College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #860 to #857

faith yourself

860. Faith No More, Introduce Yourself (1987)

Faith No More formed in San Francisco in the mid-nineteen-eighties, essentially as an offshoot of another group called Faith No Man. Three of the band members jumped ship and gave their new outfit a name that essentially conveyed that the “Man” (in the form of the bandmate they abandoned) was “No More.” The trio was in need of vocalist, so they cycled through several possibilities before settling on Chuck Mosley, who’d had some experience playing with bassist Billy Gould earlier. They also added a guitarist Jim Martin and recorded their debut album, We Care a Lot, released on the newly formed independent label Mordam Records in 1985. Comprised of thundering hard rock, the album caught the attention of major labels, and Faith No More was signed to Warner Bros. offshoot Slash Records.

Faith No More’s sophomore release, Introduce Yourself, is also their major label debut. The music is potent and driving. Mosley’s vocals invite the descriptor “acquired taste.” Album opener “Faster Disco” is a characteristic offering: airtight metal riffs with note-adjacent warbling drizzled on top. The closest comparison is found in the teetering trills of John S. Hall in King Missile, but while those loopy croons were — at least somewhat — for  effect, Mosley’s conviction gives every indication he believes he’s a prime belter, bringing added character to the songs. There are the occasional forays into blasé humorous monologues (“Anne’s Song”) or art rock frippery (“The Crab Song,” a weird tale of wrenching heartbreak, starts as almost an abstract radio play, moves to balladic earnestness, then kicks in to pumping rock at the halfway point). Mostly, though, Faith No More operates like the Cult with a lead singer still recovering from a funhouse fever dream.

The galloping “Chinese Arithmetic” and reworked debut album holdover “We Care a Lot” highlight the bands considerable strengths while downplaying the weakness of Mosley’s singing, or at least structuring the song so he’s essentially cast properly. Faith No More might have had cause to make a chance at the center microphone because of that, but it was Mosley’s complicated, combative personality that did him in. Following the tour to promote the album, Mosley was effectively fired from the band, and powerhouse Mike Patton was recruited to take his place. With all the sonic elements better aligned, Faith No More was poised to transcend cult status and enjoy some real commercial success.

 

 

lene stateless

859. Lene Lovich, Stateless (1978)

Lene Lovich was born in Detroit, spent her teenage years in England, and emerged as a pop artist in the late-nineteen-seventies with the creative discombobulation of a refugee from a distant, melting galaxy. No frail ingenue (Lovich was pushing thirty when her debut album was released), she had gone through years of art schools, cabaret performances, experimental theatre, and other cultural oddities before releasing her debut solo single, a trio of warped Christmas songs, in 1976. Around two years later, Stateless arrived.

Lovich’s debut album is a fantastic whirligig of pop wonders, drawing on the prevailing styles of the time while twisting them in giddily inventive ways. “Lucky Number,” which became a Top 5 hit in the U.K., is a bubbly, quirky study of moving from solitude to a relationship. Lovich’s vocals call to mind a more eccentric Kate Bush, while the music is in line with the genius, jittery concoctions of XTC at the time. “Say When” has a similar uncoiled agitation, but plied to a spirited chunk of cowpunk. The frothy energy arguably reaches its pinnacle on “One in 1,000,000,” which is a turbine of tunefulness.

Not everything operates at the same breakneck pace. There’s lovely variety to be found, too.  “Tonight” is a winningly retro little gem, and  the foundations of PJ Harvey’s future pop mansion are laid on the urgent “Home.” In the clearest manifestation of Lovich’s creative restlessness, Stateless went through at least three different variants within its first year of existence, undergoing remixes and even full-scale rerecordings of the various songs. The track listing shifted with each new iteration, and the U.S. edition boasted a completely different album cover, complete with a pronunciation guide for Lovich’s name.

 

 

 

Foreigner games

858. Foreigner, Head Games (1979)

Released in the fall of 1979, Head Games gave Foreigner the distinction of releasing their first three albums in three subsequent years, though there were also constantly touring to support music that was immensely popular from the beginning. The first two albums were multiplatinum in the U.S. and delivered six Top 40 hits between them. For their third album, Foreigner was finally able to land regular Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker, who they’d gone after for the prior LPs.

By their own accounting, Foreigner was going for a rawer sound on Head Games, but there’s little that stark or ragged about it. The tracks are so slicked up they practically cast back a reflection. The powerfully inane “Love on the Telephone” and the power ballad “Blinded By Science” are clear kindred spirits of the likes of Journey, Kansas, and other acts storming album rock radio at the time. Then there’s the gross rock star salivating over females, heard in the dopey cataloguing of “Women” (“Women who boil to love, women who need a shove/ Women who can’t be beat, get that woman in the back seat, yeah yeah”) and “Seventeen,” which seems initially seems like a generic lament over a cheating partner before taking the sadly predictable turn of revealing the title numeral refers to the girl’s age. The slimy quality of the latter track is emphasized by the album cover, which shows a sexily dressed girl (teenage model Lisanne Falk, who played one of the Heathers about a decade later) anxiously scrubbing her name and number off a boys’ bathroom wall.

Portions of the album are suitably impressive when held up against similar relics of the era. The title cut has endured reasonably well, and “Do What You Like” anticipates the turn toward chipper, airy guitar pop of the Alan Parsons Project in the eighties, which makes it a little prescient, I suppose. Mostly, though, Head Games is the same old grind that a multitude of bands were dishing out as the Me Decade drew to a unceremonious close.

 

 

winwood night

857. Steve Winwood, Talking Back to the Night (1982)

There’s no question Steve Winwood is talented. At a time well before true bedroom pop make the practice a little more commonplace, Winwood created albums on which he played every note of instrument. But he also had some truly dreadful instincts for what made interesting pop music, funneling his creativity into tepid sonic concoctions. Both the gifts and the curse are in full evidence on Talking Back to the Night, his third solo album.

Mainly, Winwood seems cruelly influenced by the most lackluster fusion jazz of the day. “Still in the Game” has the generic filler pinging of a painfully chipper local interest TV magazine program, and “Help Me Angel” plays like the most tepid funk song ever. The track that has the most garish presentation of all that’s going wrong may be “While There’s a Candle Burning,” which is a thorny thicket of fussy synths. The title cut is one of the few on which the elements come together nicely, emitting an arch, constrained cool. And “Valerie” at least hints at the possibility of easy soulfulness Winwood had in him, even if the lyrics offer a disheartening reminder of where the performer’s musical sensibilities are settled (“So cool/ She was like jazz on a summer day”).

Talking Back to the Night was a decent hit for Winwood, but it’s possible that even he sensed a certain hollowness to it, a need to change his approach. It would be three years before his next album, for which he jettisoned the one-man band approach in favor of an  enormous assemblage of collaborators. Unsurprisingly, that album, Back in the High Life, was lauded as a revelatory triumph and wound up as the biggest commercial success of Winwood’s career.

 

To learn more about this gigantic endeavor, head over to the introduction. Other entries can be found at the CMJ Top 1000 tag. Most of the images in these posts come straight from the invaluable Discogs