by Yonah Paley
Pop quiz: What do you get when you combine Morrissey’s acerbic wit with Johnny Marr’s jangling guitar? Answer: Disappointment, death, depression, yearning, and loss of innocence. Or in other words, The Smiths.
One of the most unusual bands ever, The Smiths is most readily identifiable by lead singer/songwriter Morrissey. He writes with a tongue wittier than that of a seasoned scholar, with the cynicism to match. His thematic qualities are dark yet funny, droll but likable, and matched with a resigned sense of irony. There is a naked, matter of fact quality that makes his songwriting stand out from the rest.
The band’s other front-man, guitarist Johnny Marr, along with bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce, provide the rhythm that makes The Smiths so catchy. Their instrumentation acts as a mood buffer for the lyrics, so that the music is actually enjoyable to listen to (rather than anguish inducing). Marr especially, brings an airy quality to his guitar work that perfectly complements Morrissey’s dreary ramblings.
Artists often get stuck in a formula; something works well for them, so they run the same ideas over and over again, ultimately into the ground. Not David Bowie. He was great at recognizing that music is in continual flux. He understood that if one did not keep challenging themselves, they were doomed to repeat the same artistic mistakes throughout their career. To him, music was an opportunity to challenge himself, as well as his audience.
Therefore, the key to enjoying later period David Bowie (particularly from the 1990s and on) is to forget everything you thought you knew about his music. Having figured out the need for creative evolution, he decided to move away from rock and roll, toward more experimental and jazzy styles. Bowie’s later albums bear very little resemblance to the material he became famous for in the 60s and 70s. That’s not to say that they’re worse; in fact, if one listens with an open mind, there is some real substance to be found.
by Yonah Paley
While most people can agree that David Bowie was a great artist, I find it pretty hard to talk about why he was a great artist. In some ways, the fact that this is difficult to describe makes him all the greater. David Bowie is an enigma. He is a conundrum with no answer, and a puzzle that cannot be solved. His image and musical style was reinvented so many times, it’s hard to know if the man himself even knew who he was. We admire him as a one of a kind talent, but he was really ten of a kind.
His lyrics, particularly in the first half of his career, speak of alien rock stars, dystopian futures, and the strange disconnect between human beings. Singing through the lens of numerous made-up characters (such as: Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and The Thin White Duke), David Bowie manages to create his own musical universe, while maintaining enough of our universe to be somehow relatable.
by Yonah Paley
The first time you hear Kate Bush's voice, it sounds as if a dark rain cloud cloud has just lifted from over an ancient castle. The sunlight breaks through the trees, illuminating the animals and fields below, blinding them with a tremendous light. Then come the lyrics, spun from the finest, strongest silk the kingdom has to offer. The intrigue and poetry is too much for you to look away.
When Kate Bush entered the music industry, there was nobody else like her. Her way with words is wholly unique, meditative, and saturated with a library full of literary and cinematic references. She is not afraid to explore heady concepts such as mystery, womanhood, and the space between lines. Her experimental phase in the early 1980s is so bold and rich, and the albums warrant multiple re-listens. Although the second half of her career is arguably much weaker than the first, she continues to try out new musical styles and genres. Kate Bush is a musical treasure, who has inspired the likes of artists from Bjork to Big Boi.
by Yonah Paley
One would be hard pressed to find a musical artist whose style is as distinct as Tom Waits'. Throughout his 40+ year career he has consistently released top-quality material, ranging in genre from blues, to jazz, to rock, and even to carnival music. However, it wouldn't be fair to classify Waits under any of these genre umbrellas. Even when pulling from specific musical influences, he manages to make the works his own. He imbues the songs with images of cities, grotesque characters, heartfelt emotion, and pain. His gravelly voice holds the power to bark of psychopaths and murderers, but also to croon beautiful ballads of love. There is quite simply no artist like him.
Throughout Waits' discography, he has evolved dramatically as an artist. Initially channeling his inner Frank Sinatra, and later experimenting with unusual instruments and production styles, his collection of albums is fun to listen to, yet also challenging and rewarding at the same time.
Most Popular Articles
The Smiths: Life is Long and Lonely
David Bowie: Starman to Blackstar
Tom Waits: Brawler, Bawler, Bastard
Talking Heads: Memories Can't Wait
Kate Bush: The Music Between
Blondie: Hearts of Glass
The Kinks: Dedicated Followers of Fashion