On our first “Underrated Albums” epipod, we’re sharing two albums that are scandalously under-appreciated. This is the opposite of the pretentious indie rocker touting an album no one would understand even if they could find it. These are albums we’re dying for the world to hear. For whatever reason, these gems didn’t make it into everyone’s CD catalog or playlist, but it’s never too late.
You can buy Oh Tall Tree In The Ear by Roman candle online at Bandcamp, or listen to Queen Sarah Saturday on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. You can listen to Roman Candle on those platforms as well, but just go buy it.
Before they reached international stardom thanks to the song “’74-’75,” The Connells were something of a regional favorite to music fans along the Eastern seaboard. Man, could they pack a house. The band composed some of the most pop-centered, unforgettable, singalong songs of the late-’80s and ’90s — ANYWHERE. It also didn’t hurt that they came across — even on stage — as just normal dudes. They even looked the part. Nowhere was this devotion to catchy melodies more emphasized than on their third album, “Fun & Games.” Mention The Connells today to someone of a certain age in Virginia or the Carolinas, and there’s a very good chance this is the album that comes to mind. You can still see the album cover on t-shirts to this day. If that’s not lasting power, we don’t know what is.
In our second ever “Listener’s Choice” epipod, we take the Wayback Machine to 1998 when boy bands ruled the world. More specific, NSYNC took the pop world by storm with their debut album. This was the world’s first glimpse of Justin Timberlake, but NSYNC was more than just JT. In fact, they were a perfectly constructed boy band of the finest ilk — even if the group didn’t reach its full potential until later offerings. But “NSYNC” is a 13-song “how to” album chock-full of the boy band formula: pop gold (“Tearin’ Up My Heart” and “I Want You Back”), soulful ballads (“(God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time on You”) and even Euro dance hall beats (“I Need Love”). It was a syrupy, uber-produced glimpse of what was to come … and it was quite the appetizer.
You couldn’t get away from Radiohead’s radio hit “Creep” when it was released on the world in 1992-93. Not even the band could escape the clutches of such a megahit. So they did what any self-respecting band – a band inspired by the DIY ethos the likes of R.E.M. – would do with their next album, which was released in 1995. “The Bends,” the follow-up to “Pablo Honey,” is a tour de force album that 25 years later holds up as perhaps one of the most complete and wonderful albums of all time. The guitar virtuosity of Jonny Greenwood is complemented by the paranoid vocals of Thom Yorke. Oh, and the rest of the band is pretty freaking incredible, too. If people came listening for the next “Creep,” they were sorely mistaken. And thank God for that.
Thirty years after it was released, “Disintegration” by The Cure remains a Goth masterpiece. It was Robert Smith’s answer to critics that his band (and, let’s be clear: it was HIS band) could still do moody, dark epics as well or better than anyone. No one was a bigger critic of Robert Smith than himself. So he brought it. It’s all there in its “Cure-iness.” Simon Gallup’s bass is the omnipresent driving low-end of the album. But it’s Smith’s lyrics about creepy lullabies, red-light districts, spidermen and, yes, even love that make “Disintegration” the masterpiece it remains today.
How does a band reach the pinnacle of both commercial and critical success, dominate the airwaves for a handful of years, only to disintegrate into the ether? That’s probably the question that has haunted the members of Līve for two decades now. The band’s second major album, “Throwing Copper,” was omnipresent on both pop and alternative radio. The video for “Lightning Crashes” was an MTV staple. And then? Poof! After some 8 million albums sold (and a couple of moderately successful follow-ups), they were seemingly gone from the radar. (It could have to do with the fact that in this Google/SEO world, the name “Līve” does not render easily on search engines. Shoulda thought that through, boys!) It’s a shame, really. “Throwing Copper” is everything good about quintessential 90s rock, highlighted by singer Ed Kowalczyk’s mystical/nebulous lyrics.
Geographic name-dropping, songs about Saabs and golf courses, and of course questions of love and faith. Vampire Weekend’s third album, “Modern Vampires of the City” showcased the band’s songwriting and song content growth – and was considered by many as the best album of 2013. But don’t fret: there’s still plenty of catchy hooks, popped collars and high-fallutin’ themes – the things we all tend to love Vampire Weekend for anyway.