Okay so Madonna released a new album this week and it’s getting good reviews and she is a legend but dammit to hell I so miss POP Madonna cause she f-ing ruled. Thankfully something has come along to take you to that place that “Holiday”, “Angel”, and “Into the Groove” did, just in the nick of time, which is to say here comes Kingsbury with the best thing she’s ever done .”In My Brain ” marries New Order’s classic “Thieves Like Us” and pop Madonna, and is as absolute and widescreen as Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own”. It’s a lush, fat, beautiful pop song about the head and the heart battling it out over moving forward and booms from the bottom to the top. And so next time you need a cathartic dance alone moment, well, you know what to do.
No matter who we are in this absurd, brief, and messy life we can all lay claim to a peak, a shining moment where we were the best we could be, where all the stars aligned and we fuckin’ delivered the goods.
Welcome to “That’s Their Pet Sounds”our semi-regular feature where we endeavor to spotlight, and celebrate a heretofore maybe uncool, often unjustifiably underrated, sometimes polarizing, not as acclaimed as they should be, or “what the hell?” artist’s grandest artistic achievement i.e. their greatest album.
*“That’s Their Pet Sounds”is named after the Beach Boys landmark 1966 LP which is universally regarded as one of the greatest albums ever made but yeah, you probably knew that.
Tears For Fears BEST ALBUM : 1989’s “Seeds of Love”
Background: The general consensus is that Tears For Fears 1985 album“Songs from the Big Chair” is their magnum opus. That it is The One. It remains the duo’s best-selling album by far (multi-platinum) and is filled end to end with clean, angsty, earnest, occasionally pretentious but seriously wonderful pop music. Over the past 10 years or so, even the most hardened critics have had to come clean about it’s undeniable and considerable charms. It now appears on every single “Best Albums of the 80’s” list without fail. There it eternally sits in all it’s radio-friendly, big chorused glory, the existentially tortured, two-headed pop turtle amongst your Sonic Youths, Smiths and Public Enemies. Now while the deep cuts on this thing are pretty great ( yeah “The Working Hour”, I’m talking about you) if we’re being truthful, the heart clutching love people have for “Big Chair” is primarily related to it’s triumvirate of enormously popular and memorable megahit singles. Let’s rank them in order of wonderfulness :
1.“Head Over Heels” which consists of unrequited love, familial disappointment and a pretty glorious hook. Also, bonus points, it’s video takes place in a library, the architectural equivalent of a secret crush. We, all of us will probably be swooning along to this thing forever. 10/10.
2.“Everybody Wants To Rule the World”: The best 80’s pop song that was partially inspired by the Cold War, easily crushing it’s 2 chief high profile competitors in that category: “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Sting’s “Russians” the latter of which we’re not even going to discuss because I just freakin’ can’t. The chorus and intro get all the glory in “Everybody…” but the real heroes here, the heavy lifters and secret genius’s within it, are the sunshine strewn, singalong guitar solo, and the clever little vocal embellishment by Tears man Curt Smith immediately following it: “Say that you’ll nevernevernevernever need it”. Also remains pretty glorious.
3.“Shout”: And now the party is over. This bitter chant was a massive hit but okay, I’ve never liked it. Yes, it is undeniably memorable in that insidious, easy to sing along to the chorus way but it’s also an interminable dirge: it’s missing the unspeakably wonderful melodicism that is not only showcased in the 2 aforementioned tracks but in the album’s handsome deep cuts as well.
That aside, make no mistake,“Big Chair” is a very good record…but it isn’t Tears For Fears greatest artistic achievement.
No, to experience Tears for Fears at their maximum Tears for Fear-edness, behaving in the most Tears For Fears manner possible, we need to turn an ear to “Big Chair’s” spoiled and overfed younger sibling, 1989’s “Seeds of Love”. It’s full of over the top windswept melodicism and cryptic weirdness. It’s scope and overall sound have an underlying unity which is to say “Seeds” sounds like one big fat song as opposed to 8 smaller ones. It comes across as a singular emotional vision. It’s bigger than “Big Chair”, way, way bigger.
