The Friday Morning Listen: Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)

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There was an article out this past week by Steven Hyden at the Onion A.V. website entitled How long does it take to “get” an album? Interesting stuff. I’m not sure I agree with the whole “professional critic” vs. “regular person” deal, but I can see Mr. Hyden’s point when he wonders about the speed at which reviews can show up these days. He was talking about Radiohead’s King of Limbs, with reviews being published in very close proximity to the album’s release. Did the reviewers give the record enough time to “sink in?”

I don’t have an answer to that. I know that when I review something I’ve listened to it a bunch of times, and the writing process doesn’t begin until I’m “ready.” When I say “ready,” what I mean is that interesting ideas that I’d like to share have shown up in my head. Honestly, I don’t see myself as a gatekeeper, which is the traditional function of a critic.

But let’s not get caught up in this whole critic thing, because what’s more interesting to me are the more basic scenarios: You listen to an album and:

–love it immediately
–hate it immediately
–are not sure, but later on grow to love it
–are not sure, but end up feeling indifferent

Obviously, there are variations of each of these. The argument that some albums contain so much detail that they need more time to sink in? That’s probably true, though I liked King of Limbs immediately and it is quite full of detail. This is the kind of album that people have taken to calling a “grower.”

Some records do grow on me, but often it’s for reasons other than the musical details themselves. A great example is Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible. I kept seeing these comparisons to Springsteen and just couldn’t hear the connection. I liked the album but didn’t love it. Then I saw a video of Win and Régine playing a couple of tunes live at a Bruce show. They did a cool version of Bruce’s “State Trooper” and then, after a short pause, launched into “Keep The Car Running.” The woman holding the camera just about lost her shit. It was such an intense moment…and from that point on, Neon Bible went straight to the “love” category.

Most of the time, I have immediate reactions to music (one way or the other), which can make for uncomfortable situations when attempting to share things with people. One of my Something Else! cohorts pointed out that most people listen to music at a very superficial level. It’s kind of true. I used to joke that most people stop caring about new music as soon as they’re out of high school, or maybe college. Really, it’s not joke. It’s kind of sad. Also, kind of frustrating for us musical evangelists. We end up evangelizing at each other!

As for the true “grower” phenomenon, it’s a rare occurrence for me. I associate it with not liking a particular album, with a fan’s reflection back to me that “You need to listen a few more times…it’ll grow on you.” For the most part, that never ends up happening. I’m not here to piss people off but I’ll name a few names: The National, early Genesis (and by extension, Peter Gabriel), The Cure (and almost anything gothic). Is there a line running through those bands? I don’t know. Just please don’t make me listen to them again.

There was no doubt about Van Halen’s first album. I remember exactly where I bought it (LaVerdiere’s Drug Store, Madison, Maine). I bought it at the end of an evening shift (5-9pm), brought it home, and proceeded to spend the rest of the night reveling in the sound. I just couldn’t believe how good it was. I still feel that way about it today. A “grower” it’s not.

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