The National – Alligator (2005)

Format: CD Rip 16-44.1 FLAC | Size 313.6MB

The third album from The National, but the first to get them any major attention outside of their Brooklyn base, Alligator is the more polished, less drunken sounding set of their first three efforts.

Alligator was released in 2005 and ended up on a lot of Best of the Year lists (Uncut magazine, The LA Times, Pitchfork). Such acclaim was not surprising given there is something for everyone this time around from The National .

The somber, consoling sweetness of Daughters Of The Soho Riots; the ironic, playful, braggadocio of All The Wine; the raucous Lit Up; and the angered Abel are not so much part of a cohesive album as a grab bag of special National sounds that everyone can groove on at some level.

The boisterous and rallying Mr. November (actually written about John Kerry) even became an unofficial anthem for then Senator Barack Obama – and videos like this can still be found.

The opening track Secret Meeting has echoes of the unstructured rhythm sound The National have returned to lately on their Trouble Will Find Me LP. The drums and guitars seem to cut out at inconsistent intervals to Matt Berninger’s bass-laden vocals; but the intervals aren’t inconsistent and the song never quite loses it’s structure – a technique used impressively in 2013’s Fireproof.

Verdict: DENIED | Remaining  116,853MB

Alligator is an album I enjoy listening to. I have it on vinyl and CD and I carry it around on an iPod. For life on my Desert Island, however, I’d sooner reach for my favourite from The National, their 2001 self-titled debut. I would even accept the more recent Trouble Will Find Me or the exceptional High Violet over Alligator, so I can’t justify a spot for it.

Big Star – #1 Record (1972)

Format: CD Rip 16-44.1 FLAC | Size 310mb

When lead singer / songwriter for Big Star, Alex Chilton died from a heart attack in 2010, there was renewed interest in the band and a rediscovery of this, their debut album. At the time of its release, #1 Record was widely acclaimed, but not very widely purchased – supposedly selling only 10,000 copies in the year of release.

Big Star’s remarkable debut LP contains an abundance of well-written and deftly produced (John Fry) rock songs which probably should have turned Big Star into big stars. Mostly co-written by Chilton and fellow founding member of the band, Chris Bell, the songs on #1 Record all benefit from the interplay of Chilton’s rock star raw talent and Bell’s penchant for more Pop sounds.

Most listeners today will know the teenage rebellion anthem In The Street from the hit television sitcom That 70s Show (where reference to wanting ‘a joint so bad’ was written out with an ad lib of ‘We’re all alright!’). The similarly themed Thirteen is also better known in other versions by Wilco, Elliot Smith and Evan Dando.

The heavier, noisier leanings of Chilton are on full display in Don’t Lie To Me and When My Baby’s Beside Me where fuzzy guitar riffs dominate, while Bell’s preference for sweet vocal crooners with acoustic sparkle is beautifully brought to the forefront in Give Me Another Chance sung by Chilton.

Arguably, the stand out track in this exceptional set is The Ballad Of El Goodo, written by Chilton alone before the pair formed Big Star (legend says thanks to a Beatles concert in their hometown of Memphis, Tennessee). The song’s simple chorus refrain (‘Ain’t no one going to turn me around’) swims over a sea of guitars that jangle like crystal bells; carried along by seraphic harmonies and Chilton’s artless, honest voice.

Big Star almost completely disbanded after #1 Record, with only two members (Chilton and Jody Stephens) remaining for the recording of Third/Sister Lovers. Before that third album was released, Big Star were no more. Chris Bell died in 1978 after losing control of his car and running off the road into a post. The band returned to touring in an altered form in 1993 and released In Space in 2005.

Verdict: Approved | Remaining: 116,853mb

This album is almost despairingly underrated and unknown. As a debut record from 1972, it still sounds hip and eternally listenable. #1 Record is power pop at its joyful best – aware, rebellious, singable and enduring. Please, buy this record; then buy it for someone else and tell them to do the same.