College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #660 to #657

hunters human

660. Hunters & Collectors, Human Frailty (1987)

In just about every way, Human Frailty was a breakthrough for the Australian band Hunters & Collectors. The band’s fourth studio album represented their first significant hit in their homeland, slipping into the Top 10. It also served as the most significant introduction to Hunters & Collectors in the North American market, thanks to a freshly signed distribution deal with I.R.S. Records. A few months after Human Frailty hit in the Australia, I.R.S. rejiggered the track list and placed it in the mailboxes of college radio stations across the U.S. Finally, both the band and music journalists agreed that Human Frailty was the most effective realization of the Hunters & Collectors musical aesthetic to that point: big, booming rock that lyrically details the many, minor wounds of just existing. Human Frailty was both the album’s title and its central preoccupation.

Human Frailty opens with the grindingly intense of breakup song “Say Goodbye,” establishing the album’s mindset. The grind of life on the road is set alongside striving for happy balance in a relationship and there’s a dawning realization that the two might be magnets pushing against the other. In this respect, and many others, the album can serve as a solid primer of college rock at the very moment it was configuring itself into alternative music in all its edgy gloss. Hunters & Collectors deliver admirably on the tender ballad “Throw Your Arms Around Me,” the jabbing, anthemic “Relief,” and the pop epic of yearning “This Morning.” There are also tracks on which they effectively noodle around with different genres — like twang and funk concoction “Is There Anybody in There?” and transposed rockabilly number “99th Home Position” — but mostly Human Frailty is defined by the way it seems engineered to flow nicely in or out of a U2 hit on the radio.

Bolstered by the success of Human Frailty, Hunters & Collectors continued concentrated writing and recording efforts, issuing a new album in each of the next two years. They also balanced regional success with I.R.S. Records’ attempts to make them break globally, usually with more persnickety tinkering with album titles, packaging, and track lists.

 

joe jumpin

659. Joe Jackson, Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive (1981)

By the early-nineteen-eighties, Joe Jackson was enjoying enthusiastic critical support and enduring only modest record sales. Although his first three albums — Look Sharp, I’m the Man, and Beat Crazy — are filled with pop-rock gems that sound like hits, his singles barely registered on the U.S. charts. Only “Is She Really Going with Him?” founds its way into the Top 40, and it took two tries to get it there with A&M Records reissuing the single one year after its initial release. Everything else to that point fizzled, so Jackson took the most logical approach to appeal to the kids: He put on album comprised entirely of faithful cover versions of forty year old swing music songs.

If it’s reasonable to question the commercial instincts around Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive, the real problem with the album is its artistic execution. Jackson’s earnest fandom doesn’t necessarily lead to skillful interpretations of the songs chosen, and a remarkable amount of the album is drab and flat. “Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid” is so thin it almost becomes ghostly, and Jackson’s affected rasp can’t disguise overly languid playing on “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby.” The vocal tomfoolery gets more problematic elsewhere on the album, as tracks such as “San Francisco Fan” skew perilously close to minstrelsy. The album is better when it feels like everyone loosens up a little. “Five Guys Named Moe” is the right sort of playful, though Jackson’s scat singing is notably subpar. Finding palatable moments on the album becomes an aural scavenger hunt. I like the little doses of ivory-tickling on “Tuxedo Junction,” but it’s hard to identify much else that truly works.

Eventually, Jackson himself seemed to sour on the Jumpin’ Jive experiment. When he was asked about the album’s title cut in an AV Club interview, he offered a fairly dim appraisal of the whole project.

“I’ve done quite a few things, especially early on in my career, that I cringe at a bit now, that I’m not necessarily proud of, but at the time, I just said ‘It’s a case of “I want to do this. Fuck you,”‘ Jackson reflected. “I made too many records, and I don’t think the quality is as good as it would have been if I made less. But it’s too late to do anything about that now.”

 

get lucky

658. Loverboy, Get Lucky (1981)

After the collapse of disco’s popularity the pendulum swing of pop music went back in the direction of big, dumb rock music, and Loverboy was all too happy to capitalize on the resulting opportunity. Formed in Calgary, Alberta in 1979, the band was was opening for Kiss within the year and signed to Columbia Records shortly thereafter. Their self-titled debut yielded the major hit “Turn Me Loose” and went multiplatinum. Wasting no time, Loverboy went back into the studio, bashed out several new songs, and released their sophomore album, Get Lucky, less than one year later.

Opening with the party anthem “Working for the Weekend,” Get Lucky immediately positions itself as a go-to record for cheerful knuckleheads prone to mistaking general inconveniences for real angst. Don’t think too hard, the album urges, just slip on your best headband and go. The gruesome power ballad “When It’s Over” and grinding roots rocker “Emotional” (“Use your head/ Give your heart a rest’) tread the well-worn path of love in confusion. Album closer “Take Me to the Top” deploys snaking synths and stretches to an inhuman six minutes. Loverboy wrote most of the songs themselves, but they also got some help from fresh-faced performer Bryan Adams and his songwriting partner Jim Vallance on “Jump,” a lean rock song which, being fair, would probably sound pretty good rasped out by Adams.

Get Lucky is a pretty lousy album. Across the U.S. and Canada, it’s sold over seven million copies to date.

 

lyres fire.jpg

657. Lyres, On Fyre (1984)

Following the dissolution of his band DMZ, one of a slew of acts signed to Sire records in the latter half of the nineteen-seventies in a gamble that punk would be the next big thing commercially, singer Jeff Conolly needed a new outlet for the thrashing, clashing garage rock music he favored. He went to his home base of Boston and formed the Lyres. The group’s debut album, On Fyre, was issued by dinky independent label Ace of Hearts Records, a suitably modest outlet for the rough-and-ready music.

At times, the Lyres seem to aspire to nothing more than providing an echo of the revered Nuggets compilation of low-budget, high-attitude rock ‘n’ roll of the late nineteen-sixties. “Don’t Give It Up Now” is a perfect slab of garage rock, and “I Confess” follows the same architectural plan with some a few girders of sunshiny sixties pop mixed in. The playing sounds rough, but that’s clearly by design, as evidenced by the Lyres’ ability to effectively crank out both the spectacular clatter of “I’m Tellin’ You Girl” or the steady, clean chug of “Soapy.” They pay dutiful tribute to their predecessors with an appealingly slack cover of the Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting for You” (using the truncated title “Tired of Waiting”) and also the expert mimicry of “Not Like the Other One,” which could have been excavated from the older band’s formidable catalog.

The Lyres only made a few more studio albums after On Fyre, but the band endured impressively. Except for occasional layoffs, they’ve remained a going concern since their founding.

 

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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