My thoughts on Scaruffi's top 25
Updated: 1/27/11 - Comments made before then may no longer make any sense
I decided to make this list since Listology is one of the few places on the web where people will regularly write up essays on albums like Irrlicht and Rock Bottom. I have kind of a love/hate relationship with Scaruffi; I think he's very smart and doesn't really compromise his tastes, but I dislike his outright dismissal of 95% of the albums he comes across and his unwavering belief in the "perfect 10/10" which I think is a silly concept. His Beatles page is one of the most interesting music articles I've ever come across, if only because it's so totally, undeniably wrong on so many counts, that you could not believe that this guy has actually been published. It flat out states that music worth is in 18-minute tone poems, and definitely not in 3-minute pop songs. I disagree with that a lot, but you have to wonder what possesses a man to write a 20-page essay on how much the Beatles suck. I didn't really get it until I saw this quote on his Britney Spears page:
"If you like the Beatles, then Louisian-born teen-idol Britney Spears is a milestone in popular music. If you think the Beatles were the biggest rip-off of all times, then... they were the second biggest. The biggest is Britney Spears, a trivial singer and a trivial dancer who has mastered the art of copying the trends, although a product on which the music industry has lavished millions of dollars to create an overnight sensation."
Ouch. This reveals that the man has absolutely no idea why people like the Beatles besides "they're stupid". If anything, this makes Scaruffi more intriguing to me...the man's written so much about music it could take years to read it all, but he cannot understand for the life of him why people enjoy the Beatles! So you know that his "top albums" list has to be interesting.
One more thing, and this is worrying: he grades four Britney Spears albums, yet does not mention any song outside of the hits on his webpage. Does he actually listen to all the albums he scores? His 'all artists' index states he has reviewed over 8,000 different bands - that's a band a day for nearly 22 years! How does he find the time? Where does he get all these albums? Is he listening to new albums 4 hours a day and immediately doing a write-up? How can he claim that his favorite albums take time to get into when it's impossible for him to have put in that kind of time to any of the other albums he reviews?
Anyways, he's got a "top 25" list up here:
(Don't be fooled. It's only 25.)
In order to be considered a knowledgeable person around here, you should probably know all 25. I don't know all 25. But, God and budget (or bandwidth) willing, I'll track 'em all down and record my thoughts here. Basically, my thought coming into this list was that most of these albums would be pretty difficult. I decided to comment on the ones I have based on how good I find the albums to be, and how difficult they actually turned out to get into. Maybe my vision is skewed but I think some lists claiming some of these albums as being "high difficulty" are way off the mark. Weird does not equal difficult. "Cotton Eyed Joe" is very weird and yet it sold a billion copies. Hell, avant garde does not even equal difficult.
Okay, let's take it from the top!
#1: Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica:
Quality: Pretty damn high. May rate it 4.5 or 5, and I really can see why someone would list this as their favorite album of all time. Very off-kilter and unique with some real killer material.
Difficulty: 5/10. It's not really an inaccessible album. You know what you're getting into; the songs still have rhythms, melodies, and lyrics. The goofiness is actually what makes it so accessible in my eyes. I have friends that love this album who don't listen to much outside of pop/alternative music. I liked it on first listen; after about fifteen I kind of stopped listening. But it's a great album!
#2: Robert Wyatt - Rock Bottom.
Quality: Very high. I'm a fan of Wyatt and this may be his best. Has a surrealism that I don't really see in many other albums, as though it's the audio equivilent of a Kubrick movie.
Difficulty: 6/10, low for a Scaruffi pick, but too off-kilter to just recommend to anybody. It's easy on the ears though.
#3: Faust - Faust.
Quality: Rated 4.5/5 on the Faust page...I'm a fan.
Difficulty: 8/10. There are some neat musical sections on first listen but essentially this is pieced together by collage and features very few written-sounding parts. Its sense of humor prevents it from going higher.
#4: Velvet Underground - Velvet Underground and Nico.
Quality: It's good but I feel it's overrated. I dig the pop tunes; the noisier parts were very influential but strike me as ugly and harsh, but they're intriguing. I don't like Nico's voice at all.
Difficulty: 7/10. The pop songs balance this out a lot. Anyone can enjoy the first two tracks. But I don't know many who would willingly subject themselves to Nico's voice on a regular basis.
#5: The Doors - The Doors.
Quality: Very good, basically a classic. Morrison is one of the prototypical rock frontman; wild, big range, and very comfortable in the drivers seat.
Difficulty: 2/10 for most of this. Everyone knows pretty much all of this album. "The End" probably gets a 8+/10. I suspect that's the main reason why so many of you guys like it.
