November 11, 2007

41-50: Fear of a Black Planet to The Soft Bulletin

41. Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet

In truth, P.E. never made a perfect album. Important? Innovative? Mind-blowing? Yes. Shocking? Scary? Provocative? Sure. So, even as I quibble with album lengths and Flavor Flav (a rapper much cooler in concept than sound), I know there’s much more to love than to dislike: Lessons in history, sociology, politics. The loudest, craziest, most sample-licious beats. Chuck D’s booming baritone flow. An album, an experience, that changed this white boy’s life. And Flavor? Fine. The jester breathes fire, damning 911 operators as Chuck damns everything else. The standard to which all rappers should aspire, of which P.E. itself falls short.

42. Coldplay - Parachutes

A funny thing happened when I tried to write a novel: My narrator turned me on to this album. I already owned it, I already liked it, but somehow I decided my narrator loved it. In fact, he played it whenever he wrote, so I started to play it whenever I wrote. A cup of coffee, my favorite chair, and quiet, pretty, ethereal anthems, pretty much every day for a year. The character was already a stand-in for me – and then I became a stand-in for him. Truth is always stranger than fiction, unless that truth contains melody and atmosphere.

43. Beastie Boys - Check Your Head

Really, the Beasties’ third debut album, or at least their second reinvention, this album is the first where they sounded like grownups. That’s probably the reason I love it today. Regrettably, however, my fandom is retrograde: I claimed to hate rap in my post-grunge youth – even rap made by nerdy, whiny white boys – so I missed my chance to grow up with these boys. In college, when I finally realized what I’d missed – and realized my ignorance, stupidity, etc. – they’d long since discovered love and spirituality, in addition to videos chockablock with robots. Hence, their music has aged very well.

44. John Mayer - Heavier Things

For the first time ever, an artist truly spoke for me, or at least for the way I wanted to appear: confident but full of questions, knowing there’s something greater than myself, fearing I’ll never discover my purpose. It also helped that I viewed him as a peer, similar in age and singing poppy tunes. (His were better and bluesier than mine.) This album was something to share with my friends, a classic we envied but also admired. Basically, it dropped at the perfect time and place, starting my shift from hard to soft, admittedly making me boring and old.

45. Prince - Purple Rain

Here’s my dilemma: Music or history? Criticism or autobiography? Prince’s success or my elusive searching? I bought this tape the same year as Tapestry, not that it matters, really, at all, except to me, or maybe to you, as each new album, experience, etc., teaches and changes its listeners forever, always adding, never subtracting, notes and quotes and theories on art, discussion topics for fans and friends (one of whom wrote his thesis on the guy)... Can I just say these songs are catchy – and even though they’re in my life now, I really regret those years when they weren’t?

46. Van Halen - Van Halen

Oh, to be sixteen again, discovering the music of teenage boys everywhere, blasting this album in bedrooms and cars – the most exciting thing to happen in those places – rocking out on air guitar in homage to my hero, knowing that music has never sounded better – or louder, at least, and faster! faster!! faster!!! Praise be to Eddie, like Jimmy before him, and Jimi before him, and other guitar gods and magazine cover boys, who gave me their religion, the one I still practice, playing my guitar and this album even now, admittedly worshiping crappier deities. Oh, to not be old!

47. Tori Amos - Under the Pink

I know this guy who’s in a cult. He shares his religion with everyone he meets, giving them lectures, CDs, and books. He goes to these rallies with thousands of people, waiting in line for the chance to see his priestess, conjuring spirits, speaking in tongues. And he wonders why people don’t want to listen, devoting whole days to just one voice, finding her influence in every other woman? He must’ve forgotten his first scared impression, finding his roommate’s bootleg collection, before he developed his own sick obsession. He listens, sings, loves, quotes: "Need a woman to look after you?"

48. Nellie McKay - Get Away From Me

"When my buddy Matty G said, ‘Matt, I’m gonna marry her,’ I thought he was just a delusional fan, kinda like me at ten or eleven, telling my friends I would marry Nancy Drew. (Pause for laughter.) But Matt was serious. And twenty-five years old. (More laughter.) Of course, I had a crush on Nellie myself – I even introduced her – but how can you not when she’s so darn adorable? She sings, she raps, she plays the piano. She even has beef with Norah Jones – even though Nellie’s a vegetarian! (Uproarious hilarity.) Actually, I love her, too. (Gasp!) To Nellie!"

49. Kanye West - Late Registration

Some days, I think I’m the best critic ever, not just of music but of anything artistic. Other days, I know I’m the best unknown writer. I’m certainly the best who lives in my apartment, which also means I’m the most egotistical, the most apt to mimic Kanye West’s delivery. If I believe it, it might come true, and I might earn the equivalent of platinum plaques and Grammys. I might create something this musically adventurous. (A book on tape with Ray Charles samples?) Even as Kanye mocks my degrees, he inspires me not to let crappy rapping stop me.

50. Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin

Pop Quiz


14) I only wrote this down to earn some indie cred.

15) Ha! As if. I have indie cred to spare.

16) I pretty much hate all music that’s fun.

17) These answers are true, and the earlier ones were false.

Fill In The Blank

19) "Race for the Prize" is the ____ song ever about scientists.

20) "Waitin’ for a Superman" is the ____ song ever about Superman.

Multiple Choice

21) This album sounds like:
a) being amazed.
b) reveling in one’s beautiful strangeness.
c) late nights editing my collegiate alternative newspaper.
d) nothing else I’ve ever heard.