ABBA – The Visitors (1981)

AllMusic Review: ABBA’s final album was recorded during a period of major personal shakeups, principally in the decision by Benny Andersson and Frida to follow the same route to divorce that had already been taken by Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Faltskog. Both male members of the group would soon remarry, but at the time, despite all of these changes in their circumstances, The Visitors was never intended as ABBA’s swan song — they were to go on recording together. That may explain why, rather than a threadbare, thrown-together feel, The Visitors is a beautifully made, very sophisticated album, filled with serious but never downbeat songs, all beautifully sung and showing off some of the bold songwriting efforts. The title track is a topical song about Soviet dissidents that also manages to be very catchy, while “I Let the Music Speak” sounds like a Broadway number (and a very good one, at that) in search of a musical to be part of, and “When All Is Said and Done” is a serious, achingly beautiful ballad with a lot to say about their personal situations — even “Two for the Price of One,” a lighthearted song sung by Björn Ulvaeus about answering a personal advertisement, offered several catchy hooks and beautiful backup singing. “Like an Angel Passing Through My Room” ended the original album on a hauntingly ethereal note, but not as any kind of larger statement about the quartet’s fate. The intention was to keep working together, but Andersson and Ulvaeus’ growing involvement with their stage project, Chess, prevented any further work together by the group beyond three songs, “The Day Before You Came,” “Cassandra,” and “Under Attack” — they’re all present as bonus tracks on the 2001 remastered edition (in gatefold packaging), along with the orphaned B-side “Should I Laugh or Cry” from the same sessions as The Visitors, and only add to the appeal of the original album. — Bruce Eder

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “The Visitors” 5:49
2. “Head over Heels” 3:45
3. “When All Is Said and Done” 3:20
4. “Soldiers” 4:38
Side two
No. Title Length
1. “I Let the Music Speak” 5:20
2. “One of Us” 3:55
3. “Two for the Price of One” 3:36
4. “Slipping Through My Fingers” 3:51
5. “Like an Angel Passing Through My Room” 3:25

 

 

Schill Score: 8.25/10

 

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UB40 – Signing Off (1980)

AllMusic Review: So ubiquitous was UB40’s grip on the pop-reggae market that it may have been difficult for younger fans to comprehend just how their arrival shook up the British musical scene. They appeared just as 2 Tone had peaked and was beginning its slide towards oblivion. Not that it mattered, as few would try to shoehorn the band into that suit. However, the group was no more comfortable within the U.K. reggae axis of Steel Pulse, Aswad, and Matumbi. Their rhythms may have been reggae-based, their music Jamaican-inspired, but UB40 had such an original take on the genre that all comparisons were moot. Even their attack on the singles chart was unusual, as they smacked three double-A-sided singles into the Top Ten in swift succession. By rights, the second 45 should have acted as a taster for their album (it didn’t, coming several months too soon), while the third should have been a spinoff (it wasn’t, boasting two new songs entirely). Regardless, both sides of their debut single — the roots-rocking indictment of politicians’ refusal to relieve famine on “Food for Thought” and the dreamy tribute to Martin Luther “King” — were included, as well as their phenomenal cover of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” off their second single. The new material was equally strong. The moody roots-fired “Tyler,” which kicks off the set, is a potent condemnation of the U.S. judicial system, while its stellar dub, “25%,” appears later in the set. The smoky Far Eastern-flavored “Burden” explores the dual tugs of national pride and shame over Britain’s oppressive past (and present). If that was a thoughtful number, “Little by Little” was a blatant call for class warfare. Of course, Ali Campbell never raised his voice — he didn’t need to. His words were his sword, and the creamier and sweeter his delivery, the deeper they cut. Their music was just as revolutionary, their sound unlike anything else on either island, from deep dubs shot through with jazzy sax to the bright and breezy instrumental “12 Bar,” with its splendid loose groove transmuted later in the set to the jazzier and smokier “Adella.” Meanwhile, “Food” slams into the dance clubs, and “King” floats to the heavens. It’s hard to believe this is the same UB40 that later topped the U.K. charts with the likes of “Red Red Wine” and “I’ve Got You Babe.” Their fire was dampened quickly, but on Signing Off it blazed high, still accessible to the pop market, but so edgy that even those who are sure there’s nothing about the group to admire will change their tune instantly. — Jo-Ann Greene

Track Listing:

 

Side One

  1. “Tyler” – 5:51
  2. “King” – 4:35
  3. “12 Bar” – 4:24
  4. “Burden of Shame” – 6:29

