First, a little background as to what this is all about. When I review an album, I do several things besides listen to the music itself (as do most reviewers, I expect). One of these things is to read other people’s reviews and absorb their opinions, too. Even though I’m not actually “talking” with these reviewers, I still consider it a form of discussion over what each of us took away from the project.
Sometimes, I’ll read a review that sticks out in my mind - one where the reviewer thoughtfully lays out those aspects he or she thinks has hindered the album’s ability to succeed. Even if I disagree with the reviewer, I respect the approach because it gives the artist honest feedback, without stomping all over their work. I call this type of thoughtful reviewing “writing from the inside”. What I mean is that the reviewer comes at the project with a vested interest in it. As a listener, it is as important to HIM as it is to the ARTIST that the album succeeds.
Such a review came out when Lane Baldwin released The View From Here. The writer, Mr. David Martin, pointed out some things that he found to be less than flattering about the production. Specifically, he wasn’t thrilled with the order in which the songs were arranged. I disagreed with his analysis, and ended up typing up a rebuttal. I never included it in my own review, since I wanted to focus on the music, and had no issues with the sequencing. The rebuttal was just to get off my chest my disagreement with Mr. Martin’s take.
Anyway, I recently happened upon this rebuttal in one of my file folders, and decided to give it a day in court. I invite everybody to read Mr. Martin’s review, and then my rebuttal. Your opinions and feedback are, as always, very welcome.
To me, there are basically two approaches to storytelling in any of its many forms. One is the linear approach, where a story is told from start to finish, with an arrow pointing the audience in the direction of travel.
The second approach is more circular, free-floating, or non-linear. Different things happen depending on what direction you look. Non-linear work is the trademark of movie director Quentin Tarantino. Think of the Kill Bill project. The pieces are all presented out of sequence, coming together in the end as a story told from many different angles. As the pieces play out, you remember their place in the story, and enjoy a wonderful sense of satisfaction when it all comes together in the end. You can put a Kill Bill disc into your player and watch any of the segments you want, out of order, as standalone pieces. I don’t think it would work for something like, say, Schindler’s List, which is a very linear piece of art. You MUST watch it from start to finish; you MUST follow the arrow.
In his review of TVFH, Mr. Martin writes, “Taken individually, each track on this set is excellent. But presented as an album, in this sequence, it just held itself back.” He then suggests his own preferred song order, creating a pleasing linear feel to tell the story of Lane’s trials by fire. To me, rearranging these songs would be the same as cutting and pasting the various segments of Kill Bill into their sequential timeline and watching the entire project “from start to finish.” It might give you a smoother ride when enjoying the story, but it would take away all the opportunity to look in any direction at any time and be taken out of your comfort zone.
See, if Lane had actually passed away due to his health issues, a linear approach would have been my choice too, but the fact that he is still alive gives the sequencing an entirely different perspective. To me, the album’s title, The View From Here, means Lane has reached a point where he is standing alone (possibly on a mound or hill) and surveying the aspects of his life, so far. If he looks in one direction, he hears the peace of a LULLABY; if he looks in another direction, he faces the horrifying danger of a twister in BLOW, TWISTER, BLOW. One minute, he’s a HAPPY BOY, and the next, he stares down the ultimate human trial in LAY ME DOWN. Every view, every direction is a piece of his story replaying itself before his eyes. Where waits death? Where waits joy? Things are coming at him from all sides, and he takes the moments as they come. It’s not about a comfortable song order; it’s about not knowing what awaits.
Mr. Martin has LULLABY slotted as the finale, following two minutes of proposed silence. Interesting creative touch, for sure! He sees this as the conclusion to the story, and the two minutes of silence seem to be a way to grab one’s breath before closing the book on the Lane story. Myself, I see it more as a moment to shake things up from all the trepidation. Play LULLABY right before LAY ME DOWN for the shock value. Look in another direction and be shaken up. I don’t see this as an album that must always be played in order.
Let’s face it, The View From Here is about mortality and dying. Most of us have heard of the five psychological stages of dying. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Though these stages are said to occur in a generally linear fashion, people often move back and forth between the stages. If you laid out these stages on a big pie chart on the floor, and stood in the middle, you could look out in any direction and find yourself dealing with all the emotions of any given scenario. That’s how I see TVFH. Because the emotions of facing death change and churn with each day, you see something different no matter where you look.
Mr. Martin chose the sequence he preferred, and he has every right to do so (it’s a credit to his creativity and ability to “write from the inside”), but this does not mean the album is wrongly sequenced the way it is; it simply means the option remains to look in any direction you choose. Lane stands in the middle of that pie chart and wherever he looks will be one of the stages. That’s one off the things I love most about TVFH - that there are no rules to the way the listener takes it all in. No right, no wrong. It belongs to the listener.
Thanks for your review, Mr. Martin, and the chance to check out the view from another angle!