Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Game 7 - Blonde on Blonde vs. Pet Sounds

Ed Note:
It's truly a shame that one of these colossally great albums has to knock the other one out here in the first round as I think holding one of them up against something more modern like Pavement would be a truly fun exercise in musical analysis. But alas, the bracketologists* supervising this process chose not to fulfill the promise of these potential cross-genre dream matchups. At the same time however, my strong sentimental connections to both of these albums means that it's probably a very good thing to get at least one of them out early so as to avoid any more obnoxious waxing of pseudo-philosophical "what this album means to me" bullshit. That having been said, I DO have very strong sentimental connections to these albums that you'll have to read about now so how bout everyone just deal with it for a moment!? OKAY? OKAY? okay.

I remember specifically the moment that I first began to appreciate the unconventional indie-pop sound that currently dominates my musical listening preferences. Sitting at my grandma's in Martinsville, VA on a Sunday afternoon**, my uncle started to sing what was clearly the most ridiculous set of lyrics I had heard in my entire life: "Now your dancing child with his Chinese suit, he spoke to me, I took his flute, no I wasn't very cute to him, was I?" Despite or maybe because of the bizarre sense of humor the 7th grade version of me*** found in such a ridiculous set of lyrics, I instantly fell in love with this song in a pop context before I'd even heard Dylan's even funnier and more ironic take. My ability to appreciate this is even more remarkable when you consider that Marilyn Manson's cover of Sweet Dreams and Silverchair's Frogstomp were in HEAVY rotation in my sweet Sanyo boom box with a Nine Inch Nails and Perot 1992 sticker on it.**** When I finally DID get a chance to listen to Dylan's version, I was even more hooked on not only the song but on everything the album brought to the table. From the rollicking fare-thee-well country stomp of "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine" to the mournful "ohhhh mamas" of "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" Blonde on Blonde takes its listeners on a Willy Wonka-esque boat ride through the canal of Dylan's warped sense of humor, insecurities, and past slights (either real or perceived). I've heard suggestions that Highway 61 or Blood on the Tracks represent the truly definitive Dylan album but for shear variety and power, Blonde on Blonde DEFINES Dylan as an artist.

While Blonde on Blonde came to signify this musical turning point for me, Pet Sounds was much less life altering as a whole. Instead its personal significance for me lies simply in its shear auditory beauty. To compare it lyrically to Dylan is to compare Mercer Mayer to Dickens. For poetic significance, just about the best Pet Sounds can muster are the acid fueled musings of an increasingly insane Brian Wilson. So clearly Dylan wins right? Not so fast. Pet Sounds unequivocally contains the BEST vocal harmonies ever captured in studio. To hear the Wilson, Jardin, Love harmonies in "Sloop John B" as the guys riff on the simple words, "home, let me go home" is to hear the pinnacle of pop vocals. "God Only Knows" is so simple and sweet and perfect a love song that to NOT have it prominently played at a wedding is simply tragic. "Wouldn't it Be Nice" is among that very rare breed of teen love songs that actually gets it right... and by it I mean everything.

To be honest, at the beginning of this (as is evidenced by the seeding) I assumed that Blonde on Blonde simply meant too much to me to lose this one. But after dedicating hours to each album over the past couple days I found myself moved all over again by just how great Pet Sounds sounds. The simple beauty of Pet Sounds is just barely more evocative than the lyrical significance of Blonde on Blonde. Discovering this was quite refreshing to me in that it was a pure reminder of the power of simple beauty.

The final match up of round one will pit The Replacements' Let it Be vs. Nirvana's In Utero.

**face packed to the gills with chicken tenders no doubt
*** just a HORRIBLE human being this 7th grade me.
**** like I said... a HORRIBLE human being.

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