Morrissey keeps on being problematic, but then he keeps on writing things that magically speak to me. Even though he seems to be way past the point of becoming anything other than a caricature of himself, he’s still capable of being sympathetic. All it takes is a very simple sentiment about self-care to brighten up a morbid fan’s heart. I guess that although we all know that real-life Morrissey isn’t the emo-boyfriend of our dreams that we like to imagine, he is still, through his musical self, a good proxy for the eternally lonely and disquieted. And it’s nice to think that the eternally lonely boy who was miserable in his skin – and by extension, all of us at home listening – is now a happy and contented eternally alone. It’s not a massive leap forward of maturity and self-awareness but it’s a creeping sort of progress that’s familiar to people who’ve felt emotionally retarded all their lives.
Here’s a band I’ve never heard of before. Hot Chip formed in 2000, and I’ve never heard of them in all of that time. Apparently, though, their album A Bathfull of Ecstasy was one of the most acclaimed records of 2019, at least in the UK. What I find out about when I start browsing new releases. Admittedly, I only listened to this record because I liked the title, and I was expecting, I don’t know, club music or something. It’s actually exactly the kind of melodic synthpop that I love, and which I think defines the past decade for me, as far as genres go. So, yeah, definitely check out more of these guys.
I’ve been told that today is a holiday of some kind, celebrating outmoded hetero-normative ideations of romantic love, or sex in exchange for overpriced chocolate if you’re a being a realist about it. Clearly, this calls for a love song, and nobody writes love songs like Nick Cave does. Some people may find it disturbing, or unromantic at the very least, that a lot of Nick Cave’s love songs are also murder ballads. In the world of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, if you’re in love, you’re very likely to kill or to be killed about it, which… well, have you read the news lately? People really enjoy doing murder, apparently, usually male on female. Reading into the way we talk about “romance”, how we define it, and what actions we associate with it, we see subtextual patterns of implied violence and the implicit normalization of abusive behavior. The humble murder ballad is simply that same violent subtext, writ large and explicit. Perhaps, in the service of essential truthiness, murder ballads are the only real and true love songs. There is, of course, a middle ground between the insipid and the bloody, a way of writing about love without anyone dying, and yet without being willfully obtuse about the subject.
Fun story: I used to have this soneg set as my ringtone, back when everyone spent an inordinate amount of time picking out customized ringtones. It did not ruin the joy of the song for me, because not very many people ever called my phone. It is, in fact, kind of a nice memory, though it dates me as a millennial. Another thing that strikes me, as a millennial: how this kind of shimmering instrumental soundscape, which sounds like it should have come entirely out of a computer, is made entirely of real instruments. David Bowie, of course, did not have the millennial luxury of composing on a laptop in his bedroom. He had to actually leave the house and do his work in collaboration with other people. Which is, for everyone except the most solipsistic, the best way to create music. It was, famously, the milieu of the recording that informed Bowie’s most highly regarded recordings. He may have written of himself as a tortured mind who never opens the shutters, but he was also a globetrotting superstar, and he was soaking up the unique flavor of alienation native to Los Angeles, and that of sedentary rural France, and finally, the sick metropolis of Berlin.
Well, I don’t know what more I can say to recommend this album, except, you know, it’s one of my favorite records of the decade. I expect that this kind of blissed out electropop will fade out pretty soon. I mean, there’s still people out there making EDM records with bass drops and they sound pretty cringe nowadays. Like, yeah, we all collectively became obsessed with dubstep for about 18 months, and that was probably one of the defining moments of the decade for a lot of people. But nobody wants to relive that. I do think that electropop is different, and hardier, if only because its success wasn’t linked to MDMA usage. What I’m saying is, I’m most likely on the brink of becoming a crotchety old person who wants them damn kids off the lawn, for still listening to records that came out in 2012, and it’s going to be a while before there’s a new generation coming up who wants to listen to and make music that sounds like it was made in 2012. But when it’s 2035, and your cyborg offspring are rediscovering the misty recesses of the 2010’s, this is going to be one of the records they swoon over.
You probably haven’t devoted much thought to the fate of Mott the Hoople after the tide of glam rock went out. Well, like a lot of groups that became famous on the crest of a trending fad, they broke up. The good news is, Ian Hunter went on to a pretty respectable solo career. He didn’t claim the kind of serious-cultural-figure glory as some of the other glam rock leaders after hanging up their spandex; on other hand, though, he hasn’t disgraced himself and his solo records have been consistently good. Hunter carried on making rock music that sounds like it should be performed in platform boots, minus the platform boots.
Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda may have disappointed their fans when they broke up Cibo Matto, but we can be grateful for their legacy, and how much the pop music landscape owes to them. They can both rest feeling very satisfied that they’ve lived to see the things that made them a novelty in the 90’s become commonplace. Now we can proudly say that weird, multicultural, homemade-sounding music made by eccentric young women is an entire genre all its own. In 1999, however, Cibo Matto were a genre of one. They overturned the tropes of what two Japanese-American girls were expected act and sound like, used computer editing to alter their vocals and create collage-like sound effects, wrote about weird things that no one else was writing about, picked like magpies from any genre they liked, made a concept album about their favorite foods, earned the personal mentorship of Yoko Ono, wrote a concept album about a haunted hotel, broke up and got back together, went on to found other groundbreaking projects like Gorillaz, and just generally made a career out of being too weird to pin down. Truly, one of those cult bands that made a huge ripple just by doing their own thing for a handful of supporters.