***3 Albums was a semi-regular music series I wrote for the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library between July 2016 and January 2018.
All 3 Albums posts can be found in their original published form HERE***
Ahoy, fellow music explorers!
It feels like forever and a day since I got behind the keyboard and waxed musical with you fine folks! I’ve been waylaid by some pesky use-it-or-lose-it vacation time and the tending to of other top secret library matters. (Sounds important, right? Mostly it’s just putting stuff people want into their hands… which IS kinda important!).
While I’ve been away, this blog series managed to hit a nifty milestone: 3 Albums recently turned 1 year old!
*Out of nowhere a full marching band appears and fireworks explode in the sky!*
ALL TOGETHER NOW! And ah1, ah2, ah1,2,3 GO!:
Happy Birthday to yoooou!
Happy Birthday to yoooou!
Happy Birthday, 3 Allllllbuuuuuums…
Happy Birthday tooooo yoooooou!
Y’all sound positively marvelous. Thank you to the two people who humored me by actually singing awkwardly at your computer and/or mobile device screens. (Mom and Dad, I’m looking in your general direction).
The fact that I’ve been writing a music series for more than a year now sometimes makes me chuckle to myself. Occasionally like a maniacal cartoon villain, but more often just the garden variety laughing lizard meme “hhhehehe” kind of laugh.
I say this because although I do devour a lot of different music, I tend to be behind the curve in many ways. Not exactly swimming in the mainstream. Perhaps not the most likely choice to be telling people things they should be listening to.
I’ve written plenty about my particular peculiar musical niches. (Queue up a year-in-review montage):
My moth-to-the-flame draw to quirkiness.
My interest in songwriters over radio friendly pop icons.
Unique Christmas music and my obsessive compulsion to seasonally theme my listening.
But hopefully my odd place on the bell curve has aided you in discovering some new tunage or at the very least given you the inspiration to keep searching out sounds you love.
So let’s do just that: dive into the far end of the bell curve and find you some new audiowaves!
Arcade Fire – Everything Now (2017)
“Born in a diamond mine – It’s all around you but you can’t see it.” – “Creature Comfort”
Arcade Fire is a primo example of my life on the slow side of the bell curve. Very few bands of the modern music era have enjoyed such immediate and sustained critical and commercial acclaim. Every note this band has played since their debut album in 2004 has received praise that is as dang-near universal as a mortal band could hope for.
Which is why it is not surprising that the first Arcade Fire album to really thunderbolt me would also be the first one in their acclaimed discography that has drawn the dreaded “mixed reviews.” This actually sums up my musical sophistication pretty spot-on: Late to the party… and it’s not even the awesome party that everyone’s raving about.
Not that I haven’t tried my darnedest to love this band. Their past albums have just never overwhelmed me like they did other people. Nor did they underwhelm me, they simply whelmed me. But this year’s release Everything Now hit my bright red bullseye. It’s the spaghetti that finally stuck to my wall.
Like all of Arcade Fire’s work, Everything Now is music with a message (or rather onion layers of messages):
It’s about having too much and still wanting.
It’s about an ever connected world feeling claustrophobic as it closes in on us and dictates our choices.
It’s about having too many choices to pick from and whether or not that’s a good thing.
Arcade Fire deliver their social commentary in tight, well crafted and sometimes brilliantly executed audio gifts. I think part of the reason this album wasn’t as well received is that they became a little more musically adventurous on this album. Genres leap-frogging all over the place from track to track, which to me helps reinforce their overall statement. Sometimes diehard fans have trouble with “different” and that may be where the disconnect lies. It doesn’t quite feel/sound like normal Arcade Fire fare so it’s harder to still see their brilliance behind it. But trying new things is how good bands grow and acquire new fans (Like me!).
So I’ll leave you with a few quirky musical observations about this album to hopefully encourage you to give it a try:
There’s a killer pan flute sample in the swirling title track “Everything Now.” (How often in life does one get the chance to utter the phrase “killer pan flute sample?”).
The bass work this album is fan-dang-tastic fun. I read a review that called “Chemistry” the worst Arcade Fire song ever… but I just gotta say: Dat bassline tho.
There are two back-to-back tracks called “Infinite Content” and “Infinite_Content.” It’s a gag to prove a point about our Netflix’d existence where everything under the sun is at our disposal. I won’t give it away, but I laughed out loud when I put it together their use of genres. Point well made, Arcade Fire.
What do you think? Am I way off base in my love for this album over their others? Perhaps. But that’s life out on the curve for ya. I’ll continue loving what I love (and secretly hoping you do too!).
Faves: “Everything Now,” “Signs of Life,” “Peter Pan” and “We Don’t Deserve Love.”
The Offspring – Smash (1994)
“Live like there’s no tomorrow – you ain’t gonna waste this life
There’s no tomorrow – you ain’t gonna live it for me” – “Nitro (Youth Energy)”
If you were a fly on my bedroom wall circa 1995 you might be curious why my ear is pressed against the wall as I stand precariously perched on my bed.
Simple: My older brother’s bedroom was on the other side of that wall and he was listening to music. It was the undeniably unique rhythmic drum click intro to “Come Out and Play” that segues into a knowing voice who advises: “You gotta keep ’em separated.”
I never owned the Offspring’s breakthrough album Smash, but my brother sure did. Since I am ninja-sneaky/a typical little brother that definitely means I often slipped into his room while he was gone and “borrowed” many an album. Meticulously replacing it when I was done listening (Belated apologies for this privacy invasion, Todd!).
I have to pause and give mad props to one of our Collection Developers: Perry Hartmann. He does a stellar job curating the library’s music and movie collections. I especially love that he routinely sneaks some older gems in with the new stuff. When I saw Smash on the “On Order” list I cracked a huge teen-aged sized smile. Don’t you love it when a lost musical friend from your past pops back in to say “Hey”?
Listening to Smash now more than 20 years later feels like a strange sort of homecoming. I know every track just like I knew exactly how to perfectly re-stack Todd’s CDs every time way back in the day.
Smash is a powerhouse album. Anchored solidly by the smash-hits (pun intended) “Come Out and Play” and the ode to self-loathing, “Self Esteem.” It boils over with youthful angsty energy and Pop Punk sing-alongs (My fave is the “Woah-OO-oh!!” in “Something to Believe In”). “Bad Habit” also includes the most cathartic (albeit absurdly inappropriate) string of road rage expletives ever recorded. (Put the earmuffs on the kiddos for this one! Well, actually for the whole album!).
Of course, the album is not without it’s missteps. “Killboy Powerhead” sounds precisely like a strange throwaway track you would expect from an unknown early 90’s rock band. Which, to be fair, the Offspring WAS an unknown early 90’s rock band when it was recorded.
But on the whole this album holds up to the years. I always like backtracking to those pinpoint albums that propel a band into stardom. They are always so raw and honest and full of promise. I feel like a lot of bands never can tap back into that well once they break through.
Maybe that’s kind of what happened to The Offspring in my eyes. They went on to have a string of hits after Smash. They were pretty fly singing “Nah nah why don’t you get a job!” But in my ears this would always be the album that they never were able to match.
Slide down the curve into this 1990’s time machine that’s primed and ready for your ears.
Faves: “Gotta Get Away,” “Something To Believe In,” “Come Out and Play” and “Self Esteem.”
Dr. Hook – Greatest Hooks (2007…but really the 70’s)
“Well we’re big rock singers – We got golden fingers
And we’re loved everywhere we go.
(That sounds like us!)” – “Cover of the Rolling Stone”
Question: Is it cheating to recommend a Greatest Hits album?
Answer: (Since I’m making the rules here) “No!” because Greatest Hits albums can themselves be great albums (Duh Kyle, it’s in the name) and they can also spur on musical discoveries.
This was another album I came across while perusing the library’s recently purchased selections (A great way to find and take risk free serendipitous chances on new music).
The entirety of things I knew about Dr. Hook prior to listening to this disc:
They had a huge hit about being on the cover of the Rolling Stone that actually led to them being on the cover of the Rolling Stone.
That song was penned by beloved quirky children’s author Shel Silverstein.
That’s it. Literally all I knew.
I wasn’t alive in the 70’s, so I missed out on the fact that Dr. Hook actually had a pretty good run during that decade. Unfortunately, time has whittled that run down to mere one-hit wonder status but I was pleasantly surprised to get some education on the remainder of Dr. Hook’s hooks. This is where the power of the greatest hits album lies.
I often wonder what music I would have been listening to if I was alive in certain time periods. Would I have been a fan of the light-rockin’ Dr. Hook jams or would I have been Led-Zeppelin-heavy or bust? Hard to say for sure, but my 2017 self thinks this funny band of freewheelin’-hippie-looking-fellas would have been right up my musical alley. I mean, they’ve got a member who sported an eyepatch for goodness sakes! I’m in!
So whether you were a fan way back when or are in the “Dr…Who?” camp, I encourage you to take this album for a spin. Here’s three reasons why:
They clearly don’t take themselves all that seriously. “Cover of the Rolling Stone” is perfectly delivered and hilarious but to my surprise they actually had a long working relationship with Shel Silverstein. He wrote many of the tracks on this album and this band lands his quirky offbeat humor every time.
They’ve got more then just one side. Though their humorous songs are pitch perfect (“Sleeping Late” is an ode to a pillow) they can also do serious (“Carry Me Carrie”) or love sick (“Sylvia’s Mother”) or just plain groovy 70’s (“Walk Right In”).
“Carry Me Carrie” has one of those great breakdowns at the end where the singer just short circuits in the emotion and goes all vocally haywire. Think Paul at the end of “Hey Jude” screaming “Jude-ay-Jude-ay-Jude-ay-Jude-ay!” #winning.
While I’m waaay beyond the time curve on this one, I’m glad Dr. Hook finally came around my way.
Faves: “Cover of the Rolling Stone,” “Carry Me Carrie,” “The Millionaire” and “You Make My Pants Want To Get Up and Dance.”