Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nostalgia Bomb - Part 1 (1988-1993)

     Nostalgia can be a very odd thing, especially when it comes to music. When you have been listening to an artist or album for nearly half of your entire life is it even possible to look at it in an objective sense? I would like to think that it is, but my instincts tell me otherwise. However I think objectivity in the face of years and years of repetition isn't completely impossible.

     Digging into the past of your musical tastes is a confusing and often embarrassing enterprise. I can remember the first piece of music that I ever purchased with my own money, which was a cassette tape of MC Hammer's Please Hammer, Don't Hurt'em, picked up on a trip to the mall courtesy of my grandma and some birthday money. Can a seven year old be blamed for liking the most asinine form of hip hop ever conceptualized? I don't think so. I was at the age where basically anything I heard on the radio was good in my eyes. What I find amusing is that a lot of people never leave this phase of their musical exploration. Go out to most of the bars and clubs and at least in my area you will basically hear the same things you hear on Top 40 radio any day of the week. The DJ, while at the whim of the wills of his listeners, still has a responsibility in the chain of music exposure. Now more than ever, with thousands and thousands of albums being released every year, people need some musical cultivation, and in my opinion that is the job of the DJ. It used to be that this was also the job of the radio, but popular radio is so completely intertwined with the failing major label music industry that it makes it nigh impossible to get something that isn't pre approved by multiple people on the radio.

     So yes, at age seven, I fell into the trap of popular music and the radio as a medium. But it was 1990, and my choices were severely limited. I listened to more terrible music for the next couple of years, and the next thing that really stands out to me in my memory is a track that was released in the winter of 1993. While Duran Duran had been considered dead in the water, a victim of the "grungification" of the early 90's, that didn't stop them from releasing a song called "Ordinary World". At the time I recall listening to my Dad's Nirvana Nevermind tape and a lot of Michael Jackson Dangerous, which are basically the two albums that everyone between the ages of 8 and 18 were listening to. "Ordinary World" however elicited a different reaction from me. It was the first song that I didn't hear played on the radio incessantly; I would catch it maybe once or twice a week. Luckily I convinced my mom to drive me to a local Sam Goody where I bought the cassette single of the song. This is how I learned first hand that cassette tapes could be worn out, as I listened to that little single as many times as it could physically take.

      Here's the thing about nostalgia, about a year ago I remembered my love for this song, and the subsequent single off of Duran Duran's The Wedding Album, and downloaded them. While I'm not going to pretend that they are the best song's ever written, I can honestly say they don't really sound like what was going on in popular music at the time of their release. I can see how the songs would have stuck out to the 9 year old version of myself, the lyrics are evocative, in the way that you didn't really understand at that young of an age but you still knew you enjoyed. The accompanying video's, especially the one for "Come Undone" had the same aesthetics as the music itself. In short, the songs sound a lot closer to what I enjoy musically at my age now than Nirvana or MC Hammer do.

     Now where I acknowledge the difference between nostalgia and actual enjoyment of a piece of music objectively is in my reaction the the rest of The Wedding Album. In 1993 I really had no concept of the album per say. On my trips to Sam Goody I would buy the singles of the songs I liked, because why would I buy something that was more expensive that had a bunch of songs on it that I hadn't even heard? So in 2010 when I decide to finally hear the entire album that two of my favorite childhood songs came from my reaction was a bit confusing. In short, the album isn't that great, so am I enjoying the two tracks because I have been trained through years and years of exposure to like them? Or are the two singles actually just way better than anything else contained on the album as a whole? I know that I am biased, but I think it is more of the latter than the former. The rest of the album basically sounds like the cheesy 80's pop that made Duran Duran famous, where the two aforementioned tracks are nearly perfect pop songs in two opposite molds. "Ordinary World" is a hopefull proclamation of life, and "Come Undone" is a brooding obsessive song about mental transformation. I am aware that I am probably giving these more credit than they are due, but I guess that is just the price of biased nostalgia.




  1. I remember both those Duran Duran songs being played quite a lot on the radio - KROQ in southern Cal where I lived at the time - back in '93 (I was in high school at the time). They did seem different from what else was going on; Duran Duran were somehow staying relevant while doing their own thing amidst the grunge revolution.

  2. I read this after searching for a download link to Thomas Fehlmanns' Flow form & Spiral. Nice story.

  3. I had the same feeling after I listened to The Wedding Album recntly. I was expecting to get more songs like "Ordinary World", but I got nothing even similar, unfortunately.