Lord knows there are thousands of neglected albums out there worthy of a much kinder fate. We would probably have to dedicate every post for the rest of our natural (or is it, unnatural?) lives to correct such a wrong. Alas, this is not in the realm of possibility at this time. (What time would we have left for drinking and consorting with the opposite sex?) Anyway, this let's look into a few overlooked gems in the catalogs of artists whose output is quite well known, but for a variety of reasons these particular platters have fallen through the cracks. Here's a sampling (in alphabetical order by artist):
Done With Mirrors
With their health, creativity and popularity at an all time low and having to weather the departure of guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, Aerosmith hired replacements Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay and went about the business of releasing the much-maligned (but not all bad) Rock In A Hard Place [Columbia-1982]. After this incarnation of the band--for all intents and purposes--imploded immediately afterwards, the wheels were set in motion for a reunion of the original five. The fact that Perry and Whitford, respectively, weren't burning up the charts or setting attendance records on their own, surely made this a much easier proposition.
Now with the backing of a new label, their supposed comeback album Done With Mirrors met with a lukewarm response from both critics and fans alike. Which is quite surprising when you actually listen to it: the first half is a non-stop tour de force of classic Aerosmith raunch and swagger and none of the cheesy ballads that would subsequently propel them into the pop mainstream. It's rather telling that none other than The Replacements took to covering Done With Mirrors' "My Fist, Your Face" during their final tours. In the years since, Aerosmith have returned to their mid '70s popularity, and made bigger albums, but never better than this one.
The Man With The Horn
After changing the face of jazz half a dozen times in the three previous decades, Miles announced his retirement with the release of the groundbreaking live albums Pangaea and Agharta [both Columbia-1975]. So obviously, expectations were rather high when the man did an about face and returned in 1981.
Unfortunately, this was not one of his greatest moments: his playing is off and some of the tunes aren't up to snuff (the dismal title track, particularly). Factor in the Miles Davis legend and, of course, disappointment will run rampant. But nonetheless, this is an engaging album when judged on its own merits and away from the harsh light of Davis' monumental status. Opening track "Fat Time" (dedicated to his then-sideman, guitarist Mike Stern) is alone, well-worth the price of admission.
Sure, he's best known for penning "Living La Vida Loca", "The Cup Of Life" and "Maria" for Ricky Martin and his own stint in Menudo, but Robi Rosa is also a former member of acclaimed '90s L.A. funksters Maggie's Dream and an accomplished, risk-taking artist and performer in his solo work. Vagabundo is Rosa at his finest; rife with meticulous arrangements, crunchy guitars, Beatle-esque orchestrations and solid performances throughout.
A fantastic record in any language, it is one of the finest rock records ever recorded in Spanish. Definitely worth seeking out.
The Soul Cages
In one of the boldest moves ever seen in popular music, Sting left--at the time--the biggest rock band in the world to pursue his jazz-influenced solo muse in the mid '80s. Two albums into a very successful new career he released a dark, brooding album that reflected his immense grief over the then recent death of his parents (The Soul Cages is dedicated to his father; the previous album, Nothing Like The Sun [A&M-1987] was dedicated to his mother).
Almost every review we've read of this album makes us think that we somehow picked up a different record: while we found it to be mature, majestic and quite beautiful, the press for the most part dismissed it as a difficult, indulgent, sour-tasting album. And despite the public's positive initial response to the Police-like first single "All This Time", their enthusiasm for The Soul Cages cooled off soon after. A shame really, since those willing to immerse themselves in this set will be rewarded with some of the most striking pop music made in recent times and some of Sting's very best.
Highlights: "Mad About You", "Why Should I Cry for You?", the hauntingly sublime centerpiece "The Wild Wild Sea", the aforementioned "All This Time", and the title track.
Sandwiched between a fiery debut--Boy [Island-1980]--and their defiant, first masterpiece--War [Island-1983]--U2's sophomore effort is often forgotten among the more popular, influential and innovative albums that litter the Irish band's catalog. October is a simple record, albeit a passionate one.
While it has been said that perhaps U2 tried too hard not to succumb to the pitfalls of the dreaded sophomore slump--October does sound a bit forced and under cooked here and there--the album has many fine moments and still holds up rather well, decades later. Oh, and the back to back kick of opening tracks "Gloria", "I Fall Down", and "I Threw A Brick Through A Window", is for those of us who were around at the time, a reminder of U2's incredible promise and how they eventually made good on it--big time.