College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #528 to #525

any trouble

528. Any Trouble, Where Are All the Nice Girls? (1980)

“Any Trouble we had difficulty with, because they just looked so ordinary and people were really kicking back on the ordinariness of them,” Stiff Records promotional ace Sonnie Rae said of the Manchester band that was one of the prize signings for the cooler-than-thou U.K. label.

The enthusiasm among label personnel was largely because of the songwriting prowess of band leader Clive Gregson, who had a melodic and lyrical ingenuity that called to mind Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. On the band’s debut album, Where Are All the Nice Girls?, “Second Choice” could be mistaken for a song from the latter, and “Nice Girls” is a mid-tempo pop gem that the former might have coaxed out of Squeeze during his periodic spins with them in the studio. On the early part of the cresting new wave, Any Trouble often sounds like a unqiuely easygoing power pop act, as with the easygoing heartache “Foolish Pride” and the nicely jittery “Romance.” The track that should’ve been a hit is the exquisite “Girls Are Always Right,” a gleaming, melancholy beauty that could have come from Joe Jackson at his formidable creative peak.

Stiff Records might have attributed image problems to Any Trouble’s relatively tepid reception, but the band laid the blame at the feed of label decision-makers. Although the push in the U.K. was forceful enough that original pressings of Where Are All the Nice Girls? included a voucher for a free ticket to any of the band’s concerts in London or the surrounding areas, it was a different matter in the U.S. Any Trouble’s debut wound up as a pilot for Stiff Records getting the records into store in North America, rather than partnering with an established distributor. Gregson later groused that the record was getting strong airplay on the radio late in 1980, but consumers couldn’t find copies of Where Are All the Nice Girls? available for purchase. The album quickly petered out, and subsequent releases from Any Trouble received only meager attention.

squeeze cosi

527. Squeeze, Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti (1985)

Squeeze broke up three years before they released their sixth studio album, Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti. After the blah experience recording and touring for the 1982 album, Sweets from a Stranger, the band was dissolved, with chief songwriters Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook sort of going solo together. They released a self-titled debut under the name Difford & Tilbrook, despite the fact that they could barely stand each other by that point in time. Related to the animosity or not, the album wasn’t well received or particularly good. When keyboard player Jools Holland organized a Squeeze reunion gig for a benefit concert, reestablishing the band as a going concern started to look viable.

Unfortunately, Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti follows the misbegotten template set by Difford & Tilbrook. The worst approaches of mid–nineteen-eighties studio production were leveled upon the songs, draining them of whatever charm might have been in place. The syrupy pop cut “By Your Side” (“When you’re down and you’re lonely/ Come to me I’ll be your only”) makes it sound like they’re chasing the massive success Wham! was just starting to enjoy. The listless story song “King George Street” and dull ballad “Last Time Forever” recall the prior Squeeze studio album, when it seemed no one wanted to be there any longer. It doesn’t help when the band display some ambition; the quasi-experimentalism of “Heartbreaking World” is painfully awkward. One of the only tracks that makes anything beyond the faintest impression is “I Won’t Ever Go Drinking Again,” a jaunty hangover lament that was something of a Squeeze speciality.

It’s hard to say if Squeeze was feeling rusty or if they simply weren’t quite sure how to move forward with their art. But understandable suspicions that their previous magic could be recaptured proved mistaken. One album later, Squeeze had an unlikely breakthrough, logging their first Top 40 hits in the U.S.

little down

526. Little Feat, Down on the Farm (1979)

When Lowell George started working on Down on the Farm, he figured it would be the last Little Feat album. Although he was the main songwriter for the Southern-fried rock band, Little Feat has taken a fairly democratic approach to their albums, and George was starting to feel distant from the music created by his cohorts. He’d also recently released Thanks, I’ll Eat it Here, his long-gestating solo debut. Giving it one last go with the band where he’d made his name seemed the proper pathway.

The finality for George arrived in a different form. Midway through the making of the album, George died in a Virginia hotel room, felled by a heart attack that was a direct result of ingesting cocaine. George’s health had been deteriorating for some time, in large part due to drug and alcohol abuse, so the outcome was sad, but perhaps not entirely shocking. The remaining members of Little Feat came together and finessed Down on the Farm into some sort of shape, officially credited the albums production to George, with the addendum “…with a little help from his friends.”

Perhaps expectedly, Down on the Farm is solid enough, yet ultimately unremarkable, sounding like a batch of reasonable cast-offs, a better-than-average collection of studio stray bits. The jalopy ride of “Six Feet of Snow” and bluesy “Perfect Imperfection” spotlight Little Feat’s ability to churn through sturdy rock songs with ease, and the slyly adopted Van Morrison stylings on “Be One Now” are especially nice. “Kokomo” is a mediocre song, but benefits from the comparison to the dismal Beach Boys earsore of the same name that arrived around a decade later.

The evolution of Little Feat’s sound that George didn’t especially enjoy is heard most prominently of “Front Page News,” which has an era-specific intrusion of fusion. The light funk-tinged “Feel the Groove” similarly lacks the earthiness that marked the best of Little Feat. Even if George were still around, it’s hard to imagine the version of the band heard on those two tracks moving ahead together. With his ashes cast to the waves, Little Feat ceased operations, at least until a surprisingly effective revival a few years later.

teardrop

525. The Teardrop Explodes, Wilder (1981)

For Wilder, the sophomore album by the Teardrop Explodes, the label was invested in establishing the group as something more than an outlet for Julian Cope’s absurdist antics. The darkly charismatic and ostentatiously off-kilter frontman had been the clear focus of attention for both the fans and the ever-ravenous U.K. music press, but there was a thought that broader commercial success would be achievable if people were introduced to the collective musicianship of the group. Wilder, ironically then, was more clearly Cope’s creation. He took sole songwriting credit on every track and played several different instruments during the recording process. Hopeful projections of togetherness notwithstanding, Cope was breaking away.

The forecast of Cope’s future solo work (at least the most commercially successful solo work) is found on “Passionate Friend,” a soaring, jabbing piece of succulent guitar pop, and the dreamy psychedelic ballad “….And the Fighting Takes Over.” But his iconoclastic sensibility is all over the record. “Bent Out of Shape” has an oddball swinger vibe, and “Colours Fly Away” is post-punk with an aftertaste of late–nineteen-sixties mod rock. Whether the racing “Pure Joy” or the stately “The Great Dominions,” Cope’s arched-eyebrow personality is all over the tracks. Because of the strength of his creative vision, Wilder sounds both very much of the time and weirdly futuristic, as if it’s mapping out a music universe that can never quite come to pass.

And the positive promotional push for the Teardrop Explodes, on the back of Wilder, was equally difficult to bring to fruition. The band was booked into an extended residency at a Liverpool club, but by the time the shows started, Wilder had already proved to be a disappointment in the record shops. The venue was half-filled at best, and Cope salved his disappointment over the outcome with disruptive onstage tomfoolery that further alienated audiences. The Teardrop Explodes would attempt a third album, but never finish it. The band broke up, and Cope launched his solo 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

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