Q Magazine – “the modern guide to music and more” – first appeared in September 1986, and published its final issue in July 2020. Here’s a personal and highly subjective look back at the best music released in that period…
With hindsight, 1989 was one of the best years for (the) music (that I was interested in), especially the final quarter of the year. If anything, there was just too much to take in at the time. A few of the big releases proved to be disappointments (Terence Trent D’Arby, Phil Collins, even Eric Clapton as far as I was concerned), while others felt a bit underwhelming but have since become more loved (Billy Joel, Chris Rea, Belinda Carlisle).
As early as February 1989, we’d already had the return of Elvis Costello and New Order, Q‘s curiously undermarked new Simply Red album (just 2 stars, under the headline “THREADBARE“!) and The Raw & The Cooked by Fine Young Cannibals which I thought sounded like half a decent album but for some reason was very popular with the public and critics alike.
(Q30) February 1989
Come the middle of the 1980s, XTC were drifting; no longer the brash, angular alt.pop combo of Making Plans For Nigel and Sgt Rock (Is Going To Help Me), their star had waned since 1982’s excellent English Settlement and its big hit single Senses Working Overtime.
A succession of lovingly crafted singles got nowhere on the charts, and their brand of pastoral English pop was met with ever-decreasing sales and waning interest. I’d taken a shine to 1985’s Wake Up single, a herky-jerky nod to their past with its chopped guitars and tumbling rhythm, but it didn’t even reach the Top 75. Clearly, a rethink was required.
What XTC did next was to totally indulge their 60s psychedelic influences and trippy leanings, and record some of the most outrageously, unashamedly Beatles-esque pop of the decade, all under a pseudonym – The Dukes Of Stratosphere. A couple of mini-albums deliberately evoked a Magical Mystery Tour vibe, and for the first time in a long time, Andy Partidge and co. were having fun.
They were also getting better reviews and more acclaim than they had done in years.
In amongst all this creative freedom, they tried to make another traditional XTC album with Todd Rundgren in the producer’s chair. Skylarking eventually emerged in 1986, and ended up quite successful in America when one of its UK single’s B-sides (Dear God) became a surprise cult favourite and got added to US versions of the album.
Oranges & Lemons turned out to be a dizzying mixture of the Dukes Of Stratosphere’s psonic playground and Dear God‘s folky directness. The song titles say it all; The Garden Of Earthly Delights, Scarecrow People, Chalk Hills And Children, Miniature Sun. The (double) album also happened to feature two of XTC’s most commercial, and radio-friendly, singles in living memory, The Mayor Of Simpleton and King For A Day.
(Q35) July 1989
Fast forward to the end of June (it’s a “sorry, but you just miss out” to albums from Deacon Blue, Simple Minds, Stevie Nicks and Paul McCartney), and (then still-former) Eagles drummer Don Henley announced his return with the sublime adult soft-rock that characterised The End Of The Innocence.
Q observed that Henley could basically get away with singing the phone book, and I am not about to disagree.
(Q36) August 1989, album released July 1989
Q and I had very differing opinions, however, on The B-52’s first album since the loss of founding member and chief songwriter Ricky Wilson to AIDS in 1986.
Another of Warner Bros. recent acquisitions, to go with Lou Reed, R.E.M., Elvis Costello and Rush, The B-52’s hadn’t set the world alight with their parting gift to Island Records, 1987’s much-delayed Bouncing Off The Satellites, so perhaps Q‘s initial coolness to Cosmic Thing‘s charms wasn’t such a shock.
It’s possible the 2-star review caused me to shelve any plans to investigate the album on release, waiting until Cosmic Thing began to catch on in America later in 1989 before discovering that I’d been missing out on an absolute gem of a record.
(Q37) September 1989
Yet more division ensued with Q‘s grading of Janet Jackson’s ambitious follow-up to Control. In mitigation, perhaps they found the between-song monologues and the sheer length of the album (well over 60 minutes) a hindrance to comparing it favourably with its predecessor. I must admit that only in the past year or so has Rhythm Nation 1814 properly established itself as my favourite Janet album.
Control is still iconic in ways RN1814 could never be, but when you’re creating a homemade 8-disc “Super Deluxe Edition” of an album, and you’re still enjoying the Shep’s Work It Out Dub Edit of Love Will Never Do (Without You) on the 7th CD, then perhaps you must really like it….
(Q37) September 1989
Tears For Fears were back…back!!….BACK!!! Could it really be true?!
More than four years on from Songs From The Big Chair, it may as well have been fourteen…so much had changed in my own life, in the world of pop, and judging from the first fruits of The Seeds Of Love, a lot had changed with Tears For Fears too.
Sowing The Seeds Of Love was a clever, affectionate pastiche of you-know-who, replete with producer and noted drummer Chris “Merrick” Hughes doing a perfect approximation of Ringo’s trademark style, and lyrics urging “kick out the Style, bring back the Jam” (a coincidence that Weller jacked in his current band not long after?). The only slight problem was XTC had got here first, with Oranges & Lemons’ colourful take on the Beatles Universe. But top 5 it went, and the scene was set for a grand return to the album charts.
The record has aged remarkably well, with Woman In Chains still the stunning standout on a lush, kaleidoscopic set of songs that have been over-produced and over-thought almost to breaking point, yet still manage to sweep and soar.
The Seeds Of Love ought to have been the defining musical moment of 1989 for me; my favourite band of 1985 emerging from a truly torturous journey with a beautiful new album that revealed fresh things with every listen. But within a fortnight, they were rudely eclipsed by something extraordinary….
(Q37) September 1989, album released October 1989
It’s my favourite album of All-Time.
I even write posts about its anniversaries.
I’ll use any old excuse to talk about The Blue Nile.
Bravo Q for their 5-star ode to Hats’ timeless beauty and wonder. What a way to sign off the decade.
(Q42) February 1990
On to the Nineties…and its first classic turned up just six weeks into the new year, sounding more ’80s than some of the albums released in the final 12 months of the ’80s.
Hello, hello, hello to The Beloved, former indie also-rans who morphed into purveyors of acid-tinged electro pop of the finest quality. Happiness is home to a quartet of ace singles, and some even more ecstatic album cuts.
(Q43) March 1990
Depeche Mode had spent most of 1988 conquering the US, and the early part of 1989 releasing the Double Live Album (and accompanying D.A. Pennybaker-directed film) 101. All very Rock N Roll. As was the appearance of a real guitar as the driving force behind their “comeback” single Personal Jesus later in the year.
There was a feeling that, for all Music For The Masses‘ success, the album marked the end of a phase. Having so masterfully fused all the elements introduced over the three records before it, Martin Gore in particular decided Depeche Mode had taken those themes and sonic touchstones as far they could. Cue a deconstruction of the cables.
Personal Jesus was a strident, stomping, almost glam-rock number, based upon a delicious guitar riff. A departure from the typical Depeche Mode song format, yet simultaneously blessed with the expected oomph which Never Let Me Down Again had suggested two years earlier, the single proved to be exactly what was needed in the wake of their new-found status across the pond.
For their next trick, Enjoy The Silence had a sleek, pulsating techno beat and understated vocal delivery, more indicative of the album which arrived soon after in March 1990.
Violator was indeed a departure at times from the previous albums, but the likes of Halo, Policy Of Truth and World In My Eyes were still reminiscent of earlier Depeche Mode. It just happened to be their moment. Q approved.
(Q43) March 1990
Out the same week, Manic Nirvana was an absolute beast of an album. It’s a pity that Violator took my attention at first, since this is probably my favourite of the two in today’s money.
Now & Zen‘s snappy, clean veneer was supplanted (sorry) by a forceful swagger and confidence. It was bigger, louder, and even better than its predecessor. Big Love, SS&Q, Tie Dyed On The Highway, She Said and Watching You all burst out of the speakers. Liars Dance and I Cried, meanwhile, signposted the route that lay ahead with Fate Of Nations in 1993.
Sadly no hits were forthcoming, not even in America.
(Q46) June 1990
By contrast, Wilson Phillips couldn’t stop having hits from their self-titled debut album. Launched in the early Summer of 1990, no fewer than five of its tracks made #12 or higher on the US Billboard Hot 100. Three of them went all the way.
Too strong a set of songs for Q to dismiss entirely, yet too commercial for them to fully embrace, it was the type of album destined for a 3-star rating, damned with faint praise.
With half of 1990 taken care of, what might lay in store for the rest of the year? How far will we progress into 1991? All will be revealed….
[…] 1990s had arrived, but as part four revealed, my tastes were yet to undergo any radical change; it was mainly still about The Blue Nile […]