Alone II considered

Wed 12/3/2008

iTunes says I have listened to Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo 21 times. That doesn't include my iPod though (which I haven't synced since I uploaded the album). So I'd guess I've actually listened to the album around 35 times. IN NINE DAYS.

I was talking to one of my friends a while back (Liz?), and she said that when a new album comes out which she is really excited about, she specifically tries to "ration" herself, so she won't get sick of it, and can listen to it for a longer period of time.

I am the exact opposite. When an album like this comes out, I GORGE myself on it. I'll listen to it on my computer speakers, then on my external speakers, then with my good headphones on, then with my bad headphones in, then I'll listen to it REALLY LOUD, then I'll listen to it really soft, then I'll go through all of these combinations again on my iPod. I'll even put it on in one room and go listen to it in another room. During each listening I will hear something new - a descending baseline, a different balance of harmony which allows me to hear the other part more accurately, a drum fill, a guitar lick, etc. etc. And each time I sit down to listen to it again, I incorporate everything I have heard before, and layer it all together, which creates a much richer listening experience.

All of this repeated listening also drives the album more firmly into the timeline of my life. By listening to it SO MANY times in SUCH a short period of time, this music will always be bound to this moment of my life. When I hear The Blue Album, I AM 15 again, in my parents basement, slamming out the chords on my crappy guitar and singing at the top of my lungs. In 15 years when I hear this album, I will be 29, in my apartment in Vermont, looking out the window at the first snow, working on Basewood and Walker Bean. There are maybe a dozen albums like this, scattered out through the continuity of my life, so far.

I won't bother explaining the "Alone" project as I have already gone into it quite a bit. Needless to say, I am A BIG FAN of this project! Once again, I had already heard about half of the recordings on this album, but usually in different forms (live recordings, later demo versions with weezer playing some parts, etc.) But even so, it is REALLY COOL hearing the original demos straight from Rivers's archives, all mixed down. Like "official" versions of these songs.

As I mentioned last week, I was under deadline the night I got the album, so I listened to it about 10 times in a row before I was able to read Rivers's EXTENSIVE liner notes (26 pages!!?!). This was an interesting experience, because the liner notes are EASILY one of the best things about this album. In them, Rivers goes into GREAT detail to explain everything that was going on in his life, and in his creative process, when he wrote each song.

It turns out the sad, beautiful, piano piece with soaring harmonies is actually about the U.S. Soccer team being eliminated from the World Cup in the first round. ! And the straight-ahead power rock anthem is actually about one of the most harrowing personal experiences Rivers had growing up, and a decision that plagued him with guilt for twenty years.

Because of the liner notes, certain tracks that don't seem particularly mind-blowing, suddenly gain massive significance. The album starts with Victory On the Hill, a multitracked trumpet (YEAH, TRUMPET) arrangement. Rivers writes that after The Blue Album he wanted to COMPOSE music, not just write pop songs. It was this thinking that lead to the Songs From The Black Hole (of which there were another THREE TRACKS on this album!!!) and eventually to Pinkerton, with its four-and-a-half minute songs with multiple bridges and complicated verse structures.

Of course, as I have discussed previously, Pinkerton was initially a commercial failure (the FOOLS!) So Rivers completely turned his back on the thought process that lead to Pinkerton. No more personal content, no more innovative song structures.

On my first ten listenings, I thought The Prettiest Girl In The Whole Wide World was one of the worst songs on the album. It's almost annoying. The verses are sung over ONE CHORD over and over. Only after reading the liner notes did I learn that this was the FIRST song Rivers wrote after a two-year hiatus, caused by Pinkerton. OF COURSE IT ONLY HAS ONE CHORD. It's like the ANTI-Pinkerton song. Amazing! (and totally depressing!)

Rivers dives into his "Catalog of Riffs" phase, studying the structures of popular music, learning all of the music of The Beatles, Nirvana, Oasis and the Beach Boys (there is a BEAUTIFUL cover of Don't Worry Baby on this album, with Rivers singing all of the five-part harmonies). He was trying as hard as possible to keep anything personal OUT of his songs. But he also hated all of the songs he was creating. Finally, the song My Brain forced its way out of him. It is all about how stressed out he was. And of course, it was better than anything else he was creating at the time.

