Does this look familiar?
If you are in your twenties or thirties, you probably have a monstrous pile of CDs in your childhood closet that your mother has been begging you to get rid of. Astoundingly, she thinks that having extra space for her blouses is more important than those free Britney Spears/*N sync albums you used to get from McDonald’s.
But hidden among the junk music were some albums that were pretty awesome– Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill, No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom, Lisa Loeb’s Tails, the list goes on. I used to charge my little brother admission to attend dance parties in my bedroom while I blasted these babies on my Boom Box.
A few days ago, Beyoncé proved that an album is not an antiquated thing. It’s not all about singles and hits–there is a true artistry to a set. That made me think about my favorite albums from days gone by. Some of these I came to because I liked the lead single and some I just purchased because of the dreamy singer on the cover. Check them out!
Lamya’s 2002 album “Learning from Falling”
1. Lamya’s Learning from Falling, 2002. Lamya was a spellbinding singer and songwriter, originally from Kenya of Omanese descent. She mostly lived and worked in the UK, backing up for Duran Duran and even Michael Jackson. You might recall her lead single “Empires” which featured Lamya seductively banging two electronic kettle drums to a groovy dance beat. The song was set to a poem by Samuel Walter Foss: “Bring me men to match my mountains” was not just a cheeky double entendre. It was a love letter to the idealistic notion of a city on the hill.
The rest of the album is just as layered. “Black Mona Lisa” is poetic perfection: “I am not afraid to be a lone bohemian/ I can paint a portrait of myself/ I will call me a black Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa/ Come to discover I am your daughter.” Right???
Another favorite track is “The Woman Who” where Lamya gives thanks for transcending prescriptions of who she is supposed to be: “Ooh, I’m the woman whose three wishes came true/ Fell in two, found the one/ Now I come and go as I choose / Wearing my red magic shoes.” From the heart-pounding “I Get Cravings” to her beautiful cover of “Pink Moon,” Learning from Falling delivers as a full-album–a nonlinear narrative of a woman who is not so young to be naive but willing to look at the world with fresh eyes.
Unfortunately Lamya passed away in 2008 at only 35 years old, of an unexpected heart attack. We are so lucky to have this album to remember her by.
Ben Jelen’s “Give it All Away”
2. Ben Jelen’s Give it All Way, 2002. My dear friend, Whitney, and I both purchased these albums in high school for the same reason. Though we did not know each other and were in completely different states, we both agreed: Ben Jelen’s bangs on the cover are amazing and irresistible.
Surprisingly, song after song on the album is just as well-crafted and unconsciously beautiful as Ben Jelen’s hair. The lead single “Come On” peaked at only #58 on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales Chart, but it’s rank is not indicative of the quality of the rest of the album. Preview “Rocks,” “She’ll Hear You,” and Jelen’s cover of “Wicked Little Town” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. After that, you’ll want to stream the whole thing though, while lost in thought in a candlelit bubble bath for one.
3. Jewel’s 0304, 2003. Though 0304 had a mostly warm reception, I know that Jewel got a fair amount of criticism for this “dance album.” But the songwriting craft and storytelling is all there. Most people remember the song “Intuition” and the outcry that Jewel was selling out to fit in with Britney, Christina, Jessica, and Mandy. The trick was that “Intuition” was produced in a way that was supposed to mock those over-processed celebrity images.
The album is a study in the contrast of young love and disenchantment. Tracks like “2 Find U” affirm the importance of lasting (if innocent) love: “Hey, U/ Do not walk away/ Let’s choose love, come on / What do u say? / Hey, U/ Know that I would spend/ My whole life all over again/ 2 find U.”
Other tracks speak to the ennui of a generation of young Americans. Jewel lambasts the terror of war and violence, as well as a new theatre of the absurd through reality television. The song “America” muses: “Everywhere I go, seems like Bush is on TV/ We shed blood in the name of liberty-uh-huh / All right / The circus tents are dead, but the sideshow is doing well / The Osbournes and Anna Nicole are too freaky 2 tell-uh-huh All right.”
The final track “Becoming” lyrically rejects conventions and sends a hopeful message: “Listen, heart/ Listen close-listen/
2 the melancholy melody of your own voice/ I am weary of my own dreaming/ I am tired of waiting/ So this time, I’m leaping.”
All of this from what Rolling Stone called “a wanna-be version of Madonna’s American Life.” I support a lot of what Madonna does, but Jewel’s 0304 has the joy factor. Check it out!
So, next time you are at your parent’s house, look through that towering stack of CDs stashed away in the closet. Which could you listen to all the way through again and again? Which deserves to make this list? Comment below!