I’ve had a lot of time for writing recently; some leave and then a work trip with long haul flights and time in airport lounges. Lately, I’ve made several pages for acts with only a handful of albums to their name. These three acts have commonalities; they’re all white, male American acts, although they’re operating in different genres and different eras. The most striking similarity is they all have small discographies, and each has one album with a clear consensus as their best. While I don’t always agree with canon, in each of these cases, I concur with the consensus, even though all three have other enjoyable albums.
Television – Marquee Moon (1977)
The CBGBs Club in New York spawned a diverse collection of great bands that helped to define the punk and new wave genres. Television’s distinctive feature is the guitar interplay of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, exemplified on songs like the epic title track. If you can tolerate Verlaine’s strangled vocals, Marquee Moon is a masterpiece.
Jellyfish – Spilt Milk (1993)
1990’s Bellybutton was a perfectly serviceable record, but in hindsight it sounds like a practice run for the ornate Spilt Milk. The stacked harmonies and heavy guitars of Spilt Milk are like a power pop take on Queen, with great songs like ‘New Mistake’ and ‘Glutton of Sympathy’.
Jason Isbell – Southeastern (2013)
It’s somewhat cheating to include Isbell in this list, as he’s released five albums since leaving the Drive-By Truckers, and has another due soon. But his first three albums were released with The 400 Unit, and featured a sub-optimal Isbell. Before Southeastern, Isbell became sober, and personal songs like ‘Elephant’ are devastating, although my favourite is the rock of ‘Flying Over Water’.
Are you a fan of any of these albums?