Is it just me, or have big, expensive hi-fi systems become far less trendy status symbols? Obviously download-able music has become commonplace, and in doing so, it has made the CD player an unnecessary device for many. But it seems that the iPod/iPhone/iEverything age has made the huge sound system (with "mega bass" and speakers that are 5 ft high proudly displayed in the lounge/chill out room; the type of thing you could win on The Price Is Right or buy from shops like Quantum) a tragic, 90s, middle-class embarrassment. It used to be impressive but now it's a little bit sad.
These days, you're "with it" if you can fit your entire music and DVD collection onto your 6000GB iPod video that also connects to the internet better than any computer ever could.
I'm sure this observation is nothing you haven't all thought of before, but it just struck me over the weekend while I was looking for a new CD player. How quickly the grand becomes tacky.
Also, how funny is the word "Ghetto Blaster"?! It's so descriptive of a classic stereotype (pun not intended but certainly approved). It is not used to play music but to "blast the ghetto". And it's great how, in the 80s, everyone seemed to refer to "ghetto blasters" without even a hint of irony. And how old people still called CD players "ghetto blasters" or "boom boxes", even until recently!
Not that I feel like I have to like them, but the following are very popular, critically acclaimed, successful bands that I just don't get. I guess there's no great mystery as to why I don't like them; it's just not my type of music, but I'm sure everyone has their own equivalent list, so I'll share mine anyway.
The Foo Fighters Somehow, for me, any Foo Fighters' song sounds like it's been playing for about 10 minutes, regardless of its actual length. They've got an impressive discography but I just don't think I'll ever like them.
Kiss It is beyond me why this band is so huge. They're nothing but an overblown gimmick. For most of these bands it's a case of "it's not you... it's me"; but with Kiss, I think it's them.
Nine Inch Nails Most people have nothing but good things to say about Trent Reznor and his music. I can see how innovative he is. I like 'Head Like A Hole'. But that's about it. What am I missing with this band?
Beastie Boys I like a bit of 80s hip hop (De La Soul, Public Enemy are great!) but I don't think I've ever enjoyed a Beastie Boys song. I didn't even go through a brief faze of liking them.
Arctic Monkeys Time will eventually tell us if these guys are the real deal, but I'm willing to take a stab and say "no, they are not". "Chav rock" doesn't really appeal to me, and I think they're one of many hyped up British bands that no one will remember in ten years. I thought The Libertines were a better band.
It feels good to get that out there. Anyone else want to confess?
I highly recommend the debut solo album by Black Keys singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach. It's a very solid and surprisingly diverse collection of songs and you instantly get the impression that the Bach is loving the freedom of not doing a Black Keys album (not that there's anything wrong with that) . Keep It Hid opens with the gospel-tinged 'Trouble Weighs A Ton' and followed by the rocking 'I Want Some More', you have to wonder where on earth this album is taking you. The tracks draw their influence from various genres, including country, gospel, and 70s rock; but it's clear that Dan Auerbach has a genuine love for blues music. If this all sounds a bit 'adult contemporary', like something Ray Lamontagne would release - fear not! There's enough fuzzy, dirty guitar and psychedelic moments to steer this album well out of the path of bland, flavour of the month mediocrity. There's enough Black Keyishness (goodness me, what a painful description) to please fans of that band but not too much to make this project a pointless exercise.
The Bach has an awesome voice; so textured, whatever that means. Also, at times (especially in the Black Keys), he sounds like he's singing into a tin can, but in a good way. Apparently some of the lyrics for this album were written by his dad, although there's nothing in the liner notes that confirms it (EDIT: Yes there is! 'Whispered Words' by Charles Auerbach). Keep It Hid should not be kept hidden but... made visible? Kept in the clear? Whatever, just give it a listen.
Some albums kick off with a smash hit single, dedicate the next three or four tracks to singles and then get progressively worse with every track after that. In that context, of course the first song on the album is going to be a "great opening track"; this isn't what I'm talking about. I think a great opening track has to be a part of a great album. While, on one level, it will have the honour of being a first impression of an album full of equally good songs, it will also be irreplaceable as the opening track; perfectly placed.
Here are some of the most memorable opening tracks:
Break On Through (To The Other Side) - The Doors (The Doors) I can't describe why, but this song would be a good start to any album. It's such a short, sharp, punchy, aggressively catchy song!
Like A Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan (Highway 61 Revisited) This song stands alone on it's own merit, but within the context of Highway 61 Revisited, it is an awesome achievement.
Come Together - The Beatles (Abbey Road) Here's an example of the softer, perhaps riskier, opening to an album.
London Calling - The Clash (London Calling) Those steady, urgent opening chords...
Thunder Road - Bruce Springsteen (Born To Run) By the time this song is finished, you are left totally pumped for whatever else the Boss has to throw at you in this album. You don't even care that the next track isn't half as good.
Debaser - Pixies (Doolittle) I love how the album starts with a just a bass line, and then blasts into wild, catchy, addictive, glory. The order that the songs are in on Doolittle (the best Pixies album without a doubt) is pure genius.
Fight Test - The Flaming Lips (Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots) This concept(?) album begins wonderfully with an accidental Cat Stevens rip-off that will be familiar to many.
Wouldn't It Be Nice - The Beach Boys (Pet Sounds) Now, I'm not much of a Pet Sounds fan and I'm definitely not a Beach Boys fan but this song deserves its place in great opening track history.
Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels) - Arcade Fire (Funeral) It's great how this song builds in intensity until it has reached the powerful sound that will sustain the rest of the album.
Hourly, Daily - You Am I (Hourly, Daily) This is strange: an acoustic little ditty, opening up a classic Oz rock album? Yes, and it works perfectly. I suppose you could call this a semi-concept album (the whole album takes place over a day... not that the length is 24 hours... you know what I mean). The title track serves as a prologue to Good Mornin', and I often remember the lyrics "don't let there be something sour in my coffee, fourteen year olds are screaming 'get out of my country'".
I would like to point you in the direction of this blog. It's an ambitious project by someone called Ang, attempting to listen to and review a classic album every week for the next five years. This year is devoted to the 60s; next year, the 70s, and so on.
I like it because, quite often, she is reviewing an album with a fresh pair of ears. Sometimes, I find it more interesting if someone is writing about something after hearing it for the first time, rather than being an expert. She's picked many great albums, so it will be quite an educational five years.