Side Two

  1. “Adella” – 3:28
  2. “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” (Randy Newman) – 3:41
  3. “25%” – 3:31
  4. “Food for Thought” – 4:10
  5. “Little by Little” – 3:44
  6. “Signing Off” – 4:24

 

Schill Score: 7.75/10

 

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Tom Waits – Heartattack And Vine (1980)

AllMusic Review: Heartattack and Vine is Tom Waits’ seventh and final album for Asylum. As such, it’s transitional. As demonstrated by its immediate predecessors, 1978’s excellent Blue Valentine and 1977’s Foreign Affairs, he was already messing with off-kilter rhythms even in the most conventionally structured blues and jazz songs, with nastier-sounding guitars — he plays a particularly gnarly style of rhythm on this entire album. Five of these nine tracks are rooted in gutbucket blues with rock edges and primal R&B beats. By this time, his singing voice had deteriorated to a gasping-for-breath whiskey-and-cigarettes growl that could make words indecipherable from one another, but his jazzman-inspired phrasing more than compensated. Check the opening title track with its razored electric guitars (Roland Bautista guested on lead over several cuts), Greg Cohen’s walking upright bass and natural sound, Victor Feldman’s percussion shuffle, and Plas Johnson’s tenor sax that makes Waits’ vocal grimace and growl even more menacing. The tune details substance abuse, denizens of life’s dark side, and a view of God and the Devil as sober and drunk sides of the same person. Ronnie Barron’s Hammond B-3 figures prominently on the low, slow blues instrumental “In Shades,” which sets up the first of a series of memorable ballads. “Saving All My Love for You” could have appeared on Foreign Affairs, as Waits’ piano and a string chart by Jerry Yester frame a scenic, confessional, broken love song. “Downtown” adds funk to the blues, with Barron’s organ in direct confrontation with distorted electric guitars and Waits’ declarative guttural snarl. It sets up “Jersey Girl,” a dramatic ballad that overlaps with the sound world of Bruce Springsteen so much — complete with glockenspiel — that the Boss covered it, released it as a live B-side, and made it a part of his live sets for decades. But there’s a difference too: Waits also pays direct, unmasked homage to the Drifters in its dynamic chorus structure and lush use of strings. “On the Nickel” is another of Waits’ more arresting ballads evoking an earlier and grittier era in American life and culture. It was used as the title track of Ralph Waite’s film of the same name — Waits scored the entire film. With its swaggering stride piano and guitar and NOLA-inspired R&B, “Mr. Siegal” is a gangster’s boast that rivals the hip poetry of Lord Buckley. The near baroque woodwind and reed chart that introduces album finale “Ruby’s Arms” marks one of Waits’ most beautiful and unusual ballads. Yester’s use of strings as a frame for his singing is sparse and roomy, allowing the songwriter’s piano to accompany his achingly sad vocal with all the poignancy, regret, and resolve that only the romantically bereft can muster. In sum, Heartattack and Vine reveals just how much Waits had grown during his tenure with Asylum. Though not perfect in sequencing — the alternating juxtaposition of rowdy blues and heartworn ballads gets old — almost every song stands on its own as a dusty gem. — Thom Jurek

Track Listing:

Side One

No. Title Length
1. “Heartattack and Vine” 4:50
2. “In Shades” (Instrumental) 4:25
3. “Saving All My Love for You” 3:41
4. “Downtown” 4:45
5. “Jersey Girl” 5:11

Side Two

No. Title Length
1. “‘Til the Money Runs Out” 4:25
2. “On the Nickel” 6:19
3. “Mr. Siegal” 5:14
4. “Ruby’s Arms” 5:34

 

 

Schill Score: 8/10

 

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The Undertones – Hypnotised (1980)

AllMusic Review: It’s hard to follow up a classic, as the Undertones themselves well knew, starting their second album with the endearingly self-effacing “More Songs About Chocolate and Girls,” a song that acknowledges the difficulty of writing and recording a second album after the unexpected popularity of your first. Surprisingly, the lads make a good job of it; Hypnotised is only barely less perfect than the debut, and even the primary flaw, a pointless and rushed cover of “Under the Boardwalk,” has its charms. Other than that misstep, the album contains 14 punky pop classics, with a slightly tougher edge than the unfailingly sweet-natured debut. The giddy love rush of the title track is matched by some of Feargal Sharkey’s most exuberant vocals, and the snotty “What’s with Terry?” and “My Perfect Cousin” are yet more perfect slices of adolescent frustration. — Stewart Mason

