It’s a new year, and every Thursday, we’re going to be publishing a new list in this space. You guys like lists, right? Good! For our first one, we got to talking about Guided By Voices, who just released a pretty great album about 25 years after their first one. And that raised the question: How many artists are capable of releasing a great album a decade after their debut?
For this list — alphabetical, not ranked — we’ve come up with 10 different albums released exactly 10 years after their respective artists first debuted. The number 10 is a fairly arbitrary one, and it meant that we excluded a whole lot of artists who did great work nine or 11 years after they first started — which meant that we had to exclude great records like Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Prince’s Sign ‘O’ The Times, Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison, the Temptations’ Psychedelic Shack, Willie Nelson’s Shotgun Willie, and U2’s Achtung Baby, which almost fit the time-frame but didn’t quite work. (And I have to say: It drives me fucking nuts that Danzig’s self-titled debut came out 11 years, not 10, after the first Misfits single.) We also have to give special runner-up shout-outs to Sonic Youth’s Dirty, the Isley Brothers’ It’s Our Thing, and Too Short’s Get In Where You Fit In, which we had to bump for the albums you see listed below.
So here’s what we came up with. If we forgot anything, let us know in the comments section.
1. Beastie Boys – Check Your Head
This first entry fudges things a bit, since the teenage Beasties of 1982 looked nothing like the one that would release Licensed To Ill four years later. But they did release the ratty, rudimentary hardcore EP Pollywog Stew in 1982, which just shows you how ridiculously far this band came in a decade. Check Your Head wasn’t the trio’s best album — that’d be Paul’s Boutique, from where I’m sitting — but it did find them at the most interesting point of their evolution. They still had the punk-rap snarl of their early years, but they started mixing in live-instrumentation psych-funk and fuzz-rock, and even their furthest-out experiments had serious bite. And in terms of pure style, this was easily one of the most influential albums of the ’90s; nobody else mixed styles with anything like the Beasties’ glee and panache, and it’s still hard to imagine how skater/stoner culture would look without its guiding hand.
“So What Cha Want”:
2. David Bowie- Low
A decade after he debuted as a starry-eyed flower-child, Bowie had already gone through about a half-dozen different personas and deeply entrenched his shifting self into British rock’s iconography. With Low, he crashed down in Berlin and went to work alongside Brian Eno, beginning a trilogy of albums that pushed his voice into strange new places. Working through the pain of coke withdrawl and figuring out how to deal with the ideas he was hearing in Kraftwerk and krautrock records, Bowie put together exactly half an album of fractured, cerebral rock. But it’s the album’s second side, made up entirely of spacey but emotive wordless synth pieces, where Bowie truly left the planet behind.
“Sound And Vision”:
3. The Cure – Disintegration
The Cure arrived into the early-postpunk gestalt more or less fully formed; first single “Killing An Arab” is a small masterpiece of foreboding and bad faith. Still, it took the group a decade to fully tap into their vast reserves of warmth and beauty and really expensive keyboards. On Disintegration, a depressed and acid-dipped Robert Smith applied his pop-song chops to woozy and drawn-out song-structures, letting his sounds bleed into each other and creating a melting landscape of desperate wails and thudding bass-rumbled that congealed into some truly beautiful sugary melodies. And with “Lullaby,” he somehow pulled off the impossible task of cooing a song about a spiderman without conjuring images of Peter Parker.
“Pictures Of You”:
4. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
In 1967, the British blues-rock band Fleetwood Mac debuted with the single “I Believe My Time Ain’t Long.” Ten years later, the only remaining original member was drummer Mick Fleetwood, and the band had somehow become an expert California studio-rock crew. They had also developed some dazzlingly byzantine intra-band romantic tensions, and those tensions fueled the creation of this album. On the album, the band’s members sang, in stunning multi-part harmony, about falling in and out of love with each other. It’s amazing that those recording sessions, fueled by cocaine and conflicted feelings, produced anything remotely listenable, let alone an album as gleamingly crafted as this one. It went on to sell 40 million copies, which damn.
“Go Your Own Way”:
5. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On?
Total no-brainer here. As a vital cog in Motown’s hitmaking machine, Marvin Gaye had already released 10 solo studio albums in his first decade with the label, as well as another five LPs of duets, and various greatest-hits collections and live joints. But after the sudden death of frequent duet partner, Gaye pondered quitting music entirely, even trying out unsuccessfully for the Detroit Lions; imagine all the throwback jerseys they could’ve sold! When he put together this mournful, angry orchestral-soul title track, Gaye had to battle Motown founder Berry Gordy to release it. Gordy eventually gave in, convinced that it would flop. Nope. To Gordy’s credit, he immediately commissioned an accompanying album, and this dizzying song-cycle, sung from the POV of a returning Vietnam vet, was the result. Gordy may be one of the greatest minds in the history of American music, but the initial squabble over one of the greatest albums of all time is a rare stain on his record, along with the genetic existence of both members of LFMAO.
“Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”:
6. Michael Jackson – Off The Wall
Another slight fudge. MJ didn’t release his first single as a solo artist until 1971 (“Got To Be There,” awesome song). But in 1969, an 11-year-old Jackson whooped his way into worldwide consciousness as the main voice on “I Want You Back,” the Jackson 5’s too-classic-for-words debut single. 10 years later, a still-childlike Jackson linked up with jazz-pop genius Quincy Jones and found ways to internalize and explore the disco and funk beats that were running the world at the time. The music on Off The Wall is pure liquid joy, and Jackson navigated it with an awestruck innocence that still sounds heartbreaking. He might’ve already been one of the greatest dancers on planet Earth, but he still comes off as a kid just figuring out how his body works. And if you can’t throw on “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and set your party aflame, then your party sucks.
“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”:
7. R.E.M. – Automatic For The People
In the decade since their 1982 debut EP Chronic Town, R.E.M. had gone from mysterious Southern postpunk savants to college-rock road heroes to actual honest-to-god rock stars, the last arriving when Out Of Time reached the soccer-mom set. When they got to work on that album’s follow-up, they reportedly tried to make something built from the scuzzy blurts of the late-’80s underground. That didn’t happen. Instead, they somehow ended up with an uncommonly graceful and mature piece of arena-pop. Rather than letting go of the expansiveness and the mystique of their great ’80s output, they found a way for that stuff to sound great on adult-contemporary radio, a near-impossible feat. Some people still seem to be laboring under the impression that “Everybody Hurts” is somehow maudlin or hackneyed, but find me another radio-devouring monster with anything like that song’s dignity and majesty.
8. Roxy Music – Avalon
By 1982, Roxy Music had moved beyond glam-rock, Brian Eno, and the casual hedonism that had once placed them at the center of the pop-music universe. And on their final studio album, Bryan Ferry and his co-conspirators had reached the Platonic ideal of their glossy smooth-rock second phase. Avalon is all shimmery, ripply, incandescent texture, every last sound so blindingly clean that you could eat off of it. It’s the sound of Ferraris revving into the sunset, of white leisure suits in balmy Mediterranean nights. And it starts off with “More Than This,” an absolutely perfect sigh of a song that, thanks in part to Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola, may be the group’s greatest enduring legacy.
“More Than This”:
9. Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones
Waits started his career as a sozzled down-and-out lounge-singer type with a deeply ingrained gift for writing heartstomping melodies. But by the time he got around to releasing Swordfishtrombones in 1983, he’d discovered his inner junkyard lunatic. The music became a Beefheart-damaged circus-blurt that matched his own deranged growl and maybe raised it a couple of chips. But along with all the maniacal gibbering, he also gave us some of his tenderest drunken-blues koans. Other than Rain Dogs, no Waits album walks the line between the beautiful and the bizarre as adeptly as this one.
“Town With No Cheer”:
10. Stevie Wonder – Talking Book
Like fellow former Motown prodigy Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder celebrated a decade in the music game around the same time he turned 21. Talking Book came right in the middle of an absolutely unearthly run of Wonder albums — after Music Of My Mind, before Innervisions — and it found Wonder pushing his already-miasmic soul-funk sound further toward its most experimental edges. The softer moments, “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” in particular, are heart-stopping, but they coexist peacefully alongside Jeff Beck guitar flameouts and hard-funk workouts like “Maybe Your Baby.” And the album is also the home of “Superstition” a song that refuses to suck no matter how many times it appears in SUV commercials.
“You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”: