“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Victor Hugo
Music is the quintessential entity that, in the shortest space of time, can induce – and mirror – the feelings of the listener, whether it be a flourish of beautiful optimism or a collapse into crippling melancholia. Either way, certain albums entangle an individual, and hold a sentimental place in their thoughts. Listening to an album that made you who you are can give you moments of absolute clarity, and make you feel rather than think in a blurred, chaotic world. These are the albums that made me.
Different Class (1996), by Pulp.
Different Class is the album that wholly embodies the university experience for me – with social mishaps, odd drunken episodes and sexual encounters moulding into seething insecurities, social anxiety and ecstatic rage. Yet, Pulp transforms the abject failures and discomforts of youth into choruses for rejoicing. Jarvis Cocker’s lyrics make me want to celebrate my imperfections, not lament them. He encapsulates the stages of every love affair, from the irrevocable reality of unrequited love (Disco 2000), the death throes of a stagnant relationship (Live Bed Show), too many sexual partners (Underwear) and illogically falling in love (F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E). The heart’s affections are cynically mirrored by the sexually promiscuous tracks ‘I Spy’ and ‘Pencil Skirts.’ Each track truly elicits a certain chapter at university, and evokes odd flashbacks when I’m walking down the street. Pulp are the quintessential Britpop band, and Different Class in its entirety is the pre-drinks anthem before going out: ‘Brothers, sisters, can’t you see? The future’s owned by you and me’ (Misshapes). The album taught me that, regardless of setbacks, frustrations and characteristic cynicism, never live like common people.
Chaleur Humaine (2016), by Christine and the Queens.
Admittedly, I first heard of Christine and the Queens last year when reading a copy of NME on the train. I immediately went on my phone, played this album in its entirety, and became infatuated by its notions of reinventing the self (It) and the artist’s exploration of queer identity: ‘I’m a man now. And there’s nothing you can do to make me change my mind.’ With Bowie’s androgyny and Michael Jackson’s dancing, Christine and the Queens is a truly unique performer, intertwining universal themes of stagnant love (No Harm is Done), volatile relationships (Saint Claude) and haunting retrospection (Paradis Perdus) with topics – such as gender identity – which are often viewed as niche and confined to the margins of pop. Transfusing universal and forsaken themes makes me have an unconditional love for Chaleur Humaine. Mirroring Different Class, this album reminds me it’s good to be different. I should embrace my imperfections with a smile, and all too often I do a very poor imitation of Christine when dancing to this album. I’m okay, just can’t help it if I’m tilted. Listen to the third track and you’ll see what I mean.
The Next Day (2013), by David Bowie.
After Bowie’s death in January 2016, I went back and listened to all 26 of his albums, clinging to the notion that such an iconoclast couldn’t be mortal. The Next Day feeds this rather unhealthy idea of revelling in memory, but I love it for that. Bowie’s penultimate album is a masterpiece so jam-packed full of life – with its prevailing subject of sobering retrospection – that very often I feel like Bowie is in the room with me as I play this record from start to finish. Alongside dealing with the worshipping of celebrities (The Stars (are Out Tonight)) and sombrely, school shootings (Valentine’s Day), Bowie provides tracks which can speak to all listeners. ‘Love is Lost’ reminds twenty-one year olds to ‘say goodbye to the thrills of life’ as adulthood begins to inevitably take hold of their lives, ‘Boss of Me’ deals with the trappings of love, and ‘Heat’ evokes a tortured subject not knowing who he is. Regardless of these sombre tracks, ‘I’d Rather Be High’ and ‘(You Will) Set the World on Fire’ are two rather unknown tracks I love to sing in public to myself: ‘You will set the world babe, you will set the world on fire!’ Alongside wishing to evoke the spirit of Bowie, I play this record for its powerful storytelling, whether it be melancholic or lovingly rebellious: ‘Here I am, not quite dying!’ (The Next Day).
Hozier (2014), by Hozier.
As you would expect, the first Hozier track I heard was ‘Take Me to Church’, whilst having the radio on in my student accommodation. From the R&B love ballads of ‘Jackie and Wilson’ and ‘To Be Alone with You’, I am infatuated by Hozier’s fluid, folky voice. It is a mesmerising album which I always want to play on loop when I’m seeing someone: ‘No grave can hold my body down, I’ll crawl home to her’ (Work Song). From wearing your heart on your sleeve (Someone New) to the fusion of drugs and sex (Sedated), this is a debut album, with its frequent use of gospel choirs, which adds sanctity and gravitas to the sombre aspects of being a youth. Also, this is one the few albums me and my mum love to listen to in the car, so it will always have a special place for me.
Art Angels (2015), by Grimes.
I was first introduced to Art Angels by my best friend, who played ‘World Princess Part II’ on his phone very often in the early hours and sang along to it quite often (to my occasional annoyance). Today it’s a cherished part of my record collection, with its fusion of club-pop, art-pop and electronica making me love this album for its uniqueness. As you can tell, I have a certain affinity with artists embracing strangeness – and Grimes is an artist who epitomises this. ‘You never liked me anyway,’ Grimes sings on the track ‘Flesh Without Blood’, a song I often play in the early hours, ‘but I don’t care anymore!’ This rebellious sentiment, which is also recurrent in ‘California,’ ‘Kill v Maim’ and ‘Venus Fly’, is an integral theme of the album which always pick me up when I’m feeling rather down. Grimes’s addictive ‘Realiti’ is a tremulous, majestic pop-anthem of feeling connected to – yet also alienated by – another human being, ‘Oh baby every morning there are mountains to climb, taking all my time.’
