My judgment gets clouded. At the dinner table, at the work desk, at the grocery store – debating the merits of five different varieties of tin foil, having a drink, at night when trying to think myself to sleep. But the record store is the place where critical faculties fly the farthest and fastest out the window. I walk away with musty records by Santo and Johnny or late-era discs by Pentangle or the Move (not bad ones, but sort of undesirable ones). And I’m not sure what happened. It’s way worse if, as usual, I’ve brought in a stack of discs to trade in. My buying power seems purely hypothetical. Everything starts to look and sound good. I’ll lug a stack of vinyl to the turntable and clamp on the big world-suffocating headphones, and questionable or bad music becomes, at the very least, "of interest."
The listening booth at the record store is like the fitting room at the mall. There’s so much hope, possibility, and willing self-delusion. Fond wishes. Self-coercion.
I had a big lapse the other day in Amherst, at Mystery Train. I won’t divulge the full extent of my folly right now, but I walked out with a lot of music. I think that just about every purchase (except two) was by an artist that we’ve previously covered here. But year three of Driftwood Singing will be an age of double-dipping and deep-diving.
Still, one that we haven’t addressed here (probably with good reason) is Rachel Sweet. I first heard of Sweet when reading the "Last Night A Record Changed My Life" feature in Mojo a while back, and someone, I can’t remember who, was plugging Sweet’s debut, Fool Around. I found one of her later records once and was shocked by the badness, but this time, finding her 1978 debut, I stretched my ears toward some alternate reality. The fact that it was colored vinyl edition, something like the color of deodorant soap – that helped. And I hadn’t realized that Sweet was on Stiff Records. She also does a song by Elvis Costello called "Stranger in the House." A little cachet goes a long way.
And visually there’s the whole Lolita/bad-girl effect. Part Shangri-La, part Britney. She was 16 when this record came out. The Brill Building nostalgia gets distorted through bogus attitude and mid-70s bad recording techniques. The sound, well, it exists somewhere on the Sheena Easton/Bananarama/Tanya Tucker/Kate Bush matrix.
Is that a good place?
As one who tends to have the believe that "the people often know," I’m surprised by how empty the Bananarama really is. There’s a flicker of memorable chorus, but the rest sounds like music for a JCPenny ad. This is music that was almost good. It’s hard to disentangle the music from the monstrous shadows cast by the MTV pop-puppeteers. Some pop gets better with age, what happened here? To put it all in context, these songs make it easy to appreciate the genius of Katrina and the Waves’ "Walkin on Sunshine."
"Just My Type" - Rachel Sweet