Gary Numan - Pure
I love it when music artists undergo a dramatic change of style and this is an excellent demonstration of this. From his New Wave synthesiser heavy background, Numan appears to have gone more down the lines of industrial metal, giving music that wouldn't be out of place filed next to the likes of Marilyn Manson. Given how dark some of the stuff he did with Tubeway Army was (the "Replicas" album for example seems utterly paranoid in places and songs like "Down at the Park" are enough to give you nightmares) the style suits him really well. There are enough echos of his early work here to make it clearly Gary Numan, but yet it's completely different in style. It's not as original as his earlier work, but it's an interesting change of direction.
Highlights include "One Perfect Lie", "A Prayer For the Unborn" and "Torn". However, it's in "Little InVitro" that it really all comes together. The song has all the sense of desperate depression of some of the best of his earlier work, but with a much darker edge to it. Numan has a remarkable ability to sing really over the top lines like "how in the world could we ever smile again" and sound like he means it.
Procol Harum - Homburg and Other Hats
I've never been a huge fan on the song "Whiter Shade of Pale", it's just a bit too twee for my liking, then again, so is Air on a G string, which the music is loosely based on. However, when I was at college I used to borrow CDs from the library to see what all the bizarre bands I'd never heard of sounded like, it was on one of these trips that excelsiora suggested borrowing a Procol Harum compilation CD and I heard some of the other work they did.
The followup single Homburg is much better losing the tweeness, but retaining the grandeur of "Whiter Shade of Pale". However, it's in their later work that they really seem to come together, their music gains a bit more of a punch to it and becomes more like Bach-infused late 60s rock.
"Repent Walpurgis" shows off what they were capable of from the start. It's an amazing blend of Hendrix style guitar and the Well-Temper Clavier. "A Salty Dog" is epic with it's emphasis on orchestral strings and piano effect. By the time of "Simple Sister", they'd lost the organist, but make up for it with a battle between heavy guitar and piano including an amazing instrumental where the strings decide they'll have a go as well. "Grand Hotel" harks back to their original grandeur, rock fused with a medley of ballroom music.
Radiohead - Pablo Honey
Radiohead are a band that were big when I was teenager. While I was aware of them when I was at school and had liked what I heard, it was only really when I started uni that I started to listen to them seriously. It was at that time, after the success of OK Computer in the run up to Kid A that they were probably at their biggest and they were certainly popular amongst friends in college.
The wonderful thing about Pablo Honey, being their first album, is that it's still rough around the edges and the Radiohead you hear is a Radiohead still trying to figure out what it is to be Radiohead. Right from the opening track "You", you can hear what was to come in the The Bends and OK Computer, but less clean cut.
Radiohead have never been one to hide from being bitter and twisted, but the levels of angst are off the scale here, especially with tracks like "Creep". It was a song that was regularly played on the jukebox in the college bar and it's got an impressive self-loathing aspect to it that the band don't quite manage to recapture in their later work.
Other highlights include "Anyone can play guitar" which wonderfully demonstrates some of the bands wild eccentricity and "Blow Out" which gives an amazing contrast of the rough Radiohead of Pablo Honey and the more polished stuff around the corner.
Radiohead - Kid A
After the success of The Bends and the excellent OK Computer, there was a lot of anticipation for Radiohead's next album. They could have done more of the same , but given the expectations would probably have disappointed sooner or later. However, they did something far more interesting instead and produced one of their best albums (I did mention that I like it when artists make a radical change in style didn't I?).
It's clearly Radiohead and there are strong echos of their previous work in tracks like "Optimistic", "How to Disappear Completely" and "Morning Bell". Even tracks like "Everything in its Right Place" and "Treefingers" where their more entering into the world of electronica still have a Radiohead feel to them.
Where this album really comes into it's own though is with tracks like "In Limbo" where an element of ordered chaos enters the scene. It's "The National Anthem" and "Idioteque" that stand out on this album for this very reason. "The National Anthem" is basically carried by a strong base rhythm and drum beat while on top you get wildly distorted vocals and a random discordant brass section. "Idioteque" is similar, being carried by the drum beat, but it has a far more synthesised sound allowing far more random things to happen in the for ground.
The growing success of Radiohead clearly gave them confidence to experiment and the massive success of OK Computer just sent them off on a complete tangent to reality with this one, but the result is something far better than anything they produced beforehand in my opinion, even if it takes a little longer to get into.
The Very Best of Talk Talk
Another interesting band that radically changed style. Initially signed by EMI to follow in the Duran Duran template and there early stuff sounds like generic New Romantic synth-pop with extra depth as a result. However, they developed more and more jazz and ambient leanings through there album, until the point where they decided to lock themselves in a disused church for 14 months to record an album which they would be unable to recreate on stage and which would produce no singles and fell out with EMI as a result.
I initially got curious about this lot having heard "It's My Life" and "Life's What You Make It" while I was a teenager, which both sound significantly different to much of the music that was around in the mid-80s and since. I managed to find this collection and later the Spirit of Eden album (the one from the church) in the city library while at uni.
Some of their early stuff has the obvious cringeworthy moments of the era, but these are relatively few compared to other New Romantic bands and even some of their first singles like "Have You Heard The News?" has echos of where they wanted to take themselves. Unfortunately, all the tracks from Spirit of Eden have been heavily edited, which is a shame as it's mostly their more interesting work. There is also nothing from the following album Laughing Stock, but as that was released on Polydor, it's unsurprising EMI didn't include it here.
The real highlights of the collection are ambient-jazz style "Eden" and "John Cope", as well as "Living in Another World" from The Colour of Spring (the Album immediately before the church).