowledged, this true lost album is a wonderful collection of 60's sunshine pop with gorgeous songwriting, harmonies, and charming dynamics. Production masterpiece or not (often an indicator of lesser music in Scaruffi's book), it deserves a proper writeup. This is 60's pop on par with Beatles, Zombies, Mamas & Papas, Hollies, Left Bank--you name it. 8.0
Late for the Sky, Jackson Browne (1974) One of the very best singer-songwriter albums of all time, reflecting on relationships -- both personal and societal -- in such eloquent, philosophical ways, all while being marinaded in ethereal melodies that bring out the best in country-rock, deserves higher praise; just in terms of goosebumps and tear-inducing, you know it's good. You feel like listening to it even when you know it might bring you down. 7.5 should be 8.5
Fun House, Stooges (1970) Yes, this one deserves masterpiece status for being caveman rock par excellence, the most basic rock n roll album delivered in the fiercest, rawest style. This removes rock of all its pretense, even its beginnings, gets right down to the primitivity inherent. This blows away nearly all punk albums that followed. The first three songs scorch like nothing before or since. The guitar is close to being noise rock, soundpainting all the way. Iggy is a rabid animal. The avant-garde free jazz garage rock craziness of the final three tracks is legendary. 7 should be 9
Rust in Peace, Megadeth (1990) Through sheer willpower and enviable determination, Dave Mustaine proved to himself and the world he could craft a near masterpiece with this remarkable album, recorded as he was kicking drugs and embracing sobriety. Yes, the album is essentially technical prowess in spades with the bravado of an arrogant teenager, but this is one of the rare albums where mastery of your instrument translates to emotional abandon. Lyrically, you may gasp, and some people think Mustaine a weak vocalist. Indeed, evaluated on the bar set by Hetfield and some other growlers, he fails. His voice is not strong--it's meek, without any range, somewhat Gollum-esque, a tortured and sick soul. That voice is what Megadeth's music is all about; it's capable of amusing self-aware moments that somehow complement the intensity and horror of the music. He's like the mischevious imp of thrash metal. But there are some truly meaningful songs -- "Tornado of Souls" confronts his drug problems and "Holy Wars", one of the very best metal songs of all time (easily top 10), is a brutal critique of its subject. The rest may be juvenile but it's the best of its type and can outlive that era of one's life. Capable of endless replays that don't lose an ounce of its energy and power, this one deserves a high grade. 7 should be 8.5