College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #323 to #321

323. Peter Murphy, Love Hysteria (1988)

Following the dissolution of the landmark band Bauhaus, it took Peter Murphy some time to find the track he wanted to ride on. Following his time as the frontman for the goth rock pioneers, Murphy formed the band Dali’s Car. They recorded one album, 1984’s The Waking Hour, before splitting up, and Murphy embarked on the solo career that was practically inevitable at that point. His debut solo effort, Should the World Fail to Fall Apart, was released in 1986, to a fairly tepid response. For the follow-up album, he sought out new collaborators, settling on Simon Rogers, who was, as it turned out, in his final days as an official member of the Fall. More importantly, Murphy found a new songwriting partner in Paul Statham, former guitarist of new wave act B-Movie. Statham remained in a working relationship with Murphy for the next fifteen years or so.

Across the resulting album, Love Hysteria, Murphy casts around in search of a sustainable approach, one that was logical extension of the gloomy grandeur that lingering Bauhaus fans craved and yet allowed for more growth, and maybe a chance to crack the pop charts. On “Socrates the Python,” it’s clear he’s attempting to sweep away the luxuriant cobwebs of goth rock to find a more tightly contained songcraft underneath. The best example of Murphy capturing his previous grandiosity and repurposing it into more modern synth pop is the magnificent “Indigo Eyes,” a swirling gem that commanded the attention to college-radio programmers. The plunking, intricate “All Night Long,” another single that was successful on the left of the end of the dial, does its own type of transmogrification from goth to pop.

A lot of the record showcases Murphy’s iffy attempts to adopt some of the era’s sonic trends. “His Circle and Hers Meet” has an Eurythmics vibe, and “My Last Two Weeks” is like Marillion taking a casual day. Those artists both took some amount of inspiration from Murphy’s Bauhaus in the first place, but that doesn’t mean his own echoing of their innovations isn’t present. There’s a try-anything quality to other songs: the limp fussing of “Time Has Got Nothing to Do with It,” the sloshing rock guitar on “Blind Sublime,” even the cover of Iggy Pop’s “Funtime” that finds Murphy tilting his baritone to land just short of an full-on impression of the originating artist.

If Love Hysteria sometimes comes across as a work in progress, there are also indications that Murphy is decisively finding an identity as a solo artist. That proved to be the case. One album later, Murphy hit his commercial — and maybe artistic — peak.

322. The Fall, The Frenz Experiment (1988)

There’s little question that the Fall was primarily a vehicle for Mark E. Smith’s artistry. Across the band’s forty years, at least sixty-six different musicians spent some time on the roster, and Smith was the only one present the whole time. There were others that had a significant influence on the band’s output, though, maybe none more than Brix Smith, who joined the Fall before the 1983 album Perverted by Language, released around five months after she and Mark were married. By the time of the Fall’s 1988 album The Frenz Experiment, the band’s tenth overall, the marriage was on the rocks, in part because Brix was pursuing a side project called the Adult Net. She could feel the animosity creeping into their shared work.

“For most of The Frenz Experiment, I was irritated, because Mark had really started to push against me and cut me out — his aggressive passive-aggressiveness,” Brix Smith wrote in her memoir. “The Adult Net was really shaking him up, although it was no threat to him, nor the Fall. But he was now stamping his authority everywhere, as a man and a creator. Anything I would bring to the table would be refused: songs were rejected, and the good parts I would lay down, the underhooks and melodies, were wiped from the recordings.”

Brix was considered, fairly or not, as the person who shifted the Fall from abstract art rock to slightly more pop-orientated fare. If her contributions were diminished on The Frenz Experiment, it didn’t result in a collapse back into abrasive indifference to craft. The album’s reasonably faithful cover of the Kinks’ “Victoria,” which became a modest hit for the Fall in the U.K., and the splendid dark-disco number “Hit the North” are examples of tracks that nibbled at the singed fringe of the mainstream. Mark E. Smith’s taking more control does mean a certain creative wandering without helpful course corrections. The album sometimes comes across as odds-and-sods collection, admittedly always a risk when the Fall is the name of the cover. “Get a Hotel” is almost jazzy in its cadence, and “In These Times” is so aurally sloppy that it’s the equivalent of a scruffball who put on randomly snatched clothing items while walking out the door, completely indifferent to the assembled look. Maybe the pinnacle of the album’s loosey-goosey absurdity is “Athlete Cured,” the result of a jam sessions starting with Spinal Tap riffs that includes tediously weird storytelling in the lyrics (“The German athletic star was continually ill/ For months doctors were puzzled/ The star would complain of the smell in his room/ On visiting him this was found to be true/ An odor resembling hot-dogs permeated the whole bedroom”).

The Frenz Experiment was largely produced by Simon Rogers, who was officially a former member of the Fall, even as he played on many of the album’s tracks. For better or worse, he lets Mark E. Smith indulge his way to long, sprawl tracks like “Oswald Defence Lawyer,” inspired by the trial of John F. Kennedy’s assassin and basically free associative nonsense (“The cardboard fake in the witness stand/ He’s got an interview in Spin magazine/ He loves the magazine/ His mouth is in his brain/ The prosecution lawyer/ Turns himself to butter”), and “Bremen Nacht” which features Mark E. Smith prattling on about a bad concert experience in Germany, complete with lyrics delivered in mush-mouthed German. The material is so much strong when honed into a tight song with a dedicated point of view, as on opening track “Frenz,” featuring Mark E. Smith braying repeated variations of the phrase “My friends ain’t enough for one hand.”

On the acquired-taste scale where the Fall’s success was measured, The Frenz Experiment was a new peak for the band. It was their first album to chart in the Top 20 on the U.K. chart, and the cover of “Victoria” became their second Top 40 single there. Brix Smith stuck around for one more album, I Am Kurious Oranj, which was released later that year. The band kept right on chugging along for thirty more years, folding only when Mark E. Smith shuffled off this mortal coil.

321. The Teardrop Explodes, Kilimanjaro (1980)

Julian Cope cycled through a lot of bands, many of them with fellow Liverpudlian Ian McCulloch, before he struck up a friendship with drummer Gary Dwyer. Several collaboration bridges lying in ashes behind him, Cope suggested he and Dwyer form a new group, maybe for little reason more than characteristically bombastic narration in a Marvel Comics publication* had caused him to alight on a new band name: The Teardrop Explodes. Cope pulled keyboardist Paul Simpson and Mick Finkler from the wreckage of one of his earlier bands, and the new crew started working together on songs. Personnel churn happened from the start. Simpson left the Teardrop Explodes early on, and after a couple false starts in replacing him, David Balfe slipped into his slot. Finkler was fired halfway through recording the band’s debut album, and was replaced by Andy Gill. Through it all, the awkward, in-joke moniker stuck, and Kilimanjaro, the first full-length by the band, was released in the fall of 1980, with a U.S. drop happening a few months later.

If Cope’s people skills were up for debate, he sure knew his way around a pop song. Kilimanjaro is dense with material that somehow manages to capture the fervent drive of post-punk and reconfigure it to gleaming vibrancy. “Ha Ha I’m Drowning” is forceful yet somehow sunny sounding as it recounts relationship misery (“The stupid things you said/ You only try to hurt me/ The stupid things you say/ You hurt me deep inside”). “Treason” is slickly constructed, and “Brave Boys Keep Their Promises” is plunky and stealthily cinematic. Conceding that Cope’s later biker-wizard aesthetic might contribute to the notion, he really does seem to spin a sort of sorcery to conjure pop wonderment out of unlikely ingredients. I’m not why the lengthy, burbling “When I Dream,” with its jabbering chorus “And when I dream I dream about you/ And when I scream I scream about you/ I go ba ba ba ba oh oh/ I go ba ba ba ba oh oh” repeated so long it nearly reaches to the event horizon, feels like a tight pop song, but it does.

The album unleashes ingenuity with every rotation. “Books” is bright and bold, “Reward” has a pulsing, horn-blasted energy, and “Poppies in the Field” lithe pop with psychedelic touches. There was more of the latter’s sweet trippiness to come from Cope, in part because of his introduction to mind-altering substances late in the process of recording Kilimanjaro, when new recruit Gill proffered him a joint. It was the first sampling of a psychoactive drug for the previously clean Cope, but it definitely wouldn’t be the last.

*That would be Daredevil #77, true believer!

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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