This is a really interesting idea to me. That art (music, COMICS) has to have some personal meaning to the creator, or it will be completely hollow. The same week I was listening to this album over and over, Steve Bissette showed us a documentary about Hergé, which posited a similar idea. That even though Tintin was mass media, enjoyed by millions of people, it was exploring aspects of Hergé's life, and troubles he was trying to work through.

And really, the main thing I've gotten from this album (BESIDES A BUNCH OF RAD MUSIC) is a feeling of great pride for Rivers. I am proud of him for not giving up, for continuing to create music, even if it meant writing some crap. I admire him for critiquing himself, and constantly examining his own process enough that he REALIZED he was writing crap. He persevered and reincorporated elements into his music which made it awesome. Alone II makes me appreciate his songs on The Red Album so much more. The music he is writing now has meaning. It is the music of a happy man.

ANYWAY, it just seems like so often in our culture, we idolize famous people and then the more we get to "know" them through various interviews and articles and releases they turn out to be vapid, 2-dimensional idiots. And nothing could be further from the truth with Rivers. Each time I learn more about him, I'm further convinced that my initial suspicions were correct: HE IS SO COOL. Sure, he's got plenty of flaws, but he's working hard to sort them out. We should all do the same.

IN CONCLUSION, this album is an incredible glimpse into the mind of one of the most creative and dedicated artists working in the world today. Supposedly, Rivers has another 7 hours (or so) of this material, so let's hope these albums keep coming out! Maybe at some point, I won't even feel the need to RANT about how much I love them! :P

6 comments on this entry

It must have been one of the many other Lizzes in the world that said that because it certainly wasn't me! I listened to Alone II all day once I downloaded it, and then on my iPod all the way to my mom's house and back for Thanksgiving (several hours each way) and then again on my iPod whenever I was on the train for the next several days. iTunes lists ten times for me, so with my iPod I'm guessing it's more like 20-30 total listens so far.

Anyway yeah I listened to it a lot. And I was fortunate enough to read the liner notes as I listened to it the first time, just letting it sort of wash over me while I read rather than pay close attention. After I read the liner notes I then paid attention to the details he talked about and it definitely made it twice as great of a listening experience (at least). It's hard to pick favorites but I find myself listening to "I Can't Stop Partying" over and over. When I first read his notes on it, I was like "this song is gonna be SO DUMB" but the way he rearranged it SO SMART! And it adds several amazing layers to the song.

I also loved reading about his songwriting experiments. I just got an acoustic guitar and have been trying to teach myself to play more "properly" and write little songs, and it was just so great to read those liner notes at that point in time specifically.

Oh and the Beach Boys cover is AMAZING. I love the Beach Boys and the influence they had on Rivers is so apparent that it was great to hear him just totally REVELING in it, y'know?

So yeah, I pretty much agree with you on all points!

Liz B. Dec04

Yeah, maybe it was Rachel? Anyway, SOMEONE told me that! Sorry Liz!

That's awesome you are playing guitar! You should write some songs about comics :)

I'm with you on the beach boys song. I keep coming back to it. SO GOOD!

Alec Dec04

Sorry, I gotta make like Shaggy here. I listen to things five bazillion times in a row, just not the same things you listen to five bazillion times in a row.

Rachel Dec05

Oh well, I give up. It was someone!

Alec Dec05

It *might* have been me, but not now, part of a story about when I was younger. When I was 14 or 15 if I was going to see my favorite band (Nirvana and Pearl Jam at the time) I would not listen to any of their albums for a week before seeing them so it would be like when a junkie intentionally goes through withdrawal so their drug of choice is more powerful when they decide to start using again. I certainly don't do this NOW, though.

I do remember being 15 and my best friend and I had tickets to Pearl Jam at some small theatre, we listened to ZERO PJ for a week with the exception of their appearance on Saturday Night Live that week, which we recorded on our VCRs and analyzed to death for at least a month afterwards.

On a related note, although there is obviously nothing wrong with liking Pearl Jam now, they are one of the few bands that never made it past age 15 for me. For some reason I was SO obsessed with them but after their second album I just stopped caring, which is weird but whatever.

Anyway, that might solve the mystery of who said that, haha.

Liz B. Dec05

Alec, sometime you're going to have to take me aside and explain to me about this music stuff. I've never even heard this Tweezer you're always so excited about!

Marek Dec08

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