This song could not be more on point. It’s so on point it’s slightly discombobulating to realize that it’s coming at you from 1986. I don’t know what Joe Jackson’s been up to lately or what he thinks about this world of ours right now, but there’s plenty of inspiration if he wants to write a sequel to Big World. In the 80’s Jackson was a premier observational songwriter, the post-punk jazz-nerd who wrote wittily about everything from tabloid newspapers to world cuisine. Most of his observations are still relevant; things change but not that much. In this song, not one word is less true today than it was in 1986. Literally, just one; simply change ‘Commies’ to ‘Russians’ and the sentiment remains the same. Your TV-watching citizenry still doesn’t grasp basic concepts unless they’re spelled out in broad terms that a dull child could understand. Right and wrong? Nobody knows the difference.
David Bowie at some point had a concept for a song that would be ‘an erotic drone’ and this was an attempt to get there. The concept fell away with the groove, I guess, which is a relative rarity for Bowie, who doesn’t let go of big ideas very easily. But even the most concept-driven of musicians must sometimes just let themselves get lost riding the groove. It’s not an erotic drone, but it’s certainly sexy, and it’s best appreciated as an exorcise in voice. It’s a generous showcase for an outstanding team of session vocalists, and it’s all about the vocal interplay, the sheer musicianship of singing, if you will. Some critics initially dismissed Young Americans deep cuts like this one as ‘thin’ or filler, but that’s entirely missing the point. You can’t blame listeners in 1975 for being primed for another grand narrative of the apocalypse from David Bowie, but Young Americans was a turn in a different direction, one that’s since come to be recognized as one of the classics. It’s not a concept album with grand designs, it’s a musician’s album, with a focus on tunes and vocal performance. That’s not being ‘thin’ with the material; that’s a virtuoso performer showing a different side.
Blondie’s music is always such a shot of vitality. It’s music to listen to in cold weather, because it gets the blood pumping. And on the dance floor, of course. I’m sure that Debbie Harry with her attitude and glamour was like a bolt of lightning in the dark, coming into the punk scene in the seventies. That attitude and style hasn’t aged in the intervening years, and the neither has the music. Like I said yesterday, things that have achieved classic status are immune to changing fashions.
(26 February 1940 – 18 November 2017)
At last! Something you all are already familiar with. I could listen to The Doors all day. I could listen to them every day. Maybe not all day every day, but let’s just say I could listen to them a lot. Being a Doors fan has cycled in and out of fashion, depending on whether portentous songwriting and psychedelic experimentation and demon-god rock star swagger are being done or not (they’re currently not), but it doesn’t matter. Things that are truly classic don’t wax and wane. It doesn’t matter if you think this is deeply profound or if you think it’s just noodly cocktail jazz dressed up in leather trousers. If you think that you and Jim Morrison are like-minded intellectuals for sharing a Heidegger reference across decades, then great. Jim is surely smiling down on you from heaven – or up from the depths, what have you. He’s thrilled to see that there’s still people who appreciate his literary references. If you only enjoy the song because it’s fun to get high to, that’s fine too. It’s an outstanding song for getting high. (That’s a real fresh take, I know.) That was probably very much a part of the original intention. It’s got something for everybody. Shallow or deep.
“Ooh, isn’t it nice, when your heart is made out of ice?”
Lou Reed wrote about cold-hearted people as if he envied them. He was a pretty rough person himself, of course. He was notorious for heckling his own audiences, as you can see below. See also, being a dick to journalists, being a dick to admirers, etc. etc. The asshole rock star who wrote beautifully sensitive songs was a persona he created, one that was especially nasty and performative in the mid-seventies. He was under a lot of pressure to somehow maintain his unexpected popularity with glam rock audiences, and to live up to his reputation as the baddest, most dangerous, most authentic street hustling junkie poet to represent the New York City underground. Hence the garish bleach job and see-through t-shirts. A lot of people died prematurely trying to be the baddest and the coolest. Lou Reed actually was the baddest and the coolest, and managed to live a good long solid life, which is how you know he was for real. The hardest guys all lived, the wimpy ones dropped dead.
I don’t usually know very much about what’s going on in the R&B corner of things. It’s, um, it’s a neighborhood I don’t go to very often, so to speak. But sometimes there’s an artist who has the potential to blow up beyond the boundaries of what genre they’re booked into. I recommend keeping an eye on the progress of Tinashe. She’s nominally an R&B artist, but it’s like alternative R&B. Alternative R&B is an umbrella genre that covers a pretty far-flung range of artists from The Weeknd to Rhye to Solange to Banks, all of whom share an interest in sexy grooves and moody atmospheres but also draw from just about everywhere else as well. Tinashe draws from contemporary R&B and soul, from hip hop and from pop, from dance music. She’s a well rounded artist in that way. What matters is she’s got a great voice, a sexy smoky voice that puts her in the school of Sade, and her records (two albums and counting) are commercial without being generic. (She’s been described as a more pop oriented FKA Twigs.) The trend right now is female pop singers who are always trying to hit the top of their range; there’s not much room for quiet. But we could use a quiet pop star who prefers to whisper rather than to shout. Tinashe could be, with the right hit, a huge, huge star. Or she could go on to build an edgier career, if she follows her more eccentric side.