Not too many releases to speak of at the end of the year (which, y’know, par for the course at the time), which meant I spent most of my writing sessions listening to all the cds I’d accumulated over the past year or so. In retrospect, 2003 was indeed a stellar year for alternative and indie rock, even though it did kind of feel like a year of change…while there were very few mind-blowing albums or songs that sank deep into my psyche at the time, that’s not to say they weren’t bad per se. Just an interesting mix of bands and sounds changing and evolving. And I always think that’s a good thing, even if the sounds didn’t quite resonate with me.
I did spend a lot of the time listening to releases from 2002 as well — in particular, I’d gotten into Beck’s Sea Change a bit later than its release but it soon became one of my top writing session albums (and still is to this day). Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head was another that I got into quite late. I was very curious to see what the next year would bring.
Hooverphonic, Sit Down and Listen to Hooverphonic: The Live Theater Recordings, released 1 December 2003. I actually didn’t get around to acquiring this one for a while, which is surprising considering my love for this band, but I mention it here because all of their previous albums were still on heavy rotation in the Belfry, including most of the tracks found on this one. Still one of my favorite bands!
Various Artists/Soundtrack, Live Forever: The Best of Britpop, released 2 December 2003. If you’re curious about the Britpop movement of the 90s, this is a perfect collection to start off with. While some mixes lean heavily on obscurities or label-related releases, this one was inspired by the documentary Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Brit Pop, which I highly recommend, and focuses more on several popular groups and bands at the time. This one still gets plays here in Spare Oom!
Mix CD, Re:Defined…The Best of 2003, created 30 December 2003. The second year in which my end-of-year compilation is CD-only — I’d bought a CD drive for my older PC late in 2002 and managed to somehow have enough hard drive space to rip songs from my collection then burn them. This was the first end-of-year mix using my new PC, and I think it shows that I’d gotten the hang of making a disc mix, after having made 45-minutes-a-side mixes for the last twenty or so years! I’m quite happy with how this one came out, actually.
So what would 2004 bring…? I’d continued my weekly runs to Newbury Comics and would continue to do so until further notice, and I’d start writing The Balance of Light soon enough — as well as a vampire novel idea that would pop into my head, serving as a secondary project when I’d started having trouble with TBoL. After three-plus years of writing the Bridgetown Trilogy, I was starting to burn out.
And then at some point during the summer, one of my close friends would hold a get-together with several friends from all around, during which I’d meet for the second time a friend of a friend from New Jersey…
Sometimes you get that feeling that things are on the verge of change whether you want it to come or not. Just little inconsequential things that signify the end of something, like an afternoon anime series that stops getting played on Cartoon Network, or a coworker leaving or getting fired…or simply that you notice there’s a wide-open road ahead for you to travel on, but you’re not sure if you’re quite ready to take it just yet. I think I was heading in this direction as it was, having thought a lot (almost obsessively) about my future as a writer, as well as knowing it was time for me to move on emotionally from the stagnancy I’d found myself in. I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go, but I was well aware that I had the ability. It was just up to me to take that step.
Brian Vander Ark, Resurrection, released 1 May 2003. The lead singer for the Verve Pipe brought his spectacular songwriting chops into a solo side career while his band was on hiatus, and it’s a lovely record full of gorgeous songs.
Blur, Think Tank, released 5 May 2003. A last gasp for the band before going on an extended hiatus, this one was recorded after guitarist Graham Coxon’s departure. It’s a bit disjointed and strange, as if Damon Albarn’s huge success with Gorillaz kind of took him off his game, but it’s still listenable and has some wonderfully odd songs on it.
Dead Can Dance, Wake, released 5 May 2003. A two-disc retrospective that essentially takes the best of their box set from two years previous, making it more digestible. I’d been a fan of this band since the late 80s so this was of course recommended listening during the writing sessions.
The Dandy Warhols, Welcome to the Monkey House, released 5 May 2003. Though not as enjoyable as their previous album Thirteen Tales of Urban Bohemia from 2000, it nonetheless contained some of their most memorable singles.
