Being a teenager is an awful, horrible experience. It's tortures are innumerable, but large among them is the weight of peer pressure. I am only thankful that I was out of my high school years by the time social networking truly exploded - I cannot imagine the experience magnified through the privacy-denying world of Facebook and Twitter. Anyway, as I've written previously, I didn't really forge any kind of musical taste or identity for myself until I hit 18, so high school consisted largely of agreeing with whatever my friends liked.
I can remember sneering in adolescent derision at Girls Aloud as they emerged from Popstars: The Rivals. I can remember seeing Cheryl Cole (then Tweedy) arrested for her racist assault in a night club and making what I thought was an oh-so-zeitgeisty observation that with accelerated stardom came an accelerated decline. I can remember deriding their songs and going back to listen to Tenacious D.
But all the time, a little voice in the back of my head was saying "But their first single...it was really catchy...it was doing interesting things..." When What Will The Neighbours Say came out I was out of high school's pressure cooker and growing into myself. The videos for "The Show" and "Love Machine" were on regular rotation on the two Freeview music channels, and by then, I was willing to accept the irresistible lure of Xenomania's dancefloor ready beats and clever, subversive lyrics, channeled through Girls Aloud's obvious talent.
Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not would be an impressive album even stripped of context. Knowing that it was a debut album written by a band when most of the members hadn't turned 20 makes it a marvel. It carries such assurance, in both the instrumentation and the songwriting. There is no sloppiness disguised as punk-rock intention - this is a precise beast, stopping and starting and turning on a dime, humming along with a well-engineered purr. The topics of the lyrics may not vary, but Alex Turner engages them with such fine observation that it doesn't wear. In fact, by taking a universe and exploring it so thoroughly from multiple viewpoints and with a true sense of place, it could almost be a concept album. The fact that the Arctic Monkeys didn't rest on their laurels and simply try to recreate this album, musically or thematically, is the cherry on the already delicious cake.
"Wichita Lineman" by Glen Campbell is one of the songs I want played at my funeral. His voice is beautiful - rich and simple, carrying loneliness and longing. The song balances a sort of country/Americana aesthetic with a sweet, Burt Bacharach kind of melody, and there's that iconic synthesizer Morse Code tapping out into the night. It's been called "the first existential country song" and there are many who proclaim it one of the best pop songs ever. Listening to it now, it's easy to see how.
Witching Hour by Ladytron is like carving a passage into a glacier only to discover that it's got the world's coolest nightclub inside.
As I mentioned near the beginning of this whole escapade (sometime in October I believe), We Are Scientists are one of those straightforward bands that aren't trying to reinvent the wheel, they're just trying to make some great pop music. With Love And Squalor, their first album, is a blueprint for their subsequent ones, producing song after song that you want to be hearing in the slightly dive-y back room of a bar in New York as you dance with your friends at 3am.
I have no idea what "Lisztomania" by Phoenix is actually about (I'm pretty sure it's not actually about Franz Liszt) but I don't particularly care. I just wanna dance to it.
Whenever I hear "Joker & The Thief" by Wolfmother, I feel sad that it wasn't around in the late 80s and early 90s, so it could inevitably be used in a Schwarzenegger vehicle. Imagine that spiraling guitar riff being played over the gearing up sequence in Commando and you will share my pain.
Yeah So by Slow Club is a great album, topped off by a truly amazing song. "Our Most Brilliant Friends" became a touchstone of mine a couple of years ago when it felt like every friend of mine was lurching from tragedy to tragedy. It's hard to watch those you care about dealing with things that they have little control over, and the only help you can really offer is a shoulder to cry on and the distracting power of alcohol. To me, this song will always be about the strength my friends have, strength I didn't even know about, to endure and to triumph even when life is shitting on them from the greatest of heights.
Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People moved them beyond the ambient sounds of their first record into the expansive post-rock collectivism that would come to define them. Released in 2002, it was bought in 2007 at Amoeba Records in San Francisco by Tim Maytom, who proclaimed it "the tits".
I have 100 songs left to listen to. The next post will talk about them, and the post after will look back at this whole glorious endeavor.
"Tapas" by Action Bronson