#14: Peter Gabriel, ‘So’ (1986) vs. Snoop Dogg, ‘Doggystyle’ (1993)

One of the joys of the VanJam project has been discovering albums I wasn’t paying attention to at the time but probably should have been. Here we have two in that category.

Peter Gabriel temporarily became a superstar despite himself with So. He was an art rocker who answered his record company’s call to try to be at least a bit commercial. And so he did. He made hits. He gave the album an actual name – every other had been eponymous – and for the first time you could see his entire face on the cover (this was actually a request from the record company – stop obscuring half your face, Peter!).

But the album is still art. Gabriel was experimental enough to bring African and Brazilian sounds into it. It’s beautiful stuff. So is both smooth and challenging – it pulls you in. The ballads are my favourite, especially “Don’t Give Up”, with Kate Bush’s gorgeous and soothing vocals. You also gotta enjoy “Big Time”, which has Gabriel making fun of the kind of megastar he’d been working hard not to be and now kinda was.

Snoop, on the other hand, knew he was destined to be a superstar and wanted everyone to know it on his debut, Doggystyle. I’ll admit I have mixed feelings on Doggystyle.   There is no denying it is infectious as hell. SUPER catchy. It sounds fantastic (thanks in large part to Dr. Dre’s production), and Snoop’s rapping is as smooth and mellow as the finest herb you’ve ever tasted. It’s mostly party music – although “Murder was the Case” tells an interesting story of life on the streets – and much of it is just silly. But what else to expect, I suppose, from an album that opens with the star being bathed by his girlfriend (or one of many, apparently), and is periodically interrupted by a DJ from “W Balls” radio.

Also, why oh why must the lyrics be so damn misogynistic? I suppose we’re supposed to accept at least a certain amount of that in rap (especially from the 90s), but shit like “Ain’t no Fun” and the talking intro to “Doggy Dogg World” are way too dumb to forgive the offensiveness.

JG

WINNER:  Peter Gabriel, So (4 points)

BATTLE TALLY

80s: 16

90s: 21

EARNED POINTS
80s: 39
90s: 49

Next week’s post – #13: Midnight Oil, ‘Diesel and Dust’ (1987) vs. Beastie Boys, ‘Ill Communication’ (1994)

#15: The Replacements, ‘Let it Be’ (1984) vs. Lucinda Williams, ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road’ (1998)

 

I really hate to say it, but this should be a lot closer of a competition that it is. I saw Lucinda Williams live and she is magnetic. I was captivated by her swagger and command of the stage and this was only a few years ago. Boy could she hold a crowd. She just owned that stage. It made me wanna rush home and try to appreciate Car Wheels on a Gravel Road for the umpteenth time. And like all the other umpth-times it fell flat for me – umphh!- and did not take. Based on seeing that live show, I am certain that it is me and not her that is the problem. I am quite sure I am wrong on this and if the VanJam Music War ends in a one point differential, there is a justifiable case for an asterisk designation that will require a reassessment of the whole project. I fully expect this album to click for me eventually.  Foot stompin’ songs like “Joy” and “Can’t Let Go” will no doubt be my gateway into appreciation so I can eventually fall in love with more mature contemplative songs like “Drunken Angel” and “Jackson”.  I’ll get there someday I am sure.  Lucinda is an Americana goddess with nothing to prove.  I just gotta catch up.

Let it Be, however, is another story. This one hit me late in life and it hit me hard. This is not just the most accessible punk album I have ever heard, it is also just good plain songwriting.  If the Beatles made a punk album (and really tried hard at making it authentic) it would come out sounding  a lot like Let it Be (just realized the connection right now). Case in point is the first track.  The undeniably catchy “I Will Dare” can’t help but put one in a happy mood.  The shimmering guitar, the poppin’ up-tempo bass lick, and ragged vocal cries are a complete delight.  Go ahead, I dare you to not be smiling from ear to ear after listening to that song. There are so many other alt-beautiful moments throughout the album. “Androgynous” stands out as a sweet non-conformist ballad to punk youth entering a new world of adult society. The piano progressions and melodic punk vocals inject validity to a punk culture that can no longer stand in the shadows.  The complexities of love are just as valid in punk society as they are in the mainstream. At its heart, it’s a punk album, but it’s really a lot more than that. You can hear elements of hard rock, folk, pop and, dare I even say it, the seeds of grunge! Its influence on the indie rock scene can’t be overlooked. I don’t doubt that any member of a future 80s or 90s rock, punk, or grunge band had a copy of Let it Be in heavy rotation in their bedroom. Elements of its brilliance and influence on others are scattered throughout every Indie rock album in this VanJam Music War.

JS

WINNER: The Replacements, Let it Be (4 points)

BATTLE TALLY

80s: 15

90s: 21

EARNED POINTS
80s: 35
90s: 49

Next week’s post – #14: Peter Gabriel, ‘So’ (1986) vs. Snoop Dogg, ‘Doggystyle’ (1993)

#16: Prince, ‘1999’ (1982) vs. Metallica, ‘Metallica’ (1991)

 

When I was in junior high in the early 80s there was a kid in our class, Kevin, who went on and on about this new thrash metal band called Metallica. He declared that one day they were going to be the biggest hard rock band in the world. We all knew he was a fool, of course; nothing could unseat Twisted Sister.

Turns out Kevin was right! By the end of the decade Metallica were well on their way to global metal domination and in 1991 they made it official with Metallica self-titled (aka the Black Album), which would go on to sell a bazillion jillion copies (approx.) and make Metallica fans out of everyone and their sister (twisted or not). I’d lost touch with Kevin by this point, but I wonder what he thought of the Black Album. I suspect he hated it – many “real” Metallica fans rue the day that their beloved thrashers recruited Bon Jovi producer Bob Rock to help them make an album of 12 polished tunes of melodic metal that included – yikes! – a love ballad (“Nothing Else Matters”).

I say they’re crazy (a band’s grassroots fans can be tiresome sometimes). The Black Album is freaking awesome. It’s dark, it’s heavy, it’s fun and it sounds amazing (thanks, Bob Rock!) without a bad song anywhere. Near perfect album.

With 1999, Prince continued to prove that not only was he a genius who could bend any music genre to his will, he also was the horniest son-of-a-bitch to ever pick up a microphone. Every song on this techno-funk masterpiece is either about sex or features it prominently, even when its tackling serious issues. Prince will car-fuck you (“Little red Corvette”) . He’ll Armageddon-fuck you (“1999”). He’ll even politico-fuck you (“Lady Cab Driver”). On “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”, he declares: “Look here Marsha, I’m not saying this just to be nasty/I sincerely want to fuck the taste out of your mouth/Can you relate?”

I don’t know who Marsha is, but I’m a little scared for her.

There is no question Prince was engorged with talent and this album is an orgy of amazing sounds, but 70 minutes of pulsating musical intercourse eventually makes me want to fake a headache.

Kevin (and Marsha for that matter), this one’s for you…

JG

WINNER: Metallica, Metallica (4 points)

BATTLE TALLY

80s: 14

90s: 21

EARNED POINTS
80s: 31
90s: 49

Next week’s battle – #15: The Replacements, ‘Let it Be’ (1984) vs. Lucinda Williams, ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road’ (1998)