Stereo Review In Review: September 1985

Between what feels like a busier-than-normal start to the school year and recently coming down with a cold (pretty sure it wasn’t COVID, thankfully), I haven’t been able to carve out much time for musings here as of late. I’m hoping I can change that going forward; here’s something I’ve been trying to work through all month.

I’m guessing this issue of SR arrived at my parents’ house in late August, and that I leafed through it not long before I took off for my senior year of college. There are some reviews (Dire Straits, Petty, plus one other that you can already guess) I distinctly remember seeing then.

Articles
A few pieces about speakers: how to go about purchasing them, what you should listen to when testing them, and a look at new technologies being developed in service of the reproduction of sound.

Basic Handel, by Stoddard Lincoln
In recognition of the tricentennial of George Frideric’s birth, SR presents an annotated list of recommended recordings for one’s collection.

This month’s reviewers are Chris Albertson, Phyl Garland, Louis Meredith, Alanna Nash, Mark Peel, Peter Reilly, and Steve Simels.

Best of the Month
–Bob Dylan, Empire Burlesque (SS) “Overall, however, the music suggests a kind of barely checked rage that is marvelously bracing. And it’s nice to have Dylan waxing apoplectic rather than apocalyptic for a change.”
–Sting, The Dream of the Blue Turtles (MP) “Now that Sting no longer has to invent an image for himself, this is the most relaxed music he has ever made…a less driven, quasi-jazz style that is clean, uncluttered, and gracefully low-key without being wimpy.”

Featured Reviews
–Sam Cooke, One Night Stand—Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 (PG) “For the first time on records, everyone can hear the gutsier Cooke who was known to those who followed his career from the beginning.”
–Suzanne Vega, S/T (SS) “…as haunting and powerful a (mostly) acoustic album as anybody has made in years. It’s a dark, obsessive cycle of songs about relationships and feelings in a poetic style that might be called Zen Jesuit.”  It took more than a year, but this review eventually led me to purchase Suzanne Vega, a key moment in my turn toward women singer-songwriters. It’s one of the SR pieces that’s had the most influence on my musical tastes (perhaps behind only that for Marshall Crenshaw’s debut, also penned by Simels three years earlier).
–Cris Williamson, Prairie Fire (AN) “Making unpredictable, breathtaking dips and turns, her urgent but sophisticated soprano is a ready guide on a joyous journey of the spirit, a journey that anyone who cares about personal identity, universal quest, or literate music will surely want to take.”

Other Disks Reviewed
–The Boomtown Rats, In the Long Grass (MP) “This is an album of mature mayhem that stops just short of head-knocking and glass-shattering.”
The Breakfast Club soundtrack (SS) “Masterminded by Keith Forsey, this record collects a bunch of extremely forgettable neo-New Wave time-wasters.”
–Eric Clapton, Behind the Sun (SS) “Well, the Eric Clapton (here) sure doesn’t sound like a bluesman. He sounds more like a cross between Toto and Air Supply.”
–Miles Davis, You’re Under Arrest (CA) “Fans may find some profundity in these grooves, but I hear not a trace.”
–Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms (MP) “It’s not the step forward Love Over Gold and Local Hero were. But even when Knopfler stands pat, he provides stimulating, thought-provoking, and entertaining listening.”
–Eurythmics, 1984 (MP) “The problem, of course, is that because 1984 succeeds so well in conveying the gloomy landscape of Orwell’s cautionary novel, there are virtually no ‘home applications’ for this record, unless you’ve got youngsters whose minds you want programmed for Big Brother.”
–Dan Fogelberg, High Country Snows (AN) “But—and this is a very important but—if you forget about pre-conceived notions and just enjoy what’s here, you’ll probably have a fine time.”
–The Kendalls, Two Heart Harmony (AN) “But to their credit…the Kendalls still manage to remain stalwartly themselves on this outing—they just sound a lot less old-fashioned, and a lot less like hicks.”
–Kathy Mattea, From My Heart (AN) “I’m not bowled over by the songs, but Mattea is a real find, and worth checking out.”
–Men at Work, Two Hearts (MP) “Hay’s songs here are awful—singsong, nursery-rhyme melodies and nonsensical, non-sequitur lyrics that grow more wearisome and annoying with each hearing…it’s growing increasingly clear that the tremendous success of Men at Work’s first album was a fluke.”
–Graham Parker and the Shot, Steady Nerves (SS) “His last album, The Real Macaw, found him both angry and tuneful, but this new one, disappointingly, finds him simply peevish.”
–Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Southern Accents (SS) “…a nearly unlistenable mess, easily the worst record of Petty’s career.”
–Rick Springfield, Tao (SS) “Somebody give this boy a massage and a couple of Valium, or at least take away his drum machines.”
–Dionne Warwick, Finder of Lost Loves (PR) “…while it’s now way past the days of ‘San Jose,’ there are still a few flickers of excitement when Warwick and Bacharach work together.”
–Willie and the Poor Boys, S/T (SS) “Still, everyone concerned seems to be having a good time, and as oldies tributes go, this one catches the sound of the music far more accurately than, say, Robert Plant’s recent Honeydrippers project.”
–Bill Withers, Watching You Watching Me (PG) “Although it has been five years since Bill Withers released an album, his singular sound, with its folksy, homespun quality and uninhibited sentimentality, is instantly recognizable on this new one.”
–Paul Young, The Secret of Association (MP) “Young is ostensibly a soul singer, but this is soul robbed of its humanity by production that can’t distinguish between tinkering and arranging.”

Video Reviews
–David Bowie, Serious Moonlight (LM) “The crack band Bowie assembled sounds awfully good except on some of the lusher, older material…(h)e also plays to the camera like the pro he is, though whether you find his emoting intense or merely hammy is purely a matter of taste.”
–Queen, The Works (LM) “Sure, the band’s music is utterly meaningless, big-budget arena-rock at its most contrived, but it’s so massively overproduced that you just know it’s being purveyed with a wink. Not so coincidentally, it’s also ideal video fodder…”
–Michael Stanley Band (LM) “…derives mostly from a concert in front of a hometown (Cleveland) crowd, and chances are that you’ll find it fairly tedious if you’re not a fan. Fortunately, though, the tape opens with three made-for-MTV videos, and they’re another story altogether.”
–Tears for Fears (LM) Three videos from The Hurting. “The common theme here is the quest for order and meaning in today’s complex world, and the emotions and anxieties that accompany it make for some pretty provocative music as well as some fairly seductive concept videos.”
–38 Special, Wild-Eyed and Live (AN) “Overall, this is a thoroughly professional job and one of the best concert videos on the market.”

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