#17: The Police, ‘Synchronicity’ (1983) vs. Jay Z, ‘Reasonable Doubt’ (1996)

 

Synchronicity has one of the best starting tracks of any album. Titular (Version One) is a hard driving pump – your fist in the air – 80s rocker laced with enough musical oddity to keep it interesting and challenging. Then the inconsistent journey begins. It’s a reflection of the band’s fractured relationship and the album suffers a bit from it. From “Synchronicity I”, it goes to the chant of “Walking in Your Footsteps”. A great song but it leaves the listener a bit hanging after getting revved up so hard. This leads into “Oh My God”. A perfectly fine song with a good groove. So we are back on track, right? Then along comes “Mother”. An out there barely-listenable indulgent scream fest. “Miss Gradenko” is a nice and appropriately weird soft landing, after the shock of “Mother”. Then we get into the mammoth hits. My fave of the hits is next (Titular Two) with its rock solid groove mundane big picture lyrics:

“Every meeting with his so called superior, is a humiliating kick in the crotch!”

Then the stalker snooze fest “Every Breath You Take”. “King of Pain” is perhaps one of the best Police songs ever written. And “Wrapped Around Your Finger” is slightly less sleep inducing than its stalker  counterpart. The last two songs are sort of forgettable and then its over. All in all it’s a mix of greatness, weirdness, and flaccid pop. A rave review for a band I actually truly love.  It’s a fractured contribution. You can’t deny it’s a classic album, but the Police have better ones. This one is maybe middle of the pack.

Moving from a fractured group at the end of their run to a master first entry from a hip hop legend soon to be realized. Reasonable Doubt is as solid a hip hop album as you can get. Every song holds up. Jay-Z’s rapping style feels like it’s chiseled from stone. Where most 90s hip hop albums were either hard core gangsta rap or RnB/Jazz, Reasonable Doubt found a Goldilocks zone. It’s an almost perfect album in the way that Nas’ Illmatic is almost perfect. In fact it seems very much modelled after Nas’ masterpiece with its consistency and singular inner city crime fuelled vision. He references Nas on multiple occasions, so I would think he welcomes that comparison.

Many consider Reasonable Doubt to be Jay-Z’s best work and I would find it hard not to agree. Of course I am troubled by the misogyny and homophobia that sprinkles the album, but I have to treat that as a character (having no evidence to the contrary) and not a character trait of Jay-Z’s. If that changes I will revise my review.

JS

WINNER: Jay-Z, “Reasonable Doubt” (4 points)

BATTLE TALLY

80s: 14

90s: 20

EARNED POINTS
80s: 31
90s: 45

Next week’s battle – #16: Prince, ‘1999’ (1982) vs. Metallica, ‘Metallica’ (1991)

#46: Peter Gabriel, ‘Peter Gabriel’ (1980) vs. Jay-Z, ‘Volume 2…Hard Knock Life’ (1998)

 

This is a strange battle.  An interesting battle where similarities are minimal.  Aside from the numerical album identifier, both albums at times offer strange and alluring sonic touches that create interest unique within its own genre. With Gabriel, he mixes up different rhythms and musical styles incorporating African drumming and bag pipes on top of a synthy melange of distraught funkiness.  With Jay-Z, he mixes non-traditional hooks to give depth to the seemingly superficial world of Gansta Rap.

Despite the troubled inference in the title, Jay Z has no distraught funky qualities.  Touting his Roc-A-fella CEO status, this is a man demonstrating that he is in charge of both his world and yours too.  Aggressive and relentless, letting you know where he and those around him stand.  There is only one rhythm here. That tight ‘boom bap’ 90s hip hop perfected by Jay-Z and other outfits like A Tribe Called Quest, Mobb Deep, Wu Tang, and Black Sheep.  What I love about Jay Z’s songs is his sample and riff selections.  To my ear, it starts off sounding wrong but immediately makes sense and always works. Like the title track.  It’s quite an achievement to make a group of orphaned little girls who often break out into saccharine songs sound as hard core as a drive by shooting.  I am not sure anyone else could do that and get away with it. He even acknowledges that he might get criticized for his riff selection, but he couldn’t care less. On the track “Money, Cash, Hoes”, he spits:

I know they gone criticize the hook on this song
Like I give a fuck I’m just a crook on this song

Hard Knock Life was a commercial break-out for Jay-Z.  Once I get past the N-word fueled misogyny laced anger words, I can definitely bounce to stand out songs like “N***a What”, “N***a Who”, and “Can I Get A…”.  A highlight for me is using Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” on the track “It’s Alright (Streets is Watching)”.  The album is an undeniable party.

There is no party for ol’ Pete here.  If anything, Peter Gabriel (a.k.a. 3 or Melt) is the cozy but achy stay-in-bed hangover after.  Like the album cover, 3 presents two faces.  Sometimes between songs and other times within the same song.  Peter Gabriel is filled with clean musical lines and clear voicing mixed with a weird atonal smearyness that is hypnotic and at the same time unsettling. There is a grand sweeping musicality but it’s also minimal in that Eno-esque style common to the burgeoning New Wave landscape.  Melt was a critical breakout for Peter Gabriel and I can see why.  It’s a gorgeous, ugly, sprawling, melancholic, upbeat, danceable, anthemic, understated, sad, and angry piece of work.  With still more to discover in the morning after, I am more likely to stay in Pete’s complex world a little longer and forgo the next party.

JS

WINNER: Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel (1 point)

BATTLE TALLY

80s: 4

90s: 1

EARNED POINTS
80s: 4
90s: 1

Next week’s battle  –  #45: Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation (1988) vs. Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill (1995)