You know how it is. Some artists release a string of songs that speak to the innermost tremblings of your soul. No matter where you are in your life, somehow they seem to know, and find that connection, so that whatever is happening, you can pick up an album, or turn to your playlist, and find the words, and the music, that pick at the tendons of your feelings and bring your heart, and mind, and soul together in a syncopated, three-minute burst of perfection.
And then, you know, there’s Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop.
Somewhere in between, there’s a strange beast, or at least, in my listening life there is. Over the years, I’ve fallen deeply in love with an album, only to find that the love is pretty much exactly one album deep. Sure, there’s the occasional songs here and there, for a while. But never that tumultuous wrestling with my feelings, never that look across a crowded playlist that says You. Me. One the floor. Right now. Don;t even take your clothes off. I’ll chew through them myself. Some of these albums have been with me for years, and yet, they’ve never inspired me to go much further in pursuing that artist’s career, or my emotional reactions to their work.
Leaving aside Best Of’s, which are a different thing entirely, here, then, are five albums that I’ve carried with me since their release, which are still, lock-stock on my playlist in their entirety, but which are unburdened by company.
Five for Friday: One album wonders.
Daisies of the Galaxy: Eels
Sometimes an artist rises out of nowhere, hits you over the head like a gong, and then disappears back into obscurity such that you can’t find them and spend your entire time wondering what the hell just happened. Four songs across a great, big, long bunch of years aside, this is pretty much what happened with me and Eels.
First there was Susan’s House and Novocaine for the Soul. A while later there was the Shrek movie and My Beloved Monster. Many, many years later, there was a documentary on didhedidn’the maybe killer Robert Durst, and the theme song Fresh Blood.
And in between, there was an album with so many depths and twists and nasty little corners that I’ve spent years curled up with my headphones on, picking its black baroque little heart apart. Nothing fits. The music doesn’t fir the instruments. the lyrics don’t fit the message. the rhymes don’t fit the lines and the line lengths sure as fuck don’t fit what’s being played behind them. It’s a magnificent, absurd, glorious tangle that verges, at times, on a surreal masterpiece. It will be one of my favourite albums until the day I day.
And nothing the artist has done, before or since, has ever come within a country mile of having the same effect upon me.
Come On! Feel the Illinoise!: Sufjan Stevens
Once upon a time, a man said he was going to release 50 albums over 50 years: one for each state in the Union, starting with his home state then spreading out until every corner of his country had their own soundtrack, charting all those moments and characters that they may not want to acknowledge, but which were inextricably linked with their heritage.
To date, I think Sufjan Stevens is still stuck at two. It really doesn’t matter, because while Michigan was okay, Come On! Feel the Illinoise! is an outright masterpiece. Covering topics as diverse as Superman, Al Capone, John Wayne Gacy, alien abductions, killer bees, and all points in between, it’s a swirling, operatic love letter to a history that he is steeped in. The only problem is, like Eels above, it is so good, so perfect, that it is enough: I’ve never had any need to listen to much of anything else, because why do so when I can just listen to this magnificent opus again?
Happy Soup: Baxter Dury
Possibly the only album I’ve ever purchased because I felt sorry for a character in a film biopic. I’ve been a lifelong fan of the legendary Ian Dury, so when I learned of the Andy Serkis-driven biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, I was all over it with knobs on. And something very interesting transpired: most of everything I’d ever read about the man focussed on, naturally enough, him. But the movie took a slightly different turn. There’s a lot in there about his relationship with his son Baxter, and, frankly, how Ian spent his entire time spectacularly fucking it up. Which led me to want to find out about the fate of his son, because the movie ends with him still a youngster, and I needed to know, dammit!
Which led me to his recording career. Which led me to the song Happy Soup. Which led me to downloading the album about half a minute after I’d listened to it.
Which, strangely, has been enough. I love the song. I love the album. But it doesn’t obsess me, the way his father’s work does.
But I do love the song.
God Shuffled His Feet: Crash Test Dummies
I know so many people who hate this album. For a while there, upon first release, you simply couldn’t escape it. The first single, the irritatingly-titled Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm was everywhere. It simply didn’t sound like anything around it at the time, and it still doesn’t, really, not for all the demi-hipster posturing of bands that have followed. Somewhere, deep within its semi-diffident lyrics and monotone slacker delivery, there was a message that demanded you wade in and remove it, rather than wait for it to arrive in your lap fully-formed.
Frankly, the whole album is like that. It’s oblique to the point of indifference, a study in measured allusion and literary pretension that I’ve never really been able to shake. I’ve picked up a couple of CTD songs from other albums along the way– The Winter Song is a favourite– but nothing sticks like the way this odd, distancing album does.
Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia: Dandy Warhols
Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia is less an album of 13 separate songs than a concept album of 13 separate threads that intertwine between each other in a swirling soundscape that occasionally pauses for half a breath in order to switch directions and talk about something else for a while. It’s a perfect fusion of obvious pop influences, catchy hooks, and what passed for philosophy at the fag end of prog rock. And I loves it with much lovingness.
I’ve heard a lot of songs by The Dandy Warhols. I’ve never been remotely fussed by them. But for this one moment, they dropped their derivative obviousness in exactly the right measurements onto exactly the right tunes in exactly the right order at exactly the right time. And it’s really bloody good.