The four albums that have changed me

So hasn’t it been a joyous ol’ political time lately? In order to have a break from it because it’s exhausting me, I thought I’d sit and reflect on a subject that I love more than any. Me. I was in the car listening to my iPod when some music came on that features in my four most important albums.

There’s an important distinction to be made here, these are not necessarily my three favourite albums of all time, but rather from a musical perspective these albums are the ones that shaped me and my musical tastes. They all occurred at three different times in my life. In fact they occurred at the somewhat cliché times in my life so please don’t judge me.

Album 1: Antichrist Superstar by Marilyn Manson

Release date: October 1996. Year it impacted me: mid 1997.

Marilyn_Manson_-_Antichrist_Superstar_coverUntil I was third form, my music tastes pretty much revolved around what my two older sisters were listening to. This meant I was exposed to a lot of MC Hammer, Color me BaddTLC (I never did go chasing waterfalls). Then when I started secondary school, Marilyn Manson became society’s boogeyman. We all heard the stories about how he was the kid in the Wonder Years (he wasn’t), that he ripped puppies apart on stage (he didn’t), and that he removed his bottom two ribs so he could auto-fellate (hazy at best on this one, but doubtful). it was the Beautiful People that I first caught wind of, and good god did it blow my shitty-music-addled mind.

The synthesisers kicking it off with that eerie noise, then the drum beat that’s so easy to tap on school desks then finally the distorted guitars. It’s cock rock for the angrier teen. I can remember going away on holiday with my freshly purchased CD Single of The Beautiful People and just listening to it on repeat on my discman (my discman had a repeat track function. Fancy).

I’d dissect the words; “you live with apes man, it’s hard to be clean”. Well on the surface that’s true, but I’m sure Marilyn is talking in metaphors here. Maybe he means that society is awful and that by association we all become awful. Why he’s dead on. Society IS awful. And I hate every mother fucker that’s in my way.

After becoming infatuated with the single, it was only natural that I extended to the album. It starts off very powerfully. Irresponsible Hate Anthem spoke to me. The Chorus of “Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it.” summed up my exact feelings towards the world. “I wasn’t born with enough middle fingers”. That’s right Marilyn, because there are so many people to say fuck you too! The world is a shitty place.

Then the album hit a bit of a lull until you got to track 6, Cryptorchid which is some weird synthesiser based song, pared back with Marilyn’s singing voice on display. I’m not gonna lie, he’s not going to win any singing competitions, but he certainly has a distinctive recognisable voice. So much so that I can’t put any Marilyn Manson music on in the car because his voice “scares” my wife. Then you get to the love song of the album, Mister Superstar which is the start of a run of very good songs including Angel with the Scabbed Wings, Kinderfeld, Antichrist Superstar, 1996 and Minute of Decay. The album closes with a couple of tracks that I was never big into, then there’s 82 tracks of 4 seconds each before you get to the hidden track (for readers who only know MP3s, hidden tracks were tracks that were hidden from the listener. We did not know they were there because we didn’t put our CDs into computers to tell us. Usually).

I just want to return to Minute of Decay because it was the last song I really really got into on this album. It’s also the … most depressing? I mean the whole album is clearly an ode to some kind of mental suffering. But there’s something extra depressing about Minute of Decay. The chorus refrain “I’m on my way down now…I’d like to take you with me”. Is more of an introspection than the previous tracks where the artist was angry at the world. And that basically charted my mental state. Ages 13/14/15 I was sort of angry at the world. And then I hit 16 and a new album smashed me in the face and summed up my mental state.

Album 2: OK Computer by Radiohead

Release date: May 1997. Year it impacted me: 2000.

OK ComputerI was a bit late to this album. Routinely called one of the best albums of the 1990s I didn’t get to it until the early 2000s when my serious teenage angst was kicking in. This was the era where teenagers were being doled out anti-depressants like they were brown M&Ms. I was no different. Consequently, to fit my melancholic state, I needed a melancholic album. And frankly Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness was a misrepresentation of that album’s fuck tha’ police attitude.

The whiny vocals of Thom Yorke fitted with my mindset perfectly. But only some of the songs. For instance, Airbag I think is weak. But then the album has the most unbelievable run of awesome. From Paranoid Android, through Subterranean Homesick Alien, pausing at the gates of depression for Exit Music (for a film) before busting through the majesty of Let Down where Thom (with an unnecessary H) harmonises with himself and then on to Karma Police. Whew. That there is a great run of songs to sit on your bed staring sadly out the window at the grey skies that come rolling in and envelop your world like your sadness envelops your SOUL (I also wrote a lot of angsty poetry around this time, which saw the light of day not that long ago and will never ever ever be shown to anyone else again).

Exit Music to me is Radiohead’s Magnum Opus. It music stripped back to the barest of essentials. A gently strummed guitar, Thom’s haunting voice that’s seen some shit, the backing of a synthesiser, and then some drums to escalate the melodrama. Boom. You can say that Creep eloquently sums up teenage confusion but Exit Music sums up teenage despair.

