Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"So, what should I buy?"

I've just had an email from a chap who heard me going on about The Decemberists on Simon Mayo's Radio Five programme a month or so back, decided to look into them, bought The Crane Wife, loved it, went to see them in concert and is now delighted to find that there's a "youngish" band that he quite likes. Funny business, this recommendation thing. It only works if it's done sparingly. In a few cases over the last year I've gone into print with a comment that is frankly aching to be plucked out and used on an ad. I said that Keren Ann's "Nolita" was "pretty much perfect"; in the case of "The Crane Wife" I said "you should buy this" and with Willie Nile's "Streets Of New York", I went so far as to say that if people bought it and didn't like it I'd give them their money back. Nobody made such a request. In fact a few people said how much they'd loved it. Because I once worked in a record shop I have never forgotten the fact that there's a huge difference between the good record you personally love and the good record that it's safe to recommend to nine out of ten cats. I think most people would take to "The Crane Wife" and The Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible" but not everyone would feel the same about, say, Tinariwen's "Aman Iman". What is it that Jack Black says in "High Fidelity"? "I shall now sell three copies of the Beta Band." It's true. There's a certain category of records that people just like. All they need is to be exposed to them in the appropriate circumstances.


  1. Too true.

    Having still not managed to buy into The Decemberists despite tremendous recommendations from yourself in The Word and numerous other sources, I fully expect to love it when I do. That's the beauty of acting on advice given by people whose taste you trust and their words you can safely interpret and decide on appropriately.

    Tinariwen are wonderful and Willie Nile's great. Although a recent all-singing-all-dancing Word review made the Findlay Brown LP sound like my cup of cha, only to find on purchase one stupendous track and the rest pretty (but uninspiring) filler.

    And my inner rock snob feels obliged to point out it was John Cusack's character who sold the Beta Band CD's and not Jack Black! (sorry - couldn't help myself)

  2. No, Cusack sold albums by 'the Bay-ta Band'. Bloody Americans.....

  3. The other side of the coin as an avid music fan and reader of reviews is: how can I tell if this person's recommendations can be trusted? Of course, it takes a deal of perseverance and trust and trial and error. But in the long run I think we learn whose taste buds are suitably close and whose judgement you can take a punt on. For me, I thought "The Crane Wife" was excellent and I bought it despite not really liking "Picaresque" but trusting DH's receommendations.

    Of course, the other thing nowadays is that you can go to iTunes and get a flavour. However, this poses another question: how representative and trustworthy are the iTunes samples?

  4. re: iTunes - too true.

    Or you could listen to the track off The Word sampler CD!

  5. It's impossible to tell from itunes what you're getting, and there are so many rerecorded versions of songs it's a minefield.

    I don't usually do recommendations from friends - it's like having to do a book report or something, but I don't mind reviews. I've bought all sorts of things off reviews that have been great - Fountains of Wayne - and some that haven't - Polyphonic Spree.

  6. Anonymous11:10 am

    David thanks for recomending the cranes wife.Quite hard to initialy get into but what a grower i will be bying more Decemberists.Have you heard Soulsavers with Mark Lanegan wow what grat music.