Saturday, February 20, 2010

Three Albums

So we're promoting the site now through Facebook. We're finding now that we have 20+ "fans" — some of whom aren't even Facebook friends (!) — and on that basis we're talking ourselves round to thinking we have readers. In the hope of dispelling that delusion, I'm writing today to solicit "reader input" on a cultural exercise of great importance:

Brothers and Sisters, name the recording artist with the three best consecutive albums (Three Albums, for short). And, of course, name the albums.
I've been thinking about this question for a while, and because I'm a dork, I've raised it over drinks with friends (who are also dorks — dorky friends, I'm relying on you here). I have some ideas, but before I get to them, first some Rules and Guidelines.

☞ Rule: A greatest hits release doesn't count as an Album, for these purposes. That Steve Miller abomination with the Jordache logo is not an Album (and for that matter, it sucks anyway).

☞ Rule: A live release is not an Album, either, unless it's substantially comprised of new songs written specifically for the release. Thus and so, Under a Blood Red Sky is not an Album. Rattle & Hum? Yeah, probably.

☞ Rule: No EPs or singles compilations, please. We're talking strictly about studio albums. Hatful of Hollow, Louder Than Bombs, and the World Won't Listen are not studio albums. I know this pretty much dooms the Smiths, because it leaves no room to maneuver around Meat Is Murder. This breaks my heart, but it's increasingly clear to me that the Smiths were a singles band, anyway.

As for Guidelines, I figure I'll throw out some general principles you can choose to accept or reject. Obviously Quality comes first, but we might favor as well Three Albums that reveal significant Growth or Refinement on the part of the artist. I'd be inclined to credit Three Albums delivered in a short span of time — say, yearly releases — over a series of three that span a decade or more. It shows me more. Variety would seem important to me. It's the spice of life, after all, and a sign of an artist's versatility. If the Three Albums don't reveal the aforementioned Growth or Refinement, Sustained Level of Brilliance might carry the day. Don't come to me with Two Sandwich Albums on Either Side of a Fair-to-Middling Third. That's not Three Albums. And don't tell me an album is so good it ought to count as Three. I've been in that place. I've considered The Violent Femmes and The Stone Roses. They belong in another contest.

Everybody got it? Good. I submit the following Three Albumses for your consideration:

Start with the Beatles. Get 'em out of the way. You could conceivably do Five, Six, or Seven Albums here, given that we're talking about the Beatles. But Three is the order of the day. I say Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's, and the White Album. But wait, Phutsie: The Magical Mystery Tour came after Sgt. Pepper's and the White Album. Yes, it did, but as I understand matters, it's a soundtrack built around re-released singles ("Strawberry Fields Forever," "Penny Lane"). I won't say I can't be convinced otherwise, but for now I'm excluding TMMT on the ground that it is a compilation.

Some other obvious candidates occur to me. The White Stripes: [self-titled], De Stijl, White Blood Cells. R.E.M.: Life's Rich Pageant, Document, Green. The Clash: [self-titled], Give 'Em Enough Rope, London Calling. And of course an old and enduring favorite, James, for whom I propose two Three Album possibilities: Strip-Mine, Gold Mother, Seven and Gold Mother, Seven, Laid (I see Strip-Mine and Laid as substantially equivalent).

I'd like to nominate My Aim Is True, This Year's Model, and Armed Forces as contenders, but the first album was recorded by "Elvis Costello" (who recorded with an uncredited backing band), whereas the next two were by "Elvis Costello and the Attractions." Can I get a ruling here?

I am what I am, and I'm a Man of Enthusiasms Others Do Not Share. On that score, I submit to you probably my favorite Three Album set, Stereolab's Mars Audiac Quintet, Emperor Tomato Ketchup, Dots and Loops. What Stereolab accomplished between 1993 and 1996 — in terms of the distinctiveness and layered complexity of their sound, their complete overhaul of that sound, and just overall excellence from the standpoint of writing damn good songs — rivals any comparable three-year period from the Beatles' career. Roll your eyes. Laugh. I'll pull a gun on you, I swear. You'll sit down at gunpoint and listen to these albums, and you'll come around. Camper Van Beethoven, of course, falls into My Unshared Enthusiasm category. [self-titled], Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, Key Lime Pie. Eat it, skeptics! And just to push the envelope in this quarter, I'll throw out the Boo Radleys' Giant Steps, Wake Up Boo!, and C'mon Kids!, although the last of these grates on me a little (which was, I've read, the Boos' intention).

