Recently someone told me that they found it a lot easier to agree with me about the music I didn't like. The much tougher thing was agreeing with what I liked.
And I liked that.
Not because I'm any sort of contrarian or - as you would put it - troll, but because I think it's great to have your own taste, to arrive at your own place as a result of taking on board various opinions and tips and shaping your own views through your own listening, reading and discussion.
If that all sounds too snooty for you, too wannabe-highbrow, too over-thinking it and really, it should not, then a simpler way of putting it is that I'm very secure in my taste - just as I think we all should be. I'm also well aware of the spectacular lapses in judgment/taste that occur with a lifetime of listening to far too much music.
There are Lee Ritenour albums that have ended up in my collection, presumably wiped off the bottom of some guitarist's shoes as he or she has entered the house; left to lurk in and around the David Sanborn and Grover Washington Jr LPs. Ghastly stuff. But somewhere out there you'll find fans of Sanborn, Ritenour and Washington Jr. There might even be some Larry Coryell fans about. The invertebrates of the jazz-guitar world.
There's no issue with liking very terrible music - we all do it. We just like to think that our taste is superior, is flawless, is...correct. In reality we're all hiding something - or many things - that we would never pull out at a dinner party or gathering of some kind where music is played. Or if/when we do it signals the call for taxis. (If it happens to be a Bob James record that does it then you get double points.)
Often I'm asked if I can identify an album or band that I don't like - but can objectively state that they are good. I don't see the point in this - it will only result in backhanders such as "they're good at what they do", "not my cuppa tea" and that truly awful epithet, "perfectly good, if you like that sort of thing".
Well I'd rather talk about people who have failed at what they do but have still ended up in my teacup. I'd rather admit to albums that are perfectly imperfect to the point of being possibly abhorrent - and yet I have found myself liking that sort of thing.
At least, I think I have?
We're not talking guilty pleasures here, as we have done before. Frankly because there's no guilt attached to this sort of listening - and there's no real (actual) pleasure gained from it. Come with me as we journey into the murky mind of the reviewer who has spent too much time with albums that somehow avoid the narrow escape of being quickly dismissed before their rightful fans lap them up and whinge and moan about the big, bad bully - while secretly wondering if their own taste is really that bad. The answer, as is always the case, is yes. Your taste is shocking. Some of the time. And so is mine.
If you're wondering a) what brought this on and b) where I'm even going with this, the answers are a) Steve Harris and b) I'm kinda curious myself.
Yes, Steve Harris - bassist and songwriter for the mighty Iron Maiden. He's also a backing vocalist, keyboardist and founder of the band. Heck, to some people he is the band. He's certainly the foundation, the longest surviving member of the group.
On Monday Harris releases British Lion - his solo debut album. In fact British Lion is the name of a band that Harris has been "mentoring" for some time now. He's written songs with them and has joined the band. Ah yes, the dreaded side-project.
You can tell he cares deeply for the band - he's named them in the back page of the CD booklet. Everywhere else you're led to believe that British Lion is the name of a solo CD by Harris. Including on the cover and spine of the CD. Not only would a solo album by Harris be preferable - it would have been better, even, if he'd played every instrument. At the same time.
Approximately 37 seconds into listening to this album - remember I do this so you don't have to - I wanted to put on my best Harry Enfield-voice and scream, "Oi! Harris! NO!" I then realised I'd be shouting that every 37 seconds, or so, from thereon in.
The drum sound is abysmal, the singer is horrific. Not just the singing, the actual singer. I've never met the man; I've not even seen a picture of him. I don't care to look. But just by doing what he's done on this album he is awful.
Just about every song on/by British Lion feels like a song that might have been used to score an unnecessary montage in a b-movie from the 1980s. You know that John Travolta film, Perfect? Imagine a cheap Taiwanese knockoff. And in that version you would have music from British Lion by Steve Harris (and British Lion) playing underneath and around the copious workout scenes.
And yet, I kinda like this album. I'm appalled by it (and by myself, frankly, for liking it). But I've listened to it a bunch of times already. And not in the hope that it'll get any better. There's no chance of that. The fact that Kerrang! declared it to be "the sound of an incredibly talented songwriter stepping outside of what he'd normally do and indulging himself in something a bit different with a group of excellent musicians" should also tell you what I'm trying to convey: it's s**t! Need further proof? All right then, Metal Hammer - the bible, but only if Gideon is a massive bogan, says it is a "big hearted and ferocious triumph". The magazine also describes the music as "infectious re-imaginings of the UFO and Thin Lizzy albums that inspired their creator as a kid".
The other Iron Maidens must be laughing. This is Battle of the Bands music. From a band that wouldn't make the final.
But I'm already planning my next listen! This weekend is Steve Harris/British Lion weekend.
I'm not sure there's really any excuse for his new album, Tuskegee, a set of not-quite-country makeovers where Lionel sings his old songs as reimagined duets. My favourite is the version of Stuck on You with Darius Rucker - yes - HOOTIE! I squirm as I listen to it. But I think I like it. Kinda. I mean, I know - not even deep down, it's instant - that it's horrible. But this is what a fan should suffer. Endless Love with Shania Twain? Yes please! You Are with Blake Shelton? Oh, definitely! My Love with Kenny Chesney? Have no doubt!
These songs are all awful. This album is quite unashamedly horrific. Need further proof? It's this year's biggest-selling new release. That says it's awful. Obviously. But I'm hooked on how horrid this is. I'm doing the work - because I've claimed fandom, I think the best of Richie's work as a songwriter is superb. And I need to do the time for owning up to that (apparent) crime.
Tuskegee is Awful! I love it!
Ditto the new Steve Vai album. For a start it's called The Story of Light. And then there's the fact that with his transmogrification of John The Revelator (it's as if Trinny and Susannah have told an old blues standard how to dress) has you wondering if Jack Butler from the movie Crossroads was really a character. I haven't cared about a Steve Vai album for 20 years. Passion and Warfare was the last (and only) Vai album I cared about. And I was allowed to care about it then. I was 14. But he's (finally) made a follow-up that feels like the natural successor to all that is awful and - in some cosmically weird way - wonderful about the best of what Steve Vai can do. There's even singing on this album, ew, and (even) that can't stop me playing it.
So Steve Harris' British Lion is just one more. But it really - truly - might be the best worst album I've heard this year. It feels like nothing close to a new release. And it feels like nothing close to his other band. And it feels like some sad, sick folly. The side-project as in-joke that got let out.
But will I listen to it again this weekend? You bet! It's Steve Harris/British Lion weekend...
So, come on, fess up. What album/s can you claim: "It's awful! I love it!" Consider this a bit of therapy. I'm here to help you unburden yourself of any guilt. If there's a bad album you love more this year than Steve Harris, Lionel Richie and Steve Vai then I don't want to hear it. But I do want to hear about it.
And if we go back in time there are so many - a personal favourite is Mick Jagger's Primitive Cool - not even a debut solo album (or first mistake); so it doesn't have that gimmick to give it a chance. It was released in the mid/late 1980s when the Stones were on a break. And I love this album. Oh, I know that it's horrible. I've got ears. But I love that horrible music so much! Jeff Beck on guitar, Dave Stewart co-writing the songs. Jagger hamming it up for all he's worth. What's not to not-really-like-but-totally-love?
So if you can't think of any from this year you can own up to a blast from the past that you know to be horrifically bad and yet you bought it, you own it, you listen to it still. What album/s do you think of when you are forced to consider: this album is awful! I love it? Go on, we're all friends here. Well, that's stretching it...