Musical Broccoli

There are certain foods I would have spat out more or less instinctively when I was a teenager, assuming anyone had been foolish enough to have expected me to put them in my mouth in the first place.

Music’s the same as food. What you want from a band when you’re seventeen isn’t neccessarily the same as what you look for in music ten or twenty years later. You get a bit bored with turkey twizzlers after a while and start hankering after the enlarged livers of unfortunate French geese. Below are five types of music I wouldn’t have given houseroom to in the past but – like asparagus, black olives, and foie gras – are tastes worth acquiring:

1. Citizen – Steely Dan.

Who knows how to describe this lot properly? Jazz-rock? Fusion? Postmodern pop? None do justice to Steely Dan. On first hearing a couple of songs from this greatest hits package on the radio a couple of months back I screwed my face up. It reminded me of the soundtracks to those made for TV movies from the 1970’s you only watch when you’re too ill to shift from the sofa. It’s easy to imagine this sort of music being played by a brace of competent but anonymous session musicians with beards and ponytails stroking saxophones and fingering fretless bass guitars.

Give the tunes time though and they’ll seep into your brain without you noticing, revealing half-hidden delights on each play. Another couple of listens after that and you’ll start to appreciate the level of craftsmanship that went into welding different musical styles together without leaving ugly marks and admiring what can be done with such seemingly unpromising ingredients. I’m warning you now though – give any of the songs on this collection half a dozen listens and you’ll run the risk of being hooked on Steely Dan, and that doesn’t come cheap.

2. Frank Zappa – The Best of

Yeah, I know. All the people you knew at University who smoked too much Red Leb and ended up with Thirds in Social Policy loved big Frank. Go and listen to Valley Girl or Joe’s Garage and tell me you can’t see the point before you give me any grief though.

3. Benjamin Britten – Simple Symphony

I used to think Britten was a po-faced modernist without a musical clue, but I suspect that was based on listening to the hash he made of his English folk song arrangements. If it’s any consolation even Beethoven turned the enormously rich musical culture of the Scottish Highlands into stilted, unlistenable parlour pieces unfit for human consumption.

Anyway, have a listen to this 15 minute symphony Britten wrote when he was a child. There’s such exuberant melody, orchestral texture and youthful energy in the four movements it’s difficult to imagine what sort of heardhearted skinflint couldn’t warm to this charming musical sketch. And if you buy the Naxos version there’s some other highly recommended difficult to classify music to pad out the disc – all for less than a fiver. What are you waiting for?

4. Nerina Pallot – Fires

This female songwriter sounds overly girly and middle of the road on first hearing it but underneath that there some interesting musical textures struggling to get out. She’s being heavily promoted at the moment and I read an interview in which she namechecked Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan as influences. One to watch.

5. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker

I think they call this kind of thing I suppose people who’d be ashamed to be seen asking for an Emmylou Harris disc would feel okay about going into a record shop and asking for this one – which is funny as the strongest song on the album features Ms shaky larynx herself.

Judging from the positive reception this guy’s had in the British press all rednecks aspiring to credibility in the UK music scene have to do is sign to Cooking Vinyl and mention Morrisey on the opening song of their album. The taint of being a country and western singer will magically disappear if you do. Anyway, he’s hugely talented, check him out if you haven’t already.