Lana Del Rey has a lot of nerve taking up a Nina Simone song – some would say – but I think she made a relevant choice. If nothing else, it’s deeply thought provoking how differently the same words sound, when separated by several decades of social progress. When Simone sang about the other woman, it was as an honest-to-god blues song. Coming in 1959, a time when women genuinely had little to no recourse about the situations they found themselves in in life, the figure of the other woman was a tragic one. Once a mistress, never a wife. Today, of course, the idea that getting involved with a married man is enough to tar one’s reputation for life, or that one even has such a thing as a ‘reputation’ to be tarred upon, is hopelessly retrograde. So when young Lana sings about it, it must be as a pastiche of social roles that some women may still inhabit but which can easily be cast aside for better ones. Is she really making a social point here? Or does she just enjoy the tone of self pity it allows her to take? Well, I’m not sure how self aware Lana Del Rey really is, but she has to grasp that what in Nina Simone’s time was a broken life is in ours just a mildly poor lifestyle choice, and that there is no way to really interpret it without some degree of irony.
There isn’t an adequate name for Camera Obscura’s style of music. Indie pop is too broad of an umbrella. As is folk, as is folk pop. Retro and twee are adjectives that imply the presence of kitsch. How about KNDP, for knowing naive dream pop? Or, my own best favorite, teatime music. Whatever you want to call it, Camera Obscura nails a very specific mood. Tracyanne Campbell has an otherwordly voice and a jaded schoolgirl persona; she’s basically the musical embodiment of a heroine from a mid-century coming of age novel. She’s a post-post-modern Franny Glass via Glasgow. She’s a 1960’s folk singer sent forward in time by a vengeful Joan Baez. She’s every cool girl who seems wiser than her years. She has, in short, a voice and image you can pin any number of fantasies upon, if you’re given towards the nostalgic and the cerebral.
Lou Reed is the original rapper, is the implication here. That’s a tall order, not least because there is no one person who can truly claim that title, and if there was it would probably be Gil Scott-Heron; or Gylan Kain or Umar Bin Hassan of The Last Poets (or, ya know, anyone else who isn’t a white guy from Long Island.) Nonetheless, Lou Reed, in vocal style and in temperament, wouldn’t be entirely out of place among those guys. His spoken word delivery showed influence from beat poetry and was often very similar to what later emerged as rap music. Though he never claimed any particular kinship with the hip hop movement, he wasn’t exactly out of step with it either, with his hardboiled New York City man attitude, social conscience and interest in documenting the wild side. By any measure he was certainly the only middle aged white guy who could, with any shred of dignity, get up and deliver a fiery rap about the political ills of 1986. I would say that this song is uncharacteristically self-conscious in its hipness and topicality, in an uncharacteristic attempt to appear with it, I suppose. An aggressively remixed and truly embarrassing music video was made, and exists, and can easily be found, if you enjoy cringing. But beyond musically paying lip service to 80’s trendiness, it remains, at its core, a particularly dexterous vocal performance that shows just how with it Reed actually was. He didn’t need any dumb videos or gratuitous saxophones. He just did what he did.
“We make feasties of the beasties but the beasties just live in the wild, you know you’re slower now, you were faster when you were a child.”
Profound truth. And, as promised, an organ. So just really open your mind and let the weirdness flow in. Marc Bolan loves you and don’t you know you love him too, yes you do. Bolan’s childlike mysticism was always so cute; he didn’t make much sense but his imagination was unbound. Is there any reason the sounds of an organ shouldn’t be put together with tribal percussion of some kind? Of course not, now bring out those bongos! It would help with your enjoyment if you were of a psychedelic mind. No need to trip, just have the mindset. Take Marc Bolan’s example; all the disparate things in your interest field can be tied together in a loose narrative, it doesn’t have to make sense, it’s your universe. You can be a wizard, and drive a hot rod, and converse with moles, and court an Inca queen, and find a cure for those summertime blues, and rock some platform mary janes, and make a movie with Ringo Starr. It’s the spring of 1970 and everything is possible.
I just can’t get enough of Angelique Kidjo. I’d temporarily forgotten how much I love this record. I have to say that one of the reasons I have such a soft spot for Kidjo is because she was one of the first artists I discovered for myself as a young adult (back in the days when you could go to the neighborhood record store and find samples and recommendations.) That’s always a special feeling, when you discover something that nobody else in your circle knows about. Kidjo’s records have been a constant for me ever since. She is someone I can listen to at any time, listen to all day, and always feel good listening to.
Are you not all up on the history of the Philippines? Especially what went on there in the 1970’s under the rule of Ferdinand Marcos? Well, you need to get caught up. It would greatly help you understand the context of David Byrne’s Here Lies Love. This song, for instance, is about that time in 1972 when President Marcos placed the country under martial law. It may be news to you, but it lasted more than a decade and Filipinos don’t remember those years too fondly. Of course, these are not things you would expect to hear about on a pop record, and of course, only a crazy David Byrne type could ever cook up such a concept. However, please view it as an opportunity to learn more about a period of 20th century history that goes under-reported in the Western educational curriculum. It is a lesson in the frailty of human nature in the face of the corrupting influence of power, and the road to hell being paved with idealistic intentions. Thanks to David Byrne, Fatboy Slim and Natalie Merchant, you can dance to it.
Morrissey is known for a lot of things, but indulging in sprawling six minute experimental songs with drum solos is not one of them. Yet here it is, the sprawling indulgent drum solo and the nearly seven minutes. With what I’m understanding as a disapproving message about the perils of plastic surgery (could be anything though.) Coincidentally or not, in 1995 it seems that a lot of people were sick to their back teeth of Morrissey, and his experimental opus got a chilly reception. What followed was a lengthy fallow period, and of course, the triumphant comeback. But obscure mid-90’s Morrissey is still worth exploring, because extravagant minute counts aside, he never really left his topical discomfort zone.