OK THEN, THE BEZ! *whipcrack* P.S. Loved your post.
Right, I've thought about this and don't think I can top It'll End In Tears, the inaugural release by This Mortal Coil. It was a collaborative project featuring musicians signed to 4AD in the eighties, the line-up for which changed from album to album. The fact that track two is my favourite recording ever isn't the only reason, but it certainly doesn't hurt! Behold:
Set and setting:
The first time I heard Tears coincided with the "will they, won't they" stage of a burgeoning relationship at the turn of my twenties. Imagine the scene: run-down council property at the arse end of town that chappie had just moved into, middle of the night, freezing cold, no carpets or curtains yet and because he'd come from a share, hardly any furniture either. We were stoned to fuck on a pile of cushions by candlelight when he dug it out of a box, so the music resonated off all the surfaces as if we were in a tunnel - it was an oddly perfect introduction to what remains one of the most haunting albums I've ever heard. Can't remember how he came to own it now, though probably just as well. He mostly listened to hip hop and was often dismissive of the mad shit I used to indulge, but sometimes I have very physical reactions to music and I was so taken with the abject beauty that it didn't occur to me until afterwards what a bizarre pick it was.
Unfortunately, the relationship is notable for being the most disastrous and defining of my weird little life, so when it was over, I didn't think I'd ever be able to listen to TMC again. This has happened to other music with strong memories attached before and since, because I find it near-impossible to separate them. Soundtrack to existence, though, right? Skip to a couple of years later, I was feeling unusually brave and took it out for a spin expecting the worst, but to my huge surprise, the tunes won out with no crippling flashbacks, only that same sensation of HOLY SHIT THIS IS AMAZINGGGGG, which erupted from my very being and not even the association with fuckhead could tarnish. In fact, I bawled the whole way through with relief, which would reset the scene for years to come - in reclaiming itself, Tears transcended the source and opened a permanent space into which I would often retreat through troubled times to let it all hang out. This alone lends it a certain magical status and maybe why it always pops in my head when asked these kinds of questions. I could nominate a bunch of albums that pushed my boundaries and/or make me feel glad to be alive, which is not to say I don't find Tears inventive or never listen in good spirits, browsing related genres in particular, only that when the void beckons - depression, loss and other such trials - it always has my back and I can be a holocaust with Howard Devoto channelling Alex Chilton if needs must. On that note, so to speak...
Music and lyrics:
A good chunk of the record comprises imaginative covers of cult artists as diverse as Roy Harper, Big Star and Tim Buckley, so it opened my ears in more way than one. Not only did I discover the likes of Dead Can Dance and Cindytalk as a result, but all of those people too. I already knew a bit of Cocteau Twins by then, but TMC marks the point at which I became obsessed with Elizabeth Fraser and began to dig a little deeper - as long as I live, I'll never forget the heart-stopping experience of Song to the Siren echoing round that empty room. Now I am a huge fan of the band and would argue strongly that hers is the defining version of that song, kinda like Watchtower was Jimi's from the moment he rattles off that first riff.
Musically, the album straddles dark folk, ambient and post-punk with a gothy, star-crossed vibe: preoccupations with love and death, cathedral acoustics, moody noodlings etc. Unlike subsequent TMC albums, which were pretty enough, but sounded more affected to my ears and not nearly as compelling, there's a genuinely exploratory approach to Tears - you can tell Ivo Watts-Russell gave the contributing artists an idea of what he was aiming for, then just let them crack on. The various contrasts that result are part of what make the collection so special. If Fraser sounds like some ethereal water sprite warbling at the moon, all wispy and fragile, Lisa Gerrard could be reciting from an archaic grimoire to summon the spirits from the belly of an ancient tomb. And to go from something as nakedly tragic as Holocaust with its weeping piano and desolate strings into the throbbing, miasmic layers of Fyt is a fucking bold move to say the least, but somehow it just works. "Your eyes are dead, can't get out of bed..." Straight to the bone, then casts you adrift in the shipless ocean, gahhh! There are one or two more upbeat cuts, which ground the album's experimental fare even as they might seem anachronous at first, the penultimate Not Me in particular. Overall, however, from the opening pangs of Kangaroo to the resigned acceptance of A Single Wish,Tears is a collection that shelters aching catharsis under a blanket of cobwebs, with sprinkles of fairy dust and several decidedly witchy brews en route - I wouldn't want to lose myself in the abyss with any other record.
It's worth mentioning that 1984 was also the year of DCD's first release and CT's seminal Treasure, so if you like that sort of thing, but aren't familiar with Tears, it's worth taking it out for a spin to see how you get on. Several tracks fade into each other, so I strongly recommend that any potential takers look for a copy that doesn't break them up - I listened to the YouTube playlist on a whim after seeing this thread last night, because I was settled by then and couldn't be arsed to dig around for my CD, but found it rather jarring.
TL;DR: there's nothing I don't love about this album. End gush.
Their early work was a little too new wave for my tastes, but when Sports came out in '83, I think they really came into their own, commercially and artistically. The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost. He's been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far more bitter, cynical sense of humor.
In '87, Huey released this, Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is "Hip to be Square", a song so catchy, most people probably don't listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself.