Albums that sour or grow sweeter and why

You know how some albums go from sweet to sour over 20 listens? Or get even better — go from sweet to sweeter? I’m not talking about those that sound dated 5, 10 years later. I’m talking about those that change over the course of 2-3 months. Why does that happen?

I got caught on this notion when I saw R.E.M. mentioned on the VH1 list MCQ linked to and had this visecral, vestigal memory of how much I hate “Out of Time.” It came out the spring of my senior year of high school, and at first I really, really liked it. It seemed fresh and unexpected. By summer, I hated it. Some of that may have been because it became ubiquitous and popular. But mostly, it was because what seemed clever quickly became cloying. Make the jangley stop! Another album I had a similar reaction to Feist’s “The Reminder” and to a much, much lesser extent Metric’s “Fantasies.” Granted, I still kinda like that Metric album, and was never super in to “The Reminder” but both, I initially embraced and then found I couldn’t stand to listen to them.

Of course, I have had the opposite happen. The conventional wisdom is that The National’s “Boxer” is a “grower album.” But I got it from the first listen and my love for it has never dimmed. I also liked “High Violet” from the first listen. But as I’ve listened to it over the summer, it has grown even sweeter to my taste. Where my initial reaction was “really like this, but it’s not as good as Boxer”; I’m now at a place where “Boxer” almost seems not quite subtle enough for me, and I find myself craving “High Violet.”

So what’s going on here? Certainly, I think that with the souring, overexposure doesn’t help. But I don’t think that it’s only factor. Novelty is one. For me, the vocals tend to be another. What may be tolerable for 2-3 listens can later grate on nerves. Production can also be a factor. Repeated listening may bring out a boring-ness (or flatness) in the production. Or an overreaching and too much fiddling around. But a lot of it, of course, may just be personal experience and tast.

So do any of you all have any theories on how this operates? And what albums have you soured on or fallen even more deeply for after living with them for a few weeks or months?

25 thoughts on “Albums that sour or grow sweeter and why

  1. I guess it’s subtlety that is a big factor. Or complexity. Something that’s really simple is immediately enjoyable, but it’ll wane over time with too much exposure.

    Songs or bands that are more subtle (I’m thinking Built to Spill, The National) or more complex (Opeth, Converge) are the ones that stand the longest.

    But then there are artists like Ted Leo or Jackson Browne that always have to grow on me a bit, and I don’t know exactly why. But once they have I just can’t get enough of it. Maybe because for them it’s more about the lyrics and their lyrics are often complex (or in the case of Ted, verbose).

  2. I think subtlety and complexity can be factors. Technically, Out of Time is somewhat complex. And maybe even can be construed as subtle. But it’s subtlety ended up being kind of blatant, if that makes sense.

  3. Well, it also has to be non-annoying. “Shiny Happy People” is one of the worst songs ever written IMO.

    Funny that the album also has a song I consider one of the best ever written–“Losing My Religion.”

  4. Funny you mention Out of Time. It’s one of my all time favorites. Losing My Religion, Belong, Half a World Away, Me in Honey, those are all great songs. Shiny Happy People is meant to be ironic, of course, and it beats you over the head a little but it’s still funny.

    It’s not as great as Green, or Fables of the Reconstruction, or Automatic For The People, but it isn’t much below those on my ranking of REM albums. And, you know, it’s an REM album, which makes it better than an awful lot of other things right there.

    I think the only thing that gets old on this album is Kate Pierson from the B-52s. Her voice tends to grate on repeated listens.

  5. U2’s last two albums I initially loved but they just don’t resonate with me anymore.

    Ditto with REM’s early stuff. I can’t stand hearing most of it now.

    I can’t tell how much of this is just changing moods and preferences on my part rather than something about the album. Some always stick though. I might go a few years between listening to Led Zepplin or even (gasp) Pink Floyd but as soon as I put them on I’m hooked. Ditto with most of Eric Clapton’s greatest stuff.

  6. Hard to believe it’s been 20 years, but yeah, that’s one that just gets better for me.

    There’s some music that just doesn’t stand the test of time. You get tired of it after a while and it just never sounds that great when you listen to it again. A lot of 80s music is in this category. Erasure. Thompson Twins. OMD.

  7. I disagree with those, MCQ. Esp early OMD–great, underrated stuff.

    The last couple of years I started picking up a lot of vinyl records because you can get it so cheap, and of course most of what you can find is 80s stuff. So I’ve picked up a lot of albums I wanted as a teenager and couldn’t afford back then. I’ve been surprised by how good a lot of it is. ABC, Blancmange, Romeo Void, Talk Talk…

  8. Music I’ve listened to over the past week: Erasure. Thompson Twins. OMD. (who, actually, has new stuff out…)

  9. Wm: I found the Metric album to actually get better over time. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve listened to it 50 times in the past year.

