“It is like Beowulf and it ‘takes me out to the meadow’. This song can make you leave home, work on the railroad or marry a Gypsy. I think of a drifter around a fire with a tin cup under a bridge remembering a woman’s hair. The song is a dream, a riddle and a prayer.” – Tom Waits
Bob Dylan needs no introduction and defies interpretation. (That’s the literal definition of “Bob Dylan”) I’ve certainly got no special qualifications to add to the oceans of commentary already out there. I don’t really want to read any more of it, either. If anyone should have their commentary noted, why not Tom Waits? He’s more qualified than anyone.
Raise your hand if you miss the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I know I do. I might be alone among purists, but I thought that Mosquito was their best record. Not everybody wants to hear their favorite punk rock band progress to recording with a gospel choir, but I live for that kind of fearless growth. I love a bold experiment even when it doesn’t succeed, and this one succeeded very much. I also think that you can’t underestimate the power of a well-placed gospel choir, and this is one of the best uses of one I’ve ever heard. I mean, it’s both totally apropos and kind of ironic. That’s musical growth, great production, total fearlessness, what have you.
Kelela or Kehlani? Tinashe! Tinashe is the alt-R&B diva of my heart. Too bad she’s still not getting the widespread love and acclaim she deserves. I hear she’s playing another South by Southwest showcase this year, which may or may not give her profile a boost. That’s how I discovered her in 2014 and I’ve been a fan ever since. She sings and dances like a big-league pro. She has the looks. She seems like a nice and smart person. She really just needs that one big hit.
The Tin Machine revival you’ve been waiting for hasn’t come yet. Maybe it isn’t coming at all. As of this writing Bowieologists still agree that Tin Machine was a lot more fun for David Bowie than it was for his fans, and that in knowing that, he was just basically being a dick. Tin Machine basically functioned as a means to slough off some of the mainstream pop fans who had bought Let’s Dance and wanted more of the same. Which makes Tin Machine more of a narrative device than a group. We should still reexamine the music, though. I’ve always had a soft spot for the second Tin Machine, but found the first one a bit too uninviting. Not being a big fan of garage rock or post-punk or noise or grunge, I never felt that those genres needed a David Bowie-branded contribution. But if you are into those things, here is the David Bowie diffusion-line for you.
I don’t listen much to anything Elton John did in the 80’s and 90’s. He was one of those high-profile stars who high-profile had a hard time staying relevant during those years. He was hardly the only one not keeping up with the times musically, of course. For his part, Elton John was also having a very rough time in his personal life, dealing with substance abuse and the pressure to stay quietly in the closet at the height of the AIDS crisis. Today we all know and love his prissy-gay-uncle persona, but back in the day he somehow convinced the world he was straight, and was actually seen as being pretty wholesome for a guy who wears that much glitter. That combined with a lot of cocaine and booze certainly drained away at the creative energy. It’s hard to keep producing heartfelt, honest work when you’re living a lie and constantly trying to medicate reality into submission. Still, there were some shining moments even in dark times. Elton and Bernie could still put their heads together and produce something of value. Even though the production is maudlin and lazy, the performance is moving and it shows that the artist hasn’t really lost his touch after all.
If there’s one band who should never be forced to perform sitting down, it’s Gogol Bordello. But I guess that everyone has to compromise, and the small enclosed studios that radio and web broadcasts record in aren’t conducive to the chaos and sweat that Gogol Bordello’s regular live shows are famed for. You could say that it has to be pretty weak music if it can’t be played tamely, but for these rabble-rousers, that’s missing the point. The point is screaming communion of the sort that only a wine-drenched mosh pit can provide. Still, you can certainly enjoy their records in the comfort of your own home. It’s not as cathartic as the live show, but it rewards deep listening, because there’s always points and references to be gleaned, and yeah, there’s a lot of literary allusions going on that you’re likely not going to pick up on when you’re raging drunk.
“I may be bad but I’m perfectly good at it.”
There we have it: the definitive statement of purpose by Rihanna for unrepentant bad girls everywhere. Or the final commercialization of a formerly underground subculture. Take your pick. It could even be both. You can be delighted by Rihanna’s gleeful embrace of sexual transgression and still wonder just how transgressive anything really is if four million people are buying it. Perhaps there’s not much taboo left to fetish culture when it’s constantly in your face and at your fingertips. On the other hand, though, good. Let people be sexually liberated, empty out those closets, sweep open the dungeons of shame, stop clutching your pearls at other people’s pleasures. Girls just wanna have fun! With ball gags and Japanese rope bondage and puppy play and femdom and slashfic and cam shows and dd/lg and latex and friendly fire and cryptozoophiliac Patreon subscriptions and whatever other filthy things you didn’t know you were into until the internet brought them to your attention. It’s a great time to be alive and sexually active.