Wednesday, 16 September 2020

About essential albums

We've all done it at some point - by we I mean bloggers - and the music press and broadsheet reviews sections do it even more; by it I mean describe an album as "essential": an essential listen, an essential purchase, or maybe, for variety, a must-have. But the collective we is very bold, arrogant even, in so-doing. For one reviewer's essential is another listener's disposal...

Take the new Paul Weller album, On Sunset. It's very good (except for the faintly ridiculous Ploughman but Craig has covered that already at Plain or Pan) and I've enjoyed listening to it, multiple times. But it's hardly essential. So I got to wondering, what was the last album of Weller's that I considered an absolute must-have? This might be a controversial opinion, and I say this as a massive fan of the Modfather's entire career and as someone who's seen him live more times than I care to remember... but I think the last essential Weller album was probably Stanley Road.

Yes, yes, I know, what about Heavy Soul? Sonik Kicks? A Kind Revolution? All great, in different ways, and there are many other albums in the 25 years since Stanley that deserve a listen (because yes, I bought them all). But essential? Records that I could honestly lay down on the table between us and say "You must listen to this!" about? No. I don't think so. Brilliant though he is, no.

I'm not opening this up for debate, or hoping that someone will make the case for this or any other album, because essential status is necessarily subjective - your list will be different to mine. I have a friend whose musical taste aligns so closely to mine that it renders a Venn diagram redundant, and he would probably argue that the last essential Weller album was Snap! but that's another matter.

The thing is, I think the definition of essential needs to be time-sensitive, in that the records we find essential are those that were important to us at a time in our lives when music was essential, before life/work/settling down/mortgages and the rest pushed it down the priority list. So Stanley Road came out in June 1995, when I was 24 - every release since then has had more to compete with in my head.

I did a blog series a while back called Every Home Should Have One, which might be construed as a list of essential albums. Tellingly, only nine of the 68 titles listed were from the 21st Century... or maybe I'm just parochial?

Anyway, here's a couple of live Weller performances: the first is Whirlpool's End, as performed on Later, promoting Stanley Road; the second is a lockdown session version of Village, promoting On Sunset.

I will always love Weller, that doesn't change. And maybe, just maybe, I don't consider anything essential any more.


  1. Took the words right out of my mouth with Snap. Maybe essential is redefined with age-frankly getting to the end of the day is my new essential!!

    1. Well you are the friend in question re Snap!, I just didnt want to name and shame you.

      Getting to the end of the day awake is my new essential...

  2. That is such a good point you make about the definition of essential being time-sensitive and linked to those different periods in our lives - absolutely. A few of mine have survived various culls over the years, but others which seemed so vital at the time have lost their status.
    An essential glass of red wine for me tonight.

    1. Ah, C, you're doing better than me, I'm not good at culling - indeed, I hang onto records I haven't played in years, and conceivably will never play again, just because they're part of the collection. And nice, on the wine - I had an essential beer last night.