Friday, 8 November 2019
As an enthusiastic music buyer, almost all of the albums in my collection were purchased for one specific reason — because I liked the band or artist, and wanted to own their work. In most cases, I can pinpoint the moment that led me to pick up a favourite album, or turned me on to a new artist — the worn-out Queen tape that my parents would listen to on long car journeys; the Prince album that my first girlfriend would play all the time; the support band that a friend told me I “probably wouldn’t like” but would become my favourite band for the next thirty years.
However, there are a very small number of CDs that came to me via other routes. There were free cover discs on magazines, of course, but I’m talking in this case about albums that I bought with no prior knowledge of either the album or the band. For example, I picked up Modified, the second album by Californian ska-punks Save Ferris, flipping though the racks in a record store on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, and I chose it purely because of the band’s movie-inspired name. It wasn’t a genre I’d ever really paid attention to before, and I can’t say it ever became a favourite, but I certainly listened to it a fair few times over the years.
My most unintentional purchase, though, has to be R.E.M’s New Adventures In Hi-Fi, which like a lot of people my age I acquired simply because I forgot to cancel the monthly subscription to the Britannia Music Club. BMC was a mail-order company that hooked you with an initial offer of cheap CDs for a pound, then relied on either your love of PolyGram’s back catalogue — or more often your own forgetfulness — to roll that subscription over into a stream of full-price CDs.
Although I’d obviously heard of R.E.M. before, I was never really a fan, my exposure mostly being through friends listening to throwaway pop like Shiny Happy People, but New Adventures In Hi-Fi was actually a bit of a revelation. Muddy, distorted rock songs like The Wake-Up Bomb sit alongside acoustic alt-country like the almost-spoken word track, E-Bow The Letter. Listening to it gave me a new appreciation for the band, and prompted me to go back and check out their older releases like Murmur, Fables of the Reconstruction and probably my favourite of their first few albums, Life’s Rich Pageant.
Serendipity can be weird sometimes.