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Written by Length
1. “More Songs About Chocolate and Girls” Damian O’Neill 2:43
2. “There Goes Norman” J. J. O’Neill 2:28
3. “Hypnotised” Damian O’Neill, Michael Bradley 2:31
4. “See That Girl” J. J. O’Neill 2:25
5. “Whizz Kids” Damian O’Neill 2:20
6. “Under the Boardwalk” Kenny Young, Arthur Resnick 2:27
7. “The Way Girls Talk” J. J. O’Neill 2:30
8. “Hard Luck” J. J. O’Neill, Michael Bradley, Damian O’Neill, Billy Doherty, Feargal Sharkey 3:42
Side two
No. Title Written by Length
1. “My Perfect Cousin” Damian O’Neill, Michael Bradley 2:36
2. “Boys Will Be Boys” J. J. O’Neill, Damian O’Neill 1:27
3. “Tearproof” J. J. O’Neill, Michael Bradley 2:21
4. “Wednesday Week” J. J. O’Neill 2:17
5. “Nine Times Out of Ten” J. J. O’Neill, Billy Doherty 2:38
6. “Girls That Don’t Talk” J. J. O’Neill 2:27
7. “What’s with Terry?” Damian O’Neill 3:19

 

Schill Score: 8.5/10

 

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The Teardrop Explodes – Kilimanjaro (1980)

AllMusic Review: Armed with trumpeters Ray Martinez and Hurricane Smith who add soaring flourishes and energetic blasts throughout, on Kilimanjaro the Teardrops explode in a torrent of creative, kicky and often downright fun songs that hotwire garage/psych inspirations into something more. Steering clear of ham-handed attempts to be commercially “new wave” while at the same time sounding young, bright and alive, the foursome go happily nuts with great results. Cope is already a commanding singer and frontman; his clever lyrics and strong projection result in a series of confident performances, whether his trading lines with himself on the motorik chug of “Sleeping Gas” or his yelps on “Books.” For all the bad energy between himself and Balfe, the two sound like they’re grafted at the hip throughout, the latter’s keyboard washes and staccato melodies adding the fun, nervy vibe. Dwyer’s spot-on drumming keeps the pace, while both guitarists, Finkler and his replacement Gill, don’t drown the band in feedback to the exclusion of everything else. One listen to many of Gill’s pieces, on songs like “Poppies,” and Cope’s oft-stated claim that early U2 was trying to rip off the Teardrops and other Liverpool/Manchester groups makes sense. Though it was assembled from a variety of different sessions Kilimanjaro still sounds cohesive. Perfectly hummable choruses, great arrangements and production and Cope’s smiling vibe all add up with fantastic results. The sweet romance of “When I Dream” closes out this entertaining debut. — Ned Raggett

Track Listing:

 

All tracks composed by Julian Cope, Gary Dwyer and Michael Finkler; except where indicated.

  1. “Ha Ha I’m Drowning” (2.53)
  2. “Sleeping Gas” (Cope, Dwyer, Finkler, Paul Simpson) (3.45)
  3. “Treason” (3.05)
  4. “Second Head” (3.10)
  5. “Poppies in the Field” (5.03)
  6. “Went Crazy” (Cope, Finkler) (2.38)
  7. “Brave Boys Keep Their Promises” (2.30)
  8. “Bouncing Babies” (Cope, Dwyer, Finkler, Simpson) (2.28)
  9. “Books” (Cope, Ian McCulloch) (2.37)
  10. “The Thief of Baghdad” (3.09)
  11. “When I Dream” (5.10)

 

Schill Score: 6/10

 

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The Specials – More Specials (1980)

AllMusic Review: Less frenzied than its predecessor, but more musically adventurous, More Specials was nearly as popular in its day as its predecessor, falling just one chart place below their debut. It kicked off in similar fashion as well, with a classic cover, this time with an exuberant take on Carl Sigman and Conrad Magidson’s 1940s chestnut “Enjoy Yourself.” A slower, brooding version with the Go-Go’s in tow brings the album to a close, taking the place of the set-sealing “You’re Wondering Now,” which brought the curtain down on their first set. But there the similarities come to an end. The rest of the album is comprised of originals, including a pair of instrumentals — the Northern soul-esque “Sock It to ‘Em JB” and the Mexican-flavored “Holiday Fortnight” — as well as a duo of minimally vocalized pieces, the intriguing “International Jet Set,” and the overtly apocalyptic “Man at C&A.” But fans had already been primed for the band’s changing musical directions by the release the month before of “Stereotypes,” its spaghetti western aura filled with the group’s more mournful mood. It’s an emotional despair taken to even greater heights on “Do Nothing,” as the group futilely searches for a future, but musically stumbles upon a cheery, easygoing rhythm more appropriate to the pop styles of the English Beat than the angrier sounds the Specials had made their own. But to prove it’s no fluke, there’s the equally bright and breezy “Hey, Little Rich Girl,” boasting fabulous sax solos from Madness’ Lee Thompson. However, it’s an immortal line from “Pearl’s Cafe” that Terry Hall and the guesting Bodysnatchers’ Rhoda Dakar deliver up in duet that best sums up their own, and the country’s pure frustration: “It’s all a load of bollocks, and bollocks to it all.” It was an intensely satisfying set in its day, even if it wasn’t as centered as their debut. The group seems to be moving simultaneously in too many directions, while the lyrics, too, are not quite as hard-hitting as earlier efforts. —Jo-Ann Greene

