Welcome to part two of my nostalgic round-up of the albums I’ve best known and loved. It’s here you’ll see some really huge gaps in my music-listening career. I missed years, nay lifetimes (all my own), of music in grad school. The 90s, however, I was right in there and this list shows it.
The 90s! 20 years ago this September, I began my undergraduate degree. Those first few years represent the apotheosis of my connection to a world made better with music. In honour of those years, and as an anniversary gift to myself, I hereby vow to cultivate a new musical renaissance in my own life. In honour not only of Amy Winehouse, but also of my auditory canals which, while I continue to be unable to resist the juggernaut of age in terms of natural hair colour and the relative comfort attending basic activities like sitting or standing, still work really quite well.
Oh, here’s Part One if you missed it and can’t find any other way to get at the Fleetwood Mac.
Check Your Head (1992) is not only my very favourite Beastie Boys album, but it also contains my most beloved Beastie Boys song of all time: “Jimmy James.” MCA just rocks this tune so hard. Speaking of MCA, he’s the only musician besides Amy Winehouse whose death actually made me weep like a child. Dammit.
The Beastie Boys has (have? Help me, Catastrophizer, help me!) always been greater than the sum of its parts, but MCA and his super-gravelly mic skills was indisputably the greatest of those parts. Also, he looked really fine in bell bottoms and an afro.
The Barenaked Ladies were* a Canadian silly, nerdy band comprising a group of surprisingly talented musicians. I say it’s surprising, not because they’re Canadian (although..), but because they mobilized all their crazy mad musical talent on this album to channel the souls of a whole generation of awkward, repressed, geeky teens. God love them.
1992‘s Gordon holds up so much better than I thought it would. I listened to the whole thing, front to back, for this post. It might not stand up for someone who was a cooler teenager than I was, I don’t know; but I sucked and they sucked, but didn’t suck at all if you know what I mean, so it was totally boss, both then and now. I (and my entire high school, possibly) saw them in concert in Halifax in 1993 and it was a distressing combination of amazing–lead singer Steven Page picked my friend Kyle up on his shoulders and ran around with him for awhile–and uncomfortable–we were at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium and didn’t feel like we could storm the stage like our throbbing teenaged hearts wanted to, and so we just danced uncomfortably in front of our seats. Steven Page hates us and he’s right to do so.
*BNL still exists but without Steven Page. I’m sorry, but no. Steven Page was the bestest part. No one can sing like that guy. You’re not dead to me, BNL, but we can’t have a relationship anymore.
God, how I loved Tori Amos. I probably still would if she hadn’t lost her damned mind and started making boring music. Or maybe she found her mind and that’s why she started making boring music. In any case, I haven’t felt the Tori vibe since sometime in the 90s, and that’s a sad thing.
Under the Pink was released in early 1994, I think, because I remember spending several interminable hours with my then boyfriend in some music shop while he tested the sound quality of what may have been every goddamned speaker in the place. This was important, you see, because it was imperative that the new toy be able to do justice to this album, more specifically, to the incredibly pretentious but nonetheless irresistible “Yes, Anastasia” (which I still love, in spite of hearing 147 times in a row on that day alone).
Other favourites are “Past the Mission” (in which Trent Reznor quietly contributes to making the chorus terribly sad-making, in spite of the jaunty piano in the rest of the song). And, of course, “Cornflake Girl.”
New Beginning, Tracy Chapman (1995). I loved this album hard. I mean, utterly. Every earnest inch of it resonated with me because 1995 was, really, a re-set on my entire life. Listening to it again, for the first time in years, I know two things: 1) Why it was so integral to my life in 1995 and 1996. 2) That if it were new to me now I couldn’t love it. Don’t get me wrong, I dug it. But the seriousness, the naive hopefulness, the utter lack of humour don’t reflect me anymore. They belong firmly with my long gone early 20-something self, the self that thought it would be both possible and desirable to completely shed the past.
I’m rather more weathered and grey-haired, both inside and out, now, and such bright-eyed energy doesn’t have much to do with my day-to-day anymore. But I’m glad that album was there to help me usher in that new beginning, so painfully summed up for me in “At This Point in My Life.” The one song from this record that I still adore without qualification, “Smoke and Ashes,” is, I think, one of the best songs of ravaging heart-break ever recorded.
Boys for Pele, Tori Amos (1996). This album embodies the happy apotheosis of Amos’s musical genius in tandem with a still somewhat restrained and bitter insanity. Like I said above, I don’t care much for any Tori after this album–it’s all too happy or too syrupy.
