Tuesday, 12 May 2020

1 Month Of Listening To Albums I've Never Heard Before: The Results.

This last month I’ve been listening to one album a day by an artist that I’ve never listened to a whole album by before. I'm stopping now. It hasn't been that enjoyable.

The reason for my doing this was explained in a previous post (here) but essentially it was a reaction against what I saw a lot of people reporting – which was that they were listening to music they already knew and felt comforted by. I’m just not the sort of person that needs that. Or so I thought.

My voyage of discovery straddled the 1950’s to 2020 and was based on a system of sorts. I used randomisers to choose the decade I was selecting my choice from each day except one (when I chose something brand new from 2020) and also used a random draw system to decide the genre.

This journey has taken me from 60s french pop to 80s heavy metal to 90s hip-hop to 50s jazz and beyond. You can see the full list of what I’ve listened to over the last month by clicking on this link.

At the start of doing this I didn’t set an end point, but after 1 month I have to quit, for my own sanity. It hasn't gone as well as I hoped. I expected an exciting journey of discovery, finding lost gems and classics I missed. But in the main I found disappointment, right down to today, when this project goes out with rather a whimper rather than a shout as I listen to Kajagoogoo from the early 80s. 

Kajagoogoo's album White Feathers certainly wasn’t a classic of the decade. Too Shy excepted I found it extremely lacking in almost every respect. No wonder Smash Hits magazine only gave it 2/10 in their April 1983 review. 

Overall mainstream pop fared pretty badly in this project. Atomic Kitten’s album Right Now was probably the lamest and most uninspiring record of the whole month with only the title track, Whole Again and the cover of Eternal Flame being in any way memorable. Definite bargain bin material. Likewise Rick Astley’s Stock Aitken and Waterman produced debut was hardly a must repeat listen. 90% of it stuck to the same formula – an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach to pop, which was fun for a few tracks but then became monotonous and finished by going off at a bizarre tangent with a string laden cover of When I Fall In Love. Of course there's great mainstream pop out there. But I listen to a lot of pop, so maybe there was less of the good stuff to choose.

It didn’t get any better in other genres either: Iron Maiden and Megadeth both left me laughing (sorry metal fans), but for all the wrong reasons – they seemed full of cliché. Cardi B’s debut album was also a disappointment and a lot less interesting than I imagined it would be based on her profile on social media. Likewise Molly Nilsson’s much lauded Zenith  from 2015 may have received five star reviews in the music press at the time but I struggled through it. I found it somewhat yawn inducing - even though from the reviews I read it sounded like my sort of thing. Sadly it just didn't hit the spot - showing that whatever the critics say they don't always get it right, if right means 'connecting with you as an individual'.

So what of the 30 odd records I listened to did I really enjoy? I was surprised to find I quite enjoyed Chet Baker’s relaxing jazz tones and the 60s did well with records from Francoise Hardy (Tous Les Gracons Et Les Filles) and the 1963 album from Lesley Gore (I'll Cry If I Want To) each record possessing a charismatic old-fashioned charm that made me want to return to them. And the disco of Sister Sledge got me dancing - I actually find it incredible that I've never listened to a Sister Sledge album. The singles? Sure. But never a long player until this month. However, my two real discoveries, both of which I will now be investing in physical copies of were Steve Roach’s Structures From Silence, an album of calming drones and chords over just 3 tracks. It was rightly was named in Pitchfork’s Top 50 ambient albums of all-time list. Also, probably my favourite, was Lemon Jelly’s Lost Horizons from 2002, which despite being nominated for the Mercury Prize passed me by at the time. It’s a record that’s fun, inventive and quirky. Both are instrumental albums – I’m not sure if that’s truly reflective of my tastes generally, but certainly in this project it was what I enjoyed the most.

Did I learn anything else from this project? Only that it reinforced something I already knew; as a music fan in 2020 I’m spoilt for choice. I’ve always prided myself on listening to an awful lot of music from all genres, but I’ve barely touched the surface. There are so many records still out there to discover and streaming has made it all very easy – although not necessarily always pleasurable. Jumping out of the musical safety net and over the cliff without wings is an exciting idea, but it’s fraught with danger. If you’re going to do it just make sure Atomic Kitten aren’t there to catch your fall.

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