I briefly mentioned this once but not in very much depth: I don't think of myself as an "albums" person.
I just respond to the song for the song. And think of songs for themselves.
It's a way of thinking that differentiates pop people from rock people. My friends tell me I should lay off on my insane habit of trying to fit everything into categories that somehow support my ongoing unified theory of everything, like this whole thing I have going about "Wheat Thins people" vs. "Triscuits people", but you can tear "rock people" vs. "pop people" from my dead hands.
Rock people consider albums, pop people consider songs. Rock people consider artists, pop people consider personalities. Rock people value obscurity (in lyrics and in music and in life and in everything) and pop people value universality. And clarity.
If you are sensing a bitterness here toward rock people, you're not wrong. But it's just a bitterness born out of a frustrated desire to connect. I understand that we are all residents of the same bizarre and lonely country.
But personalities are mutable, which is generally a good thing. And so I've been listening recently to albums.
Some of my current favorites are Tusk by Fleetwood Mac, There Goes Rhymin' Simon by Paul Simon, and Tattoo You by the Rolling Stones. And I sense myself getting ready to fall into a Dusty in Memphis phase, hard.
The thing is -- and here's where I am going to get REAL vulnerable on you for a second -- listening to albums is a solitary pursuit, but of the sort that is really best shared with one other person. Like snow-shoeing, or watching Antiques Roadshow. And I do not have that one other person in my life, in that sense, so listening to albums sometimes makes me feel unbearably lonely.
I'm okay with that feeling in general. Loneliness is its own thing, a hobby that is painful but productive, and though it's hard to admit to feeling it's good when you do.
(There's this impulse when you are lonely to feel reluctant to admit it out of a desire to not seem like there is Something Wrong With You. Well, I feel like I've pretty much come to terms with the fact that there are lots of things Wrong With Me. There's lots of things wrong with you too. Let's all just admit that and acknowledge that it's not the end of the world because, it gets exhausting.)
So, yes. I am beginning to understand the albums thing. It's fun to come back to something again and again and to find it unchanged except for in the ways you have yourself changed. It's fun to grow the patience to give an album time to develop itself over a few songs. It's fun to try to think about the making of the album and how you can hear that in the music.
Fortunately for me there is one album in my rotation right now that soothes more than it inflames my sense of loneliness and general self-pity about the realities of trying to make connections with others as a super-damaged and painfully-introverted person who is 25 years old.
Can you guess? Remember that what soothes feelings like that is the knowledge that someone else has felt them.
You got it: It's Back to Black.
What gets me about this album is that it's just so confident. When I listen to it I try to remember that when she made it Amy Winehouse was unknown. A super-driven person with an unusual artistic vision and the good sense to partner with good musicians like Mark Ronson (who produced it) and the Dap-Tones (who are the back-up band to Sharon Jones and are, seriously, amazing. I've seen Sharon Jones perform with them a few times and they really fulfill the desire to see handsome black men in shiny teal suits do synchronized dance moves that lies deep within my Motown-loving heart.)
But an unknown person. And when I think about it I feel that there's no wonder that she could never follow this album, because part of what makes it so charming is her lack of self-consciousness and when she got famous she developed self-consciousness. Tragically so.
The first time I loved this album she was alive, and now I've come back to it and she's dead. It changes the way I listen to it. Also the first time I loved this album I was 19 and going through a painful, yet normally so, breakup and now I am 25 and just sort of living in an actually mostly un-dramatic way. So that must affect it too.
But one thing I noticed both then and now is how this song is, quietly, the centerpiece of the whole thing.
Listen to it on its own and it's a song about disappointed love. There are many. This is a good one.
Listen to it on the album and you'll have already experienced the bravado of "Rehab" and "You Know I'm No Good", the sly "Me and Mr Jones", the alarmingly candid "Just Friends", and the title track "Back to Black" which like all title tracks is sort of trying to sum the whole thing up for you.
In other words you'll already be in love with Amy Winehouse and the particular blend of her personality and her skill.
And then it's "Love is A Losing Game", softer and quieter than "Back to Black", covering some of the same territory -- but dropping all and any cynicism. Like when you know someone for months or years and then she tells you something about herself you never heard before, like a moment when the curtains come up.
The song: Amy Winehouse, "Love Is A Losing Game"; 2006
Right now I am resisting the strong desire to disclaim this post: I have friends (of more quantity and quality than I could have asked for, to be frank), I have a life and a job and reasons to leave the house, so I'm not THAT lonely and it's not THAT bad. Which is true. It's not THAT bad. But it still feels bad sometimes, and I'm not in the mood to hide that anymore.
Guess that's just the Triscuits person in me.