Since the demise of my faithful motor 18 months ago, one thing I’ve started doing way less is listening to whole albums. Public transport headphone listening somehow seems to discourage putting on a whole record and going start to finish – and the rise of iTunes/Spotify seems to be drawing down the curtain on the album as an artistic unit, refocussing everything on the individual song.
In a car, though – at least, that is to say, in an old car, a shit car – you can’t change records whilst driving. Full-length listens are part of the motorist’s menu. I’ve been thinking about the car with renewed emotion recently, possibly because it’s finally summer here (the joy of the first sunroof-open of the season, enhanced by the mild fear that it’ll never shut again because of the shonky electrics) and possibly because of the display of self-seeding poppies that have grown up through the gravel in the spot where I used to park it.
And then I caught myself listening to some full-length albums on public transport, re-approaching songs I hadn’t heard for years and reminding myself of the vibe of the Peug, the joys of a long-listen, and the quality of some specific artists and records. Here’s a small selection:
Swordfishtrombones – Tom Waits
There was a period when I was driving between Birmingham and Oxford quite a lot, and I’d always put this on – each track therefore reminds me of a certain section of the route. But aside from these sentimental connections its a glorious record, Waits’ first major rejection of the piano-balladeer he was starting to become, his debut with Asylum. It seethes an ambiance which makes it more than the sum of its very considerable parts (parts which include ‘Just Another Sucker On The Vine’, ‘Soldier’s Things’, and, of course, ‘Johnsburg, Illinois’). Books have been written about this album. It’s really good.
Two Shoes – The Cat Empire
This is an obvious choice because it contains ‘The Car Song’, soundtrack to the special bond I formed with the Peug shortly after it saved my life for the first time. But it was a Peug record long before this – the Swindler and I were listening to ‘The Lost Song’ whilst cruising the nighttime roads of the Southwest as early as 2006, and the combination of joy and righteousness still make it a solid listen from beginning to end. Nearly every song is exceptional, but I especially look forward to ‘In My Pocket’ these days, and ‘Two Shoes’ itself is fierce, and happy, and moving. Don’t hesitate to get this, especially since it’s summer.
The Car Talk Podcast – NPR
Not an album, but definitely a long listen, this podcast is a radio call in show hosted by two exuberant mechanics. I developed a superstition that it should only be listened to in the car, and now I associate the hearty laughter of the hosts and the banjo fiddling intro tune with numerous memories of happy times on the road. The show is about cars in much the same way that a restaurant is about crockery – what you listened for was the human stories behind every call, the sense of the vasty continent of North America in all its variousness tuning in, phoning in, sharing problems and solutions. The show, which is a real NPR establishment, has been discontinued since the Peug days, but back episodes remain available and extraordinarily listenable.