January 12, 2005

On Music: Five Kinds of Albums

People say that, for a music lover, I don't write about music nearly enough. I think I'll try to remedy that in 2005 (RockStar Mommy and I have kinda made this a low-key resolution for the year). In keeping with that, I'll share a theory with you.

The Theory: There are really only five categories of albums.

The Outperformers. The Outperformers are the albums you fall in love with the instant you hear the first song. You're breathless by the end. It only takes one play and you're hooked. The most important quality about an Outperformer is that the album stays as good as it was on that first play. Its a rare thing.

The Deflators. A Deflator can be magical. Every song can be wonderous and astounding with highly saturated musical goodness. Yet, after a couple listens it gets tired. Some of the polish wears off, there are a few cracks and the luster is gone. It becomes predictable, so you just scratch your head and wonder what you found so appealing to begin with.

The Lukewarms. Maybe you liked one song and bought the whole album. Maybe you expected more. Regardless, you bought it, the album's just okay, it certainly doesn't suck. But you're stuck with it so move on.

The Sleepers. Sleepers are interesting beasts. You really looked forward to getting them home, to ripping off the plastic wrapping. But once you actually push play, these albums leave something to be desired. So you shelve them for six or nine months and eventually get around to pulling them out of whatever CD wasteland they've been relegated to and give them another spin - out of curiosity or because you heard something good about it. And what you discover is sheer brilliance. These albums become some of your favorites.

The Suckage. Raw sewage...no matter how you slice it.

Now...practical applications of the Five Category Theory...

The Theory In Action: U2

The Outperformer. The U2 Outperformer has to be The Joshua Tree. I could easily make a case for it being one of the finest albums ever made. Perhaps, most impressive, is that fact that 17 years later, it still holds up and sounds every bit as good as it did when I first heard it. The Joshua Tree is nearly flawless and shows a band at the height of its creativity and passion.

The Deflator. How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb initially had me praising the self-proclaimed 'greatest band in the world' but the novelty wore off. Some songs are excellent, some are good, others merely hint at the talent the band has. While I always questioned the momentum of the album - I never really thought it flowed all that well - the album's stalled for me, and I'm kind of upset about that. I want to like it more. I want to keep liking it as much as I did.

The Lukewarm. October. The songs are good, sure, but it just didn't do anything for me. I neither love it nor hate it. It serves to complete my U2 collection, nothing more. Its inconsequential.

The Sleeper. Perhaps the best example of a U2 Sleeper is Achtung Baby. After the success of The Joshua Tree and the hit-and-miss Rattle and Hum, Achtung Baby sounded nothing like anything the band had previously unleashed. And people were pissed. I know - I was one of them. It didn't take too long for me to shelve my copy. I just wasn't impressed. Bands shouldn't be stagnant with their sound but why change a good thing? Of course, I pulled it off the shelf later and realized I'd been somewhat selfishly missing a perfectly good album.

The Suckage. Pop. A lot of bands "try something new" and some end up making a painful bellyflop into the pool of popular music. While Achtung Baby represented "trying something new," Pop represented "trying something sucky." Its really an embarrassing album. Like Yo Yo Ma deciding to release an entire album of variations on Mary Had A Little Lamb..and rapping. I just wanted to slap Bono around and say, "look laddie, you know you can do better than this shite."

Can I tell you how many times I had to go back and correct the spelling and grammar in this post? I shouldn't be anywhere near a keyboard tonight!

Posted by Chris at January 12, 2005 07:43 PM

I think you are right on. I have such a complicated relationship with U2. I used to adore them; then there was the hate; now, I'm kind of moving back to grudging like. But I miss the love.

Posted by: HG at January 12, 2005 08:45 PM

great analysis! and great examples too :)

Posted by: zalary at January 12, 2005 08:52 PM

Damn you! You already got a head start on me!! You suck!! (but you've got great taste in music!) :P


Posted by: RockStar Mommy at January 12, 2005 09:15 PM

I almost totally agree with your assessment - almost, because I haven't heard "...Atomic Bomb" yet & because I loved Actung Baby from the get-go.

Posted by: Jay at January 12, 2005 09:24 PM

Hmmm. I agree with some of that but since it's all subjective, neither one of us are obviously right. I have October for the same reason, Pop sucked ass, I agree with your take on Joshua although I think too much of their work that came after it was compared to it.

I remember how odd Achtung was but how I've enjoyed it from the get go. Edge's riffs/delays just sounded do repetitive. In theory it was like a Ramones thing - their songs pretty much sound the same - but Achtung certainly changed that. I remember seeing them in Miami for the indoor Zoo TV gig and remember how pissed I was that the farthest back they went in their catalog was Pride from Unforgettable.

I like Atomic but I had to listen to it for awhile. Bono certainly can't sing like he did 15 years ago but who the hell can? Wait a minute. . .sorry. . .I've typed a little too much here.

Posted by: Colby at January 12, 2005 09:53 PM

Okay, here's my application:

The Outperformer: Poses by Rufus Wainwright. Got it as a gift; fell in love with it at the first note. Am even more in love with it now. NOTHING beats Rufus singing "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk."

The Deflator: Chant Down Babylon -- a tribute to Bob Marley. I initially loved these covers of Marley songs, but after a few listens, they just weren't so great. Haven't listened to it in forever.

The Lukewarms: Oh, too many to list. Most recent: some sort of Offspring CD. A few good songs, along with some crap. Maybe someday I'll get drunk and listen to it again.

The Sleeper: Neil Young's Silver and Gold. It took a while to grow on me, but now it would be on my list of 10 albums to take to a stranded desert island.

The Suckage: Christ, I'm not even going there. But I can tell you that there is a Backstreet Boys CD somewhere in my garage.

Posted by: Martha at January 12, 2005 10:01 PM




POP Does NOT suck!

"Discotheque" is a piece of shit, but come one - there's some great stuff there!

Posted by: sledge at January 13, 2005 12:35 AM

Totally agree with the U2 situation

Posted by: Jez at January 13, 2005 07:30 AM

gasp!! You said mean things about Bono!!! Not that you weren't right you understand....but Bono!!! LOL

Posted by: Nina at January 13, 2005 07:45 AM

I love the breakdown! R.E.M. is a perfect example for this breakdown too.

Posted by: amber at January 13, 2005 09:33 AM

hm.. I agree. :D And not just limiting it to a band's collection. singular cds in a collection (because outside of a cd store or a radio station.. hm, maybe not even a radio station, your collection is one of the biggest. lol) can also have that effect. :)

Posted by: Manda at January 13, 2005 10:19 AM

Ahh! I disagree with your assignment of the U2 stuff :) But, remember that I came into my U2 obsession with Achtung (at age 13? I think), even though I had Joshua Tree.

The Outperformer: Achtung Baby. It never gets old for me, and every song was amazing the first time I heard it.

The Deflator: Boy, or The Unforgettable Fire. Originally one of my favorites, but I got tired quick. Of both.

The Lukewarm: October. I agree.

The Sleeper: Rattle and Hum. Probably my most listened to U2 album after Achtung. I didn't like it at first, but it just grew and grew on me.

The Suckage: I hesitate to say this, but the current album. Atomic Bomb...I dunno. It's good, it's U2-y, but it's the same old same old. And a couple of the tracks I just don't like, at all.

As for Pop...it's not one of the best, but I still really like a few songs. Gone and Staring at the Sun, in particular. But I can see it fitting in the suckage.

Posted by: Anne at January 13, 2005 12:11 PM

I love music so much, I could almost replace food with it. Almost.

Posted by: Gweny at January 13, 2005 12:50 PM

For me, you could switch Achtung Baby and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and it would look about right. Yeah, it hasn't been six months since the first listen, but when I really take a minute and think about the lyrics--wow. Wow.

Posted by: Casey at January 13, 2005 02:38 PM

You forgot Zooropa - that album definitely should be on the suckage list.

Posted by: Marie at January 13, 2005 05:51 PM

your theory put to use:

Posted by: alanna at January 13, 2005 06:28 PM

As I long-time U2 fan I have to gasp in horror at Anne - The Unforgettable Fire in suckage? Goddamn, the title track leaves goosebumps on my arms.

The best album U2 ever released was Under a Blood Red Sky - nothing has beat it since.

Posted by: Fi at January 14, 2005 05:23 AM