Some final ideas before I open up the floor for comment — Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville, Whip-Smart, Whitechocolatespaceegg. They Might Be Giants: Lincoln, Flood, Apollo 18. The Stooges: [self-titled], Fun House, Raw Power. The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, At War with the Mystics. You can accuse me of grasping at straws here by this point, but it ain't easy. Understand that I've considered and had to reject Joy Division, the Pogues, Green Day, Black Sabbath, Oasis — even Led Zeppelin and Blondie, any of whom have Two Albums better than anything I've listed in this paragraph. But for one reason or other (front man hanged himself, III wasn't all that, what the Jaysus happened with Be Here Now?) they don't have Three. And of course I've left it to Mithridates to argue for the Police.

Anyway, we all have our Enthusiasms and Prejudices, and we all have distinct record collections. E.g., I've only got one Bob Dylan album, so someone else will have to post an entry on his behalf. Write a comment, make a case, so we can threaten or laugh at you.


Mithridates said...

Ruling: Elvis Costello definitely counts and is a serious contender. Armed Forces is just such a frickin' great album. all it takes is one itchy trigger . . ..

But, hey, Phutsie, do you actually own any of these "albums" or do you just have a bunch of appropriately ordered 1s and 0s on your computer? Yes, I'm a vinyl snob. Sue me.

Here's one that probably violates all sorts of rules, but if you skip all the compilations and live albums then Eric Clapton put out these four consecutively:

Cream: Goodbye; Blind Faith: Blind Faith; Derek and the Dominoes:Layla; Eric Clapton:Eric Clapton

That's got to be up there if you allow it in.

Led Zeppelin IV, House of the Holy, Physical Graffiti

Dylan: Bringin' it all back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde

This will drive you crazy, but they're brilliant. Fleetwood Mac: Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, Tusk

Michael Jackson: Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad. OK, it hurts to put Bad in there, but Off the Wall/Thriller is as good as it gets

Anonymous said...

I know this one will drive you up the wall and you'll never agree, but as they are my favorite band, I have to mention this Rush trio (interesting as they are oft referred to as the Canadian Power Trio): 1978's Hemispheres, 1980's Permanent Waves, and the landmark 1981 Moving Pictures.

Dale said...

Bold. This is a question that invites judgments of quality pitting Beatles vs. Dylan vs. I believe I've made my point. I like bold; it's bold.

A reader might throw in with, say, Pavement, R.E.M., U2. Nirvana? Who knows, somebody might chime in with David Bowie, Tom Waits, or Pink Floyd. I am not that reader but I would see that reader's point.

Yes. Yes!!! Stereolab is desperately underrated. I am continuously amazed at the quality of their entire oeuvre, start to finish --- I count upwards of 250 songs in my collection, and for all my effort to be a complete complete-ist, I'm not there yet.

How many bands can claim over ~300 songs that are consistently, persistently worth listening to? One. It's Stereolab. If there's another, please (seriously) point me to their work.

Because I am a hopeless tool of her efforts, however, I have to chime in on behalf of Neko Case. The three-album series Blacklist, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and Middle Cyclone deserves consideration.

Sagar said...

I would add Radiohead to this list with The Bends, OK Computer, and Kid A.

Ted said...

AAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH. The "comment as" thing keeps killing my comments!

Later Dylan: Time Out of Mind, Love & Theft, Modern Times

Rufus Wainwright: Rufus Wainwright, Poses, Want (double album released over six months)

Joni Mitchell: Blue, For the Roses, Court and Spark

Just to be the anti-snob: The first or last three Coldplay albums. All four are awesome.

This is, of course, in addition to the ones listed above, particularly for the Beatles and Radiohead.

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