If You Wait (2013), by London Grammar.
Many of If You Wait’s tracks obsessively reflect on failed relationships like a never-ending autopsy. It is not a bittersweet masterpiece, just bitter – but that is why I love it. In the midst of a messy break-up, London Grammar gave me solace in knowing that someone felt the same when their world also turned upside-down. ‘Stay awake with me,’ pleads the chorus of my favourite track, ‘you know I can’t just let you be.’ There have been many times, walking home at 3am, when I have listened to this stellar album whilst making sure no stranger can see me tearing up. From social anxiety (Shyer), badly-timed romances (If You Wait) and a vengeful lover (Nightcall), this is a truly beautiful documentation of romance gone sour. Hannah Reid’s unfiltered vocals revel in taunting – not pleading – with a lover to take a night: ‘I’m gonna tell you something you don’t want to hear.’ You haven’t truly grappled with this masterpiece until you scream in your room that you’re wasting your young years.
Louder than Bombs (1987), by The Smiths.
Being a student, it would seem rather cliché to include a Smiths album, but I don’t care – a bit like the masochist element of Morrissey’s persona, and the failed relationships reverberating throughout Louder than Bomb’s tracks. It may be a compilation album, but my dad bought me an original vinyl copy of this album after I completed my Bachelor’s degree. ‘Asleep’ is a track which reminds me of those countless early hours spent in the library trying to get an essay done for the next day: ‘Sing me to sleep, I’m tired and I, I want to go to bed.’ The shortcomings and plight of the youth, like many entries on this list, are personified further by the track ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.’ The semi-pleading opening line, ‘Good times for a change’, summarises what we all want in this chaotic world – a break from all the shit.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars (1972), by David Bowie.
The antithesis of The Next Day, with the subversive, theatrical and androgynous persona of Ziggy Stardust, this is the quintessential – and perfect – Bowie record. I first stumbled across this album as an insecure sixteen year old, revelled in its anthem-inducing tracks, and accepted my idiosyncrasies whenever I listened to it. For the past five years, I have annoyed countless people with my idolisation of Bowie – so much so that I am amazed I still have friends. Despite the album exploring the life of an extra-terrestrial visiting Earth, it really is an album which everyone should listen to in its entirety, with its beautiful piano, string crescendos and dramatic vocals – such as in ‘Suffragette City,’ ‘Five Years’ and ‘Moonage Daydream’ – eventually descending into hedonistic anarchy. A tear-inducing moment for me once was after Bowie’s death, when me and a group of friends sang along (terribly) to tracks from Hunky Dory and this album rather drunkenly.
Lyre of Orpheus/ Abattoir Blues (2004), by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
An unadulterated masterpiece from Nick Cave, this album was introduced to me by my godfather, and often comedically interweaves apocalyptic notions with rather mundane aspects of life often, ‘Everything’s dissolving, babe […] I woke up this morning with a Frappuccino in my hand.’ Cave’s ability to espouse an infinite range of emotional states into one record (or two, as it is a double album) illustrates his versatility. From vengeance (Hiding All Away), to sweetness (Breathless) and hopelessness (O Children), Cave’s album isn’t just perfect music – it’s perfect literature. My favourite track, ‘There She Goes, My Beautiful World’, deals with the singer pleading for his lover – who is practically a divine god, having created his world – to come back to him. ‘I just want to move the world […] There she goes, my beautiful world.’ Praying for a lover to come back is as impractical as physically rotating a planet from this harrowing perspective. By mentioning Dylan Thomas, Karl Marx and Gauguin’s struggles in this track, Cave emphasises that even the iconoclasts of history had difficulties before obtaining fulfilment and reaching their goals.
Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970), by Simon & Garfunkel
The final album from the contentious folk rock duo Simon & Garfunkel, this is the prized asset of my vinyl collection. My original copy crackles rather vividly whenever the needle drops, but I do love it for this. It artfully adds to the haunting melodies permeating throughout this record, particularly ‘El Condor Pasa’ and ‘Why Don’t You Write Me.’ The gospel-style title track, a favourite of my grandfather’s, with its consoling content and calming sound, brings a smile to my face on those rather lonely, cold winter nights, ‘When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you.’ The subject matters are infectiously diverse like a few albums on this list, from immigration to America (The Boxer), the lives of only children (Baby Driver) and struggling musicians (Keep the Customer Satisfied). Another absolute favourite is the painful issue of writer’s block with the third track, ‘Cecilia,’ ‘Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart, you’re shaking my confidence daily.’ My dad and I don’t agree on much, but we can always bond with a chat over the lyrical content of this brilliantly crafted final outing. I have even more of a reason to smile with this album.
Music has the ability to speak to the soul and to express every human emotion imaginable. Here at The Kaleidoscope we are starting a series, “10 Albums That Made Me,” which aims to look at the personal music history of the individual. We will go deep into the albums that have defined our lives and made us who we are.