Wire, Send, released 6 May 2003. The highly inventive and influential band that defined post-punk (and pretty much owned the music journalist word ‘angular’) had returned in 2000 to play a series of live shows that were so successful they chose to write and record new songs. This ‘third wave’ (if you count the ‘Wir’ project as part of the 80s-90s wave two) is more of a hybrid of their choppy 70s punk albums and their melodic 80s records, and they’ve been recording ever since.
Tricky, Vulnerable, released 19 May 2003. At this point Tricky entered my list of ‘I will buy anything they release’ musicians. This album is true to its name, with the trip-hop gloom stripped back to reveal several quiet and delicate songs.
Deftones, Deftones, released 20 May 2003. There’s something about hearing a song at the right time and in the right place that makes it resonate with me, and hearing “Minerva” on the radio during a break at the day job on a warm and sunny spring day made this band click with me all of a sudden. I really got into this album for its mix of heaviness and tight songwriting as well as its fascinating experimentation.
Tipper, Surrounded, released 20 May 2003. One of the first records to be mixed in 5.1 surround sound, this is an album for listening even if you don’t have the technology to hear it as intended. It’s full of fascinating dreamlike soundscapes that you can easily get lost in. The closing track “Illabye” became one of my favorite tracks of the year.
The Thorns, The Thorns, released 20 May 2003. A project featuring Matthew Sweet, Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins, this album is just as creatively melodic as you’d expect, and just about as Crosby Stills & Nash as you can get without actually being them. The single “I Can’t Remember” is pure alternafolk bliss.
Mogwai, Happy Songs for Happy People, released 21 May 2003. This month’s ‘I know of them and like them but don’t own anything’ band is the one that finally got me to start buying their albums and singles. I’d see them later in 2004 as one of the many bands in the Curiosa festival.
Mixtape, Re:Defined 03, created 25 May 2003. I remember listening to this one quite a bit at the time during my commutes to and from the Yankee Candle warehouse in Deerfield. The trip was exactly thirty miles and took about forty minutes or so, so I could listen to a complete side each way. [Note: I remembered just now where I got the title for this series from — the song “In the Warmth of Meanings Redefined” by Kimone, which shows up on the Re:Defined 01 mixtape. So now you know!]
Coming soon: summer is around the corner meaning more road trips, more car listening and more spending money at bookstores and record stores!
I started the spring of 2003 in the best creative zone I’d ever been in to date. I was six months into writing The Persistence of Memories and was hitting at least a thousand words a night without fail. I was having a hell of a lot of fun planning it during the day and writing it at night. This was a novel that was about the soul growing stronger not just on its own but through connections with others, and in a way that’s what was going on in my life at the time. It remains my favorite of my books to date for those reasons.
The White Stripes, Elephant, released 1 April 2003. After 2001’s breakthrough album White Blood Cells (and its earwormy single “Fell in Love with a Girl” and its Lego-inspired video), the duo’s sound started veering away from the lo-fi blues-garage rock and more towards slick indie production.
Ester Drang, Infinite Keys, released 1 April 2003. I’d heard this one on WAMH — I’d started listening to my once-favorite college radio station during my commutes — and really enjoyed how this band blended their sound between post-rock, slow-core and indie rock. Yet another on the Belfry jukebox.
Front 242, Still and Raw EP, released 8 April 2003. I’d always loved this EDM band but sadly it took me years to finally get around to getting the rest of their discography! This was a new release after many years of live and remix albums, to be followed the next month by a new album.
Yo La Tengo, Summer Sun, released 8 April 2003. A band that’s been around since I was a teenager (and still going strong with a new album this year!), this one was a favorite on college radio, especially the song “Little Eyes”.
Elefant, Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid, released 8 April 2003. This one got some seriously heavy play in the Belfry at the time! This was an NYC band that sadly kind of came and went, but it’s a hell of a fine record full of glossy, smooth indie rock with a touch of 80s sheen to it. There’s a track on it called “Static on Channel 4” that I swear is a Thomas Dolby song!
