720. The Fall, The Domesday Pay-Off Triad Plus (1987)
Nothing about the Fall is particularly easy, and so it is with detailing the origins of the 1987 album The Domesday Pay-Off Triad Plus. To begin, let’s establish that the group released their ninth studio album, Bend Sinister, in the U.K. in 1986. It was the third Fall album produced by John Leckie and proved to be the last, largely because frontman Mark E. Smith squabbled with him, arguing that the sound was too full and the product would be better if it were mastered off a cassette tape of original demos. No matter the troubles, Bend Sinister became the Fall’s highest charting album in the U.K. to that point, and the label Big Time decided to release in the U.S. the following year.
For the stateside version, the album was thoroughly reworked and given the cumbersome title The Domesday Pay-Off Triad Plus. Three different U.K. product covers were slapped on the sleeve in a confusing cascade, and record buyers were left to puzzle out exactly what they were getting with this hybrid beast. It’s probably a proper ushering in to the album, since the tracks contained therein are bracingly obtuse, as was wholly characteristic of the Fall. Why two iterations of the song “Shoulder Pads”? Well, why the hell not?
And difficult music doesn’t have to be a turn-off. At their finest, the Fall proves that decisively. “Terry Waite Sez” might be odd, but it’s also fabulous catchy. There’s a cool menace to the cover “There’s a Ghost in My House,” and “Hey! Luciani” is a feverish whirl. There’s an offhand quality to the way Smith approaches his songs, which is why that Leckie production he disdained is such a fine match. It bolsters the material, gives it a solidity that creates an exciting friction with the sneering reluctance at the core. The punk-pumped stroll of their cover of “Mr. Pharmacist” (“Better stock me up for the winter time”) is a nice example.
The album is tough to crack, but the extra work it takes is part of the appeal. Plain-faced accessibility would wear strangely on the Fall. Luckily, they never really veered into that particular lane.
719. Rossington Collins Band, Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere (1980)
There wasn’t much of a model to follow for the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd after they lost three of their bandmates, as well as their assistant road manager, in a plane crash. The 1977 aviation accident that claimed the lives of Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines left many of the other band members severely injured. It took years for many of them to recover, and Lynyrd Skynyrd was officially, understandably folded, with a one-off performance at Charlie Daniels’ Volunteer Jam V, in 1979, serving as a valedictory moment. Instead, most of the remaining members reassembled into Rossington Collins band, named after guitarists Gary Rossington and Allen Collins.
In an effort to differentiate the new group from the famed Southern rock outfit that spawned it, Rossington Collins band recruited a female lead singer. Dale Krantz had kicked around the music industry for a bit, including time as a backup singer with 38 Special. Across the album, she strives for charmingly ragged blues-rock belting — coming closest to Full Janis on “Three Times as Bad” — which does succeed in giving the material a different flavor than the Skynard romps. The rollicking “Sometimes You Can Put It Out” and brazen “Prime Time” are solid enough, but the album has the unmistakable feel of adequate creators with a limited number of ideas stretching themselves too thin. The big, empty hard rock song “Winners and Losers” and even the band’s biggest hit, the funk guitar speckled “Don’t Misunderstand Me,” are so nondescript as to be basically anonymous.
Rossington Collins Band released one more album before splitting up in 1982, mostly because Collins wanted to form his own group. One partnership from the group did endure. After divorcing the partners they were with at the time Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere was released, Rossington and Krantz married. Over thirty-five years later, they’re still together.
718. The Cure, The Top (1984)
Things were looking shaky for the Cure as the midpoint of the nineteen-eighties approached. Friction with frontman Robert Smith caused bassist Simon Gallup to quit the group at the conclusion of the tour in support of the 1982 album Pornography, and the Cure was effectively on hiatus as Smith pursued other projects, including playing guitar with Siouxsie and the Banshees. Smith was also chafing at the poppier direction his music was going in, partially the result of suggestions from execs at the band’s label, Fiction Records. His contrarian instincts were kicking in.
When Smith got to work on a new album for the Cure, he did it almost entirely alone. Officially, Lol Tolhurst is credited with keyboards and Andy Anderson for percussion on The Top, but the album is almost a mislabeled solo outing for Smith. The tracks are packed so full, it seems as if he’s trying to prove he can sound like a full, bustling band all on his own. The overstuffed opener “Shake Dog Shake” sets the standard, swirling and undulating and devolving into psychedelic frippery. Sometimes Smith’s approach works — as with the intriguing Middle Eastern textures on “Wailing Wall” — but much of the album is muddled and overly busy.
Always ornate, the album is also markedly, problematically withdrawn at times. “Dressing Up” is so languid and overly precious, it sounds as though it was recorded while Smith was drifting off to sleep. The military drums and pipes on “The Empty World,” the sort of trick XTC could pull off, but it sits awkwardly here, a gimmick more than an imperative. Only the itchy “The Caterpillar” has any real life to it. Unsurprisingly, it was the album’s sole single.
Smith has since acknowledges The Top as a compromised endeavor, an album he needed to get out his system before moving the band forward. Soon enough, the Cure would start sounding like the Cure again.
717. The B-52’s, Bouncing Off the Satellites (1986)
“I adored my brother,” Cindy Wilson told Rolling Stone, a few years after that sibling, Ricky Wilson, had died from AIDS-related complications. “He had the greatest sense of humor and uniqueness about him. He really had a vision about him. He was one of the strongest elements of the B-52’s in the beginning, the conception. He was everything.”
Unavoidably, Bouncing Off the Satellites is a party record shadowed by a sad outcome. Ricky Wilson, the group’s guitarist was suffering through the recording process, largely keeping his illness a secret. He died when most of the album was complete, but well before it was released. His despondent bandmates chose not to tour in support of the record, and the widely held assumption was that the B-52’s weren’t going to continue, giving the album the disjointed effect of playing like a blithe, bouncy eulogy, at least at the time of its release.
Years later, the album is more like standard issue B-52’s, which is largely a good thing. “Wig” is flat-out amazing, taking the simplest of topics and turbine-spinning it joyful celebration. The magic act continues for trick after trick: the soaring “Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland,” the agreeably wackadoodle “Detour Thru Your Mind” (“All of a sudden your mood changes and your face looks like a cake/ Left out in the rain/ Is your name MacArthur Parker?/ Or is it Reba?”), and simply drawing out the word “lemonade” until it seems to last as long as an Avengers movie on “Summer of Love.” The band’s style is so distinctive and briskly transformative that a wisp of a song can turn into something memorable through sheer force of personality, as demonstrated by “Juicy Jungle.” Only the ballad-ish album closer “She Brakes for Rainbows” disappoints, sounding like a rejected B-side from Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors era.
Defying predictions, the B-52’s were not done, though three years passed before their next album. Released in 1989, that outing, Cosmic Thing, was by far the biggest hit of their 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.