Skip to main content

I'm Gonna Take Back Some of the Things I Said About You

Every once in awhile I find myself, when a certain heady mixture of nostalgia and narcissism takes hold, re-reading my old reviews.

Revisiting one's opinions can be frustrating, especially when some of those opinions are more than 10 years old. There's a temptation - I call it the George Lucas Feeling - to go back and revise some of the places where I was overly generous or overly dismissive. But I always resist, mostly because it would feel somehow disingenuous.

But there's one particular review that's been sticking in my craw for the past six months or so. And it's not so much about the album itself or what I wrote about it as much as it is what my changed opinion represents.

Last summer I wrote a post about my favorite artists. I'd devised a stats-driven way to determine which musical artists I loved the most, so I shared the process and results. Immediately after, I began to feel uneasy about what I'd posted. Why? It's hard to pinpoint, but mostly it was the nagging suspicion I hadn't quite gotten it right. It seemed like the criteria I'd used was missing something vital.

Not long before posting that, I had gone to see the band that was #15 on the list, Motion City Soundtrack, in concert for the first time. There was a brief Q and A before the show, and it became evident that several members of the audience gained their first exposure to the band via their forth album, 2010's My Dinosaur Life. And indeed, the audience reaction to the four songs the band played from that record was immense.

As with any piece of art, seeing an audience react enthusiastically can't help but change one's view of it. And this can go in any direction, really. It can sway an indifferent opinion, confirm or diminish a positive opinion, or reverse or galvanize a negative opinion. In the case of My Dinosaur Life, an album that had disappointed me terribly when it was released, I found my negative opinion beginning to reverse.

The turnaround process actually began with the release of MCS fifth album, 2012's Go. My Dinosaur Life had so damaged my connection to the band that I didn't even realize Go had come out until a few months after the fact. But once I got ahold of it, all was once again well between MCS and I. I wrote My Dinosaur Life off as the band's obligatory bad record.

But then, after the concert, I revisited My Dinosaur Life. While some of my specific criticisms still held (Justin Courtney Pierre does sound like Mickey Dolenz on Disappear and History Lesson; Delirium and @!#?@! are still not favorites), others changed (Stand Too Close is pretty great; I like the pop culture references now). And, more importantly, so did my overall assessment of the album. I found it was actually a pretty good record.

Perhaps this is simply a matter of adjusted expectations. I expected to love the album when I first heard and I expected to hate it when I revisited it, when in reality it was somewhere in between. But there's something deeper than that, and it goes back to that favorite artists list.

As my budget (both temporal and monetary) for music has become limited, I've found my habits adjusting accordingly. Through no conscious effort my interests have become more and more specialized. At first this seemed like the dreaded "narrowing of tastes" that seems to happen in middle age, that point where all new music becomes "noise" and can never live up to whatever band you liked most in high school. But, thankfully, it's not that. In academia, experts start general and go specific. An entomologist knows a lot about the insect world but eventually becomes an authority on moths, or more likely a specific type of moth. A literature professor starts with English 101 and ends up renowned for her knowledge of Nathaniel Hawthorne, or more likely a specific story by Hawthorne.

I've mentioned many times that I have an obsessive personality when it comes to consumption of pop culture. I tend to go all in, and that's what I did for the first 15 years of of my music fixation (roughly 1994 - 2009). In many ways I loved that time: I cast a wide net and found a lot of great music, learned a ton about pop music history (which is still useful at parties), and made a lot of good mix CDs. But it wasn't sustainable. I've written before about how I used to keep an entire spinner full of CDs I had yet to listen to. During that time, with some exceptions, I tended to love a lot of music a little bit.

Now I find myself loving a smaller amount of artists a lot more. I would guess that at the height of my music consumption phase there were approximately 100 artists whom I would have considered essential. What has happened rather organically and unconsciously is that this number has steadily and drastically dwindled. There are a variety of reasons why my interest in an artist might have fallen away, but in most cases it's some combination of their new work failing to excite while the old work gets ignored, with each circumstance feeding the other.

