Al Stewart, Modern Times

For my money this remains his finest work: Alan Parsons' production is tight in the right places and sumptuous when it matters, and Stewart didn't lay it on too thick with the lyrics or his usual obscure historical fetishes. (They're still obscure, mind you, but this time around at least he doesn't wallow in it.) While "Next Time" is a bit wan and is easily the album's one weak track, "Not The One" is a moving story of relationships with a strangely satisfying twist, "Apple Cider Re-Constitution" has a peppy beat against a benignly apocalyptic setting and the title track is a deft, musically complex comparison of nostalgia's simultaneous pleasure and pain. There's also the character study "Carol" with useful neologisms such as "a cocaine holiday," and besides being great to sing along with "Sirens of Titan" rewards you with just enough literary indulgence to feel sophisticated without feeling stuck-up, which is always a solid balance to strike. The 2000 and 2007 reissues add various B-sides and retreads; they're neither as compelling or memorable as the main album, though the pleasant Beatle-esque charm of "Elvaston Place" does stand out. (Content: mild adult themes in "Carol" and "Modern Times.")