It pays to be a wee bit wary of iconic albums. There’s a kind of Doppelgänger duality going on; one in which the liturgical patterns of sound behind each “classic” record falls subservient to the weight of its (perceived) cultural impact. The rhythms of reputation engorged by momentum, to the point where the simple act of slipping the vinyl from its sleeve is laced with revisionist expectation; Electric Ladyland, Autobahn, Unknown Pleasures, Nevermind – not so much distinct suites of songs as unwarranted indentations upon the sonic landscape.
I was tempted to title this piece Peel Slowly And See, if for no other reason than The Velvet Underground & Nico certainly falls into this category. It’s an intriguing, lupine, layered record, John Cale’s brooding viola parts vibrating as if heavy machinery. Yet such is this album’s presence in the alt-rock firmament; so oversized and ostentatious are its pillars of inspiration, that its impact is in danger of being consumed by its own gravity.
An example; whenever I think of ‘Venus In Furs’ – that symposium of suburban sadomasochism – my primary reference point is an extravagant, early ‘90’s commercial for tyre conglomerate. A sales pitch so entwined with the track that for all intensive purposes it acts as its music video. This is less of a testament to the power of advertising than a sully confirmation of the cosy relationship between the record industry and advertising executive – illustrative of a meaning lost, diluted.
Advertising is just one component of this cultural baggage argument, but significant in itself to propagate layers of disquiet beyond the LGM garret – John Harris has a far wider remit these days than his time as a music journalist, but he hits the nail on the head in this Guardian think piece. He’s also a better writer than me; to quote:
Moaning about the state of pop music at the age of 42 is probably a futile and undignified thing. But if my ongoing sadness about the plight of such a beautiful, democratic form comes down to one thing, it is this: the washing away of all meaning, so that most contemporary musicians apparently have no language with which to convincingly sing about the world, and their forebears end up as nothing more than poster boys (and girls) for other people’s very marketable notions of cool.
I can’t begin to describe how instinctively essential impact is in the assimilation of recorded sound. I expect – demand, even – to be assaulted by records that erupt from the stereo speakers as if a sudden appearance by the goon squad. An explosion of wall plaster and splintered glass – cultural baggage detracts from the shock and awe, that deep intake of breath when a track grabs you by the balls (or the female equivalent there-of – I’m a music obsessive, not an anatomist).
You’re probably aware of the Volkswagen commercial which deployed a tune suspiciously like ‘Take Care’ by Beach House this spring (see this article from the NY Times). Not the first instance of this type, and it won’t be the last. Altogether now: *sigh*.
Beach House / Take Care