    Albums that get sweeter with time are ones that I have some sort of emotional reaction to. (Err, a GOOD reaction.) I absolutely hated Back in Black the first time I heard it, but now it brings a smile and a desire to do some air guitar, because I associated it with a really good summer when I was a kid. Certain songs resonate so strongly they give me physical goosebumps. Like, the ultra-high note in Soar.

  10. Seems like there is some subjectivity involved. IN my view, no REM after Life’s Rich Pageant and no U2 after Unforgettable Fire (including the unanimously loved Joshua Tree) are near as good as what preceeded. So many artists become the epitome of themselves. The sound is still there, but the soul has gone out it. Two that always sound fresh to me: Close to the Edge, Yes; and Los Angeles, X. :)

  11. OMD did on song called Native Daughters of the Golden West, think it was on an album called Crush … goodness I love that song. But I’d never have thought it was great when it came out. On the other hand, some things that I thought was real genius and would always sound good to me – the Teardrop Explodes is the one that comes to mind – sound incredibly dated to me now.

  12. I still like Fantasies — just not as much as I originally did.

    And yes, there’s definitely subjectivity involved. For me one pattern seems to be that albums that feature vocal performances that are a little tricksy or precious or whatever the right adjective is tend to not work for me over time.

  13. I agree that it’s all about subtle/complex albums vs accessible/simple albums. The latter tend to be immediately lovable but quickly spent. After a couple months, you’ve heard everything they have to offer. The former tend to reveal themselves to you throughout repeated listens. Everytime you listen you hear something new which means it just gets better and better.

    I’d say that most of my favorite albums of all time fit the “grower” description. Spiderland. In On The Kill Taker. Good at first. Good enough to make me listen a second and third time, but not perfect. Only after ten, fifteen spins did those albums become my faves.

  14. “Music I’ve listened to over the past week: Erasure. Thompson Twins. OMD. (who, actually, has new stuff out…)”

    Ok, I was totally expecting that!

    But you know, those are bands that I really loved in the 80s that I just can’t listen to now (I haven’t heard the new OMD, it may be great for all I know). I could name a few more (Aha) but I will refrain.

    Talk Talk is in a whole different category. I will love them forever.

  15. Ah, great topic. I’ll have to give this some thought.

    Off the top of my head, a couple of albums that got much better for me the longer I listened to them are The New Pornographers’ “Challengers” and The Postal Service’s “Give Up.” Both started out as albums that I liked only a couple of songs, but after a while, the whole thing just sort of clicked into place. Now I think of both of them as almost perfect albums.

    I totally agree with Wm. about Fiest’s “The Reminder.” The production on that album is really shrill. And once you notice it, it’s hard to stop noticing. That was probably the only CD I got in the last five years that I never bothered to rip to my computer.

    I’m the opposite of Clark when it comes to REM. I can listen to any of their first 4-5 albums, but have a hard time with anything from Green on. Even “Automatic for the People,” which is a much more textured album than, say, “Out of Time,” has lost much of its charm for me. “Accelerate” was a step in the right direction, but if I’m honest, I have to admit that I probably haven’t listened to it in over a year.

  16. Automatic for the People is about the only REM album I can listen to anymore. I used to have a mix CD of old 80’s REM I played all the time in my car back in the 90’s. Can’t stand it now. Looking at my iTunes library I only have Drive and Everybody Hurts in there anymore. And even their playcount is astoundingly low. (6 & 2 respectively)

  17. I will admit that when I was in 6th grade I loved Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus and it has only gotten better. Well, I assume so. I haven’t heard it in a while.

  18. I totally agree on Give Up, Greg. So much so that I wrote a short story while listening to the album. I ran into some synth pop uber-fans online who are dismissive of the album (perhaps because of its popularity), but I found that repeated listens did nothing to diminish my sense that it’s a lovely piece of pop that has some depth to it.

    One other thing that I’d point to, in terms of albums that have some staying power, is mood/atmosphere in relation to space. This is especially true of vocals for me, and it’s part of why I can listen to The National over and over. If there’s a tension between the singing and the music and some built in silence then that works for me. If the singing is either too dynamic or too shrill, then that doesn’t work for me.

  19. Falco’s Der Kommasar (which I’m not sure was ever released in the US) still is great. The ATC version sucks more and more each passing decade.

  20. Clark it was released in the US, but didn’t do as well as the english version, which was performed by ATF (for After the Fire). I never cared for either one. Laura Branigan performed it too, unfortunately.

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