We'll take a "break" from the earth-shattering speed that I am documenting my road-tunes experience to honor a request, as I have significantly underestimated the time it would take to go through all of those damn albums again. Clearly.
One of the six of you who read this has asked me to detail what my CD review process consists of. Normally I would just ignore any type of "request," but it turns out that a 17% drop in readership would be pretty significant. So, despite my strict anti-social and overtly antagonistic tendencies, I am forced to comply with this AND the request to enable comments. I've officially lost control.
Our subject for this exercise will be the new Arctic Monkeys album, Favourite Worst Nightmare. (For the record, I decided on this album to document the review process before giving it a single spin.)
Not every album gets this rigorous of a listening regimen, but at least 1 or 2 of these steps are always included. The general idea is that not all albums are going to "open up" to a listener in every format -- some play better on the lower-fi end of the spectrum, others need as high a fidelity as can be found. And different listening devices actually shape the sound differently -- you'll potentially hear a "different" album on your iPod headphone than you might in your car.
So my "method" attempts to cover as many of these options as possible. The order doesn't matter and varies from review to review. I'll generally got through all for highly recommended albums I can't seem to appreciate.
For this album, I started with the Boom Box listen. This generally occurs while I'm reading, doing the dishes, or showering. (Ha ha! That mental image should cure any thoughts you had of lunch, gentle reader.) The boom box is a solid listening start -- the pro and the con here is that it tends to "flatten" the music. In other words, you get the melody, the vocals, and the beat, but any subtlety gets mashed together. The Sloan track "Another Way I Could Do It," for example, sounds much better in this format (i.e., when it's more "2D" than "3D").
Also, this is a good "attention grabber" listen -- if you're doing dishes and daydream away tracks 1-6 without even noticing the album, that's not a good sign. If you start to notice the music and not the silverware, you've probably got a good album and grimy forks.
In the case of the Arctic Monkeys, what I hear is a band trying to follow an impressive debut by trying too hard. My initial thought is that 2 tracks really grab me, but this is "Sell-Back Pile 1" material. Hopefully there is a lot going on here that I am not hearing on this listen -- I had high hopes here.
Next, we move to the Car Stereo. This listen can be misleading, as there are plenty of "driving CD's" that are "great" in the car but only "good" elsewhere, and some are terrible in the car but still great albums -- it's just the wrong format. (This is the same with some Video Game albums.) But this does step up the fidelity chain, and, for an uptempo album like this one, it's a great way to listen to the album uninterrupted. Except, of course, for the occasional obscenity and/or brush with death thrown my way by the moronic drivers in the state. (Here's a hint, drivers: you don't always have the right of way.)
In this case, after the first 3 songs I was convinced this album was a Car Stereo all-star. But it didn't hold up all the way through -- the middle of the album is still murky. Top few and last few songs are really solid, but I need more time with it. On the plus side, I'm now thinking I was a bit harsh initially and this is probably going into the CD Rack.
Our next step is the Headphones listen. Certain albums (Built to Spill's Keep It Like a Secret is a perfect example of this) are a completely different listen through headphones -- I can't precisely articulate this, but I'll try. For music that is very layered and dense, you can hear everything that is going on; sonically, it tends to separate the musical spectrum into components (bass vs guitar vs guitar vs guitar vs keyboard vs vocal, in the case of Built to Spill) that can be appreciated, rather than sounding like a muddy mismash of sounds when heard in other formats. I listened to Keep It Like a Secret 5 times, thinking it was a piece a trash; my friend Jim gave me his pair of headphones and insisted I listen to it one more time. It's now one of my favorite all-time albums.
For the AM's, this listen revealed a little more depth, although the fact that I am tuning out tracks 6-9 and that the last track is terrible musically AND lyrically is a bit disheartening. The first 5 tracks and 10-11, however, are worth the price of admission.
Lastly, we need to put this bad boy through the Big-Ass Stereo listen. Since I've been writing this blog, I've made this my last stop -- it's a great way to listen to the album one more time in high fidelity with good space to confirm or refute my previous opinions. This is really the "truest" test, so many times I'll run an album exclusively here.
On this listen, the first two tracks ("Brianstorm" and "Teddy Picker") still hammer like nobody's business. A song like the fourth track ("Balaclava") really gets helped by the high fidelity treatment for sure. And those first five tracks still hold up.
I am seeing why tracks 6-9 have been tough for me to remember. I am really forced to pay attention to them now and unlike smoked meat, they're just not getting it done: "The House is a Circus" isn't terrible, it's just not that great either. This should be an EP -- take out tracks 6-9 and 12 ("505", which I will never listen to again) and move on. IMHO, of course.
Then we get to "The Bad Thing." Wow. I put the stereo up to 11 and thank the Lord that Mrs. Snilch is not here to witness the smackdown I am giving to both our future neighbor relations and our house's foundation. I start to see cracks in my windows midway through the song, but realistically they needed to be replaced anyways. If you ever actually listen to this track, you will undoubtedly wonder why I am so into it (which admittedly is not the be-all, end-all rock anthem by any means), but I am a sucker for this kind of generic guitar-rawk song. You have to know your weaknesses.
The final verdict?
CD Placement rating: At the end of the day, this album just makes it into the Portable CD Case. It's too good to go lower and not good enough to go much higher. So there you have it.
iTunes suggestions: A new feature for all of you who want to see Newbury Comics go out of business, or just want to sample the wares. My suggestions: "Brianstorm," "Teddy Picker," "Balaclava," "The Bad Thing."