Yes! Yes! Yes! This Rocks! – Why Music is Ace
I love conversation. I love how one seemingly throwaway sentence can spark a whole week of thoughts and new conversations. That’s why I love Twitter. For all its failings it’s a goldmine of good stuff. It is a shy girl’s sweetshop.
I briefly discussed music with a friend on Twitter this week. It was a short exchange in which we validated each other for the fact that music makes us cry. We weren’t talking about sad songs, as such. Given the right state of mind, there are a million melancholic tracks that can easily reduce me to floods of ugly, Kim Kardashian cry-face tears. What we meant was when music sounds so incredible it causes a physical reaction. It’s like the sound has grabbed you by the shoulders, stopped you in your tracks and made you gasp. It’s a little bit wonderful.
I used to think this happened to everyone, but maybe it doesn’t. I can’t quite fathom how it might be possible, but maybe there are people who just never feel music. Maybe it just passes through their ears like audible bubblegum. It keeps their brain chewing between tasks. We all use music as background noise. The office I currently share with three other people often feels eerie without the low rumblings of the radio cutting through the air. But if music has never shaken you a little bit, you took the wrong road somewhere. You’ve bypassed one of life’s loveliest, free pleasures. To never have music knock the air out of your lungs even once would be tragic. Like never having tasted thick, hot, buttered toast. Like never feeling your shoulders collapse when you sink them into the bath after a really bad day. Like never having someone kiss you like they’d die if they didn’t.
We talked on Twitter about swellers; those songs that take you on a slow, ascending journey. They’re the tracks heard best lying in bed with big headphones on and with the lights turned off. The rollercoasters that gradually take you to a point of no return. You just have to fall with it. 30 Seconds to Mars’ Kings and Queens throws me off a cliff, in the best possible way. It’s epic. Toward the middle Jared Leto’s voice stands alone. Then the drum beats rapidly flutter for a while before smashing triumphantly back into the huge chorus. It catches my breath just thinking about it. When the BBC used it over their closing video package wrapping up their week on Africa Live I burst into tears. That crescendo over all those survival-of-the-fittest clips was a little too much.
The Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition has much the same effect and I can’t even pinpoint why. There’s something in the production that pushes a button. The nerd in me would like to break it down and figure it out. I was once walking home from work in the dark listening to the original Broadway recording of Wicked. Defying Gravity happened to be playing as I ambled down the quietest street of my journey. There was nobody around. I was completely lost in the song. The build to Idina Menzel’s final high-note through my earphones was so powerful it made me cry. In. The. Street.
I was flicking through my playlists after this conversation and found Stereophonics’ version of Roberta Flack’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Lyrically, it might touch a nerve with anyone who’s ever been in love. But throw in some beautiful orchestration, a lead singer you’ve been smitten with since you were 17 and possibly the best ladder to an explosive ending I’ve ever heard – it’s practical magic. When it first surfaced on a Jools Holland album years ago, I described it as being like slow, Sunday morning sex; all soft and sleepy until you get to the end. Having listened to it several times this week, I maintain this to be true.
I listened to a lot of Stereophonics this week. It’s comforting that 16 years after their first album about small town life took the country by storm, Kelly Jones can still write lyrics that feel as if he’s written them just for me at exactly the right time. You don’t get many bands like that; the ones who stay with you however old you (and they) get. Even better if they keep making new music. I listened to Performance and Cocktails all the way through on Thursday. I knew every word of the album like a reflex. I didn’t even have to think about it. I have a very clear memory of sitting on an old Maskreys coffee table when Just Looking got played on Radio 1 for the first time. I remember how still I was. So very still. Not wanting to miss a single second. Listening to it again on Thursday transported me back to the exact tingly feeling I had in 1999. The wobble in the first guitar chord, the slight breathlessness at the beginning and the close-to-your-ear croakiness at the end, after all the shouting. It makes my chest crunch. Still.
Swellers are a rush. Tracks and sometimes whole albums that move you are fantastic. But what I love best are the fleeting moments. Those tiny bursts of genius that send a charge up your spine because they’re so bloody good. It’s a little guitar riff, a beat that comes in at exactly the right spot, the way a few select words are pronounced. It’s like your boyfriend walked across a crowded room and whispered something incredibly filthy in your ear, and your tummy flips because nobody else heard what you just heard. It’s all yours. I’ve got loads of these and, because I really am a nerd, I’m probably going to start keeping a list of them. I can guarantee that after I finish writing this I’ll come up with more I wish I’d included.
Exactly a minute into Dizzee Rascal’s Bonkers there’s a dirty bassline that jumps in and it’s so perfect it changes my breathing. Toward the end of Eric Church’s Creepin’ everything, including his voice, gets really loud and raucous before sinking back into a fast, steady beat. It’s heavenly. In Ellie Goulding’s Anything Could Happen she sings “I know it’s gonna be” eight times before making some kind of noise that’s supposed to be “Oh yeah.” I love that little noise. I love that she’s so lost in it that she can’t quite get it out properly. As Lee Brice stops teasing his wife about not needing her and sings “I love the sound of your name” in Woman Like You I get this gentle flutter in my chest. Just the simple rhythm with which Scroobius Pip speaks the chorus in Stunner gives me a warm tingle at the back of my neck.
Ain’t music grand? Isn’t it gorgeous that the way sounds are combined can make you feel something physical? And if none of this makes sense, I feel bad for you, son.