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1986 top albums

May 14, 2012

My favorite albums from 1986

Originally appeared in the Rochester, Minn., Post-Bulletin, Jan. 10, 1987

1. KING OF AMERICA, The Costello Show

This decision came after weeks of deliberation. Had Costello taken the best of this and BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE and combined it into a double album of reasonable length (the records combine for almost two hours of playing time), it would have been the best of the decade. As it is, KING OF AMERICA provides enough depth for hundreds of listens. Welcome back, Elvis. Or Declan. Or Napoleon.

2. BIG WORLD, Joe Jackson

In his overview of the ugly parts of the post-World War II big world, Jackson provided the most adventurous and most mature record of his career. He gets points for both style (two records, three sides; recorded live with no audience noise; eight-language lyric sheet) and pulling off a weighty concept.

3. SKYLARKING, XTC

Speaking of weighty concepts … how about life, beginning to end? The British trio that won’t tour (due to leader Andy Partridge’s nervous condition on stage) continues to put in its bid for becoming the Beatles of this time. Great stuff.

4. GRACELAND, Paul Simon

Again, debating the politics surrounding this album doesn’t seem as important as listening to its message. Simon delivered black music in a subtle way to many white Americans. He loses points, though, for seeking corporate sponsorship of his proposed tour supporting the album.

5. LONDON 0, HULL 4, Housemartins

Those regretting the demise of the once-fantastic pop of Squeeze may have found relief in this bright British quartet. Their fine sense of lyricism, humor and music combined for the most entertaining debut since … the Smithereens’? (See below.) They also put out an album’s worth of non-LP B-sides on some fine British extended-play singles during their prolific year.

6. CANDY APPLE GREY, Husker Du

Many of the group’s long-time fans criticized this, their major-label debut, as the ultimate sellout. From here, it looked like yet another excellent effort from the amazing, ever-improving, prolific Minnesota trio. Since when is progress considered selling out? An example of yet another Minnesota-based recording act you’ll never hear on Minnesota radio — at least until they make a movie. Keep your eyes out for their all-new double-LP set, due soon.

7. ESPECIALLY FOR YOU, Smithereens

Likable pop music isn’t dead, it simply exists quietly in places like this. Deliciously meaty pop, owing as much to the Who as the Beatles. How many unrecorded bands like this are hanging around New York? Or Los Angeles? Or Rochester?

8. EYE OF THE ZOMBIE, John Fogerty

Me, I thought CENTERFIELD came down a little too much on the fluffy side. This contains everything I ever liked about Creedence Clearwater Revival, not to mention Fogerty’s early solo work.

9. ELEMENT OF LIGHT, Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians

Seductive in its quality, Hitchcock toned down his dark sense of the absurd enough so even the masses could have been entertained. Predictably enough, the record never made Billboard’s top 200. Well, for those few who have had the pleasure of listening to Hitchcock’s work this year or in previous years: Hi. Isn’t he great?

10. HOME IN THE HEART OF THE BEAT, Beat Rodeo

Another band led by a Minnesotan (Steve Almaas), yet lacking much publicity in this state. An enjoyable pop record, a bit more layered than last year’s excellent STAYING UP LATE WITH BEAT RODEO. But still good stuff. For those who care, this is the only band to make my top 10 lists each of the last two years.

11. THE SPECKLESS SKY, Jane Siberry
12. LIFES RICH PAGEANT, R.E.M.
13. BLACKBERRY WAY, Idle Strand
14. EXPRESS, Love and Rockets
15. MEDUSSA, Xymox
16. THE MOON AND THE MELODIES, Cocteau Twins and Harold Budd
17. EVOL, Sonic Youth
18. CONTROL, Janet Jackson
19. FILIGREE AND SHADOW, This Mortal Coil
20. THE WAY IT IS, Bruce Hornsby and the Range

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