But I will always have time for Boys for Pele. The discordant melodies, although I didn’t realize it, prepared me for my later love affair with Tom Waits. “Caught a Lite Sneeze” is perfect in its restraint while “Blood Roses” is perfectly disturbing and its lack thereof. The lyrics only make partial sense in both cases, which is classic Tori. But so is the painfully plain (well, for Tori Amos) lyrics of “Hey Jupiter,” which echoed too closely how I was feeling about being dumped by this boy who, in retrospect, was obviously bad for me and would have destroyed everything good about me had we stayed together. You think I’m being hyperbolic, which is not unreasonable as I am often a prey to splashing around like an idiot in my own exaggerations; but no, in this case, it is horribly true.
Version 2.0, Garbage (1998). God, I loved this album. Its musical power was so…powerful…that it was able to completely transcend the fact that a psychotically jealous ex-boyfriend gave it to me for my birthday. I dumped him about a week after my birthday (I know), and then he began showing up at my house in the middle of the night which was extra scary because while I lived with my parents, they were in fucking Alaska or something and I was entirely alone and had, I think, shown this guy how to break in in case he lost the house key!!!
So, obviously, he was only a little bit psychotic because he didn’t exercise that option; he merely spent hours pounding on the front door while I cowered upstairs talking to a friend on the phone. No, I don’t know why I didn’t call the police or have someone come over. The passions of the early 20s (his) were matched and exceeded by the stupidities of the early 20s (mine).
But the album! Of course, “Push It” is utterly brilliant and timeless–as all songs called “Push It” are. But the video! It made me realize what a hopeless fan of the grotesque I really am, in spite of all my pretensions to high-brow tastes in literature, film, and music. Also, Shirley Manson is probably the baddest lady to rock out since Joan Jett rocked my world so hard that as a 7-year-old I begged to be able to dye my hair black like hers.
I still love this album and listen to it fairly frequently. Sometimes I even get my groove on with it at the gym (Shirley Manson thinks of an early middle-aged lady singing along to “Special” while sweating on the elliptical and probably tears her hair out. Forgive me, Shirley). For feeling full of hopeless longing, “You Look So Fine” is one of the finest. And in 1998, I was full of more hopeless longing than–I was filled with exactly the same sort of hopeless longing that all 23-year-olds feel but think is unique to them and utterly world-shattering.
By so, so, so, so much Outkast’s Aquemini (1998) is both my most favourite hip hop album of all time. Together, Big Boi and Andre 3000 constitute one of the best musical partnerships ever. I am not afraid of the superlatives at all when discussing these two. What the FUCK were they thinking breaking up? Damn them, the world sucks infinitely more without Outkast.
So, this album is so goddamned amazing that I find it almost impossible to choose favourite. Every song on this album is the best damned song on the album. But here are some of the very best of the best. Stop trying to make sense of what I’m saying and just go listen to “Rosa Parks,” “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 2),” “Y’All Scared” (this last one is the opposite of politically correct, just so you know).
One of the things I love about David Gray is that while his albums are all kind of sad and wistful, he fully rocks out in concert. On the strength of 1998‘s White Ladder alone, my husband and I got all his other albums and went to see him in concert.
You probably have no idea how much of a deal it is for me to go to a concert. I’m an old lady; I don’t want to stand on a concrete floor, crowded in with a bunch of 20-year-olds out on fancy dates who keep flinging their extra perfumey hair in my face.
I did this for David Gray, and it was awesome, not only because he rocks but because he reminded the screaming ladies he was married and so to step off. AND because he had to keep changing his shirt because she was sweating so much. His music doesn’t sound like that kind of music on CD, but it somehow does on stage; the sweat storm was entirely natural, is what I’m saying. it was pretty goddamned great–just as great as when I saw Billy Idol in concert in 2006 or so and he lifted up his shirt, asking the crowd, “How many of you want to have sex with me???” and everybody screamed YES, middle-aged suburban moms, huge biker dudes, 12-year-old boys, and er, self, not excluded.
But back to David Gray. From White Ladder, you should check out “Please Forgive Me,” “We’re Not Right,” and “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” (be prepared to feel some pain in the heart area for this last one).
Funeral, Arcade Fire (2004). This album came to me as a beacon, a boon, a blessed bright relief in a terrible situation–a 6-hour drive in a crowded, lumpy minivan populated by four people I liked, one I didn’t know, and one who I hadn’t met before but who turned out to be one of the biggest assholes I’ve ever met. The asshole? She was in control of the music because she was sitting shotgun.
