Enjoy a taste from the last ‘real’ Pogues album. Maybe you didn’t realize that the Pogues continued trying to be a thing after Shane MacGowan left – and they actually made at least one pretty good record without him. But it wasn’t quite the same. Didn’t quite have the same fire. He may have been an unsustainable frontman, but he was a complling one. I can’t say that Hell’s Ditch is up there with the classic stuff, but I’ve always enjoyed it. It’s more woozy than fiery, but it has atmosphere. The whole point of a Pogues album is to disabuse you of the idea that Irish music is supposed to be relaxing. This is only halfway to that.
The “born in the wrong generation” brand of false nostalgia that some young people subscribe to is stupid; it glosses over all of the ways the world used to be so much worse to live in for so many people. People are surely entitled to feel nostalgic for the times they’ve lived through themselves, but to long for times you only know through other people’s artifacts is disingenuous. With all that being said, however, goddamn would I not have liked to have been alive to see Led Zeppelin in all of their glory! Whatever shit went down in the 1970’s, it would have been worth it. I have seen Robert Plant in concert, and he still has L’Oreal-girl hair, but he’s a lion in winter now. If I had seen the lion at the height of his powers, I would never, ever, miss an opportunity to be an insufferable bore about it at parties.
There’s a biography of Roxy Music called Unknown Pleasures. I haven’t read it, but I like the title. It sums up the Roxy Music mystique rather nicely. There’s the obvious snob appeal, of course; Roxy Music’s pleasures are not widely known, and that’s its own appeal. Once discovered, though, it’s a rich world of glamour and seduction. Everything about Bryan Ferry, from his bangs to his taste in graphic design, implies a worldliness beyond the ordinary. Perhaps he goes home and eats last week’s leftovers in front of the TV like a normal person, but there’s nothing about him that implies mundane living, and who wants a mundane star? Stars are cheap nowadays precisely because they’ve become so open about the sandwiches in their pantry. Mystique, on the other hand, is in short supply. There really aren’t very many stars who can be imagined living a life of haute couture, private back street cabarets, and Ming vases full of cocaine – and that includes the fashion professionals whose job is to upsell that exact fantasy. I, for one, want that fantasy.
Mmmm, talk about sorely missed. Watch Amie Duffy get her Roxie Hart on. So glamorous, so retro! Well, apparently, Duffy is not one of those people who enjoy strutting around with no pants on, and getting sucked into the fame machine just about gave her a nervous breakdown. Which is why she isn’t recording anymore. Getting the short end in comparisons to Amy Winehouse hurts an artist, and getting groomed to look like somebody’s retrograde idea of a sex kitten hurts a woman. Those were not things that Duffy wanted for herself, and I hope that someday she’ll find the motivation to come back with an image more to her own liking. Even if not, she made enough of an impact with what she did do. If I had to compare her to anyone, it would be Nancy Sinatra, who looked doe-eyed as a baby doll and sang about vindictive self-empowerment.
Just as my parents’ generation have seen all of the dread of their own mortality made flesh in the still-shamelessly-strutting-it form of Mick Jagger, my generation has grown old enough to see its own It-Boys turn into men with wrinkles and midlife crises. Conor Oberst, for example, is pushing 40. The former teen prodigy used to exemplify the tortured feels of hyper-sensitive and hyper-articulate but poorly socialized post-adolescents. He had a quavering voice that seemed always on the verge of tears and the dreamy good looks of a baby owl. He got called “The New Dylan” a lot. Now he’s facing the challenge of somehow staying relevant now that his constituents are divorced, 15 pounds overweight, struggling to make their car payments and long ago given up on all their dreams. Fortunately, adulthood offers its own unique sources of angst, though tempered – if you’re lucky enough to actually have matured – by some wisdom and perspective. Oberst is in a position to segue into a really great second phase in his career, and he’s smart enough to see that. His last couple of albums have been surprisingly outstanding; clearly he still has a lot to write about, as a mature person, and I expect him to continue to lean into it. Maybe his best is still coming up, maybe he’ll find increasing inspiration from the perspective of age. Growing older is inherently embarrassing for a pop figure – besides seeing your own failings in the harsh camera glare, you’re also representing the failings of your audience. You have a choice though; you can put on your Peter Pan skinny pants and stubbornly carry on being exactly the same, or you can allow your ageing and decline to become part of your work. I expect Oberst to follow the leads of Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon, who discovered their best creative years well past the hump of middle age and just really owned the hell out of being withered old men.
I’m still waiting for the Tom Waits jukebox musical, or at least an extravagantly star-studded tribute album, but let’s face it, that won’t happen until he dies, and possibly not even then. There won’t be an all-star extravaganza selling out Madison Square Garden, there won’t special collector’s mini books published by Time magazine or Rolling Stone. Tom Waits isn’t the kind of an artist who attracts that kind of attention. If there’s to be Tom Waits musical it will have to take place in an abandoned warehouse down by the shipyards, with a cast and crew of hobos and hookers.
A powerful singer can get a lot of emotional impact just from passionate humming. Moby is not that singer, but he knows where to find them. Finding great samples and bringing in great guests is how he made himself an unlikely household name. His albums are usually filed under uninspiring titles like ‘downtempo’ and ‘chillwave’ and the all-encompassing ‘electronica’. That doesn’t really do justice to the scope of an album like 18. Those 18 songs carry more depth of emotion than most of the earnest balladeers and wanna-be emo kids out there.