Mixtape, Re:Defined 02, created 13 April 2003. The first in this series went down so well for my commutes and writing sessions that I continued make them. This second one is a favorite of mine and contains a lot of songs I really enjoyed at the time.
M83, Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts, released 15 April. Years before the game-changing Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, this band came out with a handful of odd yet fascinating electronic releases that leaned more towards chiptunes and glitchiness.
+/- (Plus/Minus), Holding Patterns EP, released 15 April 2003. This side project of the band Versus could be alternately experimental and full of sugary indie pop, but their song “Trapped Under Ice Floes” nails it with its driving beat, catchy melody and excellent midsong breakdown. Props for their video that’s a direct homage to The Cure’s video for “Jumping Someone Else’s Train”.
Blue Man Group, The Complex, released 22 April 2003. A group known more for their live (and often messy) performances, they would occasionally drop an album of the songs they did for their shows, often with the guest singers that would show up. This record features the vocals of Dave Matthews, Tracy Bonham (who would tour with them for this album), Esthero, and Gavin Rossdale.
Goldfrapp, Black Cherry, released 28 April 2003. After her adventurous and experimental first album, Alison Goldfrapp chose to go sultry, sexy and groovy with this second outing, and absolutely nailed it with a record full of great songs. This one’s a super fun listen!
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell, released 29 April 2003. This NYC band had been around for a bit, but this was their official debut album and what a hell of a record it is! I admit it took me a while to get used to it, but once I heard the brilliant track “Maps” it all clicked for me.
Soundtrack, The Matrix Reloaded: The Album, released 29 April 2003. After a four-year wait, the second Matrix film dropped in early May, with the third in the trilogy (The Matrix Revolutions, both filmed at the same time) released that November. The unconventional soundtrack featured both the rock/electronic tracks and the score rather than them being released separately.
Up next: another mixtape, a long-awaited release from an all-time favorite band, and more!
Welcome to another installation of the Twenty Years On series, in which I revisit some albums, singles, compilations and soundtracks that got some serious play in the Belfry while I wrote the Bridgetown Trilogy!
This time it’s 2003, a transitional year for me personally and creatively. I was just about wrapping up Book 2 in the trilogy, The Persistence of Memories, which I’d managed to write in exactly one year — a first for me, as my previous novels usually took me a year and a half to two. I was extremely proud of that book; I still am, and consider it my favorite of the three. I’d soon start off on The Balance of Light, which…well, more on that later!
So let’s begin, shall we?
Rainer Maria, Long Knives Drawn, released 21 January 2003. One of many bands I’d heard of (thanks to HMV) but never got around to following until some years later. This is a great album full of driving tunes and “Ears Ring” made it to my year-end mixtape and favorites list.
Laika, Lost in Space, Vol 1 (1993-2002), released 21 January 2003. This too was a band I discovered later on, and this is a curious compilation of singles and rarities I found myself enjoying during my writing sessions. Not quite electronica, not quite trip hop, not quite alt rock, but something somewhere in between.
Calla, Televise, released 28 January 2003. I believe I found this one through a review in CMJ — I’d often read the reviews while at Newbury Comics and then pick up what appealed to me — and this jumped out as an interesting find. Arty and angular indie rock that fit the soundtrack of my trilogy perfectly.
Clearlake, Cedars, released 3 February 2003. I believe I’d first heard “Almost the Same” on LaunchCast and thought hey, this is like ‘what if Robert Smith sang for an emo punk band? and picked it up right away.
Johnny Marr & the Healers, Boomslang, released 4 February 2003. Marr’s first official solo album after several post-Smiths years of session work and he hit it straight out of the park from the beginning. You can kind of tell he’s still feeling the waters a bit and he’s not nearly as adventurous as he’d be ten years later with his album The Messenger, but there’s no mistaking his wonderful songwriting style.
