One important trait of being a true music fan is being able to give an album time to grow on you. It’s a tricky practice– some albums aren’t ever going to be worth the time, to be sure. However, an album that is great right away isn’t necessarily going to stand the test of time (my crowning example: Something Corporate’s Leaving Through the Window), and, even more so, an album that doesn’t wow you after a single listen isn’t necessarily worthy of a trip back to Silver Platters.
Here are some albums that I really didn’t find to be all that special after the first few listens, but became some of my favorite albums of all time.
1. Less Than Jake: Hello Rockview. This is always the first in my head any time this kind of topic comes up. I bought it with money I shouldn’t have been spending on my way to go hang out with my new friend Skip on a warm October 1998 afternoon, and was excited to see that, before I could tell him what I got, he excitedly held up HIS latest purchase–the same album. I certainly liked the album, but it wasn’t as interesting as the band’s previous release, Losing Streak. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something wasn’t clicking. But after a few weeks of continued listening, and giving it a chance to become associated with some good times, as the previous album had been, I discovered that this album was light-years past its predecessor. The songwriting, the lyrics, the vocalizations and harmonies, the musicianship, even the album design . . . everything was just better. Not long after realizing this, I was hanging out with some guys one night, and one of them actually said, “Hello Rockview’s okay, but it’s nowhere near as good as Losing Streak.” I protested (because that’s what I do), and was met with strong disagreement from everyone in the room. We’re talking about 6 guys–all of them denying Hello Rockview’s superiority–versus 135-pound me. It was a big argument that I refused to budge on (because that’s what I do). A couple of weeks later, I was hanging out with many of them again, and one of them approached me when no one else was around. “Hey . . . I’ve been listening to Hello Rockview a lot, and I agree with you. The new album is way better.” You’re darn right it is.
2. Alice in Chains: Dirt. People who met me after 1997 wouldn’t know this about me unless I’ve told them: I was a HUGE Alice in Chains fan, and I still really like them today. But the way I got there is perfect for the topic of this blog. I was just discovering the whole grunge thing around 1994, since my older brother started liking it, thus making it cool. I liked Stone Temple Pilots a lot. I liked Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Collective Soul. The list goes on. One band I could not stand, though, was Alice in Chains. The primary reason was that guy’s vocals! He sounded like a dying cat. Dirt was the first album of theirs I heard, and I quickly gave it back to my big brother, nearly gagging. Months went by, and one night he was listening to Dirt’s follow-up, Jar of Flies, and one of the songs caught my ear. I don’t know which one it was, but I’ve always been a sucker for good, melodically structured songs, and if that album has anything, it has that. So I asked to borrow it that night to listen to as I fell asleep, and he agreed. The next day I confessed that I like that album, but I still don’t like the band. Well, that admission was the crack that led to the destruction of the dam. Within a month I borrowed Dirt again and was able to stomach it. I kept listening, and every time I found something else I liked. I never really thought of myself as someone who could like weird songs with weird structure, but some of my favorites were “Sickman” and “Angry Chair.” About a year later, the band released their amazing self-titled album, with the three-legged dog on the cover, and I was in heaven.
3. Last Days of April: Ascend to the Stars. First of all, if you haven’t heard of these guys, do yourself a favor and look them up. Now, on to the album. I could ramble about any number of great albums in my collection that “took me a while,” but that would get a little boring and repetitive. So I’m limiting this list to the more unique instances. The unique thing about this album in relation to the topic is that it took me three years to get around to liking it. While it’s not the record holder for that honor (that would be Death to the Pixies, which took me 6 years), it’s an album that still sits comfortably in my top 20 (whereas nowadays I roll my eyes when someone plays “Debaser” on a jukebox). This band is just great, and I heard some of their stuff on a compilation around 2002. One of my roommates at the time, Adam, got to buying something by them first, and he got the album with all the songs on it that were on that compilation. So by the time I got around to making my own purchase, I didn’t want something I’d already heard . . . and I bought their newest album at the time. I listened to it, and it suffered from a case of what I’ll refer to as “Hello Rockview-ism” (aka “wishing it was the older one”). Being smart enough to know that I could like it later, I shelved it to return to it at a time when I was more open to it. Well, it took 3 years, but in spring 2006, I did it, and I’m listening to it right now. The songs are smart, catchy, innocent, and intriguing, all at the same time.
