During the first decade of the 2000s, this website was a minor, unremarkable part of the “web reviewing community”, where people reviewed albums as a hobby. Here I revisit another of my favourite sites.
Between 1999 and 2006, “Cosmic” Ben Marlin combed through bargain bins for albums and posted his findings on the web, onto a resplendent lime green background. His site was a favourite target for web-design students, who justifiably picked on his colour scheme as an example of bad design. But his personal reactions to records were often a joy to read, even if in hindsight, it perhaps lacks some of the perspective and wisdom of older writers (Marlin was a teenager when he started the site).
While CosmicBen’s Record Reviews is now defunct, and can only be found on the Wayback Machine, here are some of my favourite moments from the site’s archives.
* * * * The Ramones (1976)–Thanks to some mysterious PR trick, it’s impossible to criticize early Ramones music. They reused all their riffs? How cute! Simple arrangements and dumb lyrics? Man, that was their charm — I bet you like Emerson, Lake, and Palmer or something. Actually, their debut has worn a bit thin, with the great songs (like “Blitzkrieg Bop”) clearly separating themselves from the mediocre ones (like, oh, “Loudmouth”). It’s all catchy, but the lesser songs are a bit uninspiring, with all the great speed-punk vamping and less awesome songwriting. But the simplicity really works: a dumb ballad like “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” does more for me than most prog songs I’ve ever heard, being unpretentious, pretty, and ultra-sincere. And their punk formula is a work of genius: rumbling guitars, super-fast drumbeats, poppy melodies, and a singer that never takes himself seriously. It ends quickly and perfectly, with the slow-building, majestic “Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World”, the story of a geek’s dreams of conqering both — it’s sad, because he’d likely have a better chance at the world. An awesome album, but they got even better the next time around.
* * * * 1/2 Sugar: Beaster (1993)–Most people see this as Sugar’s throwaway, but I think it’s their masterpiece. Mould takes six leftovers from the Copper Blue sessions, douses them in hypnotic guitar swirls, and puts everything he has into the vocals. With no breaks between tracks, the end result is a hard rock opera that takes you on a half-hour ride through Mould’s desperation, rage, disillusionment, and heartbreak. The loud guitars give the compositions punch, and the melodies give the hard rock cliches credibility. Mould draws you in with the haunting mantra “Come Around”, climaxes with the blistering religious confusion of “JC Auto”, and deflates everything with the ethereal pump-organ sadness of “Walking Away”. A million misguided rockers have proven that anyone can yell at the top of their lungs; Mould brings genuine sadness and regret to his rage, and the result is more than believable: it’s harrowing.
* * * * * Stevie Wonder: Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974)–Usually regarded as the boringest “great” album Stevie recorded in the 70’s, I felt the same way after I bought it: ballad after ballad, all impeccably written and produced, sure, but lacking the energy that makes most of his great songs work. Well, fuck that. Listen to it a few more times like I did, because this is an amazing album: almost every song is utterly perfect, and although I’m indulging in the worst kind of critical cliche here, the two chooglin’ hits (“Boogie On Reggae Woman,” “You Haven’t Done Nothin'”), exciting as they are, pale in comparison to the rest of the songs. FFF is proof positive that Stevie was the badinest badass to ever badass in the 70’s. I won’t list all the songs, but suffice to say that “Creepin'” is sinuous and sleek, with amazing backing vocals from Minnie Riperton; “Please Don’t Go” is the most joyous, exuberant song I’ve ever heard, about a girl leaving, no less; “It Ain’t No Use” has a “bye, bye, bye” hook that actually works; and “Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away” and “Please Don’t Go” prove that beats might make you dance, but it’s melodies that make you cry. Plus, the remastered sound blows me away, and I’ve never even heard the original. I suspect that the remastered Innervisions and Talking Book might do the same for me, but for now, this is the best offering I’ve ever heard from Stevie. All this and a guest shot by Paul Anka. Highly freakin’ recommended.
Ready to shield your eyes and read some record reviews? http://web.archive.org/web/20050227143837/http://members.aol.com:80/cosmicben/page/