Massive Attack, 100th Window, released 10 February 2003. Their long-awaited follow up to their brilliant Mezzanine may not have been as flawless, but it’s an interesting album nonetheless. Essentially recorded by main member Robert Del Naja on his own (the two other members, Mushroom and Grant Marshall, chose not to work on this one), it’s somewhat strangely upbeat compared to previous albums. The Sinead O’Connor-sung “What Your Soul Sings” ended up on many mixtapes, but also ended up as a key phrase in the Bridgetown Trilogy as well.
Stars, Heart, released 11 February 2003. Another ‘heard of but never heard‘ band I finally started to follow. I loved their curious mix of pretty balladry and oddball indie pop, and this one also got a lot of Belfry play.
The Postal Service, Give Up, released 18 February 2003. A side project between Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and DJ/producer Dntel, this was essentially what if Death Cab was an electropop band but “Such Great Heights” was so huge (and still gets played on the radio!) it’s considered a classic album.
Mixtape, Re:Defined 01, created 24 February 2003. The first mixtape of the year, and the first where I decided not to use the Walk in Silence/Listen in Silence/Untitled/etc theme, instead going for a streamlined mix of Songs I Love at the time. This first one is understandably a mix of songs from the new year and tunes from late 2002, but I found myself listening to this one a lot during my commutes to and from work. This boded well, and I’d keep the Re:Defined theme into 2005. I’d even make CD versions for Belfry play!
The Notwist, Neon Golden, released (US) 25 February 2003. This German indie rock band had a small but considerable following in the States but this album broke them and helped kickstart the indietronica movement. “Pick Up the Phone” is one of my favorite songs of this particular year.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Nocturama, released 25 February 2003. Nick Cave is someone I always enjoyed but never quite got around to collecting his albums. I was fascinated by this album, however, as it sounded so different from their previous records, as it sounds so much more vibrant (and dare I say, even a bit less funereal?) than them.
This one’s a long one…a three-taper made in late Spring 1998 in the middle of my stint at HMV Records. This was kind of a transitional time for me — purging old personal drama, starting a brand new science fiction novel and writing more songs and poems, working down in the Belfry at night, going on long road trips, learning how to get rid of all that negativity from the first half of the decade. I stopped hiding and started living again, especially now that I could once again afford to do so.
This mixtape got a lot of play in my first car — a 1992 Chevy Cavalier I’d named the Mach V, in which I’d recently had a tape deck installed — and contains a mix from two sources: the current playlist of WFNX which I’d listened to constantly to and from work, and the extreme expansion of promotional copies of cds that I’d begun to acquire at work. Some songs are alt-rock radio standards today (Flagpole Sitta, The Way) while others are loved deep cuts (Playboys, Fall On Tears), Belfry regulars (God Lives Underwater, Superdrag) and soundtrack songs (mostly from Great Expectations, which I listened to on the regular).
Out of most of the multi-tape mixes, I think this one holds up as one of the best. It’s consistent with only one or two filler tracks, and it contains quite a few of my favorite late 90s tracks.
[Only one track missing and not available on Spotify: Foo Fighters’ cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”, placed between Goldfinger’s “This Lonely Place” and Tonic’s “If You Could Only See”.]
I started to look for the word count list for my work on A Division of Souls around this time, but either I hadn’t started writing it down, or I’ve misplaced the calendar organizer I used. I’m going to assume the latter. Anyway, a cursory look at the timestamp on some of my old files shows that I’d started the rewrite in November of 2001 and by February 2002 I was somewhere around Chapter 6. (It’s also right around when I stopped using MS Write and finally started using Word, having gotten a copy of it from my sister.) This means that I was still early in the game but feeling much more confident about my work.
If The Phoenix Effect was me happily reveling in claiming myself an author, A Division of Souls was me taking my craft seriously and having a lot more faith in the quality of my work. And pretty much every single album from here on in was going to be a writing soundtrack.
