Fresh Music: Discovering Great Music From Yesterday and Today

I try not to be a stick in the mud about my musical preferences, as I’ve been known to happen across some fine artists in categories other than my favorites. Here are a few I’m happy to share.

Lizzo, Special (2022)

Talk about unexpected surprises! I’d never heard a Lizzo song until I checked out from the library a copy of her first album. I wasn’t blown away, a bit too much hip hop for me, but I thought she had an incredible voice and presence. I went ahead and listened to her recent album, Special. I was instantly blown away by the quality of the songs and production. Less hip hop and stronger musical arrangements, but don’t get me wrong, this is a very contemporary album and vibe, it does show off her voice better than her first album. This is definitely a dance album with seductive grooves.

I’ll admit, I know next to nothing about Lizzo, but I’m aware that she has a large following, especially those who identify with her thematic focus on inclusion and acceptance of who we are. “About Damn Time” won a Grammy for Record of the Year. The entire album is terrific.

Nektar, Remember the Future (1973)

Even though 1970s progressive-rock is a keen interest of mine, the German group Nektar was not on my radar, although most of the group members were not German. The group has disbanded and reformed numerous times through the years. A group of video bloggers who I follow recommended this album and I took a chance. Amazing album!

There are only two songs on the album for a total of 35 minutes of music. Each song fit on a side of vinyl. The CD copy I bought has a second disc, a live recording of the album. In the early 1970s, extra long songs were not uncommon.

I am unfamiliar with the music of Nektar beyond this album, but I want to discover other albums. The main songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist, Roye Albrighton, passed away in 2016. His guitar work on Remember the Future is amazing. I would compare this album to Yes’s Close to the Edge or early King Crimson.

Paul Weller, Fat Pop (2021)

I’ve been a Paul Weller fun since his days with The Jam, the the Style Council. As a solo artist, I found his early work unexciting, but very competent. I found him talented, but more of a U.K. artist and lost track of him. Again, a video blogger started talking about how great Weller’s recent solo music was, so I decided to give him another try.

Fat Pop shows off Weller’s amazing songwriting prowess. Weller’s career has embraced post-punk, blue-eyed soul, blues, blues, funk, and an appreciation of British folk music. Although he might not have the recognition of these composers, he certainly has the skills: Ray Davies, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Billy Joel.

Every song on this album has a distinctive and imaginative style. The songs brim with pop hooks and seductive melodies. He’s a terrific arranger, so he blends strings, horns and background singers, similar to his best work with the Style Council.

I used to think that Weller, Chris Rea, Nick Lowe, and Mike Scott (Waterboys) were too Commonwealth for American audiences: themes too GB, styles of dancehall days, visuals that don’t translate well, etc. Listen with an open mind, turn off your cultural filters and embrace something new.

Fountain of Wayne, Sky Full of Holes (2011)

The phrase, power pop, could have been created to describe these guys. I’d not heard of them until they were mentioned by a video blogger that I trust. I found a copy of Sky Full of Holes and really enjoyed the jangly, riffing guitars, which instantly reminds me of the mid 1960s.

Sky Full of Holes has a fun sound, with those riffy songs. It’s too bad this was the last album as the two driving forces of the band split. I found several of the band’s earlier albums and bought two of them.

Todd Rundgren, Space Force (2022)

A rock and roll dinosaur, Todd Rundgren keeps on recording and touring as if it’s the 1970s. I believe this Rundgren’s 26th studio album. In recent years, Rundgren’s output has been a mixed bag, but I’ve never given up.

Space Force is a group of collaborations with other artists. Unfinished songs were taken from others, which were finished by Rundgren. I rather like this effort, in part because it is so diverse, and pushes Rundgren in some interesting musical directions. It’s funky, soulful, silly and at times rocks harder than his past efforts. The album has some modern sounds and grooves, but is very much Rundgren.

If you like Rundgren, you’ll at least be intrigued by this album. Only one or two songs are weak; this could be Something/Anything? Part 2. I’m not saying it’s as good or groundbreaking, but it has that type of variety and is very pop-oriented.

The Verve, Forth (2008)

I’m a little late to the party with The Verve, a band mostly in the 1990s, but reformed in the 2000s for a brief run. How to describe this band? A cross between The Doors and The Cure. Psychedelic rock, spacey guitar-driven effects, and haunting vocals. I briefly remember The Verve in the late 1990s, and I thought about a song I heard, but couldn’t recall the name.

I found a YouTube video about the band and that led me to the album, Forth. Their music is dark, but not Goth rock. It’s mostly dark in tone, not lyrics or visuals. The band had a huge hit with “Bitter Sweet Symphony” in 1997, but got screwed out of the publishing because they were sued for sampling part of an unused string arrangement on a Rolling Stones song. Stones manager Allen Klein took 100 person of the royalties. Decca, the Stones record label gave The Verve permission to the sample, but Klein sued anyway. After Klein’s death, his son, along with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards gave the rights back to The Verve.

As an indie-rock band of the 1990s, you get the dreamy, jangling guitars, but not the poppy, ear candy variety. If pop was turned inside-out, you’d have The Verve.

There is a point to the often slow, haunting and melancholy songs, that’s where I see The Doors connection. Vocalist Richard Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe create spooky soundscapes, something I might recall from a late night, party when I was in junior high. The kind of music where the parents would keep coming downstairs to turn the lights back and make sure the kids weren’t getting too “friendly.”

On Forth, I really like “Love is Noise,” “Valium Skies” and “Sit and Wonder.”

2 thoughts on “Fresh Music: Discovering Great Music From Yesterday and Today

  1. Nice and eclectic selection of tunes. Even though I was born and grew up in Germany, other than their name, I don’t know anything about Nektar. While I can’t say prog-rock and I have become close friends, I do like some prog rock bands like Genesis and Yes. That particular track by Nektar sounds pretty good as well.

    But the biggest surprise on your list is Lizzo. While I have, of course, heard of her and like that she represents body-positivity in a society I feel oftentimes obsessed with weight, I’ve pretty much ignored her music. However, I have to say the track you highlighted has a pretty seductive groove!

    Liked by 1 person

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