I’ve made mention of the fact that I tend to discover music late, well into a band’s or artist’s career. (And if I haven’t mentioned it before, I’ve certainly thought about it a lot.) While this has the effect of making me feel like a johnny-come-lately, out-of-the-loop flunky, I’ve found there are certain benefits to this tendency. For one, I get to listen to music backwards. No, I don’t mean I get to spin an album backwards on a turntable and listen for satanic messages, although I am old enough to remember that being a trend when I was in middle school. (Black Sabbath, anyone?)
What I mean by listening backwards is that I typically get to hear a musician’s or band’s later work first and then move back to the earlier albums. This has been quite accidental on my part. When I discover “new” music, I catch whatever is currently popular, so I’m naturally at the later end of a band’s career.
I’ve done this with Dave Matthews Band, having purchased Dave’s solo album “Some Devil” first (for my husband, no less) and then collecting the albums the band had already released. I’ve also done this with U2. Although I was quite familiar with some of U2’s early work, specifically “Gloria” and “New Year’s Day,” it wasn’t until the “Joshua Tree” album was released that I started collecting, and then I moved forward into “Achtung Baby,” “Zooropa” and “Pop” before going back to the beginning and getting “October” and “War.” (No, I don’t have U2’s first album, “Boy,” although I think my husband owns it on vinyl.)
I’ve noticed the same trend happening with Nine Inch Nails (NIN). I heard Richard Cheese’s version of NIN’s song “Closer,” and found NIN’s video of the song on YouTube. I went to the library and put several of NIN’s albums on hold (they’re so popular I had to wait for them). I ordered “Year Zero,” “With Teeth,” “The Downward Spiral,” and I think I’m still waiting for “The Fragile.” As luck would have it, the later albums, “Year Zero” and “With Teeth,” arrived first, a couple of months ago. I got “The Downward Spiral” about three weeks ago.
In hearing the later work of these bands first, I got to know them with some maturity on their bones. I got to see where they were going, even though I didn’t know where they had come from. From the standpoint of the Dave Matthews Band, that was a good thing because I got to miss out on all the hoopla surrounding the release of “Busted Stuff” (how the original of this album was stolen and released without permission of the band or its management). This incident colored how some fans received the album. Because I had missed the melodrama, my experience of the album was untainted and, as it turns out, this is one of my favorite DMB albums.
In the case of both U2 and NIN, I experienced the complexity and refinement each band eventually arrived at. The earlier music of both bands is raw and powerful and not as produced as their later work. While many people, including my husband, prefer the early work of bands precisely because of these qualities, for some reason I gravitate toward the more refined later music. That said, what I enjoy about the early work is seeing where these bands have come from and how there is a consistency between the old and new.
With NIN, I’m thankful for the mellowing that has occurred over time. I’m listening to “The Downward Spiral” now and the anger and depression is so palpable in the music and blatant in the lyrics, that it’s a miracle Trent Reznor survived this period of his life. Listening to “With Teeth,” “Year Zero,” and now “Ghosts I-IV,” it’s hard to believe he was scalded by the soup of depression, yet what he experienced then has certainly influenced in his newer work.
Okay, now that I’ve lost track of exactly where I was going with this post (maybe I’ve already said what I wanted to say, but don’t know how to end it tidily), I’ll volley this into your court. Have you ever experienced listening to a musician’s work backwards, or out of order? What did you learn from the experience? (There are no wrong answers!)