And then comes Fitter, Happier and I don’t know why. This song, that isn’t a song, just throws the whole mood of the album out to me. It’s self-indulgent wankery. Perhaps this was the portent of the future of Radiohead’s body of work but it just seems so out of place tonally with the rest of the album before the Album gets back to what it does best with Electioneering and Climbing up the Walls. The album then moves to No Surprises which should have been the last song. This is the perfect song to end any album on to be honest.

This album fucked me up, and impressed me so much that I became a tragic little Radiohead fanboy. I pre-ordered Kid A and boy was I disappointed. I read all these reviews saying that it was one of the great experimental albums and oh aren’t those Radiohead lads clever. I didn’t get it. It was just … noise? I dunno. It wasn’t melodic like I was expecting, it wasn’t … anything. To me it was the Emperor’s New Clothes. Everyone was rushing to say how amazing it was because it seemed they were afraid to say it was rubbish lest they get called ignorant. Well fuck it. It was rubbish.

Album 3:Gatecrasher Discotech (specifically disc 2)

Release date: 1999. Year it impacted me: 2001

gatecrasher discotech

So I hated the dance music. Hated it. I was all about raging guitars and angry singers spitting lyrics too closely to the microphone (Slipknot, I’m looking at you and your ridiculous masks). But then I heard Just Another Day and it smacked my grumpy little face right upside down and put a smile on my dial. This coincided with me moving out of my angsty phases as a teenager and into a more grown up phase (I’m still 17 though, so realistically I still don’t know shit about shit, I just think I do).

Disc 2 starts with a mix of Barber’s Adagio for Strings which to this day still sends shivers up my spine. Tonally it is perfectly matched with the next track – the aforementioned Just Another Day which takes the almost melancholic tone of Adagio and drags it into the happy world of trance. My mind was blown. I would put this album on in my room and hold mini dance parties. Just groove around my room to each track as they blended seamlessly into one another. No fade outs? No ends of songs? This was revolutionary!

I’m not going to go through this album track by  track because with dance music it’s the whole story that is told that seems to be the strength of it. Suffice to say that the end track for this album – Rank 1’s Airwave is an absolute trance classic.

What this album did to was turn me into a silly little raver for a number of years. I’d show up to Phoenix in Wellington just about every weekend, expensive nights out too. I owned a pink fishnet top that I’d wear under my tshirt. Sometimes I’d even go out in my McDonalds uniform (yeah). I probably shouldn’t include these anecdotes as part of this trip down nostalgia lane but I needed more copy to pad this entry out.

Album 4: Pink Floyd’s the Wall

Release date: November 1979. Year it impacted me: 2002

Pink Floyd

The Wall gets a lot of stick these days. And to be fair it’s overblown, self-indulgent and chock full of its own wank. That said it was the first “proper” old album I really really got into. Following nights out at the above-mentioned Phoenix, we’d often return to a friends house and turn this on to chill out. Initially I found it depressing and I was over that buzz. My angsty days were behind me, now I only wanted to hear happy upbeat trance!

But then this snuck through my own wall (see what I did there). Again this is an album that you can’t go through track by track (though if I was going to, I’d point out that basically they use the same guitar riff throughout the entire album, only varying it slightly. Listen to “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt 2” and you’ve listened to the whole album really).

But there are songs on this album that are truly great works of music, the obvious being Comfortably Numb, but I always thought that Mother and Nobody Home are completely listenable as stand-alone tracks.

The album didn’t “speak” to me, I wasn’t going through my own mental breakdown, struggling with the amount of success I was experiencing and yet feeling entirely distant from my fanbase and blaming it all on abandonment issues from my father dying in a war. But just musically this pierced me. Then I saw the movie. And the music, with the imagery … just wow. This was like the greatest student film I’d ever seen. Animation! Angst! Bob Geldof cutting off his own nipples! There was something for everyone.

What this album did for me was open up a world of music I’d never looked at. Not just depressing prog rock, but I found glam rock, T Rex, Bowie, Lou Reed etc. I found the Who as well. And they’re probably right up the top of bands for me.

The funny thing about these albums is that they were all so instrumental in my musical tastes, and yet I seldom listen to any of them now. If they come on when I’m listening to my iPod on random then I’ll stop and have a listen. But it’s been many a year since I just lay back on a couch, closed my eyes and just listened to these important albums. Or any music for that matter.

Maybe it’s time I started.

Thanks for reading my self-indulgent circle jerk.

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One Comment

  1. Paul O'Donnell says:

    Pretty good list from a young fella. My influential albums were probably Abbey Road, Led Zep 2, Who’s Next and, later on, London’s Calling. But here was a fair bit of ELP in there somewhere as well. Then along came the Dunedin sound – good times!

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