#6: Popul Vuh - Hosianna Mantra.
#7: Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance.
Quality: Seems around a 4/5 for me - some great songs, a cool approach, and they're not afraid to mix in the avant-garde. Plus, I dig Dave Thomas' voice, as unhinged as it may be. Very cool album with some snappy and catchy tunes. Sounds like Faust gone New Wave.
Difficulty: 5/10. As in, it's not really, since Thomas is easy to enjoy even if you don't like the sound of his voice. Some elements drag this up a point ("Sentimental Journey" and the offputting beginning to the album).
#8: Royal Trux - Twin Infinitives.
Quality: Really could not tell; this is one ugly, lo-fi recording.
Difficulty: 10000000/10. Basically an aural pileup of shit. This is exactly the type of album that gives people Scaruffi-phobia.
#9: John Fahey - Fare Forward Voyagers.
#10: Nico - Desert Shore. I've heard a lot of good things about this album, but I still don't know if I'd actually enjoy Nico solo. Wilson and Alroy give it 2 1/2 stars, for what it's worth.
#11: Tim Buckley - Lorca. Well, I have heard Starsailor....
#12: Red Krayola - Parable Of Arable Land. Seems like something I'd like.
#13: Klaus Schulze - Irrlicht.
Quality: Not too many albums can capture the "birth of the universe" the way this one can. Very evocative and almost terrifying. I love the cheap, recorded orchestra noises; they add to the album in a way I bet Schulze hadn't counted on. But it still makes me uncomfortable instead of awe-struck half the time; also I can never remember a damn thing about the other monster track.
Difficulty: 9/10. With only a few actual "notes" this is a hell of a journey of avant-garde electronic squiff. The whole second half of "Satz" sounds like Klaus is sitting on his organ (heh heh heh)
#14: Nick Cave - The Good Son. Seems everyone likes Nick Cave. I'll have to check this out.
#15: Lisa Germano - Geek the Girl.
#16: Morphine - Good.
#17: Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde. I'll probably never be a real Dylan fan, but I do respect his work. I like what I've heard from this one so far.
#18: Neu! - Neu!.
Quality: Very good; this is a legendary, super influential album, though not perfect. I'm working on a Neu! page, why don't you check it out?
Difficulty: 4/10. Well, "Hallo Gallo" is something that I would think everyone could enjoy on some level. It's just so primal, so simple, and so driven, who wouldn't like that? And it is the key track here. But by the time Dinger shoves the whole microphone directly into his throat on "Lieber Honig" I would guess most people would be reaching for the stop button.
#19: Foetus - Nail.
#20: Suicide - Suicide.
Quality: Wow. Minimal synth-punk with some seriously disturbing vocals. Listened to this for the first time on an icy highway. "Frankie Teardrop" scared the living hell out of me; when you're nervous and jittery already, this song wil terrify you. Seriously nihilistic. I guess this is pretty good.
Difficulty: 8/10, which is high considering how minimal this album is. But I would guess most people would not really venture to go back.
#21: Van Morrison - Astral Weeks.
#22: Residents - Not Available.
Quality: Very loopy semi-pop album; lo-fi with a lot of overdriven instruments, creepy vocals and even some humor. I like it but I do prefer Duck Stab in the Hall of Residents.
Difficulty: 8/10. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone who wasn't specifically looking for something weird that requires a lot of listens to really understand.
#23: Pop Group - Y. I've heard it twice and did like it, especially "We Are Time". I like the idea of a more modern psychedelic band. These guys seemed really out there, and in a good way too.
#24: Vampire Rodents - Lullaby Land.
#25: Husker Du - Zen Arcade.
As has been pointed out, there's a huge tie at the end of the list, so there's really 16 more albums that have the same ranking but don't make it. Here are the ones I've heard:
Frank Zappa - Uncle Meat. Heard it once. (skipped the dialogue) This was definitely a good point of Zappa's career.
Minutemen - Double Nickels on the Dime.
Quality: Very high. 4.5/5 or thereabouts. This is one of the longest albums I own that could be considered "fast paced" and many of the songs are incredible.
Difficulty: 2/10. They have a simple and easy to love style; plus they wrote the "Jackass" theme...and Scaruffi LIKES them?
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless.
Quality: I think the hype was deserved. Very demented and twisted. Every time I listen to it, I get really restless, as there's a very unsettling feeling throughout the album. One of the most unique guitar sounds I've ever heard; and I love the closing track with its hip hop beat and distorted melody.
So it appears there's 41 total albums, and I'll try to get them all!