As UNKLE unveil an album you can visit and Bastille launch their new LP with an immersive experience, Mark Beaumont decides he'd be better off staying at home
I often feel like I’m living inside an album. Most Saturday nights are ‘Loveless’, most Sunday mornings ‘Metal Machine Music’. In the ’80s, my world was entirely as described in The Wedding Present’s ‘George Best’, my ’90s were Pulp’s ‘Different Class’, my noughties were ‘Rumours’ and my teenties are probably something soppy by Wings. When you live your life embedded in music it’s often hard to see the join.
So it makes a lot of sense to me that bands have started inviting us to visit their records. Flaming Lips – who have form in this area after releasing an album called ‘Zaireeka’ in 1997 which was intended to be played on four stereos at once and wandered around in – have built an actual king’s head you can climb inside while listening to their new album ‘King’s Mouth’, and UNKLE have created an exhibition in London where you can walk around in their two most recent albums ‘The Road: Part 1’ and ‘The Road: Part II/Lost Highway’.
Now I’m not familiar with these records, for all I know they could have just cordoned off a road. But by all reports Beyond The Road at the Saatchi Gallery is a brilliant, involving array of pretty specific freak-out imagery – a singing phone box, a table covered in pink wax, a stained glass window reflected in water, a bust that revolves to maintain eye contact with you at all times. Apologies to Noel Fielding if this is giving him acid flashbacks.
Unannounced real-life albums are no new thing of course. If you want to visit Soft Cell’s ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ just go to Torture Garden. Anybody who’s ever spent a Saturday night in the Sheffield Leadmill has lived in ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’. Blur’s ‘Parklife’ has a huge living tribute in the form of Basildon, Essex, and if you want to immerse yourself fully in the experience of listening to Bastille’s new album ‘Doom Days’, simply throw yourself headfirst into a Glastonbury toilet. But UNKLE’s project should surely set us all thinking, which of our favourite albums would we most like to have a look around, like some weird edition of Tunes Under The Hammer?
Considering my ever-revolving list of favourite records, there’s only a few I’d actually like to stop by. Spiritualized’s ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ would be nice, since it’d probably be a zero gravity vertical wind tunnel powered by heroin smoke. The Magnetic Fields’ ’69 Love Songs’ would be one massive 3-hour speed date, if it hadn’t already been converted into Tinder. ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’ would have to be located in a space station dressing room with a view of the sun exploding. For ‘Loveless’ you’d spend 40 minutes in a huge jelly swimming pool.
Most of them, though, I’d rather listen to than live in. I mean, I love the early Suede records, but I’ve little desire to spend any time in inner-city squats watching bone-skinny drug addicts inject hard drugs into their ballsacks, beat their meta-sexual gimp and go for a run with the dogs even though the weather forecast predicts a 90 per cent chance of nuclear skies. Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’ is a great listen, but in reality you’re sitting in a loft during the Blitz listening to your parents divorce. ‘Doolittle’ and ‘Surfer Rosa’ are phenomenal albums, but you’d only ever go there if you were abducted by an incestuous Mexican torture cult.
It makes me think I need to lighten up my tastes, but even a lot of pop music would be harrowing to visit. A recreation of Robin Thicke or Britney Spears records would basically be The Handmaid’s Tale, and where would be the most obvious place to hold a party in a room without a roof to honour Pharrell’s ‘Happy’? Aleppo. And as for rap music, smoking blunts in strip bars might sound all well and good for some, but who wants to be racially profiled and body-searched for concealed weapons by the bouncers every five minutes?
On reflection, I’m happy to keep my music in my head for the most part. Although if a job comes up to go and experience the first Thrills album, I’m there.