Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Songs #129, 130, and 131: It's THREEsday! (normally, it's TWOsday)

Song #129 of 9999                                 Song #130 of 9999                                          Song #131 of 9999

Title: Spirits in the Material World          Title: Every Little Thing She Does in Magic      Title: Invisible Sun
Artist: The Police                                    Artist: The Police                                              Artist: The Police  
Year: 1981                                              Year: 1981                                                        Year: 1981
Album: Ghost in the Machine                 Album: Ghost in the Machine                           Album: Ghost in the Machine   

I have a theory. Well, it's less a theory than an observation but it is the thesis for this blog post. If you want to find a very successful band's most intriguing work, determine their most popular or successful work (could even be their best work) and then go back one album. You'll most likely find a gem the value of which you could not possibly understand at the time it was released. Here are my examples to support this claim:
  • Like Thriller by Michael Jackson? Off the Wall is better.
  • Like The Joshua Tree by U2? The Unforgettable Fire is better.
  • Out of Time by REM has "Losing My Religion" but Green is amazing.
  • Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, right? No, Summerteeth.
  • And the ultimate example: What's better than Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band? Revolver, that's what.
The problem with all of this is that you can't possibly know it at the time because the band is on the rise and you just don't know when they're going to peak. With The Police, the apex came in 1983 with Synchronicity, which is a great record, but I think Ghost in the Machine is more satisfying and interesting. In fact, I would go so far as to say that comparisons to Revolver are apt, especially when looking at the first three tracks.

For me, the first three tracks on Revolver represent a sea change in popular music. In rapid succession (less than eight minutes in total), you get "Taxman," "Eleanor Rigby" and "I'm Only Sleeping"—one groundbreaking song from each of the three great songwriters in the band. There are better songs to come on that record (most notably "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Here, There and Everywhere" but those first three tracks make up an astounding popular music tryptich.

The first three songs on Ghost in the Machine compare favorably to those on Revolver. Like the Beatles songs, each song has its own mood and evokes an instant response: "Spirits in the Material World" with its dissonant synth stabs and creepy layered vocals gets its drive from Stewart Copeland's frenetic reggae-on-speed drumming; "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic," disguised as a straight-forward pop song dabbles with Lydian most for the entire verse repeating the whole-tone Fa-Sol-La-Ti over and over before erupting on Do right before the chorus; and finally, "Invisible Sun," so atmospheric and dark with its frigid synth patches, vocal chanting, chromatic chord progression and great guitar work by Andy Summers. The rest of the album is great too, but these three songs were downright startling when I first heard them in succession in 1981.

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