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Between soft rock and a hard place

By Sara Bir

There comes a time in a rock music critic's life when you realize that you are really, really washed up and not in touch with anything cutting edge or even relevant in the current musical climate. One morning you wake up and, in a moment of brutal honesty, confess to yourself that you have no idea who this Franz Ferdinand guy is or you realize that at some point they started playing Modest Mouse songs at the Gap and you completely missed it. How is it that my mom knows more about Wilco than I do? Alternative music is supposed to be the way people who can't relate to the rest of the world relate to each other, so why have I stopped caring about it?

I blame our record player. Mr. Bir Toujour and I finally procured a working one about a month ago, and my already spotty pop-cultural literacy has gone downhill ever since. The record player sparked a cavalcade of vinyl recovered from a hippie neighbor's yard sale and various thrift stores, most of it in scratched, dusty, uncollectible condition--but play it we do, and to excess. How can a music fan be concerned with Bjork's new album when there's Jethro Tull to be heard? For people like me (who, not having been born yet, were unable to spend most of the '70s playing records and smoking pot), there's an entire era--multiple eras!--waiting to be unearthed. To wit:

Genesis, Invisible Touch

At least five-eighths of the songs on this album were released as singles. Sure, I liked them in fifth grade, but they stand on their own now for their musical complexity when removed from roller-rink nostalgia. This album is good despite Phil Collins. Play Invisible Touch back-to-back with Collins' solo No Jacket Required and see what I mean.

Mike Oldfield, Tubular Bells

OK, so I went out and bought the Fiery Furnaces' critically lauded new album Blueberry Boat in a desperate attempt to expose myself to something new and exciting. It's massive, intricate, operatic, unwieldy--a mind-boggling achievement. But Blueberry Boat kind of gives me a headache. Tubular Bells does not give me a headache, plus it has that growling "Piltdown man" part. And dude, this was, like, in The Exorcist!

Johnny Rivers, Realization

Here we have a psychedelic Johnny Rivers really getting in touch with his inner self, man. Outside of the Johnny Rivers front photo featuring a bad goatee and love beads, you can tell this album came out in the '60s because it includes "Hey Joe." Yes, even Johnny Rivers covers "Hey Joe," and it's this really great, bloated version with a backing choir and everything. Plus, there's "Summer Rain," as wonderful a pop song as you can ask for.

Dionne Warwick, Your Favorite Bacharach- David Hits

A Columbia House thing, probably not even a real album. But it's still excellent to play while making dinner, and a lot less depressing than Billie Holiday.

Sessions Presents Mellow Gold

The best three-record set of easy-listening music ever! Seals and Crofts, early Hall and Oates, the Doobie Brothers, "Midnight at the Oasis"--oh God, this record is heaven! Jackson Browne in any other context is indigestible.

History: America's Greatest Hits

America is distinguished for sounding kind of like Neil Young. I have Neil Young albums, but guess what? I probably listen to America just as much, if not more often. This alone should condemn me to hell. Why am I allowed to write about music?

The catch here is that, keeping a limited budget in mind, I typically purchase only records in the 99 cent price range. For 99 cents, you can't buy undisputed classics--you get rejects. For 99 cents, you get Orleans. Stuff that's mostly suited not for smoking pot, but for drinking Tab. Stuff you can't even be ironic about liking. But I do like it (well, except for Orleans). Sincerity in embracing 99 cent records is so, so beyond wearing a reproduction vintage Def Leppard T-shirt, folks--and that's what the cutting edge is made of. Franz Ferdinand, take note!

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From the October 6-12, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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