Born Today: June's
Welcome to the Born Today series, where each month I highlight the most significant album releases of said month, with a little help from the Rolling Stone 500. Where info is available, the most recent and highest fidelity versions (not always the same thing) are listed. Since it's 2012, we'll be celebrating the records that came out on the second year of each decade. It's a good excuse to bust out that 180-gram slab of vinyl you haven't even opened yet.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, David Bowie (June 6, 1972)
Ziggy Stardust is a concept album by a debauched rock star about a debauched rock star who makes a concept album. Or something. It's really just a good excuse to make a rock'n'roll album about rock'n'roll. Whether it really has a plot, I'm not sure. All I know is it has some of the best music David Bowie, or anybody, ever put on record. It all begins with the end: "Five Years" is a song about how the news has reported planet Earth (or is it Mars?) has only five years left before annihilation. Screaming "my brain hurts a lot" is probably not the cheeriest way to open an LP, but it's the perfect phrase to express the end of everything you know. In some ways, it's the most stunning song on the album because the typical street scenes the narrator sees around him suddenly become hypersensitized. A sudden wave of distress tends to highlight beauty you didn't see was there the whole time. Anyone who's broken up with someone they love knows this feeling. That feeling of existential recklessness sets the tone for the rest of the album, which is much closer to the glam rock you'd expect from Spiders from Mars. On "Hang On to Yourself", the band strips it all the way back to the very basics, and we get a four-chord face-melter that foreshadows the rise of punk in the second half of the decade. The way Bowie hisses "Yeeeaaaahhh" is so sinister and just straight up badass. Attitude can make all the difference between okay rock and rock that will live forever. On "Ziggy Stardust", Mark Ronson gets a guitar tone that was never heard before or since. Truly alien, it sounds like liquid electricity. Without Ronson's shimmering guitar, the album would remain a mere concept. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Ziggy has been remastered and given a 5.1 mix on DVD-Audio, which comes with 180-gram vinyl.
Roxy Music, Roxy Music (June 16, 1972)
Behold the debut of Brian Eno, arguably the most influential person to all electro-rock bands since the 1970s. You can hear it all right there at the beginning of the second track: The Talking Heads, U2, Radiohead, Coldplay. The vertical color of sound, the band playing in an atmosphere or a landscape rather than a recording studio. The newest release of this seminal album will be available on August 7 as part of the Complete Studio Recordings 1972-1982 CD box set.
Eagles, Eagles (June 17, 1972)
Burned-out cynical post-Altamont hippie ennui really starts to take off here. Available on standard CD.
Dry, PJ Harvey (June 30, 1992)
Describing herself as Delilah, Harvey cooks up a ferocious maelstrom of extremely loud hard rock that makes her sound as dangerous as she probably is. Available on standard CD.
Peace Be Still, James Cleveland (June 1962)
The definitive gospel album. James Cleveland was a musical genius who fully developed what we now know as gospel music into its mature form practically alone. His contribution to America's musical heritage is inestimable. The album was recorded in primitive conditions, but it doesn't matter. The crudeness of the sound makes it feel even more authentic. Listen for a very young child prodigy named Billy Preston on keys. Available on standard CD.