The Jimi Hendrix Experience: “Axis: Bold as Love”
This is both Hendrix’s best and least-known album. For most people, the only familiar song will be “Little Wing,” and even then it may only be recognizable from another artist’s cover version. There’s an impressive range to Hendrix’s songwriting, and his playing is somehow both a bit more understated than usual and as innovative as you’d expect. High points include the cool rainforest shimmer of “Up From the Skies” and “One Rainy Wish,” and the head-bobbing drive of “You Got Me Floatin’,” but really—if you ignore the first two minutes of side one (a strange bit of radio theater that probably made sense at the time)—there’s not a weak link to be found.
With a sound more like Black Sabbath than Black Flag, Saint Vitus wasn’t really a great fit for their label, LA-based hardcore/punk specialists SST. The band’s early albums (of which this is one) serve as the prototype for the “doom metal” subgenre that emerged in the ‘90s: murky guitars, plodding tempos, sword-and-sorcery-themed lyrics. True, it all seems played out now, but there was still some life left in it back in 1985. I remember being pretty enthusiastic about Saint Vitus for a while in high school; then they changed singers and I stopped caring about them.
A deeply underrated album, The Final Cut had the twin misfortune of being Pink Floyd’s followup to The Wall (which is probably one of rock’s most overrated albums), and of allowing Floyd fans four long years to imagine what that followup would sound like; by then, just about anything was bound to disappoint. Musically, this album might have more in common with the version of the group that reunited in 1987, but lyrically, it continues The Wall’s exploration of unresolved (and perhaps unresolvable) emotional loss. Parts of it are so good, I can almost even forget that it also contains some of the most trite lyrics ever pressed on vinyl (“And no one kills the children anymore”? Seriously?).
There are four or five Miles Davis albums that changed jazz; E.S.P. isn’t one of them. However, it is a landmark for introducing Miles’ second great quintet (Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams), and is a compelling bit of foreshadowing of what the group would end up accomplishing. More than any individual performance or track, I’ve always loved the tone that Shorter, Hancock and Carter each got on this album – rich and round, but not imposing.
One of the things that interests me most about this record is how my appreciation of it has changed over the years. When it was new and I was young, I responded best to the snottier tracks, the more in-your-face the better (“Takin’ Retards to the Zoo,” “Rastabilly,” “Tiny Town”). But now it’s the more subtle (well, by Dead Milkmen standards, anyway—nuance was never really their bag) songs that barely got a second listen from me in 1986 that hold my attention, especially “Serrated Edge,” with its bubbling bass line and references to Charles Nelson Reilly, and the swirling and trippy “Spit Sink,” for reasons that I still cannot quite determine. Go figure.