Track Listing

Side one

  1. “Enjoy Yourself” (Herb Magidson, Carl Sigman) – 3:39
  2. “Rat Race” (Roddy Byers) – 3:07 – NB: not included on UK release nor Dutch LP
  3. “Man at C & A” (Jerry Dammers, Terry Hall) – 3:36
  4. “Hey, Little Rich Girl” (Roddy Byers) – 3:35 – featuring Lee Jay Thompson
  5. “Do Nothing” (Lynval Golding) – 3:43
  6. “Pearl’s Cafe” (Dammers) – 3:07
  7. “Sock It to ’em J.B.” (Clayton Dunn, Rex Garvin, Pete Holman) – 2:56

Side two

  1. “Stereotypes/Stereotypes Pt. 2” (Dammers, Neville Staple) – 7:24
  2. “Holiday Fortnight” (Byers) – 2:45
  3. “I Can’t Stand It” (Dammers) – 4:01 – featuring Rhoda Dakar
  4. “International Jet Set” (Dammers) – 5:37
  5. “Enjoy Yourself (Reprise)” (Magidson, Sigman) – 1:46

 

Schill Score: 7.75/10

 

 

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The Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight (1980)

AllMusic Review: After recording the material that would later comprise the bulk of Invisible Hits, the Soft Boys recorded their masterpiece, the shimmering neo-psychedelic Underwater Moonlight. Essentially, the band didn’t change their style for the record — they merely perfected it. The Soft Boys don’t hide their influences — whether its the ringing guitars of the Beatles and Byrds or the surreal humor of John Lennon and Syd Barrett — but they assimilate them, resulting in a fresh, edgy take on ’60s guitar pop. Robyn Hitchcock’s subject matter tends to be more explicitly weird and absurdist than his influences, as titles like “I Wanna Destroy You,” “Old Pervert,” and “Queen of Eyes” indicate — even “Kingdom of Love” equates romance to bugs crawling under your skin. But the lyrics aren’t the only thing that are edgy — the music is too. The Soft Boys play pop hooks as if they were punk rock. “I Wanna Destroy You” isn’t overtly threatening like their post-punk contemporaries, but with its layered guitar hooks and dissonant harmonies, it is equally menacing. Furthermore, the group can twist its songs inside out and then revert them to their original form, as evidenced by “Insanely Jealous.” Although the neo-psychedelic flourishes are fascinating, the key to record’s success is how each song is constructed around rock-solid hooks and melodies that instantly work their way into the subconscious. In fact, that’s the most notable thing about Underwater Moonlight — it updates jangling, melodic guitar pop for the post-punk world, which made it a touchstone for much of the underground pop of the mid-’80s, particularly R.E.M. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Track Listing:

All tracks are written by Robyn Hitchcock, except as noted.

Side A
No. Title Length
1. “I Wanna Destroy You” 2:52
2. “Kingdom of Love” 4:10
3. “Positive Vibrations” 3:10
4. “I Got the Hots” 4:42
5. “Insanely Jealous” 4:15
Side B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Tonight” 3:44
2. “You’ll Have to Go Sideways” Hitchcock, Kimberley Rew 2:57
3. “Old Pervert” Hitchcock, Rew, Matthew Seligman, Morris Windsor 3:52
4. “Queen of Eyes” 2:01
5. “Underwater Moonlight” 4:17

 

 

Schill Score: 6/10

 

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The Jam – Sound Affects (1980)

