Thursday, November 12, 2009

Worst. Music Purchase. Ever.

Pop Lie - Okkervil River (mp3)
Awful - Hole (mp3)

Ballpark figure, I've added more than 700 songs to my music collection in just the past year. By contrast, in the early part of this decade, I was generally buying an album a month, sometimes less. Maybe 100-150 songs a year. So I've easily quintupled the amount of music I'm buying/acquiring since Bob and I started this blog.

Anytime you acquire that much music over such a small period of time, it's unreasonable to expect to be completely happy with every purchase. Sometimes, what will one day become a favorite album is originally acquired at a time when it doesn't touch the right nerve for you, and it lingers unappreciated on your digital shelf. But other times, you buy something with enthusiasm or interest, give the thing a half-dozen spins into your eardrums, and watch as it quickly fades into the ether. It probably doesn't suck; it's just not all that great, or it's not what you had hoped it would be. That is to say, it just disappoints.

Here are just four of my disappointing purchases from the past year:
  • Cheap Trick's latest album, The Latest (Amazon - $8.99) -- This isn't a bad album. Some songs are darn catchy. But I guess there's nothing in there that I haven't heard before, and it's mostly variations on a beloved theme, but one I've practically memorized. It's like someone riffing on a new version of "Chopsticks."
  • Colin Hay's Are You Lookin' At Me? -- Hay's Going Somewhere is precisely one of those records that sat gathering dust on my shelf for several years before a chance encounter inspired me to give it another spin, and that second go-round found Colin speaking to me very directly in some ways. I found out about this album a year late, but whatever connection I felt with his previous album is almost completely absent this time around. It's busier, trying harder to be clever, and less intense.
  • White Rabbits' It's Frightening -- This is a decent album. Nothing bad about it, really. Some good songs. But I listen to it and think... SPOON. I might not be right about that, and it might not be fair, but that's the beauty of owning our own opinions.
  • U2's No Line on the Horizon -- If you need an explanation, you didn't listen to the album.
Don't misunderstand. I don't name these albums and harbor ill will or deep regret. They might have missed the mark with me, or they might have failed to reach my level of expectations, but rarely if ever do I feel ripped off for buying music. In fact, I can only think of one time in the last five or six years when I bought something and found myself frothing with anger and frustration that I had wasted my money on it: Franz Ferdinand's self-titled debut album, Franz Ferdinand.

Five years after buying it, hearing their name still makes me bristle. I can't even listen to the couple of songs off the album that I thought were OK, because hearing them just reminds me that I wasted $10 to buy the whole damn miserable thing.

That my anger about this has flown way beyond rational proportions is without question. There's absolutely no reason to get all that upset. I've had dozens of meals that cost me more than $10 and sucked a lot worse than Franz Ferdinand. Hell, I've bought other albums that were worse than Franz Ferdinand.

Yet this album sticks out so far beyond the pale of badness in my mind.

Why?? Truth is, I'm not sure. Maybe it's because all these people kept telling me how awesome it was. Maybe it's because it was so critically acclaimed. Maybe it's because their first single seemed so catchy and clever. All I know is that, after five or six listens, I was fighting my dislike of their music much like I imagine a gay teenager fights admitting that he or she is gay. I knew deep down in my heart that I disliked the album, but I just couldn't bring myself to admit it. So I kept listening, kept trying to find ways to like it. In the end, all this did was make me hate Franz Ferdinand even more.

When their sophomore album tanked, I took unusual and cruel joy in their tanking.

Maybe some of y'all are, but I'm not a guy who roots against artists very often. Music is like the PGA. Musicians aren't competing against one another. Golfers compete against the course, and musicians compete against the culture and the creative curve and their own inner demons. It's difficult for me to root against anyone in that line of work.*

So why such vitriol against Franz Ferdinand?

Honestly, I don't really know. I only know their music annoys me and that everytime I recall paying actual spendable cash for the ability to own their music, I throw up in my mouth a little.

Anyone else have this experience, perhaps not with Franz, but with another artist or band? I'd love to know.

