AllMusic Review: Blondie turned to British pop producer Mike Chapman for their third album, on which they abandoned any pretensions to new wave legitimacy (just in time, given the decline of the new wave) and emerged as a pure pop band. But it wasn’t just Chapman that made Parallel Lines Blondie’s best album; it was the band’s own songwriting, including Deborah Harry, Chris Stein, and James Destri’s “Picture This,” and Harry and Stein’s “Heart of Glass,” and Harry and new bass player Nigel Harrison’s “One Way or Another,” plus two contributions from nonbandmember Jack Lee, “Will Anything Happen?” and “Hanging on the Telephone.” That was enough to give Blondie a number one on both sides of the Atlantic with “Heart of Glass” and three more U.K. hits, but what impresses is the album’s depth and consistency — album tracks like “Fade Away and Radiate” and “Just Go Away” are as impressive as the songs pulled for singles. The result is state-of-the-art pop/rock circa 1978, with Harry’s tough-girl glamour setting the pattern that would be exploited over the next decade by a host of successors led by Madonna. — William Ruhlmann
AllMusic Review: A shambling wreck of an album, Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers ranks among the most harrowing experiences in pop music; impassioned, erratic, and stark, it’s the slow, sinking sound of a band falling apart. Recorded with their label, Stax, poised on the verge of bankruptcy, the album finds Alex Chilton at the end of his rope, sabotaging his own music long before it can ever reach the wrecking crew of poor distribution, indifferent marketing, and disinterested pop radio. His songs are haphazardly brilliant, a head-on collision between inspiration and frustration, and the album is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, each song smacking of utter defeat and desperation. The result is either one of the most vividly emotional experiences in pop music or a completely wasted opportunity. While the truth probably lies somewhere in between, there’s no denying Third’s magnetic pull — it’s like an undertow. Originally appearing under the name 3rd on PVC Records in 1978, Rykodisc’s 1992 release is the initially definitive edition of this unfinished masterpiece, its 19 tracks most closely approximating the original planned running order while restoring the music’s intended impact. In addition to unearthing a blistering cover of the Kinks’ “Till the End of the Day” and a haunting rendition of Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy,” it also appends the disturbing “Dream Lover,” which distills the album’s messiest themes into less than four minutes of psychic torment. — Jason Ankeny
AllMusic Review: Perhaps the most original debut album to come out of the first wave of British punk, Wire’s Pink Flag plays like The Ramones Go to Art School — song after song careens past in a glorious, stripped-down rush. However, unlike the Ramones, Wire ultimately made their mark through unpredictability. Very few of the songs followed traditional verse/chorus structures — if one or two riffs sufficed, no more were added; if a musical hook or lyric didn’t need to be repeated, Wire immediately stopped playing, accounting for the album’s brevity (21 songs in under 36 minutes on the original version). The sometimes dissonant, minimalist arrangements allow for space and interplay between the instruments; Colin Newman isn’t always the most comprehensible singer, but he displays an acerbic wit and balances the occasional lyrical abstraction with plenty of bile in his delivery. Many punk bands aimed to strip rock & roll of its excess, but Wire took the concept a step further, cutting punk itself down to its essence and achieving an even more concentrated impact. Some of the tracks may seem at first like underdeveloped sketches or fragments, but further listening demonstrates that in most cases, the music is memorable even without the repetition and structure most ears have come to expect — it simply requires a bit more concentration. And Wire are full of ideas; for such a fiercely minimalist band, they display quite a musical range, spanning slow, haunting texture exercises, warped power pop, punk anthems, and proto-hardcore rants — it’s recognizable, yet simultaneously quite unlike anything that preceded it. Pink Flag’s enduring influence pops up in hardcore, post-punk, alternative rock, and even Brit-pop, and it still remains a fresh, invigorating listen today: a fascinating, highly inventive rethinking of punk rock and its freedom to make up your own rules. — Steve Huey
All music written by Colin Newman, except where noted. All lyrics written by Graham Lewis, except where noted.
AllMusic Review: Weather Report’s biggest-selling album is that ideal thing, a popular and artistic success — and for the same reasons. For one thing, Joe Zawinul revealed an unexpectedly potent commercial streak for the first time since his Cannonball Adderley days, contributing what has become a perennial hit, “Birdland.” Indeed, “Birdland” is a remarkable bit of record-making, a unified, ever-developing piece of music that evokes, without in any way imitating, a joyous evening on 52nd St. with a big band. The other factor is the full emergence of Jaco Pastorius as a co-leader; his dancing, staccato bass lifting itself out of the bass range as a third melodic voice, completely dominating his own ingenious “Teen Town” (where he also plays drums!). By now, Zawinul has become WR’s de facto commander in the studio; his colorful synthesizers dictate the textures, his conceptions are carefully planned, with little of the freewheeling improvisation of only five years before. Wayne Shorter’s saxophones are now reticent, if always eloquent, beams of light in Zawinul’s general scheme while Alex Acuña shifts ably over to the drums and Manolo Badrena handles the percussion. Released just as the jazz-rock movement began to run out of steam, this landmark album proved that there was plenty of creative life left in the idiom. — Richard S. Ginell
AllMusic Review: At the time Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ debut was released in 1976, they were fresh enough to almost be considered punk. They weren’t as reckless or visionary as the Ramones, but they shared a similar love for pure ’60s rock and, for the Heartbreakers, that meant embracing the Byrds as much as the Stones. And that’s pretty much what this album is — tuneful jangle balanced by a tough garage swagger. At times, the attitude and the sound override the songwriting, but that’s alright, since the slight songs (“Anything That’s Rock ‘N’ Roll,” to pick a random example) are still infused with spirit and an appealing surface. Petty & the Heartbreakers feel underground on this album, at least to the extent that power pop was underground in 1976; with Dwight Twilley providing backing vocals for “Strangered in the Night,” the similarities between the two bands (adherence to pop hooks and melodies, love of guitars) become apparent. Petty wound up eclipsing Twilley because he rocked harder, something that’s evident throughout this record. Take the closer “American Girl” — it’s a Byrds song by any other name, but he pushed the Heartbreakers to treat it as a rock & roll song, not as something delicate. There are times where the album starts to drift, especially on the second side, but the highlights — “Rockin’ Around (With You),” “Hometown Blues,” “The Wild One, Forever,” the AOR staples “Breakdown” and “American Girl” — still illustrate how refreshing Petty & the Heartbreakers sounded in 1976. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine
AllMusic Review: Like the Vibrators, the Stranglers were an older band which managed to gain visibility and success through association with Britain’s punk movement. Musically, the group is much more polished than some of their rawer brethren such as the Adverts and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The Stranglers’ early work is most properly described as stripped-down pop played with a hardcore sensibility; fairly lengthy songs with frequent solo breaks, prominent keyboard usage, and occasional employment of vocal harmony sets them apart from their peers. But snarling lead singing that puts forth macho/critical/distasteful lyrics predominates here, clearly showing the group’s punk affinity. Most of the songs on this album fit the description of hardcore pop to a tee, but there are a few deviations from this model. “Princess of the Streets” is a slow-tempo selection with blueslike echoes. The ambitious “Down in the Sewer” crosses the concept of episodic numbers like the Who’s “A Quick One” with early-’60s instrumentals. And the energetic “London Lady” is almost a true punk song — or at least as close as the band gets to one. While not the equal of their best album, No More Heroes, this release is solid and worthwhile, a rewarding listen. — David Cleary
AllMusic Review: Pegging Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s sound has always proved problematic; imagine Cluster’s toy melodies channeled through the Bonzo Dog Band with a hint of the Art Bears’ high-mindedness, and you’ve at least got a point of reference. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Simon Jeffes, Penguin Cafe’s debut was released under the imprimatur of executive producer Brian Eno, who had taken the onus of bringing like-minded minimalists (Harold Budd, Cluster, Jon Hassell) to light. But where the work of those artists demanded to be taken seriously, Jeffes and company almost defy you to take their music seriously. “Penguin Cafe Single” and “In a Sydney Motel” are playful pieces constructed to sound nonmusical, aided by Jeffes’ eclectic instrumentation (e.g., the ukelele), which effectively undermines the serious sounds of cello and violin. It’s not all light fare; “Surface Tension” sounds like Eno at his most morose and “Coronation” could have come from the ice queen herself, Nico. If there’s a knock on Music From the Penguin Cafe (and from the vantage point of their second album, there is), it’s that Jeffes merely teases listeners with his charm. On the second side (for CD owners, that’s the last three songs), the Penguin Cafe Orchestra traverse artier terrain, with little of their original humor (although “Chartered Flight” does reuse themes from the first side in an effort to come across warmly). As a result, Music From the Penguin Cafe tugs from two very different directions: the avant-garde and the innocent. Listeners are trained to save room for the sweet stuff at the end; by placing it at the beginning, most listeners won’t have the appetite for the heavy courses that follow. Mind you, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra are no laughing matter, but heavy artists abound, and musicians with a sense of humor about their art are cherished oddities. Music From the Penguin Cafe shows restraint, their eponymous second album is pure indulgence; reward yourself with their second album first and purchase their first album second. Note that, like Harold Budd’s debut, this material was recorded in part in 1974 (with roughly half of the material dating from 1976), but the span in time has little bearing on the sound of the music. — Dave Connolly
