My band’s better than your band (maybe)

December 10, 2010

When I was a raincoat wearing student, way back when, I’d spend far too many evenings hunched over a pint in a seedy north London pub arguing with my mate Nigel about which was the best debut album, Crododiles or Unknown Pleasures. Sometimes things would get a bit heated. God knows what the old soaks in the pub made of two floppy haired fops getting emotional in the corner. But for some reason this seemed really important. Hell, it still does.

I was reminded of this tonight when All that Jazz came on the radio as I was doing the washing up.  Its still sounds good, better than good, brilliant even. My God – was I wrong? Have I been wrong all these years?  I’ve always been such a  fundamentalist in my steadfast belief that Unknown Pleasures was, is, the best debut album by anyone ever. But is my faith as blind as that of an ayatollah?

So I went back to the beginning, or tried. I revisited both albums as if I’d never seen or heard them before.

It had to be the vinyl versions. Unknown Pleasures was easy to find, sitting as it always has at the front of my record collection. Year zero. But where was Crododiles? Where were the Bunnymen in my order of merit? Behind the Fall – no. After Cabaret Voltaire – no, not there either. Surely not behind Theatre of Hate? Further and further back, until lurking behind The Doors I found it. As if to prove a point I’d hidden it at the back of my collection.

I held them both, examined the covers, trying to get in touch with my 16 year old self handling them for the first time. Both strike a cord with my impressionable young self. Crocodiles for Mac’s  pose and his thousand yard stare, and the coats, always the long coats. Unknown Pleasures for the iconography and mystery. Both bands were myth-making, even then, consciously or not.

I drop Unknown Pleasures onto my dusty turntable. Outside first, of course. The opening drum, bass and fractured guitar of Disorder sounds as good as it did in the dark bedroom where I lay and listened to it  30 years ago. Insight, New Dawn Fades, She’s Lost Control, Shadowplay, right through to I Remember Nothing , still sound as vital, claustrophobic and starkly beautiful as they did then. More so,maybe.  Hannett’s production sharp as razor-wire.

So to Crocodiles. Side one starts strongly with Going Up and builds to a crescendo with Monkeys and Crocodiles. Side two is even better – Rescue, Villiers Terrace, Pictures on My Wall and All That Jazz, classics all. Only the last track, Happy Death Men is a disappointment.

So what have a learnt in the 30 years since both albums were released? That they are both classics and arguing over which is the best is as futile as trying to choose between Picasso and Michelangelo, Pele and Cruyff, Kylie and Dannii.

I can only thank God that I grew up in a time when these two great works of art were created.

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