* -- Britney Spears and other "artists" whose sole job is to be an almost mindless and thoughtless thoroughfare for other people's writing and musical vision and production values are not Musicians. They are very crafty and successful prostitutes, or mannequins with voices. This isn't me being snotty. It's me acknowledging the difference between someone who creates and someone through whom others create. This is precisely why so many successful actors dream of being musicians, because they sense the freedom to express themselves as opposed to playing a role handed to them by others. (And, likewise, famous "musicians" often become actors because they find it easier to play a role than to maintain a unique voice.)


BeckEye said...

I bought a CD by some dude named Will Hoge. I think I had heard one song that sounded pretty good and it was recommended for me (probably by those freaks at Amazon) as a fan of The Black Crowes. Let me tell you something...WILL HOGE AND THE BLACK CROWES SHOULD NEVER BE PUT IN THE SAME SENTENCE EVER AGAIN. I can't begin to explain the suckage of that CD. It made me so angry that I wasted time and money on it. I forget what happened to it...I probably tried to sell it back and didn't get any buyers for it, so maybe I just tossed it.

Billy said...

Ouch. Karmically speaking, I think the gods just spanked me with a mace. Beck, I betcha you got that recommendation from me... (although I don't think I'd ever compare him to the Black Crowes)...

Goofytakemyhand said...

Bruce Springsteen - Workin' on a Dream.

I even listened to the entire album when it was released on NPR. I didn't think it was great then, thought the first track Outlaw Pete was about 5 minutes too long... but thought I could make myself like it if I purchased it in a CD form... Nope.

Hopefully there will be Better Days for the Boss and he finds another producer than Brendan O'Brien.

and Lucinda Williams - Little Honey

One of the only albums I ever purchased without listening to any samples. Figured she can't miss. I was wrong.

I'm glad she finally found love, but upbeat material? That's not what got her such critical acclaim.

Why she chose AC/DC's It's a Long Way to the Top as a final track still baffles me. It has nothing to do with the concept of the album.

Goofytakemyhand said...

Will Hoge negativity?

Uh oh, Billy might release the hounds.

Bob said...

Every one of you has mentioned, in negative terms, entire CDs that you purchased. Maybe that's the problem right there. As I look back, I think I've almost completely shifted from buying CDs to buying songs.

I have one Franz Ferdinand song in my collection; maybe 3 Will Hoge. Sounds like that's all I need. But, yeah, I got sucked into Bruce, too. I've honestly never listened to it since the day it came out; I have no idea what it even sounds like.

BeckEye said...

You like this Will Hoge person? Seriously?? Well, it's a good thing that you have that whole Flesh For Lulu thing going for you.

I didn't get the recommendation from you...this was years ago. It might have been his first record? Something about a bird? The Birdshit Blues? I don't know. But I shudder to think that he's put out more albums.

Goofytakemyhand said...

Will Hoge is a lot like Rhett Miller (solo Rhett) ... if you've heard one single, you've heard them all.... but they are 10x better live... I have a bootleg which Hoge had on his website many years ago from a show @2001 in Nashville (before his record deal with Atlantic even)... Great stuff. A lot rawer sound, longer jams, and a couple of Beatles covers since George Harrison had died a few days earlier.

Billy said...

Bob -- I'll admit this might be fucked up, but for me, singles are to my love of music what blind dating is to romance or what chapters are for novels. If I like a band or artist, I want to buy their lump of work. I'm still stubbornly under the illusion that albums are a musician's novel (or, for most, their short story collection), and it seems wrong to just buy a single chapter of a Pat Conroy book, for instance.

Beck -- Your every Hoge slander is a dagger in mine heart. My only clever comeback is that you just posted a video from Henry Lee Summers and did so with minimal irony. Take that! Ho, ha, dodge, parry, thrust!

Goofy -- While my bias for Will is strong, your general gist is spot-on.

Bob said...

I buy the "lump of work," too, but i guess it's a smaller lump. I think cd's are more like short story collections--some stories blow you away, some are just "eh."

So, when I went for the Peter Holsapple-Chris Stamey reunion cd that came out this year, I listened to the samples from all of the songs and ended up buying about 6 of them.

troutking said...

Working on a Dream is not Bruce's best work, but if it keeps him out on the road for an extra year so I can go see him, I'm fine with that.

But "Better Days"? I don't know about that. It's one good song, but I'll take WOAD over the rest of Lucky Town anyday.