There are reasons why different people like different things. Food, alcohol, art, sports, music, etc., whatever it is everyone has, and is entitled to, an opinion. Whether others feel differently than you, it doesn’t matter. It may affect your thinking slightly, but ultimately what you feel and think about something is based purely on your own reflections and connections. Sometimes you don’t know why you like things so much, or hate other things with a similar fervor, you just do. Some things are just impossible to explain, even if they may seem perfectly explainable. It’s like the first time you find yourself attracted to a person who looks like no one you’ve been attracted to before. Just purely unexplainable. Yet, there is something there and you know it and you feel it; it’s something real.
My favorite album of all time is Dulcinea by Toad the Wet Sprocket. I can’t explain why this is so, but it is. It might have to do with the fact that it was one of the first CDs I bought, but even so, other albums I purchased didn’t connect with me as strongly. What’s even more interesting is that I never liked the entire album. The first eleven tracks I liked, some more than others, but the last song, “Reincarnation Song,” just never took my fancy. Yet, this album was still my favorite.
I honestly have no idea when I realized this fact, but I know it was early on. I bought the album in 1994, after seeing the music video for “Something’s Always Wrong,” on MTV. Being 11 and fairly new to the music world, at least to music that I personally discovered, I didn’t really know why I liked anything, but was starting to figure out what I did like, and would usually go out and buy those albums. I have to say, I’m thankful that MTV was still showing music videos of all kinds of artists, because I discovered so many bands that have played different roles in my life via the channel. But back to the point, this was a very important part in my development of my attitude and feelings toward music (I’m actually hoping to write an entry on the music of 1994 at some point in the future).
Though I was impressionable, I was still discernable, and for reasons beyond my comprehension, Dulcinea resonated with me in a way few albums did. I remember that on every trip I took as a kid, this was always one of the albums I took because I thought to myself, “If I’m going to die, I want this album to be with me.” I know that’s kind of deep for a pre-teen and even a young teenager, but that’s what I thought. I just simply loved this album.
And I still do.
Even though I have owned and listened to Dulcinea for the last 17 years, it is still hard for me to identify things that may or may not have caused me to be connected to the album. Musically the album is all over the place, with songs that have heavy distortion, with a twinge of grunge, as well as songs that are more acoustic and folk based. This mix may have been a reason that I was drawn to the album, since it was released at a time where I was taking in a lot of music and trying to figure out what I liked. It also may simply be due to the fact that the album is full of very good songs, such as “Fly From Heaven,” “Something’s Always Wrong,” “Crowing,” “Listen,” “Fall Down,” and “Inside.” Yet, beyond the fact that I simply find the entirety of the album fantastic, most of the songs, individually, do not connect with me.
Except for one.
The seventh track, “Windmills,” is the exception. I always liked the song, but it wasn’t until sometime in college where something clicked and the song began giving me a feeling of pure joy. Being smack-dab in the middle of the album, it is the centerpiece, both literally (there are twelve songs on the album) and musically. It is an absolutely exquisite song. The music is open and airy, having a very minimalistic feel, but it has a good dose of reverb adding to the ethereal quality. The layers of instruments and vocals are well spaced and dynamically balanced, at times seeming incredibly distant from each other, but paint an astonishing picture that is unlike anything else on this album. The song is driven by an acoustic guitar pattern and churning sixteenth notes on the hi-hats, but the song is so airy it doesn’t feel rushed. Instead it feels like you are on some sort of journey, admiring the beautiful scenery while the wind lightly blows through your hair. Vocally, Glen Phillips (lead singer, guitarist, and main songwriter) has a somber, contemplative tone throughout the verses and choruses, which fits perfectly with both the music and the lyrics, which allude to the story of Don Quixote (which is where the album title came from). However, during the bridge, his voice gains strength, producing the feeling that he/the character (Don Quixote?) is giving directive to his (probably imaginary) men. Overall, there is simply a sense of simplistic beauty that permeates through the song, allowing it to stand out from the rest of the album. This is easily the best song on Dulcinea, and one of the best of Toad the Wet Sprocket’s career. If you don’t have time to listen to any other song, listen to this one, I promise you won’t be disappointed (unless you don’t like beautiful music).
Now as I mentioned previously, the closing track, “Reincarnation Song,” was my least favorite song on the album for many years. It sounded so different from every other track, seemingly lacking musicality and a good feel. On top of this Glen Phillips’ voice sounds a bit weird. Yet, like many opinions, mine has changed. This song is good, and I like it. This is probably due to the fact that my musical palette has been tremendously expanded since I was 11 years old, but whatever the reason, I’m thankful that I can sit and listen to it without wanting to turn it off, because now I can truly say that this is my favorite album. I can listen to it from beginning to end and just be enveloped by a feeling that is truly unexplainable.
I will concede that this is not the BEST or MOST MUSICAL album that I own. It wasn’t even the best album of 1994, and some (though not many) would argue that it’s not even the best album by Toad the Wet Sprocket. Still, all of that means nothing, because Dulcinea is special to me, and that’s the only thing that really matters in the end. I may no longer bring a physical copy of the album with me when I travel (thanks to my iPod), but there’s a good chance I bring a copy with me when I die.