I’ve been listening to albums from 2001 over the last few days, and I’ve come to realize that a good number of them are a lot better than I remember them being. I’m quite certain that the main reason that year’s music doesn’t quite stick with me is due to the events of September 11th of that year. An event like that will pretty much trump any other memories you might have milling about in your cranium.
Still, that’s why I listen to music, and why I’m not afraid to listen to music from that year. Thankfully, I don’t have many albums or songs that deliberately trigger memories of that day–just the few titles that had the bad luck to come out on that day, and the few songs that are on a personal mixtape dedicated to that event (some people had different ways to process what happened–that was mine). I chose not to let my emotions tied to music and other media get tainted by that. If anything, music was what got me through it. I’m listening to these albums and songs by deliberately not tying them in with that event. Instead I’m listening to them as what they are–releases from bands I happen to like.
I’m also listening to albums I felt were merely okay and not remarkable or memorable, and doing two things: first, I’m taking them for what they are, despite their critical acclaim or panning. Secondly, I’m listening to them in the context of where that band was at that time to explain why they sounded like they did. For instance, I listened to REM’s Reveal today and found myself actually quite enjoying the album, despite remembering I wasn’t as impressed the first time out. Back in 2001, I was still a big fan of early REM (read: everything up to and including Out of Time–I liked but didn’t get excited over everything after that), and this newer, mellower sound didn’t quite gel with what I wanted them to sound like. I think that’s one of the issues right there–as sometimes passive listeners, we often want our favorite bands to have the same sound all the time, but write new songs. It’s a double-edged sword; they get the continuous hits, but eventually they burn out, or we get burned out on them.
On the same token, some bands go in a different direction where I initially feel they’re just not as strong. REM and U2 are good examples of this. I once derisively described their later work as “stuff you’d hear on VH1.” It wasn’t until I moved past that and listened to this music again that I truly appreciated it and gave a true opinion about it. I like their later stuff now; it’s just that it took me a while to get used to it. They’re not as adventurous or ‘alternative’ as they once were, but that’s fine–they’ve gotten older and moved on, and finally, so have I.
Another good example is Radiohead, in terms of changing sounds. I loved everything up to OK Computer, but their double-whammy weirdness of Kid A and Amnesiac kind of threw me off, and I never quite got into them after that. It wasn’t until just recently that I “got” what they were doing, and find them fascinating again. A. and I stayed up late a few weeks ago when they were livestreaming their Coachella show, and man, did they kick ass! I gave up trying to shoehorn them into the pre-2000 alternative rock sound they had, and embraced their adventurous musicianship.
This isn’t to say that 2001 was filled with weird, slight, or dud albums; there are some true gems in that year, many that don’t get nearly as much due as they should. Skindive’s one album, despite its low sales, is an excellent album on par with Curve’s earlier music. Our Lady Peace’s Spiritual Machines is still my favorite of theirs, even though it didn’t quite get the airplay or the push it needed. Elbow’s debut Asleep in the Back is a great start for a brilliant band. Not to mention big hits like Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American and POD’s Satellite, which were absolutely huge. Despite all that went on at the end of the year, a lot of great music came out that still stays with us.
I think on a more personal note, one of the reasons the music from 2001 may not have gelled is that it was a transitional year for me. I’d acrimoniously left HMV the previous fall, and was now working at Yankee Candle–not only a change of position, but a complete change of surroundings, going from Central Massachusetts to the Pioneer Valley. I was driving west to work instead of east. Added to that, I’d finished The Phoenix Effect and done some revising, and after a small number of failed submissions, I’d decided to completely rewrite the story as A Division of Souls, the first book in what ended up as a trilogy. I was also now writing almost daily down in the Belfry (my writing nook) at that time. And lastly, because of my defection from the record store, I’d stopped being as obsessive and overly eager to buy and listen to every damn thing that came out, and started to become more particular about what I bought. I would give myself a limit to what I could spend on a weekly basis at Newbury Comics–about seventy dollars was the maximum, most of the time–so I would often make note of things I’d buy at a later date, or find used somewhere. By 2002, I’d gotten back into the swing of things, writing daily and listening to all sorts of music, and of course moving on with my life. I was in a good place by then, regardless of what was going on in the world. I’d at least achieved some form of inner peace, which meant I could branch out and listen to new things with a clear mind and ear.
Listening to these albums now in 2012, along with all the other albums and songs I’ve procured in the last decade, is a lot like listening to them for the first time. This is especially true when I haven’t listened to some of them for at least four or five years, such as with the REM album. Songs I’d completely forgotten about or hadn’t bothered to pay attention to the first time around come shining through as new songs to me. Some of them sound only slightly dated, but others haven’t aged a bit. It’s a learning experience, immersing myself in this music again.