Wednesday, 9 January 2013

D CDs #491: I Cannot Be Born Again

I think maybe it's time I face facts: I'm just never going to get the blues.

I've listened to Born Under A Bad Sign a few times now, and it's clear there's simply some uncrossable chasm between the state of mind required to love a record like that, and the state of mind I have access to.  I am still, despite a recent surge in exposure, utterly unable to understand the worth of repeating the first line of a verse.  I still don't get why a genre so commendably focused on being miserable as all hell should stir so little emotion in me. It eludes me.

There's nothing whatsoever on this record that is in any way bad.  King's two own contributions here are no less listenable to than his collection of cover versions.  Booker T. and the MGs are solid backing players, as are the Memphis horns.  "If it wasn't for bad luck, you know I'd have no luck at all" - from the title track - remains one of my favourite lines from the entire genre, which never struck me as caring about lyrics as much as I might wish (what's all this shit about a "love gun" in "The Hunter", for example?).  The word that hangs over this whole disc is "competent".

I just can't find it in me to be stirred by it.

Trying to understand exactly what it is I'm missing, I took a little stroll around other, less baffled reviews of the album.  The most common argument that I can get my teeth into (other than "This is awesome!" which I'm not claiming is an invalid reaction, merely not one I can meaningfully dissect) is that King's skills as a blues guitar player were such that any number of later acts owe him a considerable debt.

Now, I'm sure that's true [1], but that brings me to a larger point.  I've never understood why so many people insist that influential and enjoyable are so often synonymous.  It seems to me that the curse of being influential is that you're almost always one of the least pleasing creators in your particular area, because once you've introduced the world to something, the whole world gets to take it and make improvements.

 The debt owed to you doesn't disappear, or anything, but I don't see how that debt can translate into anything other than appreciation and academic interest, neither of which seems sufficient to prop up the kind of visceral response that the best music should instill (the closest King comes here is some admittedly very tasty riffing on "Personal Manager"). It's like saying I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer so much I should check out that guy who first drew a "B" in the mud.

Maybe people remember the visceral response they had when King first came on the scene, and I'm just 46 years late to the party.  Maybe my definition of visceral response - or even the level of importance I place on it - differs wildly from other people's.  Or maybe, half a century later, the power of Albert King's playing can still reach through the years and slap those who know what he's doing square across the chops.

They say as any review gets longer, you learn less about the reviewed and more about the reviewer, and I know I'm proving the point here.  I'm not so much discussing a blues record as my own inability to sensibly discuss blues records. But such is where I find myself, and I no idea how to get myself anywhere else.

Six tentacles.

[1] Here I'm using this phrase in its polite rather than literal sense, i.e. the one that really means "I've no goddamn clue whether it's true, but I'm going to assume people aren't lying to me".

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