College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #736 to #733

yello yes

736. Yello, Gotta Say Yes to Another Excess (1983)

Boris Blank, the impresario of electronics who drove the musical agenda for the band Yello, had picked up a new toy ahead of the record of his group’s third full-length, Gotta Say Yes to Another Excess. An obsessive collector of samples and sounds, Blank had gotten his mitts on a state of the art Fairlight CMI, which coupled a keyboard to a robust (for the era) computer system. It allowed a skilled player to conjure up any blipping, blooping soundscape they could imagine, or at least preload. Although lead vocalist Dieter Meier had suggested in interviews that Yello was in no particular hurry to keep cranking out new music, the technological marvel proved too tempting. A rollicking batch of bizarro post-disco was delivered, a breathless urgency infusing the whole set.

Opening track “I Love You” establishes the record’s vibe, sounding like a dance song crafted by a glitching sexbot. Gotta Say Yes to Another Excess is less about the promised overabundance of its title and more a sprightly, devil-may-care sonic freedom. There’s little discernible calculation and a whole lot of why-the-hell-not? braggadocio. The splendid weirdness of the title cut suggests Frankie Goes to Hollywood on some heavy duty barbiturates, and “Lost Again” exhibits some of the icy, offhand creepiness that typified M83 a couple decades later. The music somehow roams freely while staying within familiar territory. The most exciting moments are those in which Yello finds a way to infuse notably vibrant added shades to their galloping synthetic dance music, such as the goth gloom shimmering under the surface of “Crash Dance” and the spritz of Prince-link funk on “Smile on You.”

Gotta Say Yes to Another Excess edged Yello a little higher on the ladder of commercial success. It yielded a small but respectable batch of hit dance singles and was the group’s first album to claim a spot on the Billboard chart. It also ushered in a significant change, as it was the last release to include founding member Carlos Perón on the roster. However notable it might have been, it was mere preamble for the unexpected breakthrough to come.

 

Phantasmagoria

735. The Damned, Phantasmagoria (1985)

The Damned were in a state of reinvention when they recorded their sixth studio album, Phantasmagoria. Captain Sensible, the band’s original bassist and eventual guitarist, had turned in his resignation so he could go off and pursue a solo career. A key creative driver, Sensible’s departure put the band’s sound largely in the hands of lead vocalist Dave Vanian, who had a growing predilection for molasses-thick goth rock. On the strength of the first couple tracks delivered by the slightly recalibrated unit, the Damned signed a new contract with MCA Records. Given the band’s heightened sense of style, notions of MTV success were surely aswirl.

The band was obviously prepped to go big, in every sense. “Street of Dreams” is almost pop opera, all crescendo and apexing dudgeon. It’s roughly matched by the heavy drama of “Sanctum Sanctorum” and “Shadow of Love,” which sounds a little like Roger Miller as an eighties eyeliner icon. The album isn’t uniformly impressive. There are moments when some instincts might have benefited from the tempering that came with the strong — and sometimes divergent — points of view that existed in previous lineups. “Grimly Fiendish” with its hint of jaunty cheer, skirts self-parody, and “Is It a Dream” has a whiff of the generic, emphasized by the dated squalling guitars. Nice as forward movement can be with a band, some of the best portions of Phantasmagoria recall past Damned triumphs, such as “The Eighth Day,” which is akin to the flashing neon version of the Jam found on previous album Strawberries.

Phantasmagoria proved a solid success for the Damned, though it arguably didn’t reach the anticipated heights. There would be only one more album before the group dissolved, only to then embark on an endless series of resurrections.

 

cure love

734. The Cure, The Love Cats (1983)

Not that the Cure faced as real strain or doubt in proving their dark sensibility bona fides, at least back in their heyday, but the origins of bouncy single “The Love Cats” are about as grim as they come. While there’s some dispute about lead singer’s Robert Smith’s impetus for writing the song, the official legend holds that he drew inspiration from a scene in the Patrick White novel The Vivisector in which a character is said to drown a sackful of stray felines. No matter how sprightly the melody and performance, that is some bleak inner machinery.

A non-album single, “The Love Cats” founds its way into most college radio stations on a twelve-inch single that sported two B-sides. “Speak My Language” slinks along with quivering musical sounds and Smith crooning characteristic lyrics of pining codependency (“The little time I spend with you/ We drink each other dry”). “Mr. Pink Eyes” races with the sort of off-kilter fervor the Sugarcubes would soon adopt and make their own.

True crossover success remains elusive for the Cure in the U.S., but they were starting to make real headway in their homeland. “The Love Cats” became the group’s first single to make the U.K. Top 10.

 

mission children

733. The Mission U.K., Children (1988)

The Mission was formed by Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams, after both exited the Sisters of Mercy. Although there were plenty of signifiers in their music that recalled their former group, the comparison that primarily dogged them was to hard rock legends Led Zeppelin. For the Mission’s sophomore release, they leaned into the thinly veiled suggestion of derivativeness, enlisting Led Zep bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones to produce the album. Children doesn’t sound all that much like Physical Graffiti or Houses of the Holy to me, but it is unmistakably suffused with a grandiose cataclysm that ties it to the output of the invoked forebears.

“Black Mountain Mist” almost taunts critics who want to draw a straight line from the Mission to Led Zeppelin, though it comes across more like tepid Jethro Tull in execution. And a deeply ill-advised cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” has a spindly guitar part that could have been retrieved from the foot of Heaven’s stairway. The band fares better when they are clearly striving for something more unique, albeit solidly in the groove of their goth rock background. “Beyond the Pale” boasts drum beats that crisp and forward in the mix, skirmishing nicely with guitar parts that shift between jingling and booming. “Tower of Strength” has a suggestion of U2’s swiveling cathedral epics to it, and “Heaven on Earth” is so shimmery goth that it’s the musical equivalent of trailing a finger across the surface of a pond filled with mercury. Both “Child’s Play” and “Heat” venture tentatively yet distinctively in the direction of metal, giving the album some ballast.

Children was a big hit in the U.K., peaking in the runner-up spot on the album chart, and both of its singles made the Top 40.

 

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

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