By Alex Scott
With the passing of time all things change, some for better and some for worse. Not everything that is new is better, and sometimes we lose something tragic. The art of buying music has been all but lost, and it is rather sad to see it go. A visit to the music stores will quickly reveal the dying business, and the endless rows of movies, TV shows, figurines, novelettes, and other such crap they must sling to try and stay alive.
What have we lost? Sure it is much easier to download music these days, if you have enough virus protection and fight your way through the jungle of media available online. Or you can take the noble route and purchase your albums online for a small fee. But buying music online will never be the same as the real thing. What you lose is the essence of music, the indescribable feeling of looking through the work that so many artists have committed their lives to.
I took a trip to the music store recently, a trip down memory lane it seemed to be. It had been quite some time since I had bought a CD, but I was very excited. Maybe I am alone, but to me there is nothing that can replace the way it feels to buy a CD. I will gladly pay more just for the sheer experience. After all, when you compare the cost of a CD to many other things, it really doesn’t cost that much at all. A simple lunch at any burger joint or sandwich shop is over $10, and CD’s are now mostly under $15.
After looking through the racks of music I decided to purchase the Kings Of Leon – Only by the Night. I had only heard one song from them, as they were new to Canada at the time, but the unique vocal sound and the mix of rock and rhythm and soul immediately drew me into the sound. Now they have started tearing up the charts in Canada with 2 songs in the top 30 and you can hear them on the radio, but a small part of me feels like I can be proud that I “discovered” them on my own.
Just the act of buying a CD is exciting. To really hear music you have to commit yourself to it. You need to listen. When you are surfing music on limewire or the apple store you don’t get the same appreciation in 5 or 10 second clips. But when you leave the store and you have invested in the music, then you are truly ready to hear it.
Then you take the time to look over the artwork on the album cover, read the song listings, and when the moment is right you crack open the plastic. That familiar sound of scrunching plastic as you fight the casing, and then you crack open the case and you just can’t wait to pop it in. There is even that smell as you take the disc out, the smell of the printed leaflet that you would recognize anywhere. You almost hold your breath as you slide the disc into the CD player. You don’t know what it is going to be yet, you have no idea what is about to hit you, you are at the top of the rollercoaster just hovering and waiting for the rush to hit you.
As the first few bars of Only by the Night hit my ears I knew this was going to be a fun ride. The haunting melody trickles in slowly, and then the bass follows, and it starts to take a hold of you, and you are immediately, gently but firmly, taken to another place. The first track, Closer, is really one of the best tracks on the album, it sets the tone for the rest of the album perfectly, but it is extremely difficult to pick one favourite on the album. Closer is very slow and melodic, and it makes fantasy seem very real… the song doesn’t tell you where to go; it just lets you get away. The unique style allows you to hear and listen to the lyrics without losing focus on the music, you can read into the lyrics as much or as little as you want, it lets you do the interpreting.
The next track kicks it up a notch with Crawl, a heavier, dirtier sound. More distortion and more rock to it. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to sing out loud and pound the steering wheel with your fists and nod your head with the beat. It’s like the big twisting loop after the free fall you just took in the first track.
The third song is the song that hooked me on Kings of Leon, Sex on Fire. Sometimes you just know, the first time you hear a song, you just have to hear it again. The sound is just so unique and it just makes you feel something deep inside, something you can’t even put your finger on. You don’t know what it is, but everyone can relate to the feelings of longing, of wanting someone or something you just can’t have. Again this song isn’t so much about the lyrics, and certainly not about sex. Sure they are catchy and you will want to sing along, but the lyrics are masterfully in tune with the underlying feeling of the song. This is definitely one song that people will still be listening to ten years from now. From the opening reverberating riffs of the song right to the finish you don’t want this ride to end.
Use Somebody again takes another turn, mixing it up between a gentle beginning focused on the vocal styling of Caleb Followhill and building into a rocking rhythm, and then fading off the way it started. Manhattan is another melodic tune that will stay in your head for days. It is amazing how the album all blends together, each song so unique and different, yet maintaining the same flow and feeling of the whole album. After listening to the album a few times any one of the tracks on the CD can pop into my head at any time, they are all so powerful.
Track 6 is another favourite on the album – Revelry. It starts with pure vocals, slowly laying out the fabric from which the song is woven. “The time we shared it was precious to me, all along I was feeling the revelry.” Once again, Kings of Leon has an amazing ability to take simple lyrics and let the listener run with them, delicately wrapped in a blanket of sound. The vocals really are the highlight in this song, and they provide most of the melody with the guitar and drums playing a backup role.
I don’t even need to go into the rest of the album, suffice it to say that if you listen to the first half of the album, you will enjoy the second half just as much as you enjoyed the first half.
Unlike many albums, it does not fade into hastily composed filler tracks. Notion is another favourite track of mine, taking a more upbeat turn which makes you want to tap your feet to the beat. I Want You slows it down just a little bit again, with lots of soul and longing, and some very curious lyrics that stimulate your imagination.
The last track Cold Desert puts the finishing touches on a wonderful journey. It is the slowest song on the album, and is better for listening to before bed than during a workout, but it really feels like “the end” of the album. If you were listening to this album for the first time and didn’t look at the track listings at all, you would still know the end was near, as it gently fades off. But just as you think it is all over the track comes back for one last encore and finishes strong. It is the kind of finish to a song and the finish to an album that makes you sit in silence afterward, soaking it in, because there isn’t quite anything that can follow it, and the best act to follow it really is silence. That is the precise time and moment that you will know you have listened and heard something amazing, and you will never feel the same again.
There are maybe a dozen or so albums in my life that I have felt so strongly about as the Kings of Leon – Only by the Night, but I am certainly glad I made that trip to the music store. Even though it costs more the experience of music is invaluable to me, and I will always own that disc for the rest of my life to hear over and over again, to pull out of a dusty box 30 years from now and to play it again, to bring me back to this time and place in my life when I first heard it.
There is no doubt in my mind that I will be back at the music store soon… in fact I have my next album already picked out, I am waiting for the release of one of my favourite bands, a Canadian band that started under the name Big Wreck… that’s right, Thornley!