AllMusic Review: Unhappy with the slicker approach of Setting Sons, the Jam got back to basics, using the direct, economic playing of All Mod Cons and “Going Underground,” the simply brilliant single which preceded Sound Affects by a few months. Thematically, though, Paul Weller explored a more indirect path, leaving behind (for the most part) the story-song narratives in favor of more abstract dealings in spirituality and perception — the approach stemming from his recent readings of Blake and Shelley (who was quoted on the sleeve), but more specifically Geoffrey Ash, whose Camelot and the Vision of Albion made a strong impression. Musically, Weller drew upon Revolver-era Beatles as a primary source (the bassline on “Start,” which comes directly from “Taxman,” being the most obvious occurrence), incorporating the occasional odd sound and echoed vocal, which implied psychedelia without succumbing to its excesses. From beginning to end, the songs are pure, clever, infectious pop — probably their catchiest — with “That’s Entertainment” and the should-have-been-a-single “Man in the Corner Shop” standing out. — Chris Woodstra

Track Listing:

ide one
No. Title Length
1. “Pretty Green” 2:37
2. “Monday” 3:02
3. “But I’m Different Now” 1:52
4. “Set the House Ablaze” 5:03
5. “Start!” 2:33
6. “That’s Entertainment” 3:38
Side two
No. Title Length
1. “Dream Time” 3:54
2. “Man in the Corner Shop” 3:12
3. “Music for the Last Couple” (Rick Buckler, Bruce Foxton, Paul Weller) 3:45
4. “Boy About Town” 2:00
5. “Scrape Away” 3:59

 

Schill Score: 7/10

 

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The Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (1980)

AllMusic Review: A hyper-speed blast of ultra-polemical, left-wing hardcore punk, and bitingly funny sarcasm, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables stands as the Dead Kennedys’ signature statement. As one of the first hardcore albums, it was a galvanizing influence on the musical and attitudinal development of the genre, also helping to kickstart the fertile California scene. The record’s tactics are not subtle in the least; Jello Biafra’s odd warble and spat-out lyrics leave no doubt as to what he thinks, baiting his targets of conservatism, violence, overbearing authority, and capitalist greed with a viciously satirical sarcasm that keeps his unflinchingly political outlook from becoming too didactic. The thin production dilutes some of the music’s power, but the ragged speed-blur still packs a wallop, and the hooks cribbed from surf and rockabilly give it a gonzo edge. The songwriting isn’t consistent all the way through the album, but classics like “Kill the Poor,” “Let’s Lynch the Landlord,” “Chemical Warfare,” “California Über Alles,” and “Holiday In Cambodia” helped define the hardcore genre and, thus, must be heard. — Steve Huey

Track Listing:

All tracks are written by Jello Biafra, except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Kill the Poor” Biafra, East Bay Ray 3:07
2. “Forward to Death” 6025 1:23
3. “When Ya Get Drafted” 1:23
4. “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” 2:13
5. “Drug Me” 1:56
6. “Your Emotions” Ray 1:20
7. “Chemical Warfare” 2:55
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “California über alles” Biafra, John Greenway 3:03
2. “I Kill Children” 2:04
3. “Stealing People’s Mail” 1:34
4. “Funland at the Beach” 1:49
5. “Ill in the Head” Biafra, 6025 2:46
6. “Holiday in Cambodia” Dead Kennedys 4:37
7. “Viva Las Vegas” (Elvis Presley cover) Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman 2:42
Total length: 33:06

 

Schill Score:  7.5/10

 

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The Cure – Seventeen Seconds (1980)

AllMusic Review: It’s hard to believe that the Cure could release an album even more sparse than Three Imaginary Boys, but here’s the proof. The lineup change that saw funkstery bassist Michael Dempsey squeezed out in favor of the more specific playing of (eventually the longest serving member outside Robert Smith) Simon Gallup, and the addition of keyboardist Mathieu Hartley resulted in the band becoming more rigid in sound, and more disciplined in attitude. While it is not the study in loss that Faith would become, or the descent into madness of Pornography, it is a perfect precursor to those collections. In a sense, Seventeen Seconds is the beginning of a trilogy of sorts, the emptiness that leads to the questioning and eventual madness of the subsequent work. Mostly forgotten outside of the unforgettable single “A Forest,” Seventeen Seconds is an even, subtle work that grows on the listener over time. Sure, the Cure did better work, but for a new lineup and a newfound sense of independence, Robert Smith already shows that he knows what he’s doing. From short instrumental pieces to robotic pop, Seventeen Seconds is where the Cure shed all the outside input and became their own band. — Chris True

Track Listing:

Side A
No. Title Length
1. “A Reflection” 2:12
2. “Play for Today” 3:40
3. “Secrets” 3:20
4. “In Your House” 4:07
5. “Three” 2:36
Side B
No. Title Length
6. “The Final Sound” 0:52
7. “A Forest” 5:55
8. “M” 3:04
9. “At Night” 5:54
10. “Seventeen Seconds” 4:00

 

 

Schill Score:  6.5/10

 

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