11/19/2005

Word gets around.

I have an unerring instinctual draw toward the maudlin, the overwrought, the stuff that everyone else hates for playing its cards too far from the vest and showing everything. It makes me a laughingstock amongst many of my friends, because without fail, no matter how cheesy and teenybopper-ish they feel whatever easy target they are attacking is, I will pipe up with, "I like that band!" I'm known upon occasion to be the only one who hates whatever cool band is big with all my friends, but I never hate what everyone else finds beneath contempt. It blows my mind.

My championing, in past months, of Taking Back Sunday and Fall Out Boy is a great example. But it's far from the only one. And the most recent example of this particular trait of mine proves that it's in no way calculated, because I made the connection with the particular record I'm about to talk about before I even knew that a lot of people looked down on it.

Let me try to make sense of this babble. Well, to begin with, I post on a message board. I used to post on several, but these days there's only one that survives as part of my daily internet habits. This particular board is focused to a great extent on music, primarily indie-rock and metal. There's a lot of intelligent discourse about not just those but all forms of music, as well as politics, religion, interpersonal relationships... anything you can think of. And it's handled with a minimum of the false logic and adolescent namecalling that generally dominates internet debate. So it's a great place to visit, and I enjoy it thoroughly. OK, and on this board we tend to post a lot of mp3s for each other to listen to, through the magic of yousendit.com. It's gotten to the point where I don't even listen to most of the mp3s that get posted--just download them into a special folder marked "Message Board Downloads" and leave them there. Recently, I realized that this folder had grown to considerably larger than a gigabyte in size. So I decided that I needed to go through and listen to all these songs, with an eye to figuring out which bands I was into enough to check out further, and which I didn't like, at which point I could delete the latter mp3s and clear some space on my hard drive. I made a playlist on my mp3 player, consisting of the entirety of the folder, then hit shuffle. I hit play and lay down on my bed to read a book, figuring that if I heard a song I liked enough to get me up and see who it was by, it was a band worth further investigation.

The first song to hit me enough to get me out of bed was about 8 songs in. It was by a British band, this much was obvious from the singer's accent. They were melodic and catchy, but the guitars were loud and the vocals were sandpaper-rough, as if the singer smoked three packs a day. He had an excellent voice. There wasn't any of the psychedelic influence that dominated a lot of my favorite British bands of the early 90s; instead, this band reminded me more of the mid-90s Britpop movement--bands like Oasis and Ash. I was digging it. I got up to check on what I was hearing and found that it was the Stereophonics, a band there'd been a thread about months before. I couldn't remember anything about the thread, but I did remember that I had downloaded several mp3s by the band that one person had posted. Without even listening to those others, I went straight to my downloading program and found the album from which the song I was hearing was taken. Then I downloaded the whole thing.

The record is called "Word Gets Around", and if I thought the first song I heard ("Last of the Big Time Drinkers") was good, I was blown away by how much better some of the other songs on the record were. The opening track, "A Thousand Trees", started out upbeat, which belied its dark lyrics about a schoolgirl being molested by her gym teacher. The chorus featured a lyric I found pretty amazing, reducing the words of the song to an apt metaphor: "Only takes one tree to make a thousand matches. Only takes one match to burn a thousand trees!" The singer's voice rose to a raspy howl on the last half of that line, injecting the lyric with even more emotion and raising goosebumps on my arms. I was excited to hear the rest of the album, and it didn't let me down, alternating more upbeat tunes like "More Life In A Tramp's Vest" and "Check My Eyelids For Holes" with contemplative fare like "Local Boy In the Photograph" and "Traffic". "Word Gets Around" is a concept album of sorts, revolving around the secrets that hide under the surface of a seemingly pleasant small English town. Each song tells the story of a different character, exploring the skeletons in their closet, their petty resentments and frustrations, the desires they've all put on the back burner or long since drank away. There's nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking about the music, but it does what it needs to do, led by Kelly Jones's wonderful vocals, which sound like a modern update on Raspberries-era Eric Carmen, or Rod Stewart's work with Jeff Beck and The Faces. Jones also plays guitar, and is responsible for the catchy guitar lines that anchor his vocals to solidly constructed songs that have a tendency to stick in my head all day.

I couldn't believe that I'd gone this long without hearing The Stereophonics, especially considering that "Word Gets Around" was released over seven years ago. It was one of the best rock albums I'd heard all year, and I couldn't wait to get the other Stereophonics records. So imagine my surprise when I dug up that old thread to post about my experience falling in love with that record and found that it was almost universally negative. One person had asked about a Rod Stewart cover they did recently for the theme song to some television show, and half a dozen people had replied about how crappy they were. One person had posted in defense of "Word Gets Around" in particular, and that was where the mp3s I had on my computer came from. I never had checked out the other three, and when I went back to look, I found that, sure enough, they were all also from "Word Gets Around". Even the person who'd posted about how much he loved that album had been largely condemnatory of their later releases, and one guy from England (where The Stereophonics are evidently a lot bigger than they are here) said that in England they are a band that only mallrat teenagers like.

So now I'm kind of baffled. I for one love "Word Gets Around", if nothing else. Also, that British guy said the same thing about Idlewild a few months ago, and I love them too. And finally, I'm notorious for liking things that "only mallrat teenagers like", so why should this be any different? I guess what I don't get is why this band, who seem pretty obviously amazing to me, are looked at in this way. Maybe it's just because I haven't heard the rest of their records (so far, I've been a bit skittish about checking into the rest of their catalog, for fear of being disappointed), or maybe it's because I'm a weirdo. I don't know. What I do know is that I've had this particular Stereophonics album for over two weeks and I'm still listening to it every day, which isn't something that happens too often. You know what? Fuck it. That's good enough for me.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Simon said...

Speaking as an English person, the Stereophonics suffered from major mainstream over-exposure. Then in subsequent years the lead singer became hugely arrogant/full of himself. It's a shame, but i think people's opinion on the band is coloured by the stuff outside the music, rather than the music itself.

It's cool, that you can enjoy the band outside of those negative connotations though, having not experienced them.

5:25 AM  
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