Sharoma Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs

People often talk about the books they would save or take with them if they were stranded on this proverbial desert island. Despite the fact that books consume no power I still think it's a stupid thing to save or cling on to. Re-reading books is no good. The pleasure is reduced everytime. Just how much enjoyment could you get reading the same five books over and over? Not much I expect. That's why I would take music instead, and assume this island had a reliable power source (maybe Hydro Electric because they usually always have a cascading waterfall) and the plane that crashed had allowed me to check-in a semi-decent amplifier, CD player and pair of speakers. Anyway, to the point. The five albums I'd have with me, knowing they'd bear up under the closest scrutiny and still remain great albums, and most important of all, still be enjoyable (and comforting) to me on the thousandth playing (and in all cases, probably already have):

(In no particular order because even picking five is hard enough.)

Low

by David Bowie (1977)

Low hasn't always been a great album. When it first appeared the critics weren't sure - since "the critics" love to follow popular trends. Only in later years did they rewrite their history (and reviews) and give it the good old "5 out of 5" it deserved. I always knew it must be great before I heard it. You only need to look at the sleeve: it's orange and forboding, and Bowie is facing left. It's called "Low" so he's obviously been feeling moody. Oh, and it's the first of his Eno Trilogy. It's not even a very long album but it's very special and in my extremely humble opinion, it is easily, by far and away, and without a shadow of a doubt, the best thing he ever produced. It doesn't matter if you don't own ANY other Bowie, because Low is the essence of Bowie and this album is a true album and does what an album should do, and already I can find myself listening to it over, and over, and over. So along it comes. (Personally, I have the vinyl cover stuck to my wall for mental inspiration and enjoy the sound of the 24-bit CD remaster.)

Remain In Light

by Talking Heads (1980)

Those of you in the know (out of my Facebook friends I actually think that numbers just two) will have spotted that Brian Eno has already helped to produce two of my choices. Well, so be it, because his sound is very special and suited to the mythical isolation associated with being stranded far from home, forever. Remain In Light is an easy choice, I admit. But it's my choice and not some magazine or journals'. I loved this album as soon as I heard the opening of the first song, and it was a crusty record shop guy who thrust the vinyl into my hand after, once again, the sleeve had piqued my interest. If you are partial to complex layers of sound, cutting edge techniques, all kinds of African rhythms blended with Byrne's particular brand of crazy and lots and lots of percussion, then you'll know what I mean. It's so damn clever; it's anything but simple. When I listen to it I am still struck by how amazing and perfectly balanced it sounds. How they throw so much sound in and get something so ordered and melodious out. Everything clanks and clicks and ticks and tocks. Drums here and there, chanting, lead guitar, electronic whirrings and buzzes - except it goes somewhere, from start to finish. I also can't think of a more fitting song than Listening Wind to being stuck somewhere and trying to contemplate what the hell is going on.

Disintegration

by The Cure (1989)

I've already been through a period in my life when I listened to this every day for at least a month or two, so I know already it can be used over and over again when I'm very sad or very happy - I'm not sure which one I'd be if I was stranded on a desert album without ever having to see people again (Ha. Yes I do know.). The Cure have gone off in recent years, and even in their prime put out a lot of 'questionable' material. Pornography is awesome, but doesn't seem to be the complete picture in the way Disintegration is. Usefully, it also fills an entire CD, without filler, so I'd be entertained for 74 minute chunks of my limitless time. Disintegration never seems to get the recognition it deserves. It's so damned good that it defies explanation. It's both soft and hard, fast and slow, and unlike early Cure, it doesn't get bogged down in itself. If only they'd made this their swan song. Stan Marsh said it best:

"Disintegration is the best album ever!"

The Smiths

by The Smiths (1984)

I have to have a Smiths album in here, because at one time they were my "favourite band in the world, ever". Oddly enough, I am not really a fan of Morrissey solo (which is an interesting question: What percentage of Smiths fans also follow Morrissey?). Yet The Smiths are very important, because depressed teenage lads can so easily relate to them. So I would probably go insane a lot sooner without some Smiths on hand, and out of their four albums, this one has the highest proportion of favourite songs. Also, none of their many compilations contain these same songs. Quite simply, I needed some Smiths, so this is the one. Choice picks personally: You've Got Everything Now about those people we always hated at school and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle: very sombre. It's a shame that Accept Yourself was left off: how do I feel about my shoes?

