In reviewing the new Arctic Monkeys album last week I had a nice moment where - after several listens (and it hooked me in straight away) - I realised that here was a band with a small handful of records, side-projects too, and though I never flat-out detested anything the band or its affiliates had offered out to the world I had pretty much just not cared. And then here was an album - the only one from the band, five albums into their career, that I wanted to hear. And I wanted to hear it again and again.
There was too much hype around the band's debut - and I liked it at the time for a bit, but it didn't mean a lot to me. I let it go.
A few years ago they played a warm-up show in Wellington before appearing at The Big Day Out - so I saw the group perform twice in one week. And they were good; particularly at the Town Hall show (I wasn't enough of a fan to be excited about seeing them more than once in a week. It was the job). But it was certainly impossible to argue this band had not given its fans what they'd wanted.
Well now, with AM, I think The Arctic Monkeys have achieved something pretty special - they've impressed a non-fan. Like I say, I've never hated them but I've certainly never really cared about them at all and here, now, this late in the game - five albums into their career (an eternity in the world of pop music these days) - they've created an album that I found not only hard to discredit in any way when writing about it (there's one dud song, and sadly it's the album's closer) but it's an album I'm excited about listening to. One that I want to keep playing even though the assignment-aspect - the job, if you like - is done.
It's always interesting being told how to write reviews - people email me or leave comments, they tell me not only what I've missed but also what I can and can't do; they seem to know. A review apparently must talk about the songs, it must be "objective" - we've been over this so many times but that's actually not correct at all - and a review cannot insult the audience that listens to the band. That's a big no-no. Actually, I don't think it is. Writing about music is not only like dancing about architecture, it's about offering a reaction, channelling the feelings you have when confronted by music; confounded by it, surrounded by it. Music is an indulgence - for all this talk of it as a lifeblood, as a way of living, a means of living, a must-have, we don't actually need it. And I don't think there's ever any one correct way to review an album - beyond being true to what you, as the reviewer, thinks; what you want to say.
People get a bit precious about being "insulted" by reviews, or even insulted in reviews. It's just a piece of writing. Have a thick skin. Have faith in your own opinion. Be open to reading other opinions - or don't both reading reviews at all. The comment, too, that a review in this day and age is irrelevant is also misguided; that assumes you read reviews as a buying guide only. And that's only one function of a review. A record review - like any piece of writing I should think - could (and should?) surely be enjoyed (sometimes endured) just because it's a piece of writing. We don't need writing. Just like we don't need music. We decide we want them. And then that's dandy.
Also, it's rare that I dwell on a review - or even the review-product, the album in question.
Each piece of writing that I do, whether here or over at Off The Tracks or in the paper or for a magazine - wherever, whenever, whatever - it's there for that day. And by the time I've written it I've moved on. I have to. I'm telling you this...well, I'm not sure why. But I think I'm telling you this to remind/explain that an album only sticks around in a reviewer's collection for a short amount of time. If it's good - really good - it becomes a new, firm favourite. And this is great. This is - I'd have to say - always the goal. But it's almost never the reality. Those are the odds. Yes, the deck is stacked. It's just not realistic to like everything and I don't think it's honest to only write about music you like - that's advertising. That's playing into the hype. That's providing the buyer's guide aspect only.
Sometimes I'm happy to play along with the hype - or at least to think positive things running parallel with the hype. And I know from keeping up with their career in a casual way that The Arctic Monkeys have released a series of raved-about/overhyped albums. There's been some backlash - there always will be. But there's been a lot of talk about them as being a great band. A consistently great band. I've never been a fan but I'm certainly not sure the band's been consistent.
Anyway, all of that is part of telling you that I was surprised - in the nicest possible way - to get really hooked in by the new Arctic Monkeys album. I think it's their best. But that might not mean a lot to you - I've never written about an Arctic Monkeys album before. I've seen them live, I've heard all their albums, seen them play live and quite liked them.
But this is a cracker; a really good record. One I'm really happy I got to hear. A perk of the job then? Yep, absolutely. Nice to know it still happens now and then.
And when it does it's always good.
As I've said before, I've kissed a lot of frogs in this job. Far, far too many...
So this is all to ask you the question - what band of the last decade has won you over two or three or four albums into their career? You weren't at all a fan and you're still not, really. But one album has hooked you where you didn't expect that to ever happen.
I'm restricting this to the last decade because the model is different now and everyone's desperate to be a star - an overnight success.
And have you heard the new Arctic Monkeys album? What do you think? Perhaps a lot of fans of the band, people who loved the earlier albums, are not all that into this new record. I'd be curious to know.
You can also check out Off the Tracks for The Vinyl Countdown, reviews and other posts.
- © Fairfax NZ News