Music from the Eden Cycle: U2’s Pop

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-SidesPop 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.

Platinum Records

If you haven’t seen my recent post over at Welcome to Bridgetown, I’m currently celebrating the platinum anniversary of my starting a novel (The Phoenix Effect) that would end up morphing into my Bridgetown trilogy.  All this month I will be posting fun things related to the original as well as the trilogy, and I thought I’d do the same over here.

Twenty years ago I was a few months in on my relatively new job as the lone shipper/receiver at HMV Records.  Even though I was one of the oldest hires there (I’m pretty sure I was closer to my manager Tom’s age than the young’uns I worked alongside), I was still feeling my way around.

The biggest change from the years previous was that I had a much closer connection to the music I was listening to.  I was listening to a lot of radio at the time but didn’t have that much money to spend on new releases, but this job let me listen to a lot more stuff (and yes, I may have dubbed a number of cds onto blank cassettes while in the back room, heh!).

But the sounds were changing as well.  The bright bounciness of Britpop was suffering from hangovers and bloating (see: Oasis’ Be Here Now, a solid but WAY overworked album); the American grunge was kind of losing its way (not to mention some of its lead singers to overdoses), and let’s face it: the college rock I knew of then was essentially the commercial rock of now.

That’s not to say the quality (or quantity) of alternative rock was declining…it was merely evolving with the times.  In fact, 1997 featured some fantastic, solid releases from bands both old and new, taking the genre in new and interesting directions.

On a personal level this was a positive and much-needed evolution for me, as I’d been in dire need of a change in my life and outlook.  I’d been broke, angry and depressed for about three years straight, gone through some personal issues that were Not Fun At All, and needed a positive change ASAP.

Not only that, this change in mood is reflected in my writing.  I’d essentially started a new project resurrected from the ashes of one that I had to close down for personal reasons.  And let’s be brutally honest:  back then, I’d had a collegiate view of being a writer.  I was a special snowflake with the Powers of Story [insert sprinkly *whoosh* sfx here] and I wrote Important Life Allegories™.  In reality, however…my writing was crap, I knew it was crap, no one was going to take it seriously, and I was going to need to be a shit ton better than the level I was currently at if was going to get anywhere with it.

So that meant dispensing with the mindset of Writing as Superpower and take it seriously.  Making it a daily process instead of a casual one.  Relearning the basics of story construction.  (This included doing a hell of a lot more reading than before; not just the how-to writing books, but the different genres of fiction and nonfiction I was interested in.  This plan kick-started my habit of visiting book stores on the weekends and, thankfully, a love of reading.)

Music has always been a part of my writing process, and this time it was no different.  This time out I’d be making mixtapes of tracks that would inspire my writing (the four-volume Songs from the Eden Cycle from 1997-8, the sort-of sequels in the early 2000s, and the recent Eden Cycle Sessions mp3 playlists).  Certain albums released during this time would get heavy rotation play on my cd player down in my basement writing nook.  And I’d listen to a hell of a lot of stuff on my fifty-mile commute, which was always a perfect time for me to brainstorm.

I’d made a decision to be a writer quite early in my life, but 1997 was when I decided to take that decision seriously.

Writing Session Tunage: What Next?

NOTE:  HEY KIDS!  Speaking of writing, I have an e-book coming out this Friday!  The Balance of Light, the third book in the Bridgetown Trilogy, will finally get released in just a few short days!  Come on over to Smashwords and check it out!

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anime-writing-gif

Of course, you all know that I almost always have some sort of tunage going during my writing sessions, especially when they’re back here in Spare Oom.  Even as I type this, I’m listening to Elbow’s latest album, Little Fictions.

You also know that there have been certain go-to albums that I’ll play, especially if I’m working on something related to the Mendaihu Universe.

But now that that particular project is complete…now what should I listen to?  Good question.

Meet the Lidwells! is about a musical family, and once I get to the bulk of the writing of this project, I’m sure I’ll be listening to a lot of 90s alternapop to fit with the band’s sound.  I’ve got a lot of that stuff in my collection, thanks to my time at HMV, but I can also let SiriusXM’s Lithium station do the work as well.

Other than that, my project options are wide open.  I’m thinking maybe a standalone Mendaihu Universe book or two.  And for some reason, I’ve decided that I need to listen to a lot of LOUD music for those.  The plot ideas I have for these involve a lot of emotional and societal tension, so something twitchy and irritable would fit quite nicely.

Something like the alt-metal of Caspian for instance:

…or something nice and crunchy from Deftones.

I’m sure I’ll temper it with some quiet moody stuff like I always do.

Either way, it’s time to change up the writing session soundtrack big time.  I’m not sure what I’ll be listening to in particular, but I’m keeping my options open.  Some of my favorite writing session albums come to me purely by accident — an album I haven’t heard in years that just happens to fit the mood of the scene, or a new release that clicks with me right from the first listen.  I still absolutely adore Failure’s Fantastic Planet (it’s still on my gym mp3 player after all these years), but I’ve got to start listening to more than just the same things.

Update for Today 2: More Music from the Mendaihu Universe

As you have probably guessed, I’ve been spending nearly all my writing time focusing on the final edits of the three books in my Bridgetown trilogy.  Which means many hours staring at the monitor while listening to appropriate writing music.  It’s been a mix of new and old lately, going from specific albums I listened to during the initial writing sessions down in the Belfry (mainly releases between 1997 to 2004), and tunes from the last five years or so, starting in 2009 when I finally picked up Book 3 and and finished it early in 2010, all the way up to today.

I’ve been trying to mix it up lately so I don’t end up sticking with the same few albums on constant rotation (*cough*Sea Change*cough*), and expanding on a few themes here and there.  I’ve been making a few new compilations lately that reflect a more eclectic and time-spanning mix.  Here’s a few for your enjoyment

I was never a fan, but somehow The Battle of Los Angeles just hit all the right buttons for me, and I consider it their best album.  And that bass riff?  DUDE.  This is great when I just want something angry and aggressive.

Yes, I know, Failure’s Fantastic Planet is still on heavy rotation during my writing sessions, but “The Nurse Who Loved Me” is by far one of their best ever songs.  It’s a brilliant track maybe about heroin addiction?  But the construction of the song is truly epic, going from quiet to deafeningly loud and back again.  Great for when I need to bleed out the excess energy.  [Also: go to YouTube and look up their recent visit to KEXP, they put on an excellent show.]

Not the biggest fan of this video, but the title track to Foals’ new platter is excellent.  It’s angry and driving and relentless.  As you have probably guessed, I tend to be so laid back that I need music to get me pumping, especially if I need to write a big action scene.  Something like this track (or the whole album, come to think of it) is great for that.

And on the other end of things…

I do loves me some epic mood music full of reverb and darkness, yes I do.  [See, this is what happens when you introduce early-era Cure to a teenager from a small town in the 80s.]  2:54 creates some dark and beautiful sounds, and are always worth listening to.  Extra points for somehow managing to film a video in a pea-soup fog that only adds to the atmosphere.

Tamaryn is a new purchase that won me over on first listen.  Equal parts Curve, My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins — essentially shoegaze nirvana — has been getting repeat listens this past week while I work on the edit for The Persistence of Memories.  Lovely to listen to and easy to get lost in.

In a somewhat similar vein is another recent favorite, Wolf Alice.  I got to see them play a surprise show at Outside Lands last month and they were incredible.  Great melodies that can be alternately dreamy and aggro.  Another repeat listener.

Thanks for listening and being patient!  I promise, I’ll get a more thought-out and enjoyable post soon!   🙂