Around the turn of the Millennium, I worked as the sole employee at a first-generation internet start-up company called Footle Limited. The idea behind the business had been to sell ‘online community software’ – to use the terminology of the time, and use a website which encouraged people to come together around shared interests as a sort of ‘shop window’ for that software. One of the features that the website had was the ability to post reviews of books, films and music (think a sort of Goodreads before its time, although as I recall, a very significant proportion of all the reviews were written by the rather odd internet phenomenon that was Harriet Klausner). Really, we were among probably lots of people who independently stumbled on the idea of social networking sites about five or ten years too early. And perhaps in another parallel universe, people are talking about how they have wasted a whole morning footling about on Footle, instead of frittering away their time on Facebook or Twitter. The business even had the right name. And we’d all be retired in our mid-thirties and wondering why the life of the super-rich isn’t quite as satisfying as we’d hoped. But anyway, it was not to be, so to get vaguely back on subject, one of the very first reviews that anyone ever posted to the site was of the film Some Like It Hot of which the reviewer observed
“It’s ok, but I’d rather watch a good modern colour movie.”
Since that time, of course, such reviews have become almost a genre in themselves. See for example this Tripadvisor review of Ben Nevis . And we can laugh, but there’s a part of me that has sympathy with that reviewer because sometimes one encounters a work that is generally regarded as an absolute classic of its genre and yet which leaves one sort of cold, and to which the honest reaction is “it’s ok, but I didn’t particularly like it”. And that’s how I feel about Let’s Get It On. On a purely technical level, I can hear that Marvin Gaye has a fantastic voice – range and subtlety that far exceeds most famous R&B and soul singers that I can think of. And while I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert, the musicianship sounds to me as though as it is from the very top drawer.
The thing is, that after having this record on in the background for four or five days, the title track aside, I can’t say that any of the songs have really stuck in my mind. I have this nagging suspicion that this record is much better than I realise, that the problem lies not with the music but with me. Listening to Please Stay (Don’t Go Away) it sounds very beautifully put together, but the moment it stops playing, the melody seems to slip my mind. And the strings on the next track If I Should Die Tonight a wonderfully lush, but again, it is something that seems to stay with me only for as long as the record is playing. Just as Fiona over at Mookbarks pondered a few weeks ago whether the folk music she loved was secretly racist in its yearning for a simpler (whiter?) past, there’s a part of me that wonders if on some level, I just don’t get black music. Is my taste in music subliminally racist? Or is it simply that the music that really grabs me, no matter how much I try – through exercises like this – to expose myself to a wider spectrum than my filter bubble would normally allow, will always be that which is influenced by, or derivative of, the folky and proggy I heard in my parents’ record collection as a small child, and the thrashier, more raw punk, grunge and indie guitar music of my teens. Because there’s a part of me that can’t help thinking that this record just sounds like superior quality elevator music. Or maybe the subtext of the record slips completely past me because, as I was told at the age of about sixteen, “the thing is, you are about as romantic as a stick.” That, title track aside, the musicianship may be great, but the song-writing just isn’t for me.
Except… Listening to this on Spotify, when you reach the end of the album, an algorithm immediately starts trying to pick other tracks that you might be interested in, and suddenly there’s a couple of song’s that start to grab me. The dance-funk of Midnight Lady, and the cinematic, and very 70s sounding Trouble Man. Maybe I’ve just chosen the wrong place to try to get my head around Marvin Gaye.