Goldfrapp really set the standard for modern-day disco music. They’ve made albums that aren’t nightclub material, but it’s all about the dance records. It’s a deliberate bit of time-travel, an attempt to create a happy, woozy atmosphere and a feeling of optimism. That was eight years ago, and now more than ever we definitely need all the cheering up we can get. You can’t escape into the disco clouds all the time, but you should at least have that option.
All critical consensus aside, I still unabashedly really love Never Let Me Down. Most critics have dismissed it as the nadir of cheesy eighties-ness, a career low for David Bowie. That’s exactly what I love though. It’s David Bowie trying to be the commercial artist he always could’ve been, if he’d been able to tone down his natural weirdness. The weirdness is still barely contained, but buttered up with all the trendy 80’s production gimmicks. I’m not the only one who suspected that the problem was just lazy production taking the sheen off of some actually pretty strong songs, and now there’s been some remixing done (for a box set, of course.) Listen to the same song with and without dinky 80’s canned beats, and at least chalk it up as a near-miss.
The opening of Shine On has always evoked strong images: the changing light of sunrise, beams of light breaking cloud cover, color rolling across a vast sky. Pink Floyd here achieves something that rarely happens in popular music: an instrumental passage that implies narrative. I often think about Fantasia – the child’s introduction to classic music – which invites us to contemplate how passages of music can tell entire stories. People working within the confines of the three-minute pop song don’t have to think about creating musical narratives with a beginning, a middle and an end. They say whatever they have to say in a few words and even fewer chord changes. Pink Floyd, of course, liked to go beyond the pop song formula, and they experimented with longer song structures and extended instrumentals. This particular narrative is only about 13 minutes, but it could have easily been a longer piece. It’s an epic composition.
Maybe ‘uplifting’ isn’t the first idea you’d associate with The Rolling Stones. Their credo of hedonism may aspirational to some but it sure ain’t inspirational in the “Hang in there, Buddy” sense of the word. I can’t tell if it’s inwardness that they lack or outwardness, but what they’re kind of notorious for their selfishness. But yet, they’re not entirely without sensitivity, and that’s often overlooked. Mick Jagger may not be prone to openness in his writing, but he often writes with empathy and he definitely has a writer’s talent for observation. So many Rolling Stones songs are filled with details about the kind of people who float around in the rock world and the oft-not-very-happy lives they live. A few of them may flourish, but many end up being casualties, and it’s not that living the rock star life is dangerous and deadly; it’s that people are attracted to that kind of living because they’ve already blown it in the normal world. This applies to one of the Stones’ most unfortunate casualties, their former leader Brian Jones, who was formidably gifted but absolutely unsuited to any kind of life at all. Jagger may have made a calculated decision to save the band by kicking out its sickest member, but clearly he wasn’t unaffected watching his formerly close companion turn into a wreck of a man. This song dates back to 1968, when those wounds were still fresh, and it feels like an attempt to find some sliver of absolution in a sad and ugly story. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but some people just want to destroy themselves, and all you can do is watch them and pray.
I think Wild Belle’s white-girl reggae is one of the best things going on in pop music right now, and if that makes me a basic bitch, so be it. It’s partly because the indie rock world is so monotonous that even white-girl reggae sounds exotic. But mostly because Natalie Bergman has the kind of voice that cuts through trends and puts her far ahead of many other blonde-haired singers with dreampop albums. Also I like a little atmosphere and a little warmheartedness sometimes, even if it’s not turning the world over with depth or originality.
Sometimes it seems like Cheap Trick is a parody band, but would a parody band be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Obviously, these guys are pretty tight with their musicianship. They just like to have a bit of fun with the silly tropes of pop music, from new wave to hair metal. This is clearly a wink at all the tacky cock-rock splooge that was all over MTV in the early 80’s. There sure were a lot of guys out there with too much hair and not enough pants screaming about their sexual prowess, and definitely not enough zany nerds to balance it out. For thinking people like the members of Cheap Trick and ourselves, the most offensive thing about the hair bands was the laziness of their entendres, of which this is unquestionably a parody. Oh she’s nice and she’s tight, is she? Tight as in she’s got her head screwed on right, of course.
This is my favorite Arctic Monkeys song, the one that made me think of them as more than a retro-garage rock band. It’s got atmosphere and grandeur, which every band should aspire to. There’s a line than not every group crosses between promising and fully grown, and I would place this track firmly on the fully grown side. In the music field – whether rock, pop, or crunk – becoming fully grown is hardly a necessity. The music industry rewards youth, raw energy and sophomoric ideations. There’s been many stars who never rose to the height of their creative powers because they had so much success being young and stupid they either died young or retired. And with rock bands being an embattled species, it’s particularly nice to see a rock band that gets heralded as important and does something to live up to that besides dying young.