I just started a trial of Apple Music. I don’t know if I like it, and I’m sure I’ll review it once I have a more educated opinion on it. One thing that’s been interesting, though, is going back to records I owned or heard all the time when I was younger, but that never made the transition from cassette/CD to my hard drive. These are records that had some effect on me, but not so much that I ever considered them essential enough to re-buy. And you know what I’ve learned? My memory is not reliable. Or maybe younger me was just a moron. Or both.
My mom had this on two or three cassettes when I was a kid, and it made absolutely zero sense to me. The warm guitars, meandering mixes, and contemplative philosophy was absolutely in contrast to the brash, snappy, super-digital sound of 1980s adult contemporary radio, my only source of music at the time (think “Walking on Sunshine” or even Harrison’s work in the Traveling Wilburys). At the time, the distance between 1970 and then seemed culturally irreconcilable. Jump ahead almost thirty years and this record borders on sounding contemporary. I mean, you’re not going to hear refrains of “Hare Krishna” in a hit pop song, but this is the analogue, tape-saturated tone that everyone is emulating these days. In a way, it even seems ahead of the curve, with some smart mixing choices, not making everything fight over one another for attention, pushing drums around as needed. The songs vary heavily in quality, but the best ones (e.g. “Let It Down”, “Beware of Darkness”) have some really bizarre and inspired chord and melody choices. This record is a great example of matching the mood of both vocals and music, thereby amplifying the feelings of stoicism, melancholy, and patience. I prefer the rougher sound of the first section than the crisper second section, and I could live entirely without the we-should-have-stopped-playing-when-we-got-wasted third section (aka the jam, man), but there’s lots to love here. It’s like the guy had all these great songs but nobody would let him put them on record or something.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: I don’t think that my parents had this record because it wasn’t by Foreigner, CCR or The Eagles. “My Sweet Lord” is the only thing on the planet that I enjoy & also consider to be total hippie bullshit. – Mark)
Pearl Jam – Vs. (1993)
My illustrious colleague is the requisite expert on this band, now. Really, it’s my memory that’s on trial here. I remember a record that managed to rock really hard while also experimenting with the status quo; it was a big deal to me at the time that some of these songs didn’t have a third chorus, for god’s sake. That’s how stale rock music was then, or maybe how stale my taste as a young teenager was. Anyway, Mark’s right: there are a bunch of stinkers on every Pearl Jam album. “Glorified G” and “W.M.A.” are pretty awful. But you know what? A lot of this holds up. The one-two punch of “Go” and “Animal” is an awesome way to start a driving guitar record, and Veddie is in fine form throughout the entire album. “Indifference” is a great closer, even if it isn’t as good as it is in my memory. And “Rearviewmirror” is somehow better than it was when I was younger. Now if only someone could travel back in time and trade out that awful snare drum for something that doesn’t sound like a tin can being flicked.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jay’s right on a few things here. “Go” is a pretty good song and “Rearviewmirror” is a good example of 90s rock conventions. “Glorified G” is great because it sounds as dumb as Pearl Jam thinks they are smart. This album is okay – better than Ten – but it’s no Vitalogy. Doing a Pearl Jam retrospective has been the worst choice of my adult life, btw. – Mark)
Elliott Smith – Xo (1998)
Flash-forward from my childhood to my second childhood, aka my early twenties. This record was omnipresent and seems inextricably connected to Toronto circa 2001-2004 or so. Don’t like Elliott Smith? Too fucking bad, because you’re going to hear him! Because I was transitioning from mostly loud, mostly stupid music into somewhat better taste, this record always sounded really intimate and songwriter-y by comparison. Listening now after more than ten years away from it, though, I’m shocked by how much of a rock record this is. Shit is fighting over top of each other, the vocals are way up at the front, there are a million instruments, and a lot of the dynamics have been compressed out of it. In other words, this record is a product of the 1990s but I had forgotten that fact. There are some subdued tracks, like “Pitseleh” or “Oh Well, OK”, but this definitely isn’t the record my stupid brain remembers. Some of it, like “Sweet Adeline”, doesn’t work at all for me anymore, but “Waltz, No. 2 (XO)” is still one of the most startlingly well-written songs I know.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: I loved this record, but time has a sobering effect on some pieces of art. Smith’s best work is unassailable, but it’s reasonable to assert that a good percentage of his output was middling – some of it outright mediocre. I’m not going to shit on the production the way that Mr. Snootypants does here, because I think that it’s actually got a pretty unique sound that works for the material. He’s wrong about “Sweet Adeline”, but right about “Waltz, No. 2 (XO)”. I feel that Either/Or is a better overall piece of work, but given that I’m one of the people that contributed to its omnipresence in Jay’s life 10 or 15 years ago, I can’t rightly divorce myself from XO. – Mark)