What a match-up – the sound of your favourite summer day vs. the sound of a rock star coming unhinged.
Apparently, XTC leader Andy Partridge had been listening to a lot of Beach Boys as they geared up to make their ninth album, and you can tell. Full of birdsong and summer breezes, the album soars with gorgeous melodies and harmonizing. But don’t let the prettiness fool you – the album has some sharp lyrics and hits on some big issues, like mortality (“Dying”) and the plight of the working class (“Earn Enough for Us”). It’s a beauty and it gets richer with every listen (I’m proof – I didn’t like it the first time I heard it upon its release).
Weezer’s Pinkerton, their second album, sees bandleader Rivers Cuomo showing a seriously dark and creepy side of himself, such as “sniffing and licking” an envelope from an 18-year-old Japanese fan while admitting “I wonder how you touch yourself” on “Across the Sea”. Ew. Pinkerton is loud, aggressive, surprising…and brave as hell in its candour. It also nearly destroyed the band because fans initially HATED it after the comparative breeziness of their classic debut. Even Rivers was embarrassed. Then, as reported in this great Rolling Stone article, something funny happened over the ensuing years and it slowly earned its deserved reputation as a stone-cold classic.
Both albums are brilliant, get better with age, and are required additions to any serious music collection. Listen to Pinkerton when you want to unleash some aggression, listen to Skylarking when you’re feeling wistful and nostalgic.
So who wins?
Skylarking. It has more to offer sonically, plus it contains “Dear God”, in which Partridge writes a letter to God that asks the Almighty why he has abandoned his creation and declares “I can’t believe in you” – a perfect atheist manifesto 20 years before it was fashionable to do such things.
WINNER: XTC, Skylarking (1 point)
Next week’s battle – #47: Tina Turner, Private Dancer (1984) vs. Portishead, Dummy (1994)