This week, FR looks back at albums we thought we’d hate. But didn’t.
At the Drive-In, Relationship of Command
Choice track: “Pattern Against User”
When I was younger, I always had a problem growing to love things that people I found to be insufferable loved as well. What time to find more people insufferable than as a college freshman (when I was probably just as insufferable, though maybe slightly less pretentious, but in trying to be less pretentious, was probably more pretentious)? Anyway, that year, two albums captured the hearts and minds of every big ol’ snob at big ol’ art snobby Emerson College: Radiohead’s Kid A and At the Drive-In’s Relationship of Command. I eventually came to respect both, but Relationship of Command is much closer to my heart; it’s everything I should hate in an album—loved by assholes, full of oblique lyrics that mean nothing but aim for political and cultural meaning, capped off with annoying vocals—and everything I love in an album—loud guitars, pounding drums, an innovative sound that points to the future while remaining grounded in punk rock past—in one. Fuck you, At the Drive-In, for breaking up before I admitted to myself I liked you.
Choice track: “Pink Triangle”
I had been way into “the Blue Album” when Pinkerton arrived on the scene. I bought the album and after a few listens decided that they had sold out. I took a sledgehammer to the CD in our driveway and ripped down my Weezer poster. I was confused. Coming back to the album years later, I found it far more compelling than “Blue.” Much more personal, musically daring, and totally raw. A little time and perspective can change everything.
The Decemberists, The King Is Dead
Choice track: “Rise To Me”
Travis once told me that his breaking point with The Decemberists came as he attended an installment of the Crane Wife tour and the band’s stage show made a big to-do of the unveiling of a “big fucking whale” onstage.
Little need more be said about The Decemberists’ reputation leading up to The King Is Dead, as even the band strummed up buzz by admitting they’d gone far, far, too far into the ether.
Surprise of surprises, then, that Dead is wonderful. Not a song too long and abetted by the incomparable pipes of Gillian Welch, the album suggests great future developments from a talented band that should’ve realized an album ago that less is more, but better late than never.
Paul McCartney, Ram
Choice track: “Eat At Home”
What is now one of my favorite albums came to me with everything pointing to me at the very least disliking it. It was from the lesser of the two Beatles (in my mind, at the time) that mattered? No, thanks. It inspired lots of bedroom-recorded, twee indie rock? Gross. It featured that awful “Hands Across the Water” (“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”) song that epitomized all the cuteness I hated about Paul? Vomit. Never mind; this album, in all its homespun glory, is great, and better than most, if not all, of my favorite Beatle’s solo efforts (the only argument being Plastic Ono Band, and I’d rather listen to Ram any day).
O’ Brother Where Art Thou?, Various Artists
Choice track: “I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)”
Whether inherited by my environment growing up or self-imposed to keep myself “cool”, I had an innate prejudice against country music growing up. If it was labeled as country, I wouldn’t even bother to try to understand it. Seeing O’ Brother Where Art Thou?, and subsequently listening to the soundtrack blew all that away. Most of what passes for modern country is still just lame pop music (I’m lookin’ at you, Taylor Swift), but the knee-jerk reaction to the word “country” is gone thanks to the Coen Brothers, T-Bone Burnett, and every artist that participated in the music of the film.
Oasis, (What’s The Story?) Morning Glory
Choice track: “She’s Electric”
My sister, a teenager of fluid musical taste (she also introduced me to 2Pac, bless her), commented something along the lines of “Tyler, you’d totally love this new band Oasis, people say they’re like the new Beatles!”
Some months later, after I brushed the chip from my shoulder, I listened for the first time to one of the best albums by one of my all-time favorite bands. Tip of the cap, sis.
Choice track: “Did I Step On Your Trumpet?”
This album is one I got into after randomly hearing a song and liking it after dismissing the band and album as something that seemed awful when reading reviews. Quirky indie rock with a highly Christian message from a group that helped to unleash Sufjan Stevens on the world is something that should be avoided at all costs, right? Probably, but not in the case of this album, especially its lead single “Did I Step On Your Trumpet?” With that song title, you can see how I wanted nothing to do with liking this, right? (Oh, and Sufjan’s done some damn good stuff too, and liking any of it still grosses me out.)
The Apples in Stereo, The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone
Choice track: “The Bird That You Can’t See”
I am predisposed to hate any band that features a lead singer with an overly-sugary vocal approach, which often comes with the power-pop territory that I love (see Fountains of Wayne). Robert Schnider takes the candy-coated approach to new levels, and somehow I like it. Can’t explain it and won’t try. I could apply this to every Apples in Stereo album, but Discovery is my favorite.
Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces
Choice track: “There’s Your Trouble”
Wide Open Spaces converted me from typical “I like everything but country” numbskull to burgeoning country obsessive. Great songs, all sass and Dixie wit, paired with the fact that the girls singing the tunes were playing and writing them, too? It pared down my juvenile resistance right quick. Fly was an extension of Spaces and kept the Chicks ascendant; Home was a genuine bluegrass album that forged the trio’s irresistibility in steel.
Then, Natalie Maines was tried and jailed for treason, and the Chicks went classic rock with Taking The Long Way, which won an armload of Grammys and which I’ve never heard. Wide Open Spaces remains a great listen, though, and plenty of Nashville’s worthiest players right now (Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker) owe their success to its irreverent country pop.
The Explosion, Flash Flash Flash
Choice track: “The Ideal”
I saw this band live and hated them when they played between the (International) Noise Conspiracy and Rocket From the Crypt on the night Joey Ramone happened to die. T(I)NC, one of my favorites at the time, opened and killed it with their stage presence, and in the middle of their set announced that they’d heard Joey Ramone had died, dedicating the next song to him. Later, when the Explosion came on and played a set of generic borderline hardcore punk, and their frontman joked, “Joey Ramone isn’t really dead, he’s just tall,” I was offended. It was only later on, when I heard the genius of their loud-fast-rules anthems in an album context and saw them another time, that I realized a real punk rocker wouldn’t give Joey Ramone a solemn eulogy; the joking gallows humor was the proper tribute.
Neutral Milk Hotel, On Avery Island
Choice track: “Marching Theme”
I have tried with all my might to like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. The best I can do is appreciate the idea and enjoy a few of the songs. When I had reached a breaking point with that album, I figured that I could try On Avery Island just to see if there was some sort of key there that would help me get Aeroplane. I knew I would hate this album…knew it. There’s nothing in it to help me get Aeroplane. In fact, On Avery Island helps me understand exactly why I can’t stand Aeroplane: Jeff Mangum keeps the yelping at a minimum!
Liz Phair, Liz Phair
Choice track: “Friend Of Mine”
My knowledge of Liz Phair constituted: Exile In Guyville; sell-out.
Exile is a great record in any era. So is Liz Phair (and so are Whip-Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg, albums I only explored after falling for Phair).
I’d like to thank the staff at Washington University’s radio station, which covered their review copy of the self-titled record with glib bile, inspiring me to take the CD home for myself because obviously nobody was going to give it a shot there.
Iggy Pop, Skull Ring
Choice track: “Little Know It All”
Long before the Stooges made a reunion album, Iggy reunited with his iconic band and recorded some songs. Said songs ended up on Skull Ring, but it was not a true Stooges album. Instead, it was five songs with Iggy and the Stooges and a bunch more recorded with his touring band at the time, along with some other guests, including Green Day, Peaches, and Sum 41 (SUM FUCKING 41 YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME). The truth of the matter is, though, that, while not a great record all the way through, it’s pretty decent, and the presumably awful guests actually turn in better, more memorable performances than the corpses of the Asheton brothers Stooges lineup (Sum 41 rocks?). Wanna disagree on principle? Listen to the album and see which songs you can remember how to hum.
Choice track: “At My Most Beautiful”
I took a break from R.E.M. right before Up was released. When I read the mixed reviews and bad press about the album, I kept myself away. Even after hearing and liking Reveal, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to it. When I found a cheap used copy a few years ago, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. While it isn’t as tight as their best albums, I found myself pleased by their willingness to experiment. Now that the dust is settled, I have a soft spot for Up. It’s almost like an outcast child that I want to protect when I hear people trashing it.
Paul McCartney, Memory Almost Full
Choice track: “That Was Me”
By 2007, the release of a new Paul McCartney LP was an event of tentative, exhausted interest. McCartney managed a post-Anthology wave of reinvigoration, but his best album of the era was a covers record, the fantastic Run Devil Run.
Plus, Memory Almost Full was distributed by Starbucks.
Too bad the album’s great. A big-armed embrace of the pop instincts that have treated him so well, Memory takes on old age, divorce, irrelevance and, of course, Linda. It broaches each of these teatime topics with wide-eyed optimism. Paul’s most crippling weakness has always been his self-awareness–it’s why he sucked in A Hard Day’s Night (the movie) and why he always comes out of interviews sounding disingenuous–but the awareness finally blossomed into something savvy on Memory Almost Full (perhaps dovetailing with that lucrative McCartney business sense). Somehow, he actually seems…honest. Having lost a great love and been fleeced by a single-stem Jezebel floozy whore bitch, Paul McCartney at long last seems ready to be himself, at least on wax, to magnificent effect.
Then again, he just got fucking engaged again. Oh, Paul.