If you are a Metallica fan, a heavy rock fan, or perhaps just well informed, you will be aware of the album Master of Puppets. If not, don't worry. All you need to know for now is this: Master of Puppets is an album written with a strong sense of human beings lost under the control of institutions that can inveigle them into doing things almost out of fanaticism. Last week I pondered over how the converted are the truest example of fanatics, be it through a religion, a political motive and movement or even a newfound social perspective. The revival of the spirit, and the overzealous determination to remain loyal to this new chapter in life. This chapter, which almost becomes a new life in itself, has been used as a plot in many films and pieces of fiction as way of showing that the new fascist movements, lethal drugs and radical religious sects that lead to harm in these works of the imagination are fundamentally charged with the wrong mindset: subjectivity.
Interpreting something based upon personal opinions or feelings, and allowing your emotional reaction to, perhaps, cloud your judgement. As opposed to what? Objectivity, which is more likely to be interpretation based on facts or evidence.
Emotional response and interaction towards something. This week, my favourite band, Dream Theater, released their new album, Dream Theater. Their twelfth studio album during a lifespan of over twenty years, the band chose this project to be their eponymous work of art, justifying the move by believing this album to epitomize everything they are about musically. Having been in the progressive rock game for over twenty years, it is hardly an ambitious move to self-title an album; at least, from the outside, I don't think so. What's more, I personally love Dream Theater. It is an album that has a strong feeling of maturity within it. The more progressive songs are just as complex in rhythm, technicality and interpretation as ever. The sound has a real sense of...puissance. The first time I fully heard the album, I was jarred by the clarity of each instrument despite the plethora of things going on. For me, it is a fantastic piece of art.
Of course, that's my subjective opinion. Having read reviews of the album on Amazon and elsewhere, some listeners were equally impressed, some less so, and others called for returns to albums of Dream Theater's that are over ten years old.
There isn't a single album of Dream Theater's which I don't like. The genre entices me and inspired me to look beyond this single band to many others. Yet, the genre itself, "progressive rock", which can be linked all the way back to Pink Floyd, Yes, Queensryche, Fates Warning and more, is a genre that, if embraced by somebody seeking to adopt certain tropes of it in one's own musical composition, requires a ubiquitous concept of "progression" from the first album's first song to the first album's last song and then onwards towards the last song one ever creates. There should almost be a hidden contract between the genre and the musician that the whole journey, however long and successful, be a progression. A chance to grow as a musician but also as a person. Surely it is natural, when younger, to write with more of a flair, more of a palpable energy and to see that flair slowly grow and finally burgeon into a maturity that feels more fully fledged. Youth and inchoateness VS age and fastidiousness. Life can be a journey "of self discovery", yes, but what does that mean? We can fill in certain blanks. Not all of them, because every day we choose one thing, we consequently sacrifice another option entirely, that is the natural course of life. We cannot ever be complete, I do not think, but we can become more refined the more we develop; the same concept, I feel, can naturally be applied to art: be it music, creative writing, painting, dancing, whatever. Practice makes...almost perfect.
Occasionally, when we find ourselves overwhelmed by a love of say, a novel, we begin to see this object of our love as exemplary of what all creations of a similar nature should follow. Were that the case, a series of novels would never work. A discography of music wouldn't, either, I don't think. If you have a favourite series of novels, you will probably have a favourite individual novel in the series. Take Harry Potter; if your favourite was The Goblet of Fire, then fine. Great in fact. But just because the following three books aren't as good as that one in your mind doesn't mean you should be disappointed, does it? I suspect if you asked J.K. Rowling, she would be most focused on the story being complete within itself; the characters being true to who they are. Remember, to love The Goblet of Fire, you first had to read books 1,2 and 3. Equally, the music Dream Theater was creating in 1989, through to 2003, all the way to now, has been fantastic. Do I have a favourite album? Yes, Train of Thought, from 2003. Have I ever been disappointed about a later release? No. Why should I be? My favourite band is producing great music. If you try to write a new album with a specific aim of it being better than the previous one, you set yourself up for comparisons that can be, at best, satisfying, at worst, excoriation in its truest form. Plus, as I mentioned, to write anything progressive or epic is a journey that will never be the same at any moment, and that is when you find yourself.
Subjectivity is often a hostage of desire. It is understandable, for it is a part of the human condition to have favourites. A favourite is something you can draw upon in your moment of need and feel safe with, feel comforted by, and believe once more in the purpose of us all. Art revitalises that purpose, it shows that every day, everywhere, musicians, writers, artists - they are all working their socks off producing constructs of the imagination that they have thoroughly enjoyed creating, and want to share with fans and the public. Sure, album ten might not be as heavy as album seven; yes, unfortunately book eight didn't see the effervescent character of book six survive the forces of darkness, but everything changes, doesn't it? To be invited on these journeys is to need to realise a pinch of objectivity is required. Life is a path: if you walk a little way, only to stay at a wayside inn for too long, you'll drink yourself into a stupor and never set out on the path again. Sure, the booze might taste great, but what about the rest of the path; what about the roads that are laid out and are rejected consequence of the alluring decadence of the familiar?
Make of that analogy what you will, I have a new book to read.