Friday, February 24, 2012

It was brought to my attention that the publishers of the 33 1/3 series were accepting proposals for future titles. The premise seemed alluring, yet still somewhat daunting: the prospect of a glossy, soft cover book devoted to the analysis of the style, content and significance of your favourite album. A book that would be definitive in its scope, a book that would have your name printed on the front cover.

As I passed the link onto friends, we laughed and contemplated the albums we would dissect. We offered up the recordings that we knew absolutely, the ones which have become so thoroughly familiar that they course easily through the veins with every repeated listen. Every solo, every harmony, every lyric can be predicted and yet it manages to induce an unassailable rush of endorphins.

But what to chose? Queen I or Queen II? The Great Escape? The Innocents? Friendly Fire? Logic Will Break Your Heart? Mai god, Happy Nation (US Version)! There's just too much, too much...

When I considered what it would be like to assemble a 40,000 word manuscript, I wondered how analysis would alter my pre-existing attachment to a terribly significant recording. Would I feel that same charge, that same rush of endorphins having ruthlessly dissected every aspect of the creative process? Would such an endeavour interfere (or even damage) the personal value of these recordings?

There are resources available to the listeners who are interested enough to explore the history and development of a recording. There are endless interviews with artists, producers, technicians and teaboys. There are sketchy demos on Casio keyboards which trace the development of a single song. In the instance of the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, there are even artists who go about recreating the entire recording process. Same studio, same equipment, same engineer, everything.

Tomorrow Never Knows

Yet to my mind, the recording of an album appears to be a largely intimate process. After all, only few were privy to the goings-on of those small sound-proof rooms in North London, New York City and Gothenburg. We can only get so close to understanding the creative process of another person. That understanding seems to be diminished especially when it touches upon the creation of something that we hold in considerably high esteem.

Perhaps I am alone in my failure to imagine the creative process. The truth is that I love these recordings to such a great extent that it floors me to imagine rehearsals, arguments or lyric sheets. Perhaps it is a foolish admission, but for me, it is as if these songs are so perfect that I cannot even imagine them being conceived. Perhaps if I could imagine it, I could believe and maybe even anticipate that potential that exists in us all: the potential to create something meaningful and significant to a great many people.

Inasmuch as I fear the prospect of growing weary of these terribly important recordings, I cannot help but think that the only way to answer this conundrum is to commit to that one album and start writing. I can only hope that whatever propaganda, knowledge or damage that may result will be worth it, and that my words may be strong, truthful and effective enough to faithfully honour these silly songs which tend to mean so much.

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: Indiepop Podcast #40
The Stills - Changes are No Good (Grand National Remix)
Eugene McGuinness - Lion
Jay Reatard - In the Dark
Ra Ra Riot - Oh, La
Alpine - Villages
Real Estate - It's Real
Sea Wolf - Black Dirt
Sean Lennon - Would I Be the One?

Download (44.7 MB)


smudgeon said...

There's a certain magic to those albums we hold dear, and if you decide to head backstage you start to see the winches & pulleys, mirrors, and dead birds...okay, that was a clumsy way to put it. When that happens, I think it diminishes that magic just a little.

I don't think i would have the heart to dissect any of my favourite albums (although I feel there is a mildly interesting story waiting behind Pop Art by TVV). Some of them have been so ruthlessly prodded and poked already that I would struggle to find a fresh angle. If I were going to do it, I think I'd probably just take a poll of my musically-inclined friends and have them do the selection for me. Who knows, I might even end up with a new favourite...

Just about the creative process, last night I was watching an interview with David Lynch, and he mentioned that he came up with the Red Room/Black Lodge scenes one day while he was leaning against a hot car. Apparently, it just popped into his head, fully formed. Sometimes that creative process is so hard-wired into people that the story is nothing more than a compact anecdote. You could probably still write a chapter or two about it, but some times it just defies analysis...

Eleanor said...

Thanks again for your thoughtful comment, Smudge!

I know exactly what you're talking about! A recording can be subjected to such a detailed level of analysis that it completely diminishes what is special about it... but I suppose that's the risk you take in any kind of academic analysis.

I suppose the challenge with my albums is that they haven't been analysed to any great extent. Musical historians tend to rush to A Night at the Opera, but much of Queen's earlier work tends to get ignored.

I would probably be most interested in analysing Ace of Base's Happy Nation, although an unlikely choice for the shoe-gazing 33 1/3 folk. It was wildly successful, selling 21 million copies worldwide (although I defy you to find a person who admits to actually owning a copy). I'd love to go to Gothenburg to speak to Ulf and Jonas about how they created it.

YES! I'd heard about that story about David Lynch, although not in an interview, in Craig Schuftan's book The Culture Club. A fascinating idea, "it came to me in an vision", but it doesn't particularly help in deciphering what the hell went on in Twin Peaks!

smudgeon said...

I'm not overly familiar with the 33 1/3 series, but I think I'll agree that that Ace Of Base is probably an odd fit. I guess in the main, pop is considered too lightweight artistically to warrant deeper critical analysis. Piffle, of course!

I'm about to embark on my annual Twin Peaks odyssey. This time, I'm staying sober and taking notes...

Eleanor said...

Oh I'm sure 33 1/3 would insist upon recordings that include drone-violas or else an extremely troubled vocalist. But dat's cool!

I'm jealous of your Twin Peaks adventure! I only watched it for the first time last year and I couldn't ration it at all, I consumed multiple episodes a day.

I recommended it to a friend and they only watched the first season! Can you believe it? Dale had just been shot and then they're like... can't be bothered!

smudgeon said...

Your friends needs a verbal paddling over that decision.

It definitely requires multiple viewings. Have you seen Fire Walk With Me? It lacks some of the charm of the TV series, but it answers surprisingly more questions than it seems to...worth a look.

Don said...

Idon't own any of the 33 1/3 books but I've skimmed through them at the store. While the idea of a whole volume on a favorite album sounds intriguing, I'm not certain that I want my emotional experience sullied by facts. As Martin Mull famously said "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture".

That said, I've long admired your prose and I know you're up to the task. It's in the publisher's best interest to expand beyond their core recordings and tackle albums that till now just wouldn't seem to be within their focus.

I hope that you're able to pull all of this together and have it accepted. Good luck and good listening!

Eleanor said...

Don! I'm terribly sorry! Your response got caught up in the Blogger-spam-comment web! But don't worry, I've safely retrieved your words and now I can respond!

The thing is that the appreciation of an album is so far removed from the creative process... and although I enjoy hearing about the kinds of associations people develop (and so forth), there are some more technically minded people who just want actual facts.

I doubt I'll put together a proposal at this stage, I just have too many other things on the go... but maybe one day, ONE DAY!