Friday, May 28, 2021

Five '80s Albums We're Only Now Getting Around To Hearing, So Sue Us!


Pete Townshend - Empty Glass (1980)

We all love "Let My Love Open The Door" and, for once, it would have been nice to be "disappointed" by a whole album of songs that sound just like it. Instead, we just so happened to catch Townshend at a particularly interesting time in his career.

At the time, there wasn't much for a new wave kid to hang their hat upon so this new wave kid opted for the other album producer Chris Thomas had just finished making, The Pretenders self-titled first album.

On first listen, Townshend's inventive "A Little Is Enough", despite charting higher as a single than the inferior "Rough Boys", shows an artist stifled by the confines of his childhood rock band.

Like Jagger itching to ditch the Stones since about '73 or so and never finding an off-ramp, it has always been obvious that Townshend would've been happier tinkering the '80s away in the studio rather than undertaking another world tour for the soul purpose of getting "The Ox" out of tax debt.

At the time of its creation, Pete found himself writing for both this and the first new Who album since Keith Moon's death and, for the first time in his career, PT was unwilling to let The Who have all the good material.

The album is a mixed bag, for sure, but one gets the feeling that the two-record version that never left the studio would have given Pete the same problem that Phil Collins eventually had with Genesis: Am I better off going solo?

Instead, he surrendered "You Better You Bet", knowing it would be a big enough hit to sell out every stadium on the Who's stadium tour before anyone had a chance to hear the rest of Face Dances

Guess this is as good a time as any to listen to Face Dances for the first time...



The Who - Face Dances (1981)

You just knew that Pete walked in with "You Better You Bet" wrapped up with a bow and a card that read "Now go sell some fookin' concert tickets".

The filler portion of the album begins with the fourth cut,"The Quiet One", which is an impressively ambitious turd that proves Entwistle should have never been allowed near Side One, but, hey, this is a band that subjected fans to THREE Entwistle songs and then buried the album's only great song ("Who Are You") at the very end of the album for which it was named.

Here, only a few short years after inspiring punk with their bloated jet-setting ways, these immovable rock monarchs have the gall to follow The Ox's eye-rolling vocal turn with a song called "Did You Steal My Money"? The nerve. 


Bill Nelson - Chimera (1983)

Due to constant adverts and reviews in Trouser Press at the time, Nelson's persona was vaguely appealing and, thus, he remained one of MANY artists whose music I always meant to explore, but, at the end of the day, Nelson's records never made it to My Private Siberia and the pocket money got spent on albums one could take home.

In hindsight, I do feel a tad robbed because the music found on this specially-priced EP checks off a lot of the boxes for me as an avid new wave fan without ever straying into kitschy "Blinded By Science" or "Whip It" territory.

The album opens with the jittery "The Real Adventure", which sounds like a less Fripped-out Discipline-era King Crimson. "Acceleration" picks up the Belew thread and weaves it into a Byrned-up Talking Heads groove that drives home a radio-ready chorus.

"Everyday Feels Like Another New Drug" confirms that Nelson's voice is so much like that of Adrian Belew's that once you hear it, it tends to become a distraction, unless your point of listening is to attempt to place each new song in its proper space in Belew's varied discography.

Sadly, no Bowie-era gems to be found.

Would I have dug it back in '83? Probably not enough to dive into his back catalogue at the time, but, hey, now that all music is free, why not? 

Fools Face - Tell America (1981)

If you read Trouser Press front to back every month, then Fools Face was a band whose name you knew, but whose music might have eluded you due to the fact that, if you wanted their album, you were gonna have to send away to Missouri for it.

Back in the day, it seemed each region in the US had at least one well-funded indie power pop act that seemed to have the "whole package", as the industry suits liked to say, yet somehow never made the jump to a major label. Before deciding whether or not to purchase their album, such bands were immediately subjected to what I like to call "The Producers test".

You see, the Producers put out two albums for Portrait Records; the first was a goofy, lightweight and, yes, kitschy collective of pop ditties too clever for their own good ("What's He Got?" and "I Love Lucy", anybody?).

The band's second album, You Make The Heat, was lyrically heavy, musically sophisticated, and as different from the first as it could possibly be without some key personnel changes, which happened a little later. Needless to say, Heat remains a personal favorite and is the benchmark against which all regional pop acts are judged.

Considering the fact that this album predates the Producers' major label existence, though, Fools Face deserve at least some respect for taking matters into their own hands. Sadly, the band's lack of a focal point (four songwriters and singers) made it hard to put a "face" with the name.

However, if you dug that first Producers album, this platter will blow your mind. 


Tom Verlaine - Flash Light (1987)

Nothing makes me do the dishes faster than the prospect of listening to the fifth solo album by yet another NYC guitarist whose short-lived punk band racked up more NYC-based critical raves than national sales.

Of course, this one's on IRS Records right before the label started signing hair metal bands.

While Verlaine's vocals are of the Keith Richards level of quality in the studio, I am frankly amazed at how far he's able to get before running out of gas. 

After the album's first three tunes stunned, "Song" reveals the weaknesses in Verlaine's vocals and is, quite frankly, the sort of song I was expecting an entire album of by this point; especially when, based on interviews, you gather that Verlaine is well aware no album of his will ever see proper promotion or distribution.

The rest of the album is a wash of unremarkable studio experiments save for the Celtic-flavored "Annie's Tellin' Me".

While there is a serious five-song divot in the middle of an otherwise listenable record, the four standout tracks are better than anyone has any right to expect from Verlaine.


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