I'm struck again by how much reaction to an artist, album, or song is how much we decide to that we're going to like it. Our psychological relationship to music is so delicate.

And this brings us back to Motion City Soundtrack and my list of favorite artists. I thought MCS's first album was okay, positively loved their next two, and found initial disappointment in My Dinosaur Life. That next album, Go, was really the defining psychological moment thus far. I liked it enough for it to re-energize my fandom of the band and also to encourage reassessment of its predecessor. Had Go been bad, I wouldn't be talking about Motion City Soundtrack in any favorite artist conversation. They have a new LP coming out sometime this year. What reaction will I have, and how will that affect my view of the band as one of my favorites? I have no idea.

And this is mostly why I've given in to that George Lucas Feeling and removed the post I wrote about my favorite artists. I realize I could just ditch the formula and list those artists that have made the "specialized" cut, but it still won't tell the story that needs to be told. No matter what I write, I won't capture the intangible element that makes me continue to go back to certain artists over and over. Nor can I represent the cyclical, ever-changing nature of these sorts of feelings.

After cancelling his planned autobiography in 2011, Billy Joel said something to the effect of "The best expression of my life's ups and downs continues to be my music." So, from a practical standpoint it occurs to me that the most accurate representation of the music I love is, and will continue to be, my All-Time Favorite Albums List.


My Dinosaur Life isn't on there, but it's a lot closer than it was before.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why Weezer is the Definitive Gen X Band

I’ve been thinkin’ ‘bout my g-g-g-generation.   One of the more fascinating side effects of the ever-intensifying culture wars is the emergence of generational mud-slinging battle between Baby Boomers and Millennials. Social media has played the role of both venue and promoter, and news outlets have done their best to cheer it on. As a member of the cohort that's situated between the two factions - Generation X - and thus removed from the fray, I've regarded this as an amusing sideshow in the never-ending circus of nauseating Internet discourse. The most illuminating part to me is how the conflict, and various reports about it, consistently omits the existence the generation between these two, and how very appropriate that is.   Now I'll start with the disclaimer that I'm well aware that no group of people is homogeneous. Generation X encompasses many different personality types, cultural experiences, economic realities, and a possible 15-year age difference (Gen Xers

20 From 2020

Every year since 2003 (coincidentally, the year I started this blog), I've made a compilation of some of my favorite songs of the year. I love the act of compiling and ordering, finding songs that speak to one another lyrically and that flow together seamlessly.  In order for the mixes to have longevity, I've typically avoided choosing too many songs that lyrically reflect the events of the year. That's gotten harder every year since 2016, and I was initially worried 2020 was going to be the tipping point. This year's mix might have looked a lot different if the presidential election had gone the other way. It would have certainly been more angry and despairing, and would have included such topical songs as Ben Folds's "2020," Ben Gibbard's "Proxima B," and Sloan's "Silence Trumps Lies." All good tunes, but I'm not sure how much I'll want to revisit them. Thankfully, instead, we have a mix with a variety of moods and cov

12 More by Jimmy Eat World

Sometimes an artist just needs 12  more  songs to summarize their career. Case in point... Sometimes your favorite band sneaks up on you. I'd been a Jimmy Eat World fan since the late 1990s, and have never missed one of their albums. But they didn't become my favorite band until a 2013 concert at First Avenue, where I found myself singing along with every single song by heart. It was then that I realized that for every phase of my adult life, Jimmy Eat World has been there to soundtrack it. You'll definitely want to check out the  12 by Jimmy Eat World  list to relive the first part of their career. 1. "Big Casino" (from Chase This Light , 2007) A highly caffeinated tune that contains one of my top ten all-time Jimmy Eat World lyrics: "Well there's lots of smart ideas in books I've never read / When the girls come talk to me I wish to hell I had." 2. "Always Be" (from  Chase This Light , 2007) Chase This Light came out when I was 30 yea