On Albums and their Irreplicability

“Music really isn’t supposed to be perfect. It’s all about people relating to each other and doing something that’s really from the soul. It must come from the soul.”

Tom Petty 

 

I feel as though I’ve had multiple birthdays this year.

That childlike excitement first came when the Red Hot Chili Peppers released their double album Unlimited Love earlier this year, their first work with guitarist John Frusciante in over a decade.

I recently felt this way again when they released another double albumReturn of the Dream Canteen last week.

To add to the elation, Slipknot and Alter Bridge released their new albums in more or less the same month as well, titled The End, So Far and Pawns and Kings, respectively — both of which I’d consider as their “Sgt. Pepper”, or the height of their musical creativity.

Slipknot commendably risked alienating their own fans and critics by traversing into previously unexplored soundscapes. Meanwhile, Alter Bridge has always been reinventing themselves, and their quality has never dropped throughout their albums, in my humble opinion.

As for the Chili Peppers’ Return of the Dream Canteen, my impression from the songs, and even the whacky psychedelic artwork, is that it’s a hearty tribute to the band’s early days, pre Blood Sugar Sex Magik — when they were just about having fun and making the weirdest music. 

They probably couldn’t be as weird as they used to be, but you can tell from the songs that they were enjoying each other’s company. And that’s generally the atmosphere that they’ve been working in since John’s return. 

“Dream Canteen” was in fact written and recorded during the same sessions as Unlimited Love. It was an extremely productive time, as they wrote new songs without time constraints. And while it was normal for a band to have some leftover songs that wouldn’t make it into an album, the Chili Peppers just couldn’t stop coming up with new songs. 

They kept writing and recording until they had over fifty songs. They were too many to fit into one double album, and for the ones that didn’t make it into Unlimited Love, the band felt that they were too good to be left in a vault, and that they deserved a double album of their own.

I especially couldn’t stop listening to Eddie, their homage to the late Eddie Van Halen. It has a great hook, and I love the references to Eddie in the lyrics, as well as the guitar solo, which incorporates divebombs and tapping, emulating Eddie’s hallmark playing style. 

The song is written from his point of view, telling us to not remember him for only having passed away, but for the times when he was alive. “Please don’t remember me,” as the lyrics go. “It’s only 1980 — it’s only 1983.”

Anyway, out of curiosity, I read through a handful of reviews each for the albums I mentioned, just to have an idea of how other people’s experiences might have been different from mine. 

I was puzzled by how most of those reviews were biased in the sense that they idealized the past. There was always a “good old album” that the reviews would compare the new releases to. 

For the Chili Peppers, their new release would be unfavorably compared to Californication or Blood Sugar Sex Magik. For Slipknot, the reviews would complain about how they’ve gone soft, and would urge them to release another Iowa — widely considered to be their best work, and one of the darkest albums ever made. Alter Bridge, on the other hand, has supposedly been consistently good, so the reviews haven’t had much shit to drop on them.

When the old albums mentioned were released, they had their huge share of bad reviews as well — so I guess people ultimately don’t really know what they want. 

I personally don’t get it when people say an album is better than the other. Or more particularly, when they ask for an artist to replicate an album they’ve already done before. 

Because the thing is, albums can’t be replicated. At least from the way I see it, an album is like a snapshot — not unlike in the sense of a photo album — of a moment in time that you can never get back to.

Albums are personal, and they come from the artist making the most out of their thoughts and feelings in the perishable present moment. 

In Slipknot’s case, Iowa may be a favorite among fans and critics, but you can just tell from the entire album that the band was in a lot of pain.

The success of their debut album Slipknot came with a price. They had more money in their pockets, and that only exacerbated their drug and alcohol addictions. Not to mention the vicious sophomore slump that they were in, as everyone wanted another Slipknot. To add to that, each band member had their own demons to face. The band’s DJ, Sid Wilson, lost his grandfather during the recording process. You can hear his piercing cries of grief in the opening track of Iowa. He broke down in the studio after returning from a visit to his grandfather’s — he tried to see him while he was still alive, but he arrived too late. 

When Slipknot worked on Iowa, they hated each other. They barely spoke, yet somehow they managed to make music out of the deathly tension. As percussionist Shawn Crahan remarked, “You could feel it in the air, it was everywhere. Then it was done. Iowa. A little pill. A capsule of boiling life that just toppled over and collapsed and everyone had to regroup.”

Even though quite a number of songs from Iowa have since been the mainstay of their shows, the album still leaves a bitter taste in their mouths. Singer Corey Taylor has said in an interview that he still couldn’t listen to the album, because of its dark subject matter. 

Since Iowa, the waters have been much calmer. The band has rebuilt their friendship, and their sense of brotherhood has only gotten stronger. Their music still deals with dark subjects, but it no longer comes from a place where they wanted to kill each other. 

Every album tells a different story. It’s the artist narrating their experiences from whatever station of life that they find themselves in at the current moment. 

Crahan has given an insightful thought on what the first three Slipknot albums has meant to him. He said, “The first album (Slipknot) was a lot of fun. The second album (Iowa) felt like we were saying, ‘We’re dying here.’ And then the third record (Volume 3: The Subliminal Verses) was the healing process.” 

The band would often just dismiss urges for them to record another Iowa, having said that the Iowa sessions very nearly killed them, and that they couldn’t go back into that place even if they dared to. Rather, they’ve chosen to embrace their evolution as artists.

“One of the problems about writing one of the heaviest albums of all time is that people just expect you to do that over and over,” said Taylor. “Well, that’s so boring. If we had done that, we wouldn’t be where we are today, 100 per cent.”

After the release of their latest album, Taylor has discussed about how people would always have things to complain about. He said, “You also have to remember a large part of the population are also people who have created petitions against every Batman that has ever been cast in a movie, and they’ve always been wrong.”

He boldly told the haters, “Shut up and listen to what we give you.”

So — this has been a rather rambling article. Anyway, to reiterate my point, there are no two same albums. Try seeing and listening to them differently from now on — rather than comparing them to an idealized past album, listen to them as they are. 

You might find that it has an interesting story to tell in its own right.

 

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