“Air à Danser” – 4:27
“Yodel 1” – 4:00
“Telephone and Rubber Band” – 2:25
“Cutting Branches for a Temporary Shelter” (Traditional; arranged by Simon Jeffes) – 3:36
AllMusic Review: Compiled of demos the band recorded with John Cale in 1973, The Modern Lovers is one of the great proto-punk albums of all time, capturing an angst-ridden adolescent geekiness which is married to a stripped-down, minimalistic rock & roll derived from the art punk of the Velvet Underground. While the sound is in debt to the primal three-chord pounding of early Velvet Underground, the attitude of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers is a million miles away from Lou Reed’s jaded urban nightmares. As he says in the classic two-chord anthem “Roadrunner,” Richman is in love with the modern world and rock & roll. He’s still a teenager at heart, which means he’s not only in love with girls he can’t have, but also radios, suburbs, and fast food, and it also means he’ll crack jokes like “Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole…not like you.” “Pablo Picasso” is the classic sneer, but “She Cracked” and “I’m Straight” are just as nasty, made all the more edgy by the Modern Lovers’ amateurish, minimalist drive. But beneath his adolescent posturing, Richman is also nakedly emotional, pleading for a lover on “Someone I Care About” and “Girl Friend,” or romanticizing the future on “Dignified and Old.” That combination of musical simplicity, driving rock & roll, and gawky emotional confessions makes The Modern Lovers one of the most startling proto-punk records — it strips rock & roll to its core and establishes the rock tradition of the geeky, awkward social outcast venting his frustrations. More importantly, the music is just as raw and exciting now as when it was recorded in 1973, or when it was belatedly released in 1976. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine
AllMusic Review: Never Mind the Bollocks may have appeared revolutionary, but the Clash’s eponymous debut album was pure, unadulterated rage and fury, fueled by passion for both rock & roll and revolution. Though the cliché about punk rock was that the bands couldn’t play, the key to the Clash is that although they gave that illusion, they really could play — hard. The charging, relentless rhythms, primitive three-chord rockers, and the poor sound quality give the album a nervy, vital energy. Joe Strummer’s slurred wails perfectly compliment the edgy rock, while Mick Jones’ clearer singing and charged guitar breaks make his numbers righteously anthemic. Even at this early stage, the Clash were experimenting with reggae, most notably on the Junior Murvin cover “Police & Thieves” and the extraordinary “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais,” which was one of five tracks added to the American edition of The Clash. “Deny,” “Protex Blue,” “Cheat,” and “48 Hours” were removed from the British edition and replaced for the U.S. release with the British-only singles “Complete Control,” “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais,” “Clash City Rockers,” “I Fought the Law,” and “Jail Guitar Doors,” all of which were stronger than the items they replaced. Though the sequencing and selection were slightly different, the core of the album remained the same, and each song retained its power individually. Few punk songs expressed anger quite as bracingly as “White Riot,” “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.,” “Career Opportunities,” and “London’s Burning,” and their power is all the more incredible today. Rock & roll is rarely as edgy, invigorating, and sonically revolutionary as The Clash. [In 2000, Columbia/Legacy reissued and remastered the album to include the U.K. songs.] — Stephen Thomas Erlewine
All lead vocals by Joe Strummer, except where noted.
All tracks are written by Strummer and Mick Jones, except where noted.
AllMusic Review: Though they were the most highly touted new wave band to emerge from the CBGB’s scene in New York, it was not clear at first whether Talking Heads’ Lower East Side art rock approach could make the subway ride to the midtown pop mainstream successfully. The leadoff track of the debut album, Talking Heads: 77, “Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town,” was a pop song that emphasized the group’s unlikely roots in late-’60s bubblegum, Motown, and Caribbean music. But the “Uh-Oh” gave away the group’s game early, with its nervous, disconnected lyrics and David Byrne’s strained voice. All pretenses of normality were abandoned by the second track, as Talking Heads finally started to sound on record the way they did downtown: the staggered rhythms and sudden tempo changes, the odd guitar tunings and rhythmic, single-note patterns, the non-rhyming, non-linear lyrics that came across like odd remarks overheard from a psychiatrist’s couch, and that voice, singing above its normal range, its falsetto leaps and strangled cries resembling a madman trying desperately to sound normal. Talking Heads threw you off balance, but grabbed your attention with a sound that seemed alternately threatening and goofy. The music was undeniably catchy, even at its most ominous, especially on “Psycho Killer,” Byrne’s supreme statement of demented purpose. Amazingly, that song made the singles chart for a few weeks, evidence of the group’s quirky appeal, but the album was not a big hit, and it remained unclear whether Talking Heads spoke only the secret language of the urban arts types or whether that could be translated into the more common tongue of hip pop culture. In any case, they had succeeded as artists, using existing elements in an unusual combination to create something new that still managed to be oddly familiar. And that made Talking Heads: 77 a landmark album. — William Ruhlmann