4. Joe Satriani: Joe Satriani. It’s always been interesting to me that this album by the legendary guitarist is the most different from all of his other material, but it’s the one he chose to name after himself. I hated this album when I got it. Back then (1996-ish), an album cost like $10-12, which was two-to-three week’s allowance for me, so I was pretty pissed when I started the album up and found that there were no screaming guitars, no wild effects, no party-worthy compositions. It was very blues and jazz influenced. And to my 15-year-old ears, it was criminal. Then I got even MORE confirmation that my opinion was justified when my older brother, the man who introduced me to Joe Satriani, told me that he thought it was terrible. Well, I’m not sure what it was that got me to put it back in months later (probably the inviting red cover art, or its shiny jewel case due to minimal use), but stepping into this album and fully understanding that it WASN’T going to be like the Satch’s previous work helped me appreciate it. Once I did that, I was able to take in the lack of flashy effects on Joe’s guitar, leaving only his expertise with the instrument, and the fact that the other instruments in the songs actually stand out on their own, rather than just provide the floor for chrome boy’s dancing. This is what, in my opinion, solidifies Joe Satriani as a legendary guitarist. His other stuff is great, but honestly, if he couldn’t do what he did on this album, he’d be a circus act, not a musician. My older brother still hates this album to this day–he didn’t give it the chance it really deserves.
5. The Promise Ring: Nothing Feels Good. Ah, now this is the album that is the took-me-a-while of took-me-a-whiles. To quickly get you up to speed with a story I’ve told a trillion times (yes, with a T), upon first hearing the music style called “emo” waaaay back in late 1997 on a mix tape from a friend, I absolutely hated it (I’m going to assume you know the difference between real emo and emo post-2002; this was clearly the former). The album that represented all that was wrong with this kind of music was the album from which my friend took most of the songs for this tape. That album was Nothing Feels Good. More like nothing sounds good, am I right? The vocalist sounded out of key in every song, the guitars were all dissonant and repetitive, the lyrics were gibberish . . . I couldn’t stand it. This album is the single largest contributor to my seething emo hatred that would last until early 2001. Speaking of 2001, it was around that time I gave up on my anti-emo campaign because I had grown tired of maintaining the persona when I really didn’t care all that much anymore. Plus I was tired of my other music, and at the time, emo was the natural maturing and progression of punk and ska fans. I got into Hey Mercedes, early Jimmy Eat World, Jets to Brazil, the list is very long. One band I could not handle though: The Promise Ring. I still cringed every time I heard Davey von Bolen croon. Even when I began to develop a taste, and even a desire, for dissonant guitars and hard punctuations that were typical of emo, I hated his voice. Well . . . I still felt like I was missing something. My friends all liked this band, but I couldn’t do it. Not without a fight, anyway. So I jumped off the proverbial cliff and bought the album. I put it into my car stereo right away, and it lasted maybe 15 minutes. But it did go back in soon after, and it has become one of my all-time favorite albums, and The Promise Ring is still one of my all-time favorite bands. To this day I couldn’t tell you when my hatred for von Bolen’s voice began to transform into a love for it. I couldn’t tell you what changed in me so that I found a song that repeats the lines “Nothing feels good like you in your red and blue jeans and your white and night things” over and over and over to be genius rather than grating. But it did.
Nothing Feels Good is the primary reason that I’m careful not to write of a musician or an album without really giving them a full chance. It is a paragon of how I can know, beyond a doubt, that I do not like The Dave Matthews Band or modern country music. It is also the reason that I get so bugged when someone dismisses a band or album after hearing them once, or based off of just the singer’s voice, or because the song structures are unconventional (or different from what the band has done before). If you only listen to what you like immediately, your appreciation of music is very shallow indeed.