Why it’s their Pet Sounds :
Now to offer a better idea of what we are are talking about when we talk about “Seeds of Love”, please take a gander at the attached visual aid below. It’s only a minute and a half long, and please, if you will watch it, until the end. Here it is:
Basically “Seeds of Love” is the Good Morning Burger in the form of an album. It is made entirely of musical carbohydrates. It is bloated, garish and grandiose. It is pompous and overwrought. It’s also Tears men Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith at their most adventurous and playful, more so then they had been up to that point and have ever been since. It is also positively filled with estrogen. As in 5 of the 8 songs were co-written by singer-pianist Nicky Holland. As in Oleta Adams ridiculously soulful vocalizing is prominently featured on several key tracks including the behemoth “Woman in Chains”. As in that very song is about toxic masculinity. “Seeds” is fueled by Girl Power.
This album had an extremely difficult birth, taking roughly 3 years and millions of dollars/pounds to complete to everyone’s satisfaction ( namely Roland and Curt). Those years saw key Tears stalwarts Ian Stanley ( keyboardist & co-writer) and Chris Hughes ( producer & co-writer) both leave the fold due to that dusty old classic, creative differences, as well as the scrapping of all the initial album recordings that had been done by the legendary UK production team of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. This ultimately led to the guys taking on the production themselves assisted by engineer David Bascombe. It was a bumpy road.
And, unsurprisingly, Roland and Curt themselves were starting to really get under each other’s skin, ultimately resulting in the latter’s quitting the band in 1991 after the tour in support of the album. This departure was followed by some genuine Mean Girls style retribution wherein both Roland and Curt released nasty songs describing each others shortcomings on their first solo releases after “Seeds”: “Fish Out of Water” where Roland talks shit about Curt ( “the only thing you ever made was that tanned look on your face”), and “Sun King” where Curt talks shit about Roland (“boy you looked so bad”). Burn baby burn.
And so “Seeds” was born under duress.
As for the contents of the album itself, this is one of those cases where you can actually judge a book by it’s cover, which looks like a Sgt.Pepper album and a Metropolitan Museum of Art Calendar that have melted together in the sun i.e. it sounds exactly like it looks. It’s completely flooded with color, and there are no empty spaces. Tears had never exuded light-heartedness or humor prior to this album, and the subject matter in the “Seeds” songs hold to that standard. What you get are mostly despair songs as opposed to love songs…but the despair is about the state of the world, not another singular person. It’s full of fun stuff like political hypocrisy, inter-band hatred, and the impending apocalypse. Honestly, it’s kind of angry but it hasn’t given up, it desperately wants things to get better. It’s some Everest, epic and majestically beautiful pop music and even though it’s about that dry, dense real world stuff and not I love you baby, it’s still extraordinarily romantic.
“I Love a Sunflowuhhhhh”…
- This album is officially 8 tracks long. When it was released back in 1989 that was it. 8 tracks. If you go to Spotify or iTunes now, you are presented with the expanded version which features 4 additional tracks, former b-sides and what not. Here’s the deal, while these bonus tracks are okay, they are not part of the original album release…and so you should ignore them. We’re excommunicating them from the listening experience here. With that in mind…
- …I’m now gonna get all “Dark Side of the Moon” on you : in order to really experience “Seeds” properly, the album needs to be listened to in sequence . It’s a suite, a body, all the songs feel connected and meld into each other…and, okay, you may want to sit down, I’m going to use the P word: it is a little bit Prog. But with a small p. This isn’t Yes or Rush, don’t get scared. This has soul, big fat soul. And as stated earlier, it’s also somewhat…
- Excessive. This record is just excessive. Just like this piece you’re reading now. The average running time for each song is 6 freakin’ minutes. It is full and I do mean FULL of horns, strings and piles of backing vocals. The whole thing is as a slick as an oil filled rain puddle. There are no sharp edges in here. And oh yes, Phil Collins makes an appearance playing his GIANT GUEST DRUMS. I know, it sounds like the very definition of “Eighties “. But wait, it is also full of absolutely transcendent hooks. Like in every song. And though it doesn’t get talked about much when we talk about Tears, Roland Orzabel possesses one incredibly soulful whine of a voice ( that’s a compliment I swear) and can swoop from the depths of the ocean to the most manic falsetto in mere milliseconds and sound pretty fantastic. And co/backing vocalist Oleta Adams’ stunning supporting voice pulls him so far up throughout the album and is so in sync with his, that half the time it’s impossible to tell where he ends and she begins. For years I confused who was singing what in certain songs, so similar in timbre were the two. And so, the songs…
- “Woman in Chains”: The band first encountered Oleta Adams whilst she was performing in a hotel bar in Kansas City back in 1985 while they were on tour, and oh lord, if you’re going to unexpectedly discover a singer in a Kansas City bar, you couldn’t haven’t been more fortunate and blessed than to stumble upon freakin’ Oleta Adams, and her soaring, heavenly voice. “Woman” is one of the the album’s signature songs and is, in a nutshell, about man’s commitment to overtly masculine behavior and how heinous it is…but it is not a clinical presentation or scholarly dissertation, it is a total power ballad duet. Like freakin’ “Almost Paradise” by Ann Wilson and Mike Reno, the gigantic love blob from “Footloose” that put the O in Overwrought , only “Woman In…” is about ingrained misogyny, because you know, this is Tears For Fears we are talking about here. Widescreen and beautiful.
- As mentioned earlier there was some serious band discord happening through “Seeds” birthing process. “Bad Man’s Song” is about that very thing. Roland is the real life Bad Man in question and describes a scene that took place on the bands Big Chair tour wherein he heard the band talking about what a tyrant/asshole he was through a hotel wall. The vocal interplay between he and Oleta A. is exceptional here, and this incredulous, but accepting acknowledgement of bad behavior has got soul, soul, soul.
- “Sowing the Seeds of Love” was the first single released off the album and is, for all intents and purposes, The Beatles’s timeless pop chant “I Am the Walrus” with a chorus that sounds like sunshine replacing the original one that sounds like rain. It is bitter and fun at the same time, calling out Margaret Thatcher’s infamously cruel reign and using Paul Weller’s musical transition from The Jam (where he was the rebellious mod man of the streets) to The Style Council (where he was a complacent coffee bar soundtrack provider) as a metaphor to drive the point home. It’s also one of Roland Orzabal’s finest vocal performances featuring all kinds of quirky note stretching and emotional word spitting. While we’re here I would like to state, politics aside, I think Style Council were better than the Jam. More tunes, more romance and yeah, I know you don’t agree and please leave me alone on this because I can’t help it.
- “Advice For The Young at Heart”: “Everybody Wants to Rule’s” older, more mature sibling, “Advice” positively shimmers while emitting the sweetest light on the whole album, both airy, and wistful. It’s also the only song to feature a Curt Smith lead vocal (uh oh).
- The next 4 songs feel connected in sound and scope and are Seeds’ secret foundation. They are what makes this thing truly great. Starting with “Standing On The Corner Of The Third World”, the Tears version of a quiet/loud song. No, that does not mean it sounds like the Pixies ( thank God). It sneaks in delicately, then gets all in your face loud, with big horns, and assertive backing vocals…but it’s all kind of sad. It’s somewhat convoluted and cryptic lyrically but seems to be talking about hiding all your bad thoughts or things you don’t want to admit to or show and using the now dated term “Third World” as a metaphor for that place you hide them because, big picture, it represents a place people try to deny and forget. At least that’s what I think it’s about. This lyrical interpretation thing is always a losing game. Which leads us into…
- …the plush and windy “Swords and Knives” which starts at birth and walks headlong into death as embodied by…
- …“Year Of The Knife”: Is this song about regret and denial ? Is it a deathbed scene between father and son? I have absolutely no idea. All I can tell you is it’s a gigantic heartbreak locomotive and features some pretty fabulous screeching ( no, seriously) from Roland…once this ends we survey the countryside from the mountaintop as the closing ballad wafts in over the credits, that being…
- “Famous Last Words”, Tears’ version of a love song. Which means it is about embracing one other in the face of a pending nuclear apocalypse wherein all that will be left is “insects and grass” all the while “listening to the bands that made us cry” which while completely fatalistic is undeniably romantic .
Despite being platinum, this record remains a bit of a sleeper. You don’t hear it mentioned too often these days, if at all. Which is a pity because it’s the finest thing this band ever did ( high praise because they did some seriously fine things especially on their first 2 album releases). It’s cynical, anxious and confused by the world but is all hope and love at it’s core. And it still sounds as melodically magnificent as the day it was born. Oh Seeds, you’re so pretty when you’re angry. Don’t ever change.
Hear it here:
One of my abiding memories of art school ( okay, I’m one of those people, please don’t hate me) involves a particular incident that occurred during a regular weekly critique class. The professor was a successful professional photographer, not world famous, but known enough. A normal class session with her involved our taking turns hanging our latest masterpieces on the wall, after which she would lead a discussion of the works’ respective “merits”. We were teenagers in NYC so yeah, there were a lot of photos of local landmarks, homeless people, or in my case, parking meters and empty swings ( I was shy so I only took pictures of inanimate objects not people). By the end of the semester she’d grown so frustrated with the quality of our output that she just couldn’t take it anymore. In the middle of a class one day, she snapped. Exasperated, she turned toward us and yelled ” You are all visually illiterate !“. No one responded. My pictures weren’t on the wall at the time thankfully… buuuut, you know, it was pretty clear she’d meant all of us, that we collectively sucked. And I too was an official member of the visually illiterate.
I’ve pondered this observation over the years and narrowed it down to one primary source. If I was visually illiterate™, in my mind there was clearly one main culprit. It wasn’t my lack of art history education that adversely affected my vision, I’d had a whole bunch of that. It’s just that DaVinci, Van Gogh, and Degas couldn’t compete with the behemoth that dominated every creative thought that sprouted within my mind. That behemoth was a book, and that book was The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics. It took a hold of me as a child and kept me in a headlock for years. It acted as the filter by which I absorbed, appreciated and created art. I blame this book for everything.
That’s Alan Aldridge on the right, the man responsible for all this.
Okay so the brief history of the book goes something like this. The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics was published in 1969. It was conceived by illustrator Alan Aldridge who up to that point was mostly known for his slew of stunning novel covers for Penguin Books ( Come look at these, oh man ). His Beatle idea was inspired by an interview he’d done with Paul McCartney for the British Sunday Newspaper The Observer in 1967 which also featured his own illustrations. Upon the articles publication, Aldridge was inundated with approving, excited fan mail. People went nuts for these illustrations. That overwhelmingly positive response gave him an idea, as in if people loved this handful of images this much they might really go crazy over a whole book of Beatle inspired art. Soon after he approached many of the leading graphic artists of the time including David Hockney, Ralph Steadman and Peter Max, and asked if they would be interested in creating pieces of art based on specific Beatle songs. In nearly every case the answer was a resounding YES. It’s amazing to think that at that point The Beatles were so almighty and ubiquitous and had such cultural cache that well known artists in a completely different medium literally jumped at the opportunity to make art about The Beatles art. It was meta before they actually called stuff meta. Aldridge offered the eager artists a list of songs to choose from and those that didn’t get chosen, he would illustrate himself. He also posted multiple ads soliciting fan art to potentially include as well. And so The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics was born.
This is the 1967 Observer cover that started it all.
I met this book by accident. My Mom’s book collection was housed in a tall shelf at the foot of a staircase. The bottom half featured a set of World Book Encyclopedias from 1973 and a myriad of books about antiques. The higher shelves featured more adult fare including Nancy Friday’s “My Secret Garden” ( for those unfamiliar, a then bestseller featuring explicit true life sexual fantasies written by what seemed to be hundreds of suburban housewives) as well as several romantically themed horoscope books ( “Sexual Astrology” anyone?). The books in this “adult section” were the absolute epitome of the beige but swinging seventies. My brother and I had been warned not to touch anything on those top shelves. She’d made it implicitly clear that the books “up there” were “not for children”. That was all the incentive I needed to pursue some in depth exploration. Without really saying anything, Mom had said too much. With that admonition, I made it my mission to get on a step ladder and/or literally use the shelves themselves as steps to examine these illicit books at the top of the mountain whenever she went out. And that’s how I first got my hands on The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics. I knew who the Beatles were, had heard songs on the radio but I hadn’t truly discovered them yet. I was a late pop music bloomer and to be frank didn’t know very much until I turned 10 or so (read about the epiphany here). Still I was inexorably drawn to this book. It was the biggest book on the top shelf and it had a cartoon on the cover. It was essentially a picture book. My attraction to it couldn’t have been greater if it had been covered in chocolate. And so down it came into my kid hands every chance I got.
I experienced a tiny surprise unrelated to it’s content when I opened it for the first time. Inside the front cover was a crumbling, dried, pressed rose. This book clearly had some secret sentimental value to Mom. Not that I cared, the most important thing I noted upon this discovery was that if I made one wrong move, the flower would slide and rain out of the book in tiny pieces like confetti . So whenever I took it down from that initial point forward, I would sit on the staircase in front of the bookshelf, gently lay it across my lap and read it in a gravitationally sensible way to ensure nothing happened to the flower thus further ensuring that Mom wouldn’t find out that I was perusing her “dirty” books ( because of course in my ridiculous, paranoid little peanut brain, I assumed she was actually dusting for fingerprints and checking to see if books had been shifted around every day. I was an idiot).
The book is laid out simply. There are Beatle lyrics with accompanying illustrations next to them ( or nearby). Some are literal, some are visual interpretations only the actual artist could explain the meaning of. But there is a consistent visual that makes itself known pretty quickly.
Breasts. This book is absolutely brimming with them. Nearly every song’s accompanying artistic interpretation features a breast depiction. There are more breasts in this book than there are pictures of Ringo ( this is not an exaggeration, if you feel like counting you’ll see). To a lot of people, The Beatles were clearly SEX.
And so inevitably there is also some tasteless, misogynistic shit in this book. Though as a child I wasn’t conscious of it and didn’t fully comprehend what I was looking at, the weird subversiveness of some of the art. I took everything at face value. Check out the faces below representing “Dr.Robert”, “Sexy Sadie” and “Helter Skelter” respectively.
Beatles = Breasts
Questionable but know what, I totally love these. Helter Skelter is Helter Skelter.
Of course initially, my absolute favorite works were the ones with the actual Beatles in them. Especially Alan Aldridge’s ridiculously colorful, cartoony and psychedelic ones. I wasn’t even close to what you’d call a Beatle fan at that point, owned no Beatle records, and they were long broken up…but the gravitational pull of even their mere images was indescribably strong, especially the McCartney visage ( it’s official, Paul is magic). I still think the Aldridge depiction of “There’s A Place” (below) is better than the actual song.
I quickly developed favorites and it wasn’t long before I started getting out my tracing paper and copying stuff so I could look at them in the privacy of my room. Not just the ones depicting Beatles, oh no, but the ones of cartoon eyeballs murdering each other. A young man with enormous sideburns making out with an old lady. A “Taxman” eating humans and expelling them in just the unpleasant way you might think. The tightly buttock-ed “Mr Kite”. I could not stop staring at this shit. And so no one was safe from my pencil.
I’m gonna say it: Mr.Kite has a nice ass.
As I got older, I inevitably grew weary of the book, wasn’t moved or shocked by it anymore and forgot about it, meaning I didn’t look at it much, if at all, once I was a teenager. Little did I know it was too late, it had infiltrated my mind forever and was never going to go away even if I never looked at it again. To this day, I love (live) to draw ( in ballpoint pen mostly) and I can see this book in literally everything I make, I can’t deny it. It’s in me.
Yeah, that one in the lower left hand corner is Paul McCartney, so we’ve come full circle. In fact my Mom has recent drawings I did of John Lennon and George Harrison hanging in her house. Drawings directly inspired by the ridiculous book she attempted to warn me off.
A friend was in the UK recently visiting his in-laws and mentioned that his elderly father in law insisted on gifting him with a book from his vast home library. The book was not of his choosing. He was specifically offered a vintage copy of…The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics. The fact that his 80-something father in law thought that this particular book was important enough to make a special show of giving it to him as a keepsake, well, I took it as a weird yet beautiful affirmation. The book is of it’s time, it’s a wonderful mess of sometimes questionable, sometimes beautiful imagery: a truly oddball timepiece.
To close, here’s my favorite piece (below). It’s by French artist Jean-Michel Folon and accompanies the lyrics to “Blackbird” in the book. It’s both sad and optimistic and it’s relationship to the song is loose and interpretable. It’s the blankest, emptiest piece in the whole book …but at the end of the day kind of says it all.
