Friday, January 4, 2013

Artists I Just Don't Get: Neutral Milk Hotel

Neutral Milk Hotel - Photo courtesy

The Neutral Milk Hotel is the selected artist today for the 'Artists I Just Don't Get' series.

There are albums that are considered major game changers in the world of indie rock. The Velvet Underground and Nico by The Velvet Underground, Marquee Moon by Television, Zen Arcade by Husker Du, and Spiderland by Slint are just a few examples of some of the most influential and beloved indie albums of all time. Every decade has its share of fantastic albums, and the 90's were a good time for indie fans.

The angst-fueled and grungy sounds of the early 90's faded away and it was replaced by a new group of mid 90's lo-fi darlings. Lo-fi was replaced by a group of artists moving in a direction that embraced some elements of lo-fi but were more rooted in an Americana type of mold.

The Neutral Milk Hotel changed the game in 1998 with their second studio album, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. It has been a influential album since its release and some believe it is one of the most perfect albums from the indie rock universe. For the past fifteen years, I have tried to like this album. Although I view the Neutral Milk Hotel as a good band, I don't view them as a great band, and In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is at best in my opinion a mediocre concept album.

I first discovered the Neutral Milk Hotel in 1998 when In The Aeroplane Over The Sea was released. Back then I was subbed to Postal Blowfish a Guided by Voices mailing list, and some of the list members were posting their praise for In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. The good people of Postal Blowfish introduced me to some great artists, so I decided to get a copy of the red hot Neutral Milk Hotel album.

My memories are not as solid as they once were, but someone agreed to make me a copy of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Saving twelve or fifteen bucks on a CD was a great idea, so I awaited the tape via snail mail. Kids, this was the Dark Ages of the internet when you did not have the luxury of iTunes or Napster.

The tape arrived and I was excited. After a few listens, I wasn't overly impressed. It wasn't a terrible album, but I wasn't as excited as my fellow friends on Postal Blowfish. There were some more listens and some more listens for good measure. My excitement for In The Aeroplane Over The Sea did not change.

For those of you that are not familiar with In The Aeroplane Over The Sea then take a listen to 'Holland 1945':

If you felt an Anne Frank vibe then you are not off target. However, it is my understanding that Jeff Mangum, the lead singer of Neutral Milk Hotel, has not admitted this is an album about Anne Frank. Some people hear 'Holland 1945' and fall in love with the genius that is Jeff Mangum. All I hear is a creepy dude's voice with an unhealthy obsession for Anne Frank or for someone who reminds him of Anne Frank.

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is one of those albums that will always make me scratch my head and think, "This is one of the best albums of the 90's?" I've never connected with this album, and I just don't get what is so great about the Neutral Milk Hotel. You might think I'm slamming this album because everyone else likes it, but that's not the case. As I mentioned earlier, I've given this album plenty of chances. Mangum's lyrics are not that great, and maybe it's just me but Magnum at times sings as if he is on the verge of a mental breakdown.

My not getting the Neutral Milk Hotel is based on the opinion that I view them as a good band, and not one that is brilliant or groundbreaking. I'm not going to complain about this band any further, so let me share with you my favorite track from the Neutral Milk Hotel. The song is 'You've Passed' which is featured on their debut studio album On Avery Island.

TonyDoug Wright is The Lost Soul of Rock and Roll and is also the head writer and owner of Champion City Comics. Follow him @TonyDougWright on Twitter.  

1 comment:

  1. I don't agree, but I like what you are up to here.