Completely Obsessed: A tale of two records

Around this time of year, a lot of writers take the time to step away from our usual butchering to take stock of the crop of music that has thus far been raised and pilfered in the year. On one hand, it’s a nice way to remember the great songs that have already made their way out and given us the soul-nourishing we so strongly desire. On the other, when I do it, it’s usually because I see an opportunity to think less and turn in a quick piece that didn’t take too much time. But I think I can outdo myself. Instead of a Best of 2017 So Far… I’m only going to talk about two records. These two, I’ve chosen, because they are the two records that I’m most surprised by how much I’ve listened to them. And I’ve listened to them considerably more than most other records this year. If you think I’m blowing this up to be a big number, it’s probably three. I’ve listened to them three times, which is more than any other record. To put it in perspective, I probably listen to around 50 to 100 new songs a day.

Every day.

And I love it, but it doesn’t allow for a lot of album enjoyment. I’m explaining this very unsexy process to say that, for me to pause everything and go back to an album again and again, usually means two things. It’s a masterpiece, or there’s just something quirky enough about it to keep me baited. The latter is where these LPs drop.

Styx. Yes, the band that did “Mr. Roboto,” “Come Sail Away,” “Renegade” and “Lady,” etc. They have a pretty incredible greatest hits, but admittedly, it’s not something I’ve ever turned to on my own. So when I got word of a new Styx album, I didn’t give it much more thought than any other release. I confirmed an interview and sat down to come up with an angle. Then I hit play. And I didn’t much do anything else for the 42 minutes it took to take it all in. The Mission is a concept album about a expedition to mars. Simple and well-timed. It also could have just been hokey and lame, and their are some silly moments, but really they just make it that much more fun. Some songs on here are as strong as any of their chart-topping hits, like “Hundred Million Miles From Home,” which has a resemblance to “Renegade.” They use the music as an opportunity to tell the story, too, with guitars echoing the blast-offs and red dust storms of the adventure. Somehow, this band was able to do something most bands of their era have tried and failed so many times at — to tap into not just the creativity, but the sound itself that made them successful. First I was surprised, then I was almost ashamed, then I sat back and enjoyed every little movement.

My friend, the late James Bickers, a major prog fan, would probably be happy to know of my affection for the The Mission. He had pretty dramatic tastes, too. One Saturday morning I had to call him during his show to berate him for playing One Direction on WFPK. There are just some things that we can’t get away with, and maybe shouldn’t try. That’s the segue into my second record, which is the solo LP from Harry Styles, a former member of One Direction. There seems to be a pop star every year who crosses over to the non-pop crowd, but Styles would have probably been my last pick for that artist. My mind changed with his appearance on Saturday Night Live, when he performed “Sign of the Times,” a single that somehow recalls later Kings of Leon and Prince at once. The rest of the self-titled collection is one catchy song after another, but not like “pop star catchy.” These are rootsy songs that sound like a real human wrote them, and not a songwriting team. These could be Ryan Adams songs, and some of them could even be lost cuts from The Rolling Stones. How does an artist rewrite themselves in such a pure way? As it turns out, he found Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson LP. The same album that changed my life. Once again, lesson learned. Everyone deserves a chance and an open mind. Otherwise, you might miss out on something great.