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15 Underrated Albums

12 February 2007

Goo Goo Dolls—Hold Me Up

This edgy but sweet power-pop treat was made in 1991—before the group turned into high fructose corn syrup.

The Godfathers—Hit by Hit

Not to be confused with clones of Marlon Brando, these Godfathers also make offers you can’t refuse. In the case of Hit by Hit it’s ten short and direct offers. Though better known for Birth, School, Work, Death, this powder keg smartly straddles the nexus where punk meets hard rock.

The Cavedogs—Joyrides for Shut-ins

I’m glad I wasn’t a talent scout when this record came out in 1991 because I would have urged the head of my record company to throw every penny it had at these guys. Although the Cavedogs never made it commercially, they delivered a fantastic power-pop debut, with great song writing and hooks galore. Joyrides is one of my faves from the nineties.

Jon Wayne—Texas Funeral

Humor and music don’t always mix well. But here inspired lunacy goes far, particularly on “Mr. Egyptian.” No go diggy die? Yep! (Listen to the record and that’ll make sense…or maybe it won’t.)

The Damned—Strawberries

Damned Damned Damned and Machine Gun Etiquette are deserving of their classic status. But 1982’s Strawberries is also remarkable. This record shows the band mixing energy, song writing, musicianship and mood impressively. Producer Hugh Jones helps make each member’s contributions sparkle. A Keith Moon-esque Rat Scabies drums like a man possessed, Captain Sensible shows off his wide range on guitar, Dave Vanian is at the top of his vocal game (see “Stranger on the Town”) and bassist Paul Gray belies his surname, playing with color and élan.


Acknowledged by those who know it to be a full-on juggernaut, I consider this underrated simply because so few know about it. I remember how in awe I was when I first heard its uncompromising rumble and roar fifteen years ago. What an impression it made. It was then a foregone conclusion that I would closely follow this band’s career and thankfully they have yet to disappoint.

Devo—Duty Now for the Future

While the spudboys’ first album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, is widely hailed as their best, to me the band’s second record is more interesting as it captures the group at its manic and inspired experimental best, while making the keyboards an integral part of its sound. “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA” is still as fresh, hot and tasty as a just served brick oven pizza.

Husker Du—Warehouse Songs and Stories

Like another great band from the eighties, The Smiths, the Huskers made their last effort a keeper. And they had plenty to say, offering up a double album on their way out. Unlike earlier albums where speed was a focal point, here the songwriting takes center stage.

Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians—Respect

Though not generally considered to be Hitchcock’s best, Respect does demand respect. From the soaring “Arms of Love” to the blissful “The Wreck of the Arthur Lee” this record mixes moods with cinematic clarity—aside from the irritating bookend tracks, which sully an otherwise splendid record.

Love—Four Sail

Talk about a tough act to follow! Conventional wisdom has it that after Love’s first three records, culminating with the brilliance of Forever Changes, Arthur Lee lost his creative muse. Not so! Four Sail is extremely good (as fellow BT blogger Matt Berlyant quite accurately pointed out recently) and is in my opinion better than Love’s much-ballyhooed eponymous debut. Influenced by Jimi Hendrix’s then rising star and brand of fiery guitar playing, Lee traded in the orchestral/folk majesty of Forever Changes for a more propulsive assault. A key reason why Four Sail succeeds is because it has fantastic songs and oodles of sweet melodies. Of note: “August,” which features George Suranovich’s machine gun like drumming and a wailing guitar that could attract a pack of alley cats in heat on a cold January night.

Rein Sanction—Mariposa

If your first reaction is “Rein who?” you’re not alone. But this band, sometimes compared to Dinosaur Jr., effectively conveys a mood of overcast skies and rainy weather in a pleasing package. What may initially sound sloppy becomes subtler and more complex with repeated listens, especially the nuanced guitar work lurking beneath.

Readymade—The Dramatic Balanced

Like Rein Sanction, Vancouver’s Readymade is short on name recognition but long on inspiration and mood. Shoe-gazey, warm and dark, the second half is truly fantastic.

The Stranglers—10

The Stranglers’ last album with Hugh Cornwell—released in 1990—is widely considered to be a stinker. Granted, it has duds like a pointless cover of “96 Tears” and the cringe-worthy “Let’s Celebrate,” but the record’s second half is comprised of five very good to excellent songs. “Man of the Earth,” “Too Many Teardrops,” “Where I Live,” “Out of My Mind,” and the prophetic “Never to Look Book” are all distinct pleasures. The album’s biggest problem is that it was grossly misproduced by Roy Thomas Baker of Queen fame. 10 was a forthright attempt at breaking the elusive American market but an overly commercial sound failed to showcase the band in a flattering light. In contrast, Martin Rushent, who produced the band’s earliest works, emphasized the group’s distinctive bass and keyboards.

Hugh Cornwell—Wolf

The general consensus is that Wolf bites. I disagree – though I concede that my hand has some scratches and tooth marks on it from playing this disk. Like 10, this 1988 record is often panned for sounding dated. That criticism is very valid but Cornwell’s inimitable soul for lack of a better word and yearning still shine through in his singing/crooning and for that I can always tolerate production shortcomings whatever they may be.

Robert Wyatt—Shleep

Rock Bottom is widely considered to be Wyatt’s best solo effort. While that is clearly a great record (see especially the devastating “Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road”), Shleep is an underrated gem. Though the quality of Wyatt’s work can be uneven, here he hits some amazing high points. A true shleeper!

What abums do you think deserve greater recognition?


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