Initially “Write Home” feels as languid as floating on a still lake in the summer, all wistful, dreamy, and slowly jangling, the mood accentuated by a muted horn floating hazily in the background. It’s like something off the first Everything But The Girl album, “Each and Every One” in particular, but fuzzier at the edges…at least for a minute. It ultimately shape shifts into a more urgent, shoegazey shuffle and says goodbye in a gloriously tuneful coda that manages to be both sad and life affirming. Beauty.
“Ricochet” is so utterly evocative of a time and place, namely a moody, hot summer night in NYC in the early eighties, that if I didn’t know for a fact it was made in 2019, I would swear it was born in 1983. It’s beauteous and melodic lo-fi soul brings to mind not only Arthur Russell, early Prince and those amazing N.E.R.D. ballads off their own debut album but also the lush and glowing vibe of 80’s UK funksters Freeez …which is all to say it’s really kind of gorgeous. Make sure and check out the equally fine “It’s Alright, Goodbye” below, another track off his new album “Blissed Out”. Nick refers to himself as a “hook master”. He ain’t wrong.
And if you feel like further immersing yourself in the aforementioned plush night time feeling, here’s Freeez doing their moody, slick and delicate synth best from 1983:
It rained a ton here in NY this week and honestly it was kind of awesome. It meant I could “rock” my official rain playlist for several days and get completely immersed in a full on, all consuming moody rain experience. I am a complete rain nerd. The songs in my rain playlist are not necessarily about rain nor do they generally feature the word “rain” in their titles. Mostly they just feel like rain and have had some weird association with rain in my life. I don’t know if that makes sense but best way I can describe it is when I first heard Paul McCartney’s semi-soulful/slightly weird ballad “Arrow Through Me”, the last song on side one of 1979’s”Back To The Egg”as a young one, there was a thunderstorm happening outside. And so from that moment on it officially established itself as a “rain song”. And so as a result of this recent weather, some of the songs within the latest weekly New Wonders Playlist have the potential to end up on the old rain playlist which I swear to all the bands involved is a compliment of the highest order and not a remotely unhappy association. Rain on.
Listen on Soundcloud here:
Listen on Spotify here:
As a young person I loved Phil Collins. Loved him. And so I did what “every” nerdy teen loser girl does ( um, yeah): I drew pictures of him. Yes, they were my secret love songs to Phil and I showed them to no one. It was just between he and I. I especially loved bearded Phil during his Genesis years and the drawing you see here was my attempt to depict him in the most suave and romantic way possible using both pencil AND pen ( she’s crafty). Please don’t be scared, it’s only a drawing.
Now it’s time to honor THE most wonderful pop songs from over the past week which is to say here is the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST, organized with love for you.
A little alternative 90’s, a little pop-prog, there is something very stadium anthem about “Your Honey” but in the best possible way, as in it’s got a fat tuneful chorus, a chunky guitar foundation and is topped by Rose Yagmur’s f-you absolutely kick ass vocal. And really what more do you need.
Britt aka Brittany Johnson has an unusually delicate and fragile voice, one that sounds like it could go off the rails at any second. In “Trial Period” it floats over an even louder bit of melodic guitar jangle and is best exemplified in the handsomely off kilter bridge near the end. And the first verse mentions giving someone the finger, always a welcome sentiment. The whole thing is reminiscent of wondrous, early 80’s, UK, low-fi post punk trio Marine Girls and is off her exceptional new ep “Kill the Man”. Speaking of which, please have a listen to “Handle It” another super fine track from it below.
Here is beautiful Michael Hutchence from back in the day stocking up. Reason he’s here is because there is a new documentary currently showing at the Tribeca Film Festival called “Mystify” about his life which is pretty special and I wanted to recommend you go check it out when you get the chance.
And so here for you is a small stack of music, a week late due to some technical difficulties here at Picking Up Rocks headquarters (that’d be my house and the culprits would be a large phone company that begins with the letter V). It’s an oddly subtle pop style playlist, both cooly insidious and mighty fine. Please dig in and find your new favorite song. They’ll never tear us apart.
Listen on Soundcloud:
Listen on Spotify: