Recently, I was reading a review of an album that really emphasized the idea of subjectivity in enjoying music and how coming upon music at just the right time can trump all other factors. I’ve touched on how much subjectivity I find there to be in music before, but this idea of “finding the right album at the right time” intrigues me so much that I really feel it’s worth talking about.
I really hate the idea that there’s some sort of objective standard by which to judge music. Sure, you can analyze chord progressions, commercial success, how it survives the test of time, production, and all sorts of things. But analyzing music like that is looking at it in a vacuum, and to me, music in a vacuum is boring. Music tends to become highly tied to our personal memories. I’m a pretty nostalgic person already, so this is especially true for me; but if you just listen to somebody talk about their favorite song or album or artist and really expand on it, you get hints of that. They can recall a particular story about a poignant time when they listened to their favorite song, or how they listened to an album obsessively throughout a period of time, or how they first discovered their favorite artist.
It’s all about that special connection that you have with your music. It’s about the perfect song that came on the radio on the drive home from a perfect date; it’s about the song that described your exact feelings in a moment of distress; it’s about the song that happened to be playing when you made a great memory with your friends. It’s those songs that really stick with you. And it’s not going to be the rhythm or the composition, or the uniqueness or the impact on the genre. It doesn’t matter how old it is or how many other people love it. It’s about you.
It’s not even necessarily about relating to the song, either. Sometimes a song can even come to mean something entirely different from what it was intended to mean just because of that experience. Sometimes you relate to the intended meaning, and that’s why it strikes a chord with you. But sometimes, it’s just the music itself.
Angels & Airwaves’s second album I-Empire is an excellent example of this for me. I’ve read tons of criticisms of the album; I’ve seen critics talk about Tom DeLonge’s vocals not fitting the style of music, about how the songs all sound the same, and how the music is trying to be more than it is. In more recent years, more removed from my initial discovery of the album, I recognize some of these issues.
But none of that really matters to me. It’s been one of my favorite albums for years, because when I first heard it back in the summer of 2008, it was exactly what I needed. I remember listening to it on loop during that summer, listening to each epic, optimistic anthem of love and hope, turning to the mellow “Lifeline” on some bad occasions, and absolutely reveling in the larger-than-life closer of “Heaven,” of getting excited through the two-minute intro and singing along as DeLonge so boldly declared, “I will run the streets and hostile lands / I will touch the rain with all I have.”
If the same album hit me today, I couldn’t say for sure what would happen. I still don’t think I would dislike it at all, but I doubt it would remain one of my favorites. That album was my soundtrack for a summer spent closed up in my room on my computer.
I’ve made the same kind of bond with plenty of other albums and artists before and afterward. Sometimes I enjoyed it initially and listened to it on repeat, and it just became a part of me, like with I-Empire; but with albums like Avril Lavigne’s Goodbye Lullaby, I instantly knew that it was exactly what would get me through the months ahead.
What I’m really driving at here is that the bonds we form with music can become so important and unbreakable, and I think it’s essential that more people really understand and appreciate that, even if it doesn’t necessarily happen to them. If somebody tells you that something is his/her favorite song/album/artist, it’s completely useless to point out the negatives of it.
I recently read a rather negative review of Jimmy Eat World’s Futures, an album that I formed a strong bond with nearly a decade ago. It picked out lyrics from the album – including one of my favorites, from my favorite song – and severely criticized them; it said the album was just more of previous releases, and failed to mention one of the most interesting and unique songs on the album – “23” – while still calling the album “mundane.” None of it changed anything. Some part of me admitted, “Maybe that lyric wasn’t the most poetic thing,” but I still love the lyrics and the whole album anyway.
In the end, I recognize that my reviews are not likely to change many opinions. I’m looking to share my love of music, to share my opinions, and maybe introduce somebody to some music or make them think of something more. Because no review, no end-of-year top ten list, no “best albums of all time” list, is going to take into account the emotional bond each person might have with the music. Everybody has a different experience with music; nobody should ever tell others that they shouldn’t love the music they do, or that anything is inherently better just because more people like it. All that matters is that the album got you through a hard time, or defined a summer for you, or is an essential part of your life.