Lana Del Rey is releasing her fifth album tomorrow. Del Rey has shown surprising longevity, and she’s grown considerably as an artist. That’s not easy in an industry that throws It-Girls into the stratosphere and then forgets them overnight. Six years of fame is an eon in the Instagram era, and in the age of widespread piracy artists often spend most their time generating #sponcon and designing capsule collections instead of making art. So we should tip our hats to Lana for managing to stay focused on her music; she’s released an album almost every year and each one has been a step forward for her. She’s also managed not to embarrass herself with drunken escapades, ill-advised love affairs, bad makeovers, or forays into fields where she has no talents. She suffered enough negative publicity when she first came into the spotlight, for her looks, for her aesthetic, for her amateurishness on stage. And she soldiered on and she earned her credibility. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited for the new record. But I think I’ll always love Born to Die the best.
I can see myself listening to Flaming Lips all day. I think we all collectively suffered through a phase of post-Yoshimi Lips exhaustion at some point, but we’ve moved past that now. If anyone has the oeuvre to survive the curse of ubiquity, it’s the Flaming Lips. I’ve listening to them for years, sometimes heavily, and there are still corners – nay! entire neighborhoods – in their discography that I haven’t delved into yet. That’s because some of their work is so forbidding; I don’t have four independent sound systems to properly play Zaireeka, nor 24 hours of undivided attention to fully enjoy 7 Skies H3, and neither do most of us. But maybe one day I’ll have those things. Flaming Lips occupy an interesting territory, don’t they? They’re a popular band; everyone has heard at least a few of their hits and everyone has seen the crowdsurfing bubble pictures. Yet so much of their work is not only deeply weird, but straight-up literally inaccessible. They push music into the realm of conceptual art, where things exist just because they just do and the fact than nearly no-one is able to experience or enjoy them is part of the point. But then they also have songs that you’ve probably heard on a grocery store muzak station. So they have covered all of the bases on the continuum of artistic existence from for-everybody to for-nobody.
It’s ok to check your brain at the door sometimes and just lose yourself to Shakira and her raging lady-boner. I’m not suggesting that Shakira is dumb. She is an incredibly accomplished person. But with all of her myriad talents, all she really wants to do is make people dance. We music critics tend to give unpretentious, happy music the side-eye, presuming that there has to be something lacking. Lack of soul, lack of talent, lack of passion, lack of anything to say. All of which, fair enough, do tend to be lacking in an entertainment landscape that leans increasingly on the work of robots. But I shouldn’t have to defend the joy that only a well made pop song can bring. Just pure animal euphoria, a three minute escape pod from reality. That’s what Shakira does, and she’s one of the best at doing it. She knows that music is one of the most powerful forces of unification; it’s the only surefire way to make people drop their differences and fraternize, even if only for an evening. She’s a superstar all across the fucking planet because her tunes need no translation, and everybody wants to dance, and it’s that simple. (But she still records English versions of all her hits, because she’s nice like that [and American audiences are racist]).
If I remember correctly, a former colleague recommended Nico Vega to me, you’ll really love this band he said, and I ignored the suggestion because that person was an absolute fuckboy. That was a couple of years ago. Then I discovered Aja Volkman through a collaboration with some DJ, and wow, she has amazing lungs. I hate it when fuckboys are right, but fuckboy was right. So I’m passing it on to you. Here’s a great band that you’ve probably never heard of. Unfortunately, they’re broken up now, but they did release two albums. So, check it out.
Unfortunately, I think this might be a sexual reference rather than the setup for a Redwall-style fantasy universe. But it’s Marc Bolan, so it may well be both. We know he loved his talking animals. And his sexual references. Not that it matters. The Slider remains a must-have among must-haves. You have to give yourself over to it and concede that Bolan can “rabbit fight all over you” any day. And there must be something deeply wrong with you if you can’t.
As promised, I’ve made an effort to learn more about the Arctic Monkeys. Since some of you like them so much. And I have to admit that I’ve come to regret that time I didn’t stick around to see them play at ACL. I mean, I’m sure that whomever I did end up seeing that day was much better, but I was right there and if I’d stayed I probably would have been converted right then and there, instead of several years later. Anyway, they’re a rock band, in the unpretentious classic sense of writing songs on guitar, and this is a rock song. The title is a either a millennial colloquialism or a Prince homage.
It was 1976 and Ian Anderson already felt like a grumpy old man. Apparently. Jethro Tull were very much still in their prime, despite being nearly a decade old as a unit. But Anderson wanted to make a concept album about an old and out of touch rocker struggling to comprehend the changing times. Perhaps not actually being that old or out of touch is why the concept of Too Old To Rock’n’Roll didn’t really work. Should’ve tried that one in the 80’s or today. It was a nice break from grumbling about the church, I suppose. The thing is, though, when Anderson criticized the stranglehold of the church and other crusty, abusive institutions he had grown up with, he then got to enjoy watching those things change and grow weaker. People who grew up caned and deprived in the postwar years may have some satisfaction that their grandkids are growing up in a more secular and permissive world with far less corporal punishment. On the other hand, when Anderson took aim at the entertainment industry, with all of its shallowness, narcissism and exploitation, as he did with this album, he had no idea the monster that was only just awakening. Sure, there was a lot going on in the 70’s that a veteran such as himself could raise an eyebrow at: television was on the rise as a cultural influence, allowing no-talent-having nobodies to earn both money and notoriety; glam rock had crested to such a degree that even Dylan was onstage wearing eyeliner; high and low culture were rubbing shoulders like never before, etc, etc. I guess that in 1976 the idea of finding a second shot at fame by winning a quiz show was a pretty unexpected plot twist – Too Old… was an alright story but it didn’t really resonate. It was unintentionally prescient, though. That story is a lot of people’s lives now. What Warholian fever dreams we’re living in!