Mistle Thrush, Drunk with You, released 1 February 2002. I’ve mentioned this band a few times in the past; they were a semi-shoegazey Boston band whose singer was a good friend of my former record store manager, and their three records are great listening.
The Church, After Everything Now This, released 5 February 2002. This record felt like a slight change from their more experimental 90s output, somewhat returning to their old-school reverb-heavy sound but minus the jangle. They remain one of my favorite alternative rock bands, even if I don’t get to listen to them nearly as much as I should.
+/- (Plus/Minus), Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album, released 5 February 2002. A side project of the band Versus, their sound is much more angular math-rock but retaining their high-level energy and catchy melodies and rhythms. It might sound a bit strange at first, but it really grows on you.
Craig Armstrong, As If to Nothing, released 19 February 2002. Armstrong is more known for his movie scores (and “This Love”, the song he did with Elizabeth Fraser) but every now and again he’ll drop a solo album full of gorgeous music that really should be in movies. This one got some serious play during my Belfry days!
Tanya Donelly, Beautysleep, released 19 February 2002. Donelly’s second solo record is not quite as bouncy as her Belly work and not quite as twitchy as her Throwing Muses work, but there are some absolute gems in here including the lovely “Keeping You”.
Boards of Canada, Geogaddi, released 19 February 2002. At the time, this was a band I’d heard of (I’d seen their cds at HMV during the time I worked there) but never heard, so I went into this record completely cold. A good thing, because this ended up being on my top ten releases of the year! And yes, another album on the Belfry heavy rotation.
Buffalo Daughter, I, released 19 February 2002. Another ‘heard of but never heard’ band for me at the time, this was a great introduction to the band’s semi-electronic experimentation, full of songs both wonderful and strange.
Death Cab for Cutie, The Stability EP, released 19 February 2002. A follow-up to 2001’s The Photo Album, this EP features some extremely moody (even for them) tracks including the twelve-minute epic above, and a great cover of Bjork’s “All Is Full of Love”.
Clinic, Walking with Thee, released 25 February 2002. Clinic always reminds me of those 60s garage bands with lo-fi production and weird melodies that lean towards Beefheart and Zappa, only they stay this side of outsider music. Not for everyone, but definitely worth checking out.
Alanis Morissette, Under Rug Swept, released 26 February 2002. Forging ahead and refusing to return to the angry tension of her breakthrough record, this is an album about maturity…or at least making an attempt at it. It’s very much a laid back record and there’s some really great songs on it.
Welcome to another series of Twenty Years On, in which I go through a year’s worth of favorite songs, singles and albums that were favorites then and are still favorites now. So where was I at this point back in 2002?
I was most likely down in my parent’s basement — yes, even in the dead of winter, unless it was too cold — working hard on writing A Division of Souls, which I would finish later in the year. By this time I had my daily schedule down to an artform: I’d leave my job at Yankee Candle sometime around 2pm (my shift started at 6am); on Wednesdays I’d drive over to the Amherst/Hadley area and do my comic book and CD runs, and get home in time to watch Tenchi Muyo! on Cartoon Network before dinnertime. After dinner I’d head down to the Belfry (though I don’t think it earned that name until much later in the year) and spend a couple of hours writing and listening to my new cd purchases.
This was an important time in my life in terms of writing, as I’d finally reached a level of quality I was happy with, and that I was hitting at least a thousand words a night. I was also writing consistently, nearly every single day without fail, even weekends. I loved the project I was working on — one that I would plan out during slow times at work to make the actual prose writing flow much faster — and I considered it some of my best work to date.
As for music, I really had no idea what the year would bring me. The previous year did have its share of great records, but it didn’t completely spellbind me. My year-end mixtape felt a bit forced and meandering. But I kept an open mind, armed with my copies of ICE Newsletter and CMJ magazines. January ended up being a pretty good release month considering it was usually a wasteland of small indie releases and leftovers.
bis, Fact 2002 EP, released January 2002. A four-track EP of cover songs original from Factory Records, it’s more of a curio than a collector’s item, but it takes the label’s early dance tracks and makes them even dancier and bloopier. (This is now available on the 2014 deluxe reissue of their Return to Central album.)
Osymyso, “Intro-Inspection”, released January 2002. Mash-ups had been around for a good couple of years by this point, but while most of them had been relegated to white label limited releases and played in the clubs, by the early 2000s they were being uploaded and shared online for everyone to hear and add to their own mp3 collection. This particular track subverts the usual mash-up by mixing the first few bars of a staggering 103 songs in a brisk and mind-blowing twelve minutes. It’s supremely clever and all kinds of fun.
Various Artists, I Am Sam soundtrack, released 8 January 2002. While the Sean Penn film was not a success, the soundtrack, which features all covers of Beatles songs (Penn’s character is a fan) is an intriguing collection featuring bands and musicians such as Rufus Wainwright, Michael Penn, The Vines, Ben Folds, Sarah McLachlan and more.
Concrete Blonde, Group Therapy, released 15 January 2002. After a seven-year breakup, the original Napolitano-Mankey-Rushakoff trio reunited to release a laid back and boozy album recorded in just ten days. It’s not as punk-infused as their earlier records, but it’s just as strong.
Nine Inch Nails, And All That Could Have Been/Still, released 22 January 2002. A half live, half studio album produced during the tour for 1999’s The Fragile album. Like most of his 90s records, it’s a bit of a tough listen given how raw and chilling most of his songs were at the time, but it’s also a really interesting collection, especially with the Still portion of ‘reconstructed’ versions of many of his best-known songs.
Sneaker Pimps, Bloodsport, released 22 January 2002. The third SP record kind of came and went before anyone noticed (and for the most part was ignored by the US, considering their second record, 1999’s Splinter, didn’t even get released there), but it’s actually a really solid record. They’ve already moved on from their echoey trip-hop sound of 1996’s Becoming X (and dropped former singer Kelli Ali) and become more trippy alternative. They would break up in the next year with lead singer Chris Corner starting IAMX, but in late 2021 they surprised everyone (including me!) by releasing a new album entitled Squaring the Circle.
Violet Indiana, Casino, released 22 January 2002. This was a short-lived but lovely-sounding duo featuring Robin Guthrie (ex-Cocteau Twins) and Siobhan de Maré (ex-Mono, the UK one that did “Life in Mono”), and their brief output of only a few albums and singles provided a lovely backdrop of chanteuse-like balladry and dreamlike pop.
Cornelius, Point, released in the US on 22 January 2002. I know I’ve posted this video many times in the past, and mentioned this record as well, and it’s one of my favorites of this era. This was the Japanese musician’s fourth record but his second readily available in the US, and it’s a wonderful record brimming over with wonderful creativity. It’s an album you should listen to with headphones to get the full stereo experience. This was the first 2002 CD that I had on constant rotation during my Belfry writing sessions.
The Anniversary, Your Majesty, released 22 January 2002. Another example of getting into a band just as they release their last record? Perhaps so, but this was a great indie rock record that reminds me of The New Pornographers. A bit odd but extremely melodic and fun.
Various Artists, The Mothman Prophecies soundtrack, released 25 January 2002. Say what you will, I really enjoyed the spooky Richard Gere monster-conspiracy flick, and unsettling tomandandy score is quite an interesting listen. Low provides the end-credits track “Half Light” that fits the movie’s creepiness perfectly. [tomandandy even borrowed their track “Not That Kind of Girl” from 2001’s Things We Lost in the Fire for a recurring theme.]
Chemical Brothers, Come With Us, released 28 January 2002. I don’t think this band has ever quite topped the success of 1997’s Dig Your Own Hole, but that doesn’t really matter when your output is so consistent and consistently creative and clever. This record felt more like a kicking-back, groove-in-your-own-head sort of album and it’s enjoyable from start to finish.
