Wednesday, August 16, 2006

on rocking and recording like it's 1999

I didn't take very many of my CDs with me when I moved to Syracuse. I figured that all the ones I listened to regularly were on my computer and iPod. But upon coming back home and finding my collection in a new bookshelf, I took the opportunity to pull a few of the more obscure, less listened-to ones off the shelf for revisiting.

The one that has taken me most by surprise, both for how much I remember the lyrics and for how long it's been since I'd listened to it, is "Hey! Album" by Marvelous 3. It came out in '99, with the big single "Freak of the Week." (chorus: "Can you make me a promise?/To stop it before we begin/Will you hold onto my hand/If I ever lose it again?") I *loved* this album back in the day, and as soon as I put in my car stereo, I found I still knew all the words, was still singing harmony in the same places.

The joy I felt in rediscovering a former musical love, though, is kind of outweighed by the musical ear I've developed in the years since I bought it. It's not a great album. A lot of the lyrics are really schlocky with really cheesy, obvious rhymes. A lot of the instrumentation (keyboards and synthesizers) and the guitar tones bites off of '80's bands like the Cars. Singer/guitarist Butch Walker overemotes and draws out vowels in an annoying fashion. There are bizarre spoken word samples at the beginning and stuck after the seventh or eighth tracks, and even stranger story read by Walker (I think) after the end of the last song. It's a late '90s pop record that sounds more like a late '80s or early '90s pop record, and it's far from a masterpiece.

At the same time, it's only been seven years since this album came out and I felt like I was dusting off something from much, much longer ago. A friend of mine mused about dredging up '90s pop albums in 30 or 40 years. Apart from the limitations of compact disc recordings (they'll end up decomposing sooner or later), I think that's the "classics" from this area that will end up being preserved for posterity, not minor hitmakers like Butch Walker or the Marvelous 3. We might have the same audio whiplash at hearing something from so far back, but music junkies, even as we age, will end up missing the ones that haven't survived -- the remnants of the music underground, of "unpopular culture," if you will.

Walker has gone on to have a solo recording career, and I think he's produced some albums as well, and the persona he has crafted as a songwriter seems completely at odds with the success of his musical endeavors. Don't you have to go platinum or attain a similar level of fame before acting like a debauched rockstar, writing about trashing hotel rooms and having this snotty, entitled attitude (see the M3 song "Sugarbuzz")? I dunno. I haven't bought any of his other albums and probably never will. But all the same, I've loaded "Hey! Album" onto my iPod and I will continue to sing along with gusto to those non-hits that spoke to me in '99 and still do, all shlock aside, albeit in different tongues.

No comments: