Life on Shuffle: Part One

Talk about extremes in life, for Christmas this year I got an 80GB iPod from my wife, and six days later we were officially splitting up. My life was in turmoil, but I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to enjoy that new musical toy. Because of the split and the impending move, I haven’t been able to fill the gadget with all of the music that I would like, but it’s about a third of the way there. Right now, it’s mostly filled with recent stuff and music that I downloaded quickly from the CD’s that I knew my soon-to-be-ex was taking with her. For the past few weeks, I had been trying to listen to particular albums and songs that I hadn’t yet heard, or music that I had to review. But that grew tiresome quickly. On top of that, because of the personal strife, I find myself in an anxious and agitated state most of the time lately. As a result, it’s become even more difficult for me to decide on the music to which I should listen.

An epiphany came to me. I decided not to decide. One of the great reasons to get an iPod, besides incredible portability and capacity, of course, is its shuffle feature. I hadn’t yet employed the randomizer and was looking forward to it. At home, I have one of those 200 CD jukebox style players. Most of the time, however, I find myself using the DVD player as my music conveyance of choice. The jukebox takes time to load, it’s noisy when it flips through CDs, and its shuffle feature tends to repeat quite a bit. Not so with the iPod, as it creates a clean, repeat-free playlist that I found is sometimes, well, uncanny.

What do I mean? Well, you’ll see in the upcoming installments of this new column, “Life on Shuffle.” In essence, there were times when song choice and playlists seemed eerily human and clairvoyant. There were other times when the iPod seemed to reveal exactly what it was, a machine that had no artistic ear or aesthetic sense of what song would appropriately follow another.

I gave myself up to the shuffle. I simply had too many crises in my life to add another of my listening choices. I gave control of that to my little black and silver device and I couldn’t have been more pleased. As you can see, not only was I happy with the result, but it ended up inspiring an entirely new column. In the coming weeks, you’ll see ten-song playlists of what appears in the shuffle next. As time progresses, and I finally move into my new place, the iPod will fill with more music as well, making this feature truly a representation of some of my `Best Songs Ever.’ Can you imagine trying to shuffle through over 20,000 songs? (That’s what the 80GB fits, by the by).

Anyway, here’s the first shuffle playlist as it appeared on my faithful iPod that fated day of the epiphany, with, of course, commentary from yours truly.

1. “Alfie”- Trashcan Sinatras

This track comes from a double disc collection of the Sinatras’ rarities called On a `B’ Road. I’ve always loved Frank Reader’s voice, and nowhere has it sounded sweeter than on this cover of the Burt Bacharach classic. I’ve been a fan of this Scottish band since their first album, Cake, and have remained loyal ever since. I had not yet, however, listened to this particular collection of songs, and “Alife” was a nice introduction, just as it was a beautiful start to this ten-song set.

2. “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” – Bob Dylan

This song originally appeared on Bob Dylan’s very first album, but this version is from the fourth volume of his bootleg series, The Royal Albert Hall Concert. Rock historians will note that this show is the one where Dylan first played electric in England, and hearing his fans boo his performance after the fact. In this particular setting, “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” is one of the few tracks that he pulls from his early years, but is included in the `electric’ half of the set. Over forty years gone, I’ll never quite understand what everyone found so offensive, especially as the rendition of this song is absolutely inspired.

3. “When I Look at the World” – U2

The transition from Dylan to U2 makes so much sense, it’s hard to believe this little machine made the choice. But while Dylan was embarking on a grand new ballsy direction, U2 was returning to rock glory after taking a short detour in electronica country. Mere days after All That You Can’t Leave Behind was released, critics were already hailing it as one of the best albums of the century. After hearing this song isolated from its regular tracklisting, it’s easy to hear why so many praised the album so highly. Each song, including this one, can and does stand on its own quite well. I have a theory about U2 albums, especially recent ones. Generally, the first single release from the album is a pop throwaway and after time cannot stand up to the strength of the album tracks. “Beautiful Day,” “The Fly” and, most recently, “Vertigo,” are decent enough songs to catch your attention on the radio, but don’t hold a candle to say, “Walk On,” “One” or “Original of the Species.”

4. “Portions for Foxes” – Rilo Kiley

While Bono pines away trying to figure out his lover’s point of view, Jenny Lewis just doesn’t seem to care, and we (read: I) love her for it. Lewis tells it like it is, admitting that she’s `bad news’ for her current beau, and realizing that the reverse is also true. But since when has that stopped anyone from continuing on with a relationship? I’m sure that we’ve written about this song before in one of our “Best Song Ever” features here on Treble, but I just couldn’t exclude it. It’s like when a radio DJ or club ends up playing one of favorite songs without a request, as if that person playing it is inside your head. The iPod just intuitively knew that at this personal crisis in my life, all I really needed was to hear the stunning and talented Jenny Lewis panting into my eardrums. Well, Jenny, you can ruin the mystery for me anytime.

5. “Just Can’t Get Enough” – Depeche Mode

Ah, Depeche Mode. I’ve been listening to quite a lot of them lately, mostly revisiting their older and underappreciated stuff. Yet while “Lie to Me,” “Get the Balance Right” and “Shame” get treated like red-headed stepchildren that look like the milkman, “Just Can’t Get Enough” just keeps chugging away as one of DM’s fan favorites. It’s not necessarily one of mine, but I can’t deny its likeability. This version is from their recent Touring the Angel collection, and, as usually happens when bands trot our their early singles in concert, they let the fans do the singing. Dave Gahan proves he’s the consummate showman by not only putting the requisite energy into the song, updating it for a newer generation, but also giving it back to the fans who have made it their own.

6. “Zapata” – The Knife

From one of the early generations of electronic music to the latest and greatest. Did I mention that the iPod segues were oddly apt? “Zapata” even at times sounds like an early DM track, especially the harmonium part. It could have easily been pulled from either Construction Time Again or Speak & Spell, save for the odd vocal styling. I’ve just recently begun to explore all of the work of this Swedish brother-sister duo, and it’s fair to say I’m impressed.

7. “People Get Ready” – The Frames

This is a case that’s going to come up every now and again. I’ll be reviewing the new album from Irish band the Frames, and so I’ll be talking about a song that hasn’t been `officially’ released yet. “People Get Ready” is the emotional centerpiece of The Cost, another step up for the Frames who have been steadily improving with each release. With “People Get Ready,” Glen Hansard and company have created a building emotionally resonant song that can compete with any epic song by that other Irish band. This is your notice now, be sure to put the release date of The Frames’ The Cost on your calendar, February 20th.

8. “Yellow” – Coldplay

Like everyone else, I absolutely loved this song. Like everyone else, this track introduced me to Coldplay, forever dooming me to pick up every release. Like everyone else, I still kind of like Coldplay, despite their overexposure. But unlike everyone else, I have a different take on their early hit. I believe that “Yellow” is not, like Chuck Klosterman would have you believe, merely a sappy “Lloyd Dobler” type of love song. No, “Yellow” is a love song from Chris Martin to his penis and urine. Huh? Alright, hear me out. The first two verses can be attributed any way you like. The stars are beautiful and yellow, the song was written for that mysterious `you.’ But who is `you?’ Is it a lover? Or is it a part of the body that Gwyneth Paltrow knows intimately? Let’s examine, shall we? First of all, most say the lyrics read, “Your skin, oh yeah your skin and bones.” I say it’s “You’re skin, oh yeah you’re skin and bones.” When he follows that with “Turn into something beautiful,” he is, of course, eliciting an erection. “I swam across?” He’s peeing in the pool. “I drew a line?” He’s peeing in the snow. Not convinced yet? How else explain, “For you I’d bleed myself dry?” Kinda seems obvious now, huh?

9. “Dogwood Rust” – Comets on Fire

Not only have I been reveling in the `shuffle’ lately, but I’ve also been playing a little bit of “Name That Tune / Artist” with it. When Comets on Fire came on, however, I wondered when Cream teamed up with Chris Cornell. I found I was actually listening to the first track from Comets on Fire’s Avatar, and a dual guitar assault that hasn’t been heard since, well, I don’t know when. This psychedelic freak-out song, clocking in at just under eight minutes, launched this album into Treble’s top 100 of the year, and after hearing this song again, I’m wondering how it didn’t crack the top 50. This maybe wasn’t the best transition from Coldplay, or maybe the iPod just wanted to slap me awake and make me pay attention. Either way, it cleared the palate for one of Treble’s favorites.

10. “Spare Parts I” – Tom Waits

In our eyes, Tom Waits can do no wrong and a song from the gravelly troubadour is always welcome. “Spare Parts” is signature early Waits, somewhat a stream-of-consciousness Bukowski-like beat poem set in a nightclub. Waits hams it up for his in-studio audience, rapping about a Pepto-Bismol sky and a skidmark tattooed on the road before he asks, “Was that a Malibu?” and making the sound of a speeding car whizzing by the microphone. As I stated, we’ve always loved Tom, but sometimes we forget he had a more silly sense of humor. All in all, “Spare Parts” was a nice bookend to a new adventure in aural entertainment. Knowing that the iPod is capable of mind-reading, you’ll be sure to see more of these in the future.

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