I was listening to Grace by Jeff Buckley the other day. No, don't worry, nothing's wrong, nobody's died, I'm not suffering from chronic depression or anything. I'd just got the CD player mended, and reached for a random disc to test it. Grace was at hand. Damn, this is starting to sound like a sermon...
Anyway, something struck me as I listened to the album without its customary accoutrements of darkness, candles and stifled sobbing. There's a song on it called 'So Real', and it always gives me a chill when I hear it. But ask me anything about it - the music or the lyrics, anything - I couldn't tell you. Just now, I had to check what the title was. I don't even particularly like the song when I listen to it.
Context, as ever, is all. 'So Real' gives me tingles because it's the track that comes before Buckley's version of 'Hallelujah' and overplayed as that song might be, constantly used as cheap shorthand for emotional turmoil in TV dramas about American teenagers with great teeth, Buckley's 'Hallelujah' sends me to a deep, dark place that very little music can achieve. And 'So Real' is the herald to that feeling.
In my book about Radiohead, I discussed the way that people's listening habits have changed radically in the decade since OK Computer was released. The provision of music as discrete, downloadable tracks, rather than as a fixed album with a beginning and an end has meant that the weird thrill I feel as 'So Real' dies away might soon be nothing more than a quaint folk memory. People will still listen to 'Hallelujah', but it might be prefixed by any track, by any artist, on any iPod.
Kids are growing up who don't know the extent to which a track listing burns itself into your memory. I remember when my dad and I first listened to the CD version of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the liner notes was George Martin's first draft of the running order and now, with the newfangled wonders of a programmable player, we could make that order a reality. But as soon as track three began ('Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite', rather than 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds', following 'With a Little Help from my Friends'), it just sounded... wrong. 'With A Little Help' sets you up for 'Lucy'. It just does.
And then there's 'Love You More', from the Buzzcocks compilation Singles Going Steady. It stops, abruptly, brutally, with the line "Until the razor cuts". And then, before 'Ever Fallen In Love' arrives, there's a yearning, anticipatory silence, possibly the most profound silence in rock 'n' roll.
Maybe that's what's been lost as the Great Rock Album bites the dust: the notion that some silences are better than others.