Script Of The Bridge

by The Chameleons (1983)

Quite a fantastic album, and being reminded about Middleton, Manchester (a place in desperate need of a neutron bomb) is a minor drawback. I was going to go for Loveless, an oft-maligned piece of guitar noise most people consider no better than Metal Machine Music, but then I realised that I just like this album more, and I couldn't be bothered explaining for the 17th time how the noise masks the subtle melodies. This is The Chameleons first, and best, album. Why weren't they huge? Because you have to be a douche to be huge. Just look at U2. This album could easily play like a Greatest Hits, such is the quality of every single song. Only during radio sessions did they top this, but the rules say we must stick to proper album releases.


May 2010 Update

Above I listed five albums I have a high regard for. Well, times change and a year later three are to be removed! Their most deserving replacements are:

Tago Mago

by CAN (1971)

[replacing Disintegration]

Firstly I owe a debt of gratitude to my comrade-in-sanity David Wolstencroft for getting me on to Can. His exploration from, I assume, Kraftwerk to Krautrock came on much more speedier than my own. In fact, it was someone else still who inspired me to purchase Faust IV. Tago Mago is one of those works of pure genius that is so far off the spectrum, even today, and so wide in its vision that you cannot fail to be mesmerized. Subject matter and style blend perfectly in 'Mushroom', but my personal favourites are the sequence of 'Oh Yeah', a frantic piece that builds and elevates before settling in to the (almost) 19 minute progressive metronik 'Halleluhwah'. Despite me rating this double album so highly, it fails precisely where John Lennon did with the noise music near the end. Almost as tedious as Metal Machine Music but lacking the irony. Guaranteed to alarm fellow flyers on a trans-Atlantic flight and so piercing as to easy oerwhelm the noise cancellation hardware of my headphones. I did not skip, but I was thankful when it was over. There is at least one album of pure, creamy goodness on this set, so pour it out, lap it up and just swallow the unrecognizable chunks.

This Nation's Saving Grace

by The Fall (1985)

[replacing The Smiths]

This album is definitely one of the best I have heard in a long time. The Fall have done so much that I will probably never absorb it all even if I manage to live through the next war. What I love about Mark E. Smith is the sneer and the way he always managed to produce amazing music with so many different musicians. I love all Fall that I've heard but this seems to be their peak. It's all in here in equal measure and I can listen to it over and over. John Leckie's production is naturally important (Wonderful and Frightening World Of... is likewise a stunning album) and he is especially talented in bringing simple guitar to the fore and making it sound sharp as a razor edge. Imagine Magazine's Real Life but without any dirge or introspection. Just surface commentary and anger, and then a Can of curiousity thrown in for good measure. Perhaps the borrowed riff from Oh Yeah particularly enamored me of this album. A remaster is in the works apparently. I hope they don't saturate it.

Stephen Patrick Who?

Scott 3

by Scott Walker (1969)

[replacing Script Of The Bridge]

Ah, Scott Walker. Can you believe I'd never even heard of him until 2009? Criminal! His first four solo works (Scott, Scott 2, Scott 3 and Scott 4) are all recommended, though perhaps not in that particular order. 3, 4, 2, 1 maybe? Just to be on the safe side, you should buy 'em all. I swung briefly in favour of Scott 4 as his best work but 3 is definitely superior. Pretty much all the tracks are strong. A concentrated listening, perhaps in the car on a quiet night's drive, brings calm to the world. The lyrics are personable, his vocals breathtaking and the production wide open with space and clarity. The mastering on the CD reissues is also worthy of the music.

...Writing in the liner notes to Scott 2, not long after the album had been completed, Walker described it as the "work of a lazy, self-indulgent man." He added, "Now the nonsense must stop, and the serious business must begin.".

May 2021 Update

Another decade on and I haven't really listened to any of the above albums in a long time, with the exception of Scott 3 and The Fall. It just goes to show how time will changes tastes and any album selected for this list would be tired of within a few weeks. Not that they aren't all great albums, it's just some haven't ever gained my interest again, such as Low.