Understated Classics Or Not?
At the new year, thoughts and spare time for writing point me toward writing some new posts for my understated classics series. Expect some new ones soon.
I also reflected on my previous choices and thought a bit about how my music tastes have changed recently. Some of this has to do with streaming and the frustrations I wrote about in my last post. Some of it is just down to getting older: I have less time to listen to new music, and much of the ‘new’ stuff I listen to is me investigating the stuff I missed first time around. Who knew Art of Noise were so good? Not me, but I do now!
For example, I listened to Foxbase Alpha and So Tough by Saint Etienne so much in 2021! I think I would now pick one of those two and not Tiger Bay if I were picking one for an understated classic tomorrow. I don’t have a rule that says I can’t pick a band twice, but I think that doing so means missing out something else – at least in the short term. If I manage to get through what is already quite a long list, one of Foxbase Alpha and So Tough will be early on the repeated bands list.
I should also mention that Saint Etienne made a fine album in 2021 called I’ve been trying to tell you. The vinyl is a beautiful object. The question of why we need beautiful vinyl records (and whether we deserve them) should be the subject of yet another future post. In case I get don’t get around to it, the answer is yes: to protect our privacy, to get back to appreciating albums in their entirety, and as a more fun version of the Pomodoro technique.
I had another moment recently where a song came up on an algo-generated playlist and I said to Ingrid, “Oh, I used to listen to this album all the time 20 years ago”. Later, I said, “Maybe it should be one of my understated classics?” Re-listening to the whole album later that day, I realised that there is a big difference between the albums that you continue to listen to over 20 years and the ones you get reminded about 20 years later. It really is a matter of whether an album sticks to you and I realised that this one hadn’t.
Every so often, the album does the living before it reaches you. For example, The Meadowlands by The Wrens. Its follow-up is now all-but-cancelled by the release of Observatory by Aeon Station, the new band of one of the Wrens. On Observatory, you can hear the Wrens sound trying to form, but there’s something missing – something that might unfortunately now never see the light of day. As someone who tends to leave the delivery of projects late, I can empathise with both sides of their dispute and can see the value of getting things finished!
People always scoff somewhat at my choice of Tubular Bells 2 as an understated classic. I maintain that it’s a gorgeous album and as good an advert for modern audio technology as anything else made in 1992. Yes, it’s 30 years old this year. I imagine the album’s perceived cash-in nature might prevent a deluxe re-release, which is a shame because I’d stump up for it. The only physical copy I’ve ever owned was a cassette and I lost that long ago. I’m a prime candidate for a deluxe box set!
Unfortunately, when you listen to Tubular Bells 2 on Apple Music, the service swaps out the stunning eight-minute version of Sentinel for the ‘Early Stages’ demo version (which in itself is fine but definitely not the glorious beast that Sentinel became). Which again leads me back to sighing heavily about streaming…