The Most Underrated Albums OfAll Time
Mon 12th Nov, 2012 in Features
September’s list of the Most Overrated Albums of All Time provoked a strong reaction to say the least. “Worst fucking list ever,” was how one Facebook user responded. Another threatened to kill us with rat poison. But to prove we’re not complete jerks, here’s its promised follow-up: A list of 50 albums that never really received the recognition – whether critically or commercially – they deserved. The records in this list fall mostly into one of three categories: unfairly maligned, overshadowed by the rest of the artist’s output or just obscure and therefore criminally underappreciated. We’ll be revealing 10 each day, with the Top 10 unveiled at the end of the week.
50. Life Without Buildings – Any Other City (2001)
It’s no surprise Sue Tompkins is an artist. Her words spray out like abstract brushstrokes on this one-of-a-kind album; the only one recorded by this short-lived Scottish band. Her scattershot, stream of consciousness delivery was hard for some to digest – one NME reviewer likened it to “animals dying in agony” – but Tompkins was a true original in the same way Jim White dances to the beat of his own drum. And speaking of the Dirty Three, her backing band of three fellow art graduates wasn’t half-bad either, providing the spiky post-punk backdrop for her to spit such endearingly fractured rhymes. Appreciated in Greece and Australia, but (criminally) nowhere else. – Darren Levin
49. My Chemical Romance – Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge (2004)
My Chemical Romance have a legitimate claim to being the most hated emo band ever (my money, however, is on Panic! At The Disco). And yet Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge is the best thing to have ever come out of that aesthetic ghetto. Just prior to descending into caricature with The Black Parade MCR delivered an improbable mix of punk, metal, glam, pop and – yes – emo that felt both innovative and intuitive, and pretty fucking exciting.
Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge announced Gerard Way as one of the best rock singers going around, delivering his gymnastic melodies with a startling, albeit hammy, sense of conviction (exhibit A: ‘The Ghost of You’). Meanwhile, guitarists Frank Iero and Ray Toro married Kirk Hammett-esque shredding with some of the most inventive arrangements this side of Television’s Marquee Moon. Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge could’ve been huge: Coming from a bunch of mascara-smeared sad-sacks, though, it never stood a chance. – Edward Sharp-Paul
48. The Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight (1980)
English songwriter Robyn Hitchcock has certainly had an illustrious career, but at risk of being overlooked is the cult-classic album his band The Soft Boys put out in 1980 before splitting up (the first time). It leads with one of the all-time-best power-pop anthems in ‘I Wanna Destroy You’, laced with acid well beyond its title: “And when I have destroyed you, I’ll come picking at your bone/You won’t have a single atom left to call your own.” (No wonder it was covered by Circle Jerks.) The whole record flows with babble-like alacrity, mingling dank glam and psych seediness. ‘I Got the Hots’ starts as a bluesy prowl only to unravel in the second half, and ‘Old Pervert’ is happily subversive. Today Underwater Moonlight plays like the missing link between Syd Barrett and Bowie and R.E.M. and Teenage Fanclub. – Doug Wallen
47. Lost Animal – Ex Tropical (2011)
Seems kinda weird to have an album on here from last year, right? But for something that already feels like a classic, the debut for former St Helens frontman Jarrod Quarrell failed to make an impression beyond the tight-knit Melbourne community that adored it. There was no Australian Music Prize nomination. No Jagermeister Independent Music Award nod. No adulation from the overseas indie press, who seemed preoccupied with Pond and Twerps. No 9.2 from Pitchfork. Their loss. Ex Tropical is a true original, juxtaposing sunny calypso vibes with tortured lyrics in a similar fashion to the similarly underrated Amore del Tropico by The Black Heart Procession. Shag Chamberlain’s melodic bass, a drum machine, piano and synth provide the minimalist foundation for one of the coolest vocal performances this side of David Essex’s ‘Rock On’, while the shifting moods of ‘Lose The Baby’ and ‘Say No To Thugs’ prove there’s trouble brewing in paradise. – Darren Levin
46. Hot Hot Heat – Make Up The Breakdown (2002)
Make Up hints at the passion and precision for which Bloc Party were universally adored three years later, and is suffused with the exuberant pop flailing of classic weirdos like Talking Heads. For every hooky freakout (“BANDA JEZZ BANDA JEZZ!”) there’s a transcendent moment like the discordantly glowing swirl that punctuates opener ‘Naked In The City Again’.
Steve Bays’ creaking, yelping, hyperactive child of a voice still manages to express the unease and paranoia of being in your 20s, getting fucked up and failing at relationships and mucking with your self-perception. Lines like “I got my head shaved for her because she told me it would do all the right things for my identity” (‘Aveda’) can get lost in his ADD yowls and eccentric meter but show that even though they’ve fallen down the major-label black hole of accessibility in the ensuing decade (yes, decade), the Vancouver band made something emotionally raw and fun. In the same “revival” wave as the Strokes, but fundamentally different in mindset, stressing about their social failures instead of shrugging them off. – Caitlin Welsh
45. Lime Spiders – The Cave Comes Alive! (1987)
In the footsteps of Radio Birdman, Sunnyboys and The Scientists stood Lime Spiders, a band from south-west Sydney who came out of tumultuous beginnings to release their 1987 debut, The Cave Comes Alive. Continually struggling to hold down a steady line-up, their debut was a collection of forgotten gems from one of the richest veins of Australia’s garage history including the Stooges-indebted ‘Ignormy’, the fuzz ballad ‘Jessica’ and the career-defining ‘Just One Solution’. And yet despite praise from Iggy Pop and Joey Ramone, it somehow failed to make a lasting local dent. As one of the strongest rock relics of 1980’s Sydney, The Cave Comes Alive is a chronically underrated and forgotten record lost in time. – Max Easton
44. Supergrass – Life On Other Planets (2002)
Supergrass are often described as a “great singles band”. It’s a nice way of saying that their albums were patchy, and that they wrote hook-laden but facile pop. Firstly, there’s nothing wrong with hook-laden but facile pop, and secondly, it’s bullshit as Life On Other Planets attests. Sure, the singles are genius (‘Grace’ may be the best song called ‘Grace’ ever), but then so is the whole album. Few of Britpop’s leading lights survived the turn of the millennium with dignity intact (hello, Gallaghers). And yet here’s Gaz Coombes turning out masterful, breezy pop (from the glammy opening trio of ‘Za’, ‘Rush Hour Soul’ and ‘Seen The Light’ to the Beatles-y harmonies that close our ‘Run’), while bravely ignoring nu-metal, The Strokes and his band’s transition from Monkees-esque teen stardom to middle-ranking man-band status. And all anyone cares about is ‘Alright’. For shame. – Edward Sharp-Paul
43. Throwing Muses – The Real Ramona (1991)
This should have been the disc that propelled Throwing Muses into the same league as their proteges the Pixies. After three critically acclaimed albums and a near-hit with ‘Dizzy’, they made what was both their most polished and catchy effort and one of the weirdest guitar-pop albums ever. However, it ended up marking the end of the band as it was. Despite Kristin Hersh’s brilliant opener/lead single ‘Counting Backwards’ and stepsister Tanya Donnelly’s buzz-saw pop masterpiece ‘Not Too Soon’, a combination of a huge tax bill, management issues, Hersh’s schizophrenia and custody battle over her first son and internal issues saw Donnelly grab bassist Fred Abong and quit to form Belly, leaving Hersh and drummer Dave Narcizo to pick up the pieces. It should have been the next Doolittle, but instead The Real Ramona was a footnote to Donnelly’s brief but bright pop stardom. – Andrew P Street
42. Cee-Lo Green – Cee-Lo Green… Is the Soul Machine (2004)
Before he became Gnarls Barkley, before he swore his way to the top of the charts and before he became a parrot-toting judge on The Voice, Cee-Lo Green was a star. Or at least he should have been. He rose as a member of hip-hop cult heros Goodie Mob and joined OutKast (and others) in the southern/intergalactic supergroup Dungeon Family, but Cee-Lo could never contained by those groups and a solo career was inevitable.
His first solo album His Perfect Imperfections is a fine opening shot, but it’s crazy that 2004’s 75-minute opus Cee-Lo Green… Is the Soul Machine wasn’t his big breakthrough. Cee-Lo settled into a safer, more coherent sound once he teamed with Danger Mouse, but Soul Machine is a kaleidoscopic tour de force through soul and hip-hop, with Cee-Lo displaying a depth and versatility that proved he was capable of playing any character in the cast of modern urban music. Cee-Lo takes his name from a dice game and appropriately enough this is a record that rolls unexpected combinations of genres and voices. (He croons neo-soul, spits battle raps and belts out club tracks with equal dexterity and skill.) The album also harnessed the talents of producers including DJ Premier, The Neptunes and Timbaland, yet for all its dazzling array of styles and voices it failed to connect. Perhaps that bizarre cover that looks like Pen and Pixel on a particularly uninspired day put people off? Or maybe the world was just waiting patiently for a breakthrough soul single about mental illness based around a sample lifted from a spaghetti Western? – Tom Mann
41. The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan (2005)
Having perfected the garage album about four times over, The White Stripes were free to really explore here. Cue the marimba (‘The Nurse’), an overeager chorus (‘My Doorbell’), heaps of piano (‘White Moon’ et al) and an occult bluegrass romp (‘Little Ghost’). Get Behind Me Satan foreshadowed the restless genre-hopping and sour introspection of Jack White’s solo debut Blunderbuss (2012), as if he was still trying to challenge himself now that the band had infiltrated the mainstream. Just as much as White Blood Cells, this has a real dial-turning slipperiness to it, typified by how naturally the chalky Meg White interlude ‘Passive Manipulation’ gives way to ‘Take, Take, Take’. And let’s not forget one of White’s best ballads, ‘I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)’. – Doug Wallen
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