Any idea what the difference is between a cusp and a tipping point? Me neither.
I ask because I find the point of a musical artist’s cusp to be one of deep fascination. The album in an artist’s discography that was released just prior to stellar success is often one of the most satisfying items in their back-catalogue.
It doesn’t happen with many artists though as most artists don’t experience a slow rise to glory – most just retain relative mediocrity throughout their careers or in much rarer cases find sudden and early success.
To give a better idea of this rather muddled theory I’ll give you a few examples of albums released as artists stood upon the threshold of their musical cusp.
U2 – October (UK chart No. 11)
R.E.M. – Green (UK chart No. 27)
The Human League – Travelogue (UK chart No. 16)
Abba – Waterloo (UK chart No. 28)
All now correctly regarded as classics, but not one of them managing to crack the UK top ten when first released.
One of these albums, R.E.M.’s ‘Green’ just happens to be the subject of our cassette experiment today. It’s also the only one of the above that I purchased on first release (from W.H. Smith according to the price sticker on the box).
R.E.M.’s first offering for their new record label, Warner Bros, ‘Green’ was not a typical R.E.M. album. This was an apparently deliberate ploy by Bill, Peter, Mike and Michael to write and record an album that wasn’t particularly ‘R.E.M.-like’.
So they swopped their instruments around a bit and came up with this little beauty.
‘Stand’ stands out, with its lovely fairground organ style opening and just the perfect blend of noise and tunefulness. ‘Orange crush’ might just be my favourite R.E.M. tune, with little (presumably unintentional) nods towards ‘The call up’ by The Clash, which is no bad thing in my book.
But great albums aren’t made by the best-known tracks being brilliant. Great albums are made by the least-known tracks being brilliant. And that’s certainly true of the likes of ‘You are everything’ and the gloriously murky list-song ‘I remember California’.
Please be careful as there’s also an un-credited 11th track on here too – much easier to miss on cassette than on vinyl or CD.
Also – just the right amount of mandolin – not too much, not too little.
Label – Warner Bros
Year – 1988