She proved to not be a complete loss to humanity when she decided to play Funeral. As I am about as unrelated to hipster culture as it’s possible to be, I had never heard of this band of musical golden children. I don’t think having this album as periodic respites to this horrid person’s constant blathering made me love this album, but I probably love it even more than I would have otherwise. My favourites are the (for them) super-rocking “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” and, predictably, “Rebellion (Lies).”
The first time I heard the Scissor Sisters, I was in a sports bar with two big guy’s guys (not that kind of guy’s guy–the kind who go to bars to watch an NBA game on a big screen but is also able to conceive of reading books by either ladies or Chinese people). We were in a manly sports bar and while we waited for the game to start, they played music television and “Take Your Mama” came on. Love at first shimmy, it was.
Their 2004 self-titled album is really one of the most perfect albums I know, in part because the songs are so incredibly diverse in tone and style but still all sound distinctly Sister Scissor-y. They have weird videos, too, which is always fun–and ensures that their following, while loyal, is hardly mainstream. Check out “Laura” (Can you think of a better way to break up with someone than to declare, “This’ll be the last time I ever do your hair”?), “Filthy Gorgeous” (this video is very naughty; you’ve been warned!), and their entirely original cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.”
Back to Black, Amy Winehouse (2006). This album is, of course, most famous for the ubiquitous and sadly prophetic “Rehab.” This is an excellent song but the rest of the songs on this album are so much more super-excellent, that it irks me a little to realize that she might be remembered primarily for this. Goddamn, her voice! If you don’t think she was really special, listen to her version of “Valerie” and then some other poor silly bastard attempt to replicate it. It’s awful, I tell you. Only Amy Winehouse can sing “Valerie.”
My most, most, most (!) favourite songs on this album are “You Know I’m No Good,” “Tears Dry on Their Own,” and “Back to Black.” But , really, trying to choose my favourite Amy Winehouse song would be like trying to choose my favourite cat, if all my cats were Fat Jeoffy.
There’s no one like her. I still want to cry a bit when I think of all the amazing music she won’t give us. Fuck.
I discovered the incomparable Iron & Wine in the most hipster-ish manner imaginable. I was in the Hipsterville area of Toronto (Queen West, near Trinity Bellwoods Park), in Type Books (where hipsters go to rifle through new Literary Fiction and look good in their giant glasses and the tiny jeans covering their tiny un-bums).
I was browsing and feeling sad that there appeared to be nothing published before 2004 in the whole damned store when The Shepherd’s Dog (2007) started playing. It was worth it all–it was worth everything. All my time in my own bookstore was experienced against the soundtrack of Iron & Wine and Amy Winehouse, and it wasn’t therefore a complete loss.
Speaking of concerts, I would suffer through a great deal of discomfort and any number of young ladies flinging their stupid hair in my face to see Sam Beam live. Listen to “Resurrection Fern,” “The Devil Never Sleeps,” “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” the last of which somehow ended up on the Twilight soundtrack?? I guess that’s good news, wider audience and all that…and when all those Twilight-loving weirdos grow up maybe they’ll remember this song and know there’s something worth living for now that K-Stew and R-Patz (did I really just refer to them this way? Someone kill me.) are really kaput.
And now we conclude our little tour of my inner musical world, limited though it may be. While Amy Winehouse got me back into listening to music at all, it’s the dreamy American duo Beach House that gave me the idea to do these posts in the first place. I’ve been listening pretty much non-stop to Bloom (2012) since it was introduced to me and I think you should too.
They make a kind of music called Dream Pop, and that seems about right. Listening to this album makes me want to lay around in a field or go swimming in a lake or think about the first (nice) kiss I had. Just listen; you’ll understand. Here’s “Wild”–a somewhat disturbing video but fitting, I think. Also, “Wishes”–pure video incomprehensibility, but it’s really sweet somehow (but who is that guy? I’ve seen him before but can’t figure it out). Finally, “Lazuli” has become my favourite song from the album but the video is really very bad; it’s like the director thought Beach House should have an Illuminati-off with Ke$ha. Don’t hold this against them; the members of Beach House are too busy being musical geniuses to concern themselves with mush like music videos.
So, that’s that. It took far too long to write this and get all those links in. I thought about doing a post on the albums that didn’t make the cut–albums that were great but had one or two songs that I just couldn’t abide (e.g., Def Leppard’s Hysteria and Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange)–but I think I’d rather stick mostly to books, foods, and beasties here on Jam and Idleness.
Thank you and good night!