Not moving all that far on the spectrum of tetchy and smart, St. Vincent. She also likes to explore psychopathic territories, sonically and intellectually. She may not be entirely a household name, but for an indie artist who mostly maps the eccentric inside of her own head, she’s as big as they get now. She’s technically savvy and her music ranges in style; she’s definitely not the kind of artist who gets pinned down by what their chosen instrument is. Her music is sometimes emotionally affecting, sometimes disaffected. Mostly her vibe is ‘that girl at the party who is obviously way smarter than you but still wants to talk about guacamole.’ You know, smart but accessible and fun, which is exactly the combination that pop music needs so much more of.
Ah, the song that taught us all how to say Je me lance vers la gloire…OK. Personally, I love both songs with incongruous lines of foreign language and songs about killing people, so this is just two of my favorite things together right here. Plus all of the other obvious glories of Talking Heads. I find it interesting that this song has been knocking around, in various iterations, since Byrne and co’s art school days; because when you’re a group of art school students trying to start a band, you would obviously bypass all the usual dumb shit about love and humping that less intellectual mortals fill their little notebooks with (and what good are notebooks!) No, you drop the training wheels and head straight for the big-kids’ stuff, and you write a song from the perspective of a frustrated serial killer and you write the chorus in French. And of course that song becomes your breakout hit and one of your most famous tunes and your tetchy neurotic smart-guy persona is in place for life.
I didn’t know that Nada Surf had any other good songs besides the one, you know, the popular one. But this one is really addictive, too. And the whole album is actually pretty good. And apparently they’ve recorded like ten albums and they’re still together and are still touring. All of which I didn’t know, because the box labeled “Mid-90’s One Hit Wonders” isn’t one that I care to peek into very often. Time to learn more, I guess. Maybe I can fill in some of the gaping holes in my musical knowledge that are the 90’s.
I’ve been listening to this song repeatedly lately, and pretty much in general throughout my life and have always found it very meaningful. If the title doesn’t tip you off, yes, it’s about faith and redemption, which are things Roxy Music fans are in need of after their inflatable pleasures have worn thin. Interestingly enough, when I was younger, I somehow completely missed the religious implications, explicit as they are. The idea of interpreting the lyrics spiritually never occurred to me, heathen as I am. For a very long time, what I heard was not an ode to Jesus, but a homoerotic ode to another man. The lines about trying on his coat and walking in his garden? Homoerotic. The lines about someday making his house your home? Homoerotic, while also possibly angling to subsume a rival man’s identity, Talented Mr. Ripley-style. Now, that’s not entirely a far stretch; the language of religious praise very often overlaps with the language of romance, and if you’ve ever studied art you may have noticed the loving care lavished on Christ’s naked torso in all of those Crucifixion paintings. But I think most faith-based people very strongly prefer not to make that overlap any more explicit, despite the best efforts of lapsed Catholics like Madonna. Meanwhile, in a more specific context, as far as I know, Bryan Ferry is a pretty solid not-gay on the Kinsey scale. But the idea of a vaguely homoerotic obsession and rivalry narrative appeals to me a lot more than one about finding God’s grace. So if you’re making another man’s house your home, it’s because you’ve seduced him and stole his identity, and you’re sliding down to the singles’ bar in a tuxedo of lies.
I highly recommend Paul Simon’s new (as of last year) album. It’s an acclaimed hit! It’s thoughtful, lovely music, which is what Paul Simon does best. It reminds us that mastery of gentle rumination should not be overlooked. It may not be the engine that drives popular music, but it’s no small talent. Soothing music isn’t just for coffee shops, y’all. And honestly, if it’s that easy to ignore it’s not soothing, it’s just boring. Soothing means to actively make you feel better, and I think Paul Simon does that. He does that not by being boring or trite, but by being thought provoking (and yes, sometimes still a little angsty.)
I think I featured this song a couple of years ago, when I first discovered Ryn Weaver. She hasn’t done anything since that time; she is apparently without a record label, despite the moderate success of her first album. Still, I advise everyone to continue patiently keeping an eye on her, because she is amazing. Besides her strength as a writer and performer, she is a very rare thing – a versatile vocalist who doesn’t rely on currently popular tics and mannerisms. We all know that every musical movement/generation has its own specific style, which usually stems from a whole lot of people trying to copy one original trailblazer, on to the point of cliche. Examples; 70’s hard rock singers yowling like Robert Plant, the entire 90’s mumbling like Kurt Cobain, post-Madonna pop stars who can’t actually sing but don’t mind taking their clothes off. Today, the trend seems to be singing at the top of your lungs, presumably the better to reach the back of the stadium. Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Sia, Beyonce, plus a host of less popular names; everyone is belting it out like a Broadway diva. It’s effective but not given to nuance. It’s today’s vocal cliche. Ryn Weaver is a singer who could sing like that, because she has the lungs for it, but she doesn’t. Her vocal performances are all over the map, evoking dozens of influences, sometimes all in the course of one song. It shows fantastic confidence for an artist fresh out of the nest, so to speak, and I truly hope she’s given the platform to develop and succeed.
Can we rescue this from soft rock radio cliche oblivion? Or have you heard this in too, too many supermarkets? Also, can we reevaluate Eric Clapton’s legacy? Nobody really thinks he’s God anymore, thankfully. That kind of hyperbole is bound to inspire backlash, and now ‘Clapton is overrated’ is the new ‘Clapton is God.’ I’d say that Clapton falls somewhere in the middle, a bit closer to the former in my opinion. I’ve always considered him a minor artist, but I know that the world thinks he’s a major one. Though it does seem that having one great blues song and a lot of soft rock hits doesn’t carry as much weight as it used to. But maybe we can enjoy that soft rock for what it is, without spitting on it for over-familiarity.