I remember as a boy that my most prized possessions were a ‘Sharp’ double tape ghetto blaster and a record/tape player. The former I used to lug around in an American Army backpack that I had bought from an army surplus store. The latter I recorded the tapes on, and played records way too loudly.
Buying an LP was an incredibly visceral experience, even when they skipped, jumped or just refused to play anything. Such were the perils of buying cheap vinyl from the market. There was none of this 180g nonsense back then. No, records were so flimsy you could read a comic through them. I didn’t know back then, growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, but I should have blamed OPEC, apparently.
Getting a newly purchased LP home was a religious moment – and yes I admit to that thrill you can only get from smelling it. The artwork, the lyric sheet. The first crackles as the needle sought out the beginning of the first track. Many of the LPs I first listened to in this manner are still very good friends. Even though my top 15 is now littered with newer third-wave bands such as echolyn, Discipline, Izz and Glass Hammer.
Skip forward 35 years or so and I’m now listening to an album stored on a device the size of a box of Swan matches, albeit a lot slimmer. It is playing, via Bluetooth, over a 9.1 surround system. I bought the album a few minutes ago and I haven’t yet physically held it or pored over the artwork. The CD itself is in a van somewhere bound for York. Even then, a CD unboxing is nowhere near as exciting as the LP equivalent. Yet the music was beamed across the ether and is now belting out of the speakers.
So, I hear you ask. What album is it? Well, I guess it’s by a band that continues to straddle all four waves of progressive rock music. Given my love of American Prog (radio show of the same name appearing soon on Progzilla.com: shameless plug I know) it is apt that the singer just happens to now be in one of my aforementioned top 15 bands. But the one I’m listening to is not American. Even though he is.
I read interminable rants about this album when it first came out and I admit to hearing a very brief snippet and I wasn’t overly impressed to say the least. Anyone with opposable thumbs and a keyboard of some description connected to the interwebs let loose with their tuppence ha’penny. To my eternal shame I believe I said that the snippet I heard ‘sucked balls’. Now I don’t know what that means but I think it’s pretty negative.
Whilst all of this was, my comment included, mere subjective opinion some of what was written masqueraded as a ‘review’. As though using this word alone can lend objective credibility to what is, in effect, a simple statement of whether you happen to like a record or not. Now don’t get me wrong, some professional (and a few amateur) writers are incredibly adept at distilling the essence of a work into a few hundred incredibly well-crafted words. But the vast majority of stuff I read about this album didn’t fall into this category. People got into full blown arguments about it. They fell out. Friendships ended, or at best were severely tested.
Never has so much been written by so many, in fact. But to my eternal shame I never actually listened to the thing myself. Never formed my own opinion.
So now I am. And I have.