Or: Albums Wot I Listened to Incessantly While Writing the Trilogy in the Belfry, 1996-2004. It’s by no means a complete list, as I’ve left out a ton of albums that didn’t get nearly as much play but may have shown up in heavy rotation for a shorter time. I also didn’t list the albums that popped up during the revision years, which would probably be another long list in itself.
I’ve put them in semi-chronological order of release. These are still some of my favorite albums; I would highly suggest checking many of them out, perhaps finding a copy or two for your collection if you don’t have them already. It’s a wide mix; there’s electronica, alternative metal, alternative rock, and even a classical album or two. A lot of these albums still pop up on rotation when I’m working.
To be honest, it does feel kind of odd to finally be listening to a different style of music for my latest project. [Meet the Lidwells! is full of power-pop goodness, so there’s a lot of Matthew Sweet and Fountains of Wayne involved, and a lot of listening to The Power Pop Show on KSCU.] But I highly doubt I’ll stop listening to Fantastic Planet or Sea Change any time soon…
Say what you will about U2’s Pop, it’s an interesting album to say the least. It’s not quite an extension of their electronica-influenced albums Achtung Baby and Zooropa (or their foray into deliberate non-commercial territory under the Passengers moniker, Original Soundtracks 1) as it’s a deliberate side-step. It’s twitchy in places, barren in others. They freely admit that it was an unfinished album, a record they should have spent more time on, had they not had a major tour to prepare for.
It’s not their strongest, but I still enjoy it. It kind of reminds me of 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire in a way, as it sounds like a band in the middle of evolving. I remember when it was about to come out while I was at HMV; the PGD sales rep (back when U2 was distributed by PolyGram) was obviously trying to upsell it because hey — Big Name Band, right? But he knew he couldn’t quite pull it off. He was let down by it, having felt it was one of their weakest albums. Well…in the context of their career path, when you hit the stratosphere with The Joshua Tree and you keep getting more ridiculously popular, any move aside from UP seems like a step down. And to most critics, this one felt like a severe misstep.
To be honest, I felt the exact opposite about it. I was actually let down by Zooropa, having felt that album was more like Achtung Baby Outtakes Wot Weren’t B-Sides. Pop felt a lot stronger and more cohesive to me. It ended up being one of the first albums that received heavy rotation during my first round of writing sessions when I started The Phoenix Effect. I kind of liked its similarity to the Beatles’ White Album…it starts off pretty strong with “Discotheque” and “Do You Feel Loved”…and progressively gets stranger and darker as the album goes on. The final track, “Wake Up Dead Man” is the polar opposite of its opening track; one is dense and trippy, the other is wiry and exhausted. The whole flow of the album works perfectly for me.
This was precisely what I needed for my writing session soundtracks! I wanted to hear something that was a little left of commercial, something strong but not singles-oriented, something that had ambience. Something that inspired the tension that I’d need in the new novel I was writing.
My writing nook down in my parents’ basement (it wasn’t called the Belfry yet…that name wouldn’t come for another few years) was right near the bottom of the stairs, using one of my uncles’ old desks and one of my dad’s dusty rolling desk chairs. I had my Windows 3.1 PC that I’d bought with my own tax return money and a big heavy CRT monitor donated by my sister. I didn’t even have Word 97 at that time, as I don’t think it would have fit on the system…I wrote everything using the Write program instead, and that worked just fine for me.
When I brought my longhand work home from the Day Job, I’d sit down at the PC and start transcribing what I’d written. This is pretty much where I taught myself how to revise; I knew I’d have to flesh out a lot of what I’d written, so I figured that was the perfect time for it. I’d figure out what tone I was trying to capture with the prose and expand on it. And sometimes, the instant revision would give me an idea of what I’d need to write the following day.
It was a learning process the entire time, and I knew I’d want a writing soundtrack to go with it. Pop was one of the first, and pretty much stayed with me for a good number of years until the single novel morphed into the Bridgetown Trilogy.