Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I Forgot How Good It Was

Recently something possessed me to pull out Tracy Chapman's eponymous 1988 debut album. I used to play some of those songs in one of my bands in college and I remembered liking the album throughout high school and college. I listened to it this week and it was absolutely amazing. Why?

-Unlike some 95 percent of albums recorded in the 1980s it hasn't aged a day. The instrumentation, the production, the lyrics, the style - all of it could have been done at any time in the last forty years. It sounds great.

-The words are clear and have not become trite or meaningless. If anything, the words are even more relevant and meaningful now than when they were written in Reagan's '80s. The very first time we listened to it the kids were asking questions about what the singer was saying and we had some good conversations about it. (Child: "Why did he say it would do no good to call the police?" Yes, I remember not being sure if the singer was a man or a woman the first time I heard Fast Car on the radio. So right there it's expanding their consciousness and possibilities by introducing a woman who doesn't look or sound like a Disney princess. And we learn that different people have different experiences with government services.)

-Like the other contemporary Elektra label albums by Billy Bragg (Worker's Playtime) and They Might Be Giants (Flood) I hear and notice new things revealed every time I listen to it. (Good gracious, was Elektra on a super hot streak from 1988-1990 or what?)

-It has never been remastered for modern radio so it is not horribly compressed. There are truly quiet and loud parts, but not to the extent that you have to keep turning it up and down.

-The songs are catchy and I literally dreamed about them last night. Chapman is a brilliant writer of words and music and the production focuses perfectly on the hooks and the meanings and the melodies. It's basically just one of those rare, perfect albums like Ziggy Stardust or Abbey Road where everyone involved got everything just right.

Seeing as how it sold six million in the US alone, several used copies of it are available